‘The Flash’ Review: ‘Potential Energy’ Could Be the End of a Great Relationship
Recap and review of The Flash – Season 2 Episode 10 – Potential Energy:
The Flash continues to move in the direction of more overt serialization, as the overarching story of the season continues to advance. And yet, it’s not at the expense of the entertaining one-off Villains of the Week. “Potential Energy” is a midseason premiere that accentuates the strengths of this series, as the focus remains on character rather than on big action setpieces and exposition-heavy plot. That isn’t to say that the series doesn’t still have its exciting moments, it’s simply that, for me, the most exciting moments involve shifts in character and their relationships to one another.
Tonight’s episode pulls this off by focusing on two separate relationships, one that has yet to truly begin, and one that is still fairly recent. Let’s tackle the latter first, as I find Barry (Grant Gustin) and Patty (Shantel VanSanten) to be one of the best pairings this show has concocted. Granted, a lot of it has to do with the innate chemistry between Gustin and VanSanten, who simply make sense as a couple; but just as much of it has to do with how well their relationship is written in contrast with the similar relationship between Barry and Iris (Candice Patton) last year. Last season. Barry kept finding ways to keep Iris out of the loop, and although the consequences of his hiding that secret did eventually catch up with him, it felt as though the series seemed to be endorsing his decision not to bring her into the fold. But Season 2, so far, suggests that this was the wrong call on the part of Barry (and Joe, who encouraged the secrecy). Iris openly addresses what a bad idea it was for Barry to leave her out of the loop, and suggests he not make the same mistake with Patty. In this instance, it makes sense for Barry to finally come clean to Patty, particularly since she could be an asset to Team Flash in a way Iris can’t be (this isn’t to say Iris, with her journalist contacts and overall intelligence, isn’t an asset; rather, I’m suggesting that Patty could be every bit the asset and more, given her access to police materials and investigative tactics. Then again, Joe more or less serves the same function). And yet, Barry never does come clean to Patty. He gets several different opportunities to just admit the truth, but he can’t bring himself to do it. And rather than this choice ennobling him, it paints him as somewhat naive. He expects that he’ll be able to protect the ones he loves from Zoom, as long as the villain doesn’t know how much they matter to him. And yet, Zoom presumably already knows who The Flash truly is. And even if he doesn’t, it didn’t take long for a completely clueless villain to put two-and-two together, as this week’s designated metahuman did. In short, Barry’s failing in romance is that he doesn’t trust any of his love interests. He doesn’t trust that they can handle his secret, and he doesn’t trust that they can keep themselves safe. And, perhaps just as bad, he doesn’t trust that HE can keep them safe himself. It’s distrust all around, and no relationship can thrive in that type of environment. So it’s no surprise when Patty announces, at the end of the episode, that she’ll be leaving Central City to go back to school in Midway City. Barry had a chance at happiness, inasmuch as he could attain happiness amidst all the drama he faces as The Flash, but he couldn’t see past his own hang-ups to allow it to happen. It’s tragic, in a sense, that a hero dooms himself to loneliness out of the notion that he must, when that doesn’t really have to be the case.
Of course, one could be forgiven for pushing Patty away, given how close she came to being killed by this week’s metahuman villain. Cisco (Carlos Valdes) has been tracking a metahuman thief named Turtle, who has the ability to slow down time, appearing as a blur to virtually everyone he meets, despite the fact that he’s just moving at normal speed. Turtle is a fairly interesting villain, in that he robs people not for monetary gain, but for the sentimental value of the objects he steals. It’s as if he gets off on the very notion of hurting people, which makes him irredeemable in a way few metahumans ever are on this show, since so many of them need to be portrayed in shades of grey for the sake of dynamic storytelling. Let this be a lesson to superhero shows of a similar vein: sometimes, a really great story can be told with clear-cut black/white designations between hero and villain, with no moral ambiguity. This was the case here, as Barry and Patty go to a ball, only for Turtle to spoil the fun. Barry excuses himself to change into The Flash, and arrives just in time to push Patty out of the way of a falling chandelier. Patty appreciates The Flash’s heroism, but resents Barry for not being there. Barry choosing not to tell her about his true identity right then and there ends up serving no purpose, since Patty ends up getting kidnapped by Turtle anyway, since the villain fairly easily deduced that Patty means a lot to the speedster. That Barry STILL doesn’t tell Patty, even after rescuing her and defeating Turtle, speaks to his own insecurity about his ability to save people — and his loved ones’ ability to look out for themselves. Given how often Barry’s loved ones find themselves in peril, I don’t think it’s wrong for him to want to keep them in the dark, out of the notion that this is the path of least resistance. And yet, the episode seems to indict Barry for that choice, as if to chide him for not having enough faith in the people he loves. And so he lets Patty go, and…well, this could be the end of a great relationship. I certainly hope it isn’t, and that we see Patty again somewhere down the line. But for now, I think Season 2 is building an arc of Barry shutting out the ones he loves in order to protect them, only for it to backfire. I suppose we’ll see soon enough, but I think it’s an intriguing narrative choice, since it paints the hero as being wrong for doing the noble thing. Right or wrong, Barry needs these people, and the sooner he accepts that, the better off everyone will be.
Naturally, a midseason premiere wouldn’t be a midseason premiere without the season’s big threat making an appearance. And so it is that Zoom arrives to harvest the powers from Turtle. How that helps him, exactly, is beyond me. But it adds a wrinkle to his characterization, to say nothing of how it recontextualizes his victimization of other characters. For instance, he stole the speed from Jay (Teddy Sears), and now the Earth-2 Flash is dying without it. So now the hunt for Zoom has a ticking time bomb element to it. Jay is compelling more for what he means to Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and less for what he represents on his own as a character, so it’s mostly for Caitlin’s sake that I want to see the guy live. Hell, considering she just lost Ronnie, it’d be awful for her to lose someone else she cares about. Then again, it could be the final straw that pushes her over the edge. Either way, I’m amped for this.
As for the other big relationship of the episode, Joe (Jesse L. Martin) is struggling to connect with estranged son Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale), a speed-loving street racer who uses his winnings to help out with his mother’s medical bills, because of course he does. He also has residual feelings of angst over Joe not being around in his life — again, because of course he does. This, despite none of this really being Joe’s fault, per se. He never knew Francine was pregnant, and he never bothered tracking her down after she left, since she was an actively destructive presence in the life of he and his daughter. So why would he try to find her and bring her chaos back into their life? But the episode makes it clear that Wally is still young, and prone to flights of anger and resentment, so it makes sense that he’d feel this way. What I love about the storyline is that it gives Jesse L. Martin more to work with, emotionally. I’ve long championed him as the best actor on this show, and given his Broadway credentials, to say nothing of his extensive Law & Order resume, I think he’s deserving of more of the spotlight. Seeing him try to forge a bond with Wally and come up short is heartbreaking stuff, but it also indicates that this could end up being a stealth contender for best storyline of Season 2, before it’s all said and done. In fact, I’m particularly intrigued by the possibility of Wally meeting Barry and developing a bit of a rivalry with him, over the fact that Barry actually did get to have Joe for a father in his youth. The prodigal son vs. the adopted son could make for some rousing conflict. As it stands now, this was a compelling start to the journey of Joe and Wally as father and son.
“Potential Energy” is one of the best episodes of The Flash this season, in the totality of its storytelling. The focus on character over plot made this innately compelling, and I think the ensemble cast was more than up to the task of delivering on the strong script. I think the second half of Season 2 has all the potential in the world to eclipse the back half of Season 1, which was some of the best genre television of 2015. Here’s hoping for a homerun.
But what did you think of The Flash, “Potential Energy”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on The CW’s DC Universe, check out a MAJOR Flash spoiler on a presumed-dead character set to reappear in the second half of Season 2!