‘The Flash’ Review: ‘Fast Lane’ Is a Compelling Look Into Family Ties
Recap and review of The Flash – Season 2 Episode 12 – Fast Lane:
The Flash is an action-adventure series that, at its heart, is a family drama more than anything else. Aside from the inciting conflict of Barry (Grant Gustin) attempting to exonerate his father and save his mother, the show makes a point of focusing on how circumstances shape our relationships, particularly with regards to the people we end up considering our family. Not all families are tied through blood. “Fast Lane” is an episode that explores family ties, both genetic and chosen, and it results in an hour of television that is poignant in its examination of commitment, dedication, and forgiveness.
Of course, the one issue I had with the episode this week was that, perhaps more than any other episode this season, it felt like the Metahuman of the Week didn’t really matter much to the overall plot. Tar Pit had the potential to be a truly formidable villain for Barry and his team, in addition to being one of the more complex baddies so far, since his condition is the result of being bullied (in particular, being thrown into a tar pit on the night of the Particle Accelerator explosion). Tar Pit doesn’t start out as a bad guy, but circumstances shape him into being one. This isn’t to say he doesn’t have a choice in the matter, but simply that he has no one to anchor him, to remind him that there are alternatives to a life of crime. So he lashes out, and nearly gets Iris (Candice Patton) killed in the process when he places tar on the road during a drag race in which Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) is competing. Aside from getting back at the guy who turned him into a giant tar guy, this is the most Tar Pit really gets to do that’s in any way villainous. The visual of the villain is cool, but it feels he’s far too easily neutralized. This could have been a far bigger threat than he actually was, which is a shame in this case. Tar Pit simply felt like wasted potential. That said, at least the rest of the episode manages to be compelling.
With his moral complexity, Tar Pit is a bit of a parallel to Wells (Tom Cavanagh), who is also lacking someone to anchor him on the side of good. Right now, Wells is all about doing whatever he needs to do in order to save his daughter, whether that means breaking the law or betraying the STAR Labs team. And yet, we know this Wells is at least somewhat good, as evidenced by how conflicted he is about what he’s doing. He’s essentially at war with himself over wanting to help Barry, but needing to help Zoom. Earlier, he had agreed to help Zoom steal Barry’s speed, in exchange for his daughter’s freedom. Wells finally finishes the siphoning device that allows him to steal some of that speed to give to Zoom, but it isn’t enough, meaning Wells still isn’t off the hook. And to make matters worse, Barry is proving to be as loyal as a son. For the first time this season, we start to see Wells feel guilty about the way he’s treated his comrades at STAR Labs, particularly when he flips out on Barry for comparing him to a father figure. Wells isn’t exactly a jerk for saying that, if it comes between his daughter and Barry, he’ll choose his daughter every time. But he is a bit of a jerk for not trusting Barry’s team enough to seal the breaches and defeat Zoom. Then again, calling him a “jerk” for worrying about his daughter’s safety feels excessive, since I can’t really say what I’d do if I were in Wells’s shoes. And that’s what I liked about this storyline, the moral complexity at its center. Wells is a family man in ways the Earth-1 Wells never was. He’s doing this all for his daughter, so his villainy has more sympathetic reasons than simply the desire to go home. He’s trying to save the only person in his life who cares about him unconditionally. And yet, Wells finds that he has a makeshift family here, in the form of the STAR Labs team, all of whom welcome him into their fold, despite the fact that he wears the face of their greatest nemesis. Wells is understandably torn, and it culminates in his admission to having stolen some of Barry’s speed. Naturally, Barry and co. are absolutely furious, since the loss of 2% of his speed nearly prevented Barry from saving Iris when an attack by Tar Pit results in her being impaled by glass. But even with Barry and Joe (Jesse L. Martin) struggling to keep from losing their temper on Wells right then and there, mercy prevails, because Barry recognizes that none of them have been above that same desperation. If their loved ones were in similar peril, who’s to say they wouldn’t go to the same lengths? Barry forgiving Wells is as much about accepting him as part of their family as it is about avoiding hypocritical judgments, because families help each other — and they forgive each other. Wells is forgiven, and Barry vows to help rescue his daughter no matter what, and, for a moment, it feels as though Wells is finally ready to embrace working with the STAR Labs team, rather than simply being a passive contributor to their efforts. It’s an emotionally satisfying story that deepens the respective journeys of these characters.
Naturally, the family storylines don’t stop there, as we get some pretty emotional stuff with the West family. Wally is still struggling to fit in, and while he feels a bit hard to identify with (particularly since he’s holding Joe’s absence against him, when Joe never even knew about him in the first place). But this week makes him feel more three-dimensional as a character. Although it feels a bit cliche for him to be an adrenaline junkie who takes part in drag races, there’s a fitting character story behind it, as it’s the one thing that helps him feel close to his mother (since she would take him on drives in lieu of buying him toys). In addition to Wally having a more well-rounded backstory for why he is the way he is, we see how he actually does want a family. And he’s not the only one. For his part, Joe is having a hard time making a connection with Wally, and so he avoids disciplining him over the drag races, since he doesn’t want Wally to shut down and shut him out. But cutting Wally all this slack isn’t actually bringing father and son any closer together, so there’s a bit of a cathartic element to this story’s climax, as Joe has a heart-to-heart with Wally, explaining that he’s not alone, and that he has people who love him. And so Wally finally embraces having a father and a sister, which means this could be the beginning of Wally being integrated more consistently in the overarching storylines. I’m not necessarily saying he should be a part of the STAR Labs team just yet, but rather that he can finally start interacting with the rest of the ensemble now. Either way, I’m excited for what the show has in store for Wally.
“Fast Lane” is an emotional episode for The Flash, as we explore the extent to which family ties truly bind. Some families are bound by blood, while others have the freedom to choose those they accept as family. But no matter the circumstances, those connections are ultimately what matter, because they’re what keep us grounded. And the same is the case for these characters, who need that supportive element more than ever. This episode did a great job of illustrating the importance of these interpersonal connections.
But what did you think of The Flash, “Fast Lane”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on The Flash, read our recap and analysis of last week’s terrific “The Reverse-Flash Returns”!