Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Flash 2x10 "Potential Energy" (Turtle Power!) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

"Potential Energy"
Original Airdate: January 19, 2015  

Welcome back from the midseason hiatus, everyone! It's been a while, right? I'm sure everyone missed this show, with its adorable puppy protagonist and its Cisco and its comic book ridiculousness. I know I missed it.

I want to talk about superheroes and secrets. Specifically, I want to talk about the persistent cliche of superheroes keeping their superheroing secret from loved ones — family, friends, significant others, etc. It's something that has lasted for... I can't say that it's lasted for as long as superheroes have been around, exactly, because Jay Garrick's costume in the original Flash comics proves that secret identity wasn't really top priority for all heroes back in the 1940s — but the concept of a hero feeling that it's "necessary" to keep their identity a secret has been around for decades. Here, in the 21st century, surrounded by superheroes in virtually all media formats, I think we're all savvy enough to ask, "why?"

Why is this a thing? I wouldn't say that "Potential Energy" entirely revolved around the idea of Barry keeping his role as Central City's local hero a secret from Patty Spivot, but it was certainly an important aspect of the episode. The secret — and whether or not Barry should tell it — provided an underlying motivation to Barry's actions around Patty while he and Team Flash dealt with the A-plot villainy of The Turtle (more on that later). As things unfolded in the episode, I found myself wondering why this trope is so popular — almost a requirement for superhero stories all over the place — when it really makes no sense at all. Before we really get into all that, though, let's go ahead and run through the episode.


The episode opens with a nightmare sequence that we don't realize is a nightmare sequence until Barry wakes up, clearly terrified because the whole nightmare was about his identity as The Flash putting Patty in danger. The result of this nightmare — apparently one of many that Barry has had recently — is Barry being standoffish and, in the words of Iris, "guarded." He's acting like he's carrying the weight of the world, and it's confusing Patty because she doesn't know that Barry does have quite a lot of responsibility as the Flash, and making sure that Zoom doesn't hurt anyone in his city. So while Barry's brooding is understandable to us, the viewers, and everyone on Team Flash, Patty's left confused, wondering what it is she could do to help him and coming up with no answers. I'm sure it's a very frustrating position for Patty to be in, since it's evident that she cares a lot for Barry and wants their relationship to work, but Barry's still struggling with how her being in his life might put her in danger from Zoom.

Zoom is, by the way, still the number one Big Bad and the problem that Team Flash is consistently trying to solve. A potential solution to the problem of Zoom comes when Cisco brings up his heretofore unmentioned "white whale," a metahuman thief with the less-than-stellar moniker of "The Turtle." Cisco's plan is to figure out how The Turtle uses his power — the ability to slow down time in the space around him — and then use that knowledge to make something that could slow Zoom down to a more manageable level of speed. Since no one on Team Flash has any other good ideas for stopping Zoom, they all agree that capturing The Turtle is their best — and only — bet for the time being. Also, I'm sure they want to get the metahuman thief off the streets, right? Yeah, probably. Let's assume there are some directly unselfish motivations for the team... Well, not ParaWells. He's definitely selfishly motivated (and utterly humorless this episode), but since it's all because he still desperately wants to save his daughter, we'll give him a pass.

Plan A — to get The Turtle when a personally prized family heirloom of a ring is on display — fails when Barry is trapped in Turtle Time along with everyone else in the room. Except that his super speed allows him to remain conscious of what The Turtle is doing the whole time while normal humans don't even register the slow-down. Plan B comes with Barry and a couple members of Team Flash (and also Patty) in formal wear, as they try to stop The Turtle before he can steal a fancy old painting at a gala. That also fails, by the way. Man — who would have thought someone with the nickname "The Turtle" would be such a challenge? Cisco probably undersold the guy a bit with that villain title.

Here's where what I mentioned in the intro come in: Patty gets kidnapped by The Turtle because Turtle figures out that Patty must be important to The Flash, since he saves her. The Turtle's whole deal is that he steals the things that are important to people — regardless of monetary value — just to prevent people from having what they want, because villainy! Since Patty is important to Flash, the guy wants to freeze her and keep her forever, which is a way creepy MO for someone called "The Turtle" (seriously, Cisco, new name). Of course, in the end, Patty gets saved and The Turtle gets shoved into one of Team Flash's super special metahuman cells. Barry seems to have learned his lesson on telling the truth, because he goes up to her at the end of the episode and it looks like he's going to come clean and tell Patty he's The Flash... but then she breaks up with him.

Well, that romance didn't last nearly as long as I expected.

Another thing that didn't last as long as I expected: The Turtle, who gets stabbed through the brain and killed by ParaWells because 'ol Harry's getting awfully antsy about defeating Zoom and can't wait five minutes for the rest of the team. I'm not well-versed in the ways of science, but I'm pretty sure it's not a good idea to destroy your only source of potential experimental material, right? Like, keeping The Turtle around would probably be smarter for future experimentation?


Iris is the voice of freaking reason this episode. Bless her and her common sense, for she speaks the truth on truth: Barry should have told Patty about him being the Flash as soon as things started getting serious between them. I don't care what ParaWells says about how Zoom finding out "who [Barry] cares for" would put them in danger — Harry, you don't have a secret identity. Zoom probably just Earth-2 Googled you to find out about your daughter and how to hurt you, and your opinion on the matter does not apply to Barry's situation. Stop messing things up for him because you've gotten paranoid, and stop adhering to this ancient comic book tradition of keeping secrets. It makes no sense, it's never made any sense, and we're not buying it anymore.

The events of this whole episode proved that Patty (who we can just use as a stand-in for all friends/family/love interests who get close to superhero characters) would have been in the exact same amount of danger had she known who Barry secretly was the whole time. Her not knowing did nothing to keep the villain from knowing, because the villain used his own skills of observation to figure out that the Flash chose to save a single woman who was in danger, connected some dots, and decided that she must have been important to him in some way. That's it.

But even though the episode makes it extremely clear that Patty's knowledge of Barry's secret identity would have made no difference in the amount of danger she was placed in (besides maybe making her less scared, since she'd probably be reassured that her superhero boyfriend and his team of geniuses would find her) I still don't think its message was, "let this trope die." I think The Flash is still kind of clinging to this old, worn-out nonsense and I don't understand why.

What shows/comics/movies that trot out the old "if you tell your loved ones your deep, dark secret you'll put them in danger because your enemies will find them" thing don't seem to get — and what this episode emphasizes very well while probably not meaning to do so — is that the hero telling the loved one the truth isn't a door that opens and reveals said truth to all people, everywhere. The evil people are going to notice closeness, fondness, etc. regardless of whether or not the loved one knows the secret, so why keep it a secret and hurt the people around you? For cheap dramatics and emotional turmoil? Is it worth it?

In conclusion, let me use Troy and Abed from Community to break it down:


Other Things:
  • "I've always wanted a baby brother." "What about the White Shadow?" Jeez, Wally. Harsh.
  • "You're not needed." "I am needed! Somewhere." I love that delivery from Jesse L. Martin.
  • Also love: all interactions between Harry and Cisco. All of them. Funny, serious, annoyed. They're all A+.
  • "Half-whale, half-turtle," Jay Garrick nods, understandingly. Because Earth-2 is weird.
  • It's weird and great that everyone knows about Cisco's anti-Turtle vendetta except Barry.
  • "From Hell's heart, I stab at thee." I know it's a Moby Dick quote, but I get the feeling Cisco was channeling some Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when he said it.
  • I don't know what to think about Caitlin/Jay. I guess it's nice?
  • "Come on, he's 6'2, he's square-jawed and he's jacked. I think he looks fine." "I'm 6'4."
  • "I will say, [Patty] put bullets in King Shark and Harry, so as far as I'm concerned, that's Team Flash material to me."
  • "Keep your eyes open for The Turtle... A sentence I never thought I would say."
  • "But we need to see if your speed still works!" (vroooom) "I — I think it still works."
  • BTW Jay Garrick's dying, probably, maybe, I think?
  • I don't think it factored enough in the episode to warrant a section in the review, but we did get a more full introduction to Wally West this week. He's kind of a jerk and blames Joe for not being able to find him or even realize he existed, which is a bit much since Francine's the one who kept it secret from everyone. Also, I mentioned it on Twitter but I'll say it again here: just once, I want a "long-lost child" story where the kid shows up and they're perfectly nice and well-adjusted.
  • I will say that it looks like, even though Wally's rude to Joe, he genuinely seems to like Iris.
  • ParaWells' voice-over is way more sinister than your average Barry voiceover.
  • Crap, we have a Thawne back in the show. I can't keep track of all these identities, The Flash! Give this poor reviewer a break!

1 comment:

  1. Ah the age old secret idendity and its problems. Although Patty had been on the show long enough that it was well past time for him to reveal it to her. The secret idendity tradation is not just for cheap drama though it can be used for that. Not trying to disagree with you just mentioning the other side of it.

    The secret identity comes form the fact that technicaly what the heroes do is illigeal and normally the police should be arresting them. Also add to the fact that it allows them to have some sort of a personal life to seperate work from personal bussiness. Plus more modern day superheros have a fear that the government would shut them down and hurt them in ways supervllians usally can't.

    The Secret Idendity needs to be a bit more flexiable since it works and doesn't work depending on the situation. I mean there was that city wide manhunt for Oliver queen when Lance found out he was the Arrow. The only ones who should know would be close friends and family but a secret ID should still be mantained because just putting people in danger is not the only threat to a hero.

    Anyway Barry should have told Patty still and now she's leaving just great. So it will be Barry and Iris dancing around each other. Can this show just pick a romance and go with it? I guess I`ll just stick with Jay and Catlin. Also Thawne is back which should be intresting since he is the gulity one and not Wells since the Wells the team knew was actually Thawne. But ParaWells sounded alot like Eobard Thawne in that last sceen...hmmm could be intresting and if he gets the Turtle's power..well that brings ideas.