The Flash can be a tough character to write for much the same reason that Superman can be. They’re both wildly powerful characters who can do things like rewrite time and reboot suns. There’s tons of room for fun with their powers, but they can be difficult to get right. This week, The Flash gives Barry one of the Flash’s least-flashy and most interesting abilities, but then struggles to do things with it that are actually interesting. Spoilers follow for The Flash Season 7, Episode 2, “Speed of Thought.”
“Speed of Thought”
I was optimistic going into The Flash this week and, for about the first quarter of the episode, things were going really well! We came off of last week’s emotional, resonant episode with a newly-energized Barry Allen and a team that had just suffered a devastating loss. This week opens up reflecting on that loss, and soon we find out that the artificial Speed Force the team booted up last week endowed Barry with a new power: Speed Force-enhanced cognition. In other words, he can think super fast.
I love when writers do weird–but totally logical–things with superpowers. When Avatar turned water bending into blood bending, when Magneto yanked Wolverine’s adamantium out of his body, and things like that can twist the story and characters in neat ways. It only makes sense that Barry would be able to think extra fast, and it’s surprising they didn’t do this sooner.
The first moments with the power are fun. The show uses editing instead of CGI to show off the power, and Cisco’s reactions make the whole bit work.
But if you think you know where this is going… you’re right.
Barry thinks so fast that he goes into super logical mode, and he stops having feelings. It scares his friends. They try to stop him and fail because he planned for every action they took. Then of course everything goes sideways and Barry regrets his logical actions.
And that should be just boring. But instead, it sucks. It actually sucks.
I am a Logical Science Man
As Barry’s super-thought sets in, he starts to talk more and more monotone, losing access to his feelings. Of all the things the writers could’ve done, this is the least interesting. Grant Gustin is a good actor. The scenes where he was imitating Tom Cavanaugh’s many Wellses were genuinely funny and fun, and he did a great job of bringing those characters to life.
Talking like Spock is not the only way to be logical. Just listen to any overly-confident guy who thinks he knows everything talk about the things he thinks he knows. He doesn’t talk without feeling, he talks with confident emphasis, like he’s already won ever argument. He smiles, he might even be a bit condescending. But Barry drains of emotion, and it doesn’t work for Gustin. It’s a terrible fit for him, and the writing doesn’t do him any favors, with Extremely Logical lines like “one must be prepared,” because logical people refer to themselves as “one.”
What’s worse is that the things he does aren’t logical, they’re personally self-interested actions, so he’s not being logical, he’s just being selfish. Which is an action fueled by emotion. The thing he’s doing is all feelies.
Once Team Flash has had enough of Barry’s crap, they corner him. Barry faces off against Cisco, Killer Frost, and Allegra, and at first it’s kind of cool. Then, Killer Frost doses herself with Velocity X, the temporary Speed Force serum that they just have in STAR Labs sitting around. Flash and Frost have a speed battle, and what follows is some of the very worst CGI I can remember ever seeing on a CW show. Or any show. Or on that all-CGI cartoon, Reboot.
A big part of the problem here is that the show chose Frost as the one to face off against Flash, and flowing white hair and a fully-visible face are an order of magnitude harder to render believably than something as sleek and consistent as the Flash suit. The CGI works great for the Scarlet Speedster the vast majority of the time. But when applied to Killer Frost, it just breaks down.
This fight should’ve been badass, but the visuals totally distracted from any character moments we might’ve gleaned.
I’m actually mad
Once everything is said and done, Barry of course regrets his actions because that’s the only path really available at this point, and he destroys the artificial Speed Force. Since it was powered by Nash Wells’ essence, that essence escapes and… well, I won’t spoil it.
Overall, this episode of The Flash sucks. It’s predictable, does the least interesting stuff it possibly can, and leaves us where we were last week. I give CW shows a lot of leeway. In my view, most issues of comic books are forgettable–we remember the killer story arcs, the important moments, but we forget a lot of the monthlies. I’m not expecting every episode of a weekly show to be a banger the same way I would expect of a multi-million dollar movie. Some episodes are just… filler. But this is less interesting than even that, and it’s a huge disappointment.
The Flash airs on the CW Tuesdays at 7 PM CST.