‘The Flash’ Review: Supervillains Team Up In Terrific ‘Running To Stand Still’
Recap and review of The Flash – Season 2 Episode 9 – Running To Stand Still:
Just last week, The Flash delivered a superhero team-up. This week, the supervillains get their turn. And yet, “Running To Stand Still” is a success less for its action, since the plot itself is fairly paint-by-numbers, and more a success for the way in which it explores how its respective characters are growing by letting go of past hatred and resentment. There was a lot of maturing left for the characters to do, and I felt this midseason finale did a great job in getting the characters to a point where they could start to look ahead to the future, free from the burdens that had been weighing them down.
Of course, even the best character studies need to be in service of some overarching plot. This week, Mark Mardon/Weather Wizard (Liam McIntyre) busts James Jesse/The Trickster (Mark Hamill) and Leonard Snart/Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) out of Iron Heights, and while Snart doesn’t exactly go along with Mardon and Jesse’s plan to kill The Flash, he doesn’t particularly feel like being a hero either. And so Barry (Grant Gustin) and the team must take down Mardon and Jesse, who threaten to blow up Central City by placing bombs in various Christmas presents hidden throughout town. It all culminates in a pretty fun action sequence that sends this first half of the season out on a high note. But, again, it’s notable more for the character beats that interspersed throughout. For instance, while the plot is about stopping Mardon and Jesse, it’s every bit as much about saving Patty (Shantel VanSanten) from herself. Patty is intent on killing Mardon for murdering her father several years ago, and we quickly learn that it’s about a lot more than just revenge, as Patty is also dealing with guilt over her own culpability in her father’s death, since she was supposed to be the one at the bank the day he was shot. Her entire police career, as well as her decision to join the Metahuman taskforce, has all been about gaining justice for her father, and redeeming herself for what she perceives as her failure. In that respect, she’s similar to Barry, who began his superhero career for the same reasons. And, like Barry, she’s faced with the same potential to cross a line from which she can’t return.
It’s an ethical struggle, since Patty is faced with the same dilemma that plagues any hero who straddles the line between morality and vengeance. After an awesome action sequence that boasts some really cool visual effects (such as Barry running over helicopter propeller blades), Mardon is defeated at the hands of Barry, leaving him easy prey for Patty to finish. But The Flash talks to Patty, telling her that this isn’t what her father would want. It’s the usual slippery slope argument we tend to get in most superhero media stories where a good guy has a bad guy at his/her mercy. The standard “you’ll be no better than him if you do this!” argument. Yet, it’s for a good reason: put bluntly, it just works. And same is true of Barry’s plea here, as Gustin’s sincerity as an actor really sells the speech. Barry doesn’t want to see Patty go down that path, because that would essentially destroy her life, as well as the life they’re slowly building together through their relationship. Patty would basically become a criminal, and The Flash would have little choice but to take her down. And if he didn’t, he’d have to live with the knowledge that his idea of justice is not absolute, that there are exceptions to whom he takes down. And a superhero like Barry can’t really operate on indefinite principles. It’s a great conflict to depict, and VanSanten does a great job with the material as well, since Patty goes from considering murder to realizing how incompatible that decision would have been with who she is as a person. Ultimately, Mardon and Jesse are arrested again, while Snart is still on the loose. And while Snart is headed off to DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, I doubt this is the last we’ll see of him on The Flash. Hell, I suspect we’ll get Mardon and Jesse back too, at some point. And just as well, since Mark Hamill is positively delightful as The Trickster. He’s the sort of gloriously absurd, over-the-top villain I think this show needs from time to time, and Hamill plays him with such wild-eyed, cackling glee that it’s hard not to love him. All in all, I thought the A-plot was a big win for the show.
Naturally, the theme of letting go/moving on manifested in places other than Patty’s storyline, as Barry found himself having to let go as well. After making the speech to Patty, he realized he was being a hypocrite, telling Patty that she needed to let go of her hatred and live her life, while still holding onto his own hatred for what Wells (Tom Cavanagh) did to him. And so, in a poignant moment that could have been hokey had it been delivered by a less talented actor, Barry looks into a two-way mirror at the Earth-2 Wells while at STAR Labs, and delivers a speech that the scientist can’t hear. In it, he acknowledges that while this isn’t the Wells that hurt him, he still needs to speak his peace in order to move on with his life. He looks at a version of the man who killed his mother, and admits that he’s held onto his hatred for so long that it’s consuming him. So he’s doing the best thing he can do for his own well-being. Barry looks into the mirror at an unaware Wells, and simply says, “I forgive you.” It’s powerful stuff, since so much of this show, in its first season, was defined by Barry’s quest for justice/revenge. The notion that he could ever let go of what Wells did to him and his family seemed altogether impossible last season, even Barry eventually obtaining justice for his father. It just seemed like it would be a burden Barry would always have to bear. That’s why this was such a profound moment, in my opinion. It shows that Barry can see a future for himself without the bitternes of his past tainting every moment of it. It’d be beautiful if it didn’t also have a sinister layer of irony to it, as we learn that this innocent version of Wells is also planning to betray Barry as well, as Zoom is blackmailing Wells into helping Zoom steal his speed — but only after helping Barry become more powerful. So, strangely enough, we’re right back to season one, with Wells wanting to help Barry become stronger, all in service of some sinister plan. And you could argue both versions of Wells had sympathetic reasons for doing what they did. Earth-1 Wells just wanted to go home to his own time period. Earth-2 Wells, meanwhile, just wants his daughter to be safe. By threatening to kill Wells’s daughter unless he helps, Zoom essentially turns Wells into a sympathetic figure here, even as we root against him for conspiring to hurt Barry. And I love that sort of complexity, because it’s not a simple case of black-or-white morality. It’s far more complicated than that.
In a way, it’s similar to the complexity of emotions Joe (Jesse L. Martin) is feeling after Iris (Candice Patton) reveals that he has a secret son. Martin has long been an absolute gift to this show, and it’s most evident here. Everything from the moment he learns about his son, to his admission that he’s held onto his bitterness and resentment towards Francine for too long, right on through to the moment when Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) arrives on Joe’s doorstep, Martin is in peak form. I would go as far as to argue he’s the best actor on the show, and his performance here really sells a character journey I didn’t even realize was happening before tonight, as we come to see how Joe never really dealt with Francine leaving. He just put his head down, kept working, and focused on providing for Iris. But now, he recognizes how that was unhealthy, and how he could have found out about his son far earlier if he’d ever bothered to look for Francine, whom he could have easily found, by his own admission. Joe accepts personal responsibility for not knowing about Wally, and it reflects a remarkable maturity of character for someone who’s already the most wizened character in the ensemble. This was just a wonderful subplot, and I wish I could be a fly in the wall at that West family Christmas Party, to see how that awkward first talk with Wally went down. But for now, I guess we’ll just have to settle for Caitlin and Jay kissing under the mistletoe, and Cisco cracking jokes. Which, honestly, is fine by me. I love this ensemble. This was a terrific midseason finale, and I can’t wait for January, because this show is looking poised to have a superb second half of Season 2, judging by how strongly “Running To Stand Still” played out.
But what did you think of The Flash Midseason Finale, “Running To Stand Still”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on The Flash, find out more about the new Wally West, Keiynan Lonsdale!
And be sure to join us when The Flash returns on January 19!