Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Flash 2x12 "Fast Lane" (Speed of Life) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

"Fast Lane"
Original Airdate: February 2, 2015
“There’s this song lyric I like: ‘All the broken hearts in the world still beat.’ Mine’s beating, but bruised. Hopefully not for long. The one thing I do know is, time changes everything.” 
Holy sad violins, Barry, dial it back. This is an opening voiceover sequence, not a eulogy. Yes, by the way — Barry is still very gloomy, but I’m happy to say that he actually smiles during this episode, unlike last week’s. He seems closer to his older self, sad voice-overs notwithstanding, and by the end of the episode he’s restored a bit of that go-getter attitude we expect from our favorite speedster with the soul of a Labrador puppy.

The character aspects of this episode far outrank the metahuman plot around which everything supposedly resolves. We get a lot of growth and development not only for Barry, but for the West family (Wally included) and for ParaWells, too. I barely paid attention to this week’s villain — sorry, fans of Tar Pit — but found myself really enjoying how the characters interacted with each other, the nuances of their relationships (especially between ParaWells and Barry) and the little mini-arcs of growth they go through over the course of the hour.

I think this is the first episode of The Flash in which I have absolutely nothing of worth to say about the metahuman of the week. Usually, I try to wrap my commentary around the metahuman-based plot, but I don’t think I can do that this time because I just really don’t care. I barely even want to summarize it because I found it to be so insignificant, but here you go: back when the S.T.A.R. Labs explosion happened, some guys murdered this other guy by drowning him in tar. Particle Accelerator explosion plus tar equals Tar Pit, a metahuman whose superpower is generating more tar and, occasionally, turning into a giant tar monster. He wants revenge. He tries killing his killers. The Flash stops him with the help of Cisco’s inventing know-how. That’s all you really need to know about the metahuman.


Well, I guess Francine did indeed die after last week’s episode, but the remaining Wests seem to be using the loss to finally put aside their differences and try and be a family. The episode opens to the three of them eating dinner and sharing stories and childhood dreams — Joe’s always wanted to be a cop, Wally wanted to be an astronaut growing up because rockets go fast. You’re going to be super happy when you get speedster powers eventually, huh, Wally? I mean, I don’t know if the show is going to make that happen, but according to the comics it is your destiny, my friend. When the subject of speed comes up, Iris mentions the fact that Wally is still doing illegal street races. Joe doesn’t want to mention it because he’s trying to be a Cool Dad, but Iris doesn’t care about being a Cool Sister so she stares Wally down like a boss until he has to leave the dinner table.

Iris is a boss throughout “Fast Lane,” by the way. I’m not sure why we only occasionally get glimpses of her prowess as an investigative reporter, considering how the show went through the trouble of setting her up with a career with so much plot potential, but this episode definitely shows off why she’s in the field she’s in. She’s smart, enterprising, brave, and tenacious in trying to either convince Wally to stop racing or force a blanket shutdown of the races entirely... in a way that I’m pretty sure is blackmail? But Iris is in Protective Big Sister Mode throughout the episode, so she’s not exactly above trying her hand at blackmailing shady guys who run illegal street races.

Unfortunately, Iris’s tenacity gets her into trouble when she attends one of Wally’s races and the metahuman of the week shows up, looking for one of his murderers to murder. Tar Pit causes a crash and Barry’s not fast enough (more on that coming up) to stop Iris from getting hit by a really big piece of glass. Iris ends up in the hospital, there is much discussion about family and how Wally should try to be safer and not do illegal things, and the West family seems slightly better at the end of the episode.

Oh, and Joe punches pretty much anyone he determines to be responsible for Iris getting hurt. Joe, I don't know why you were so worried about being a Cool Dad. The fact that you don’t even hesitate to punch people in the face for hurting your kid probably makes you the Coolest Dad.


The shadowy, secret plot going on behind the main plot in “Fast Lane” is ParaWells coming up with a device to sap Barry’s speed for Zoom, who comes right out and tells him that his daughter’s going to get tortured if he doesn’t do what he’s told. Like, I don’t really blame ParaWells for what he did? It’s not as if he’s sapping Barry’s speed for his own gain, or research, or just to be a dick. He’s doing it to save his daughter. But, since this speed-siphoning scheme is what makes Barry too slow to save Iris from getting stabbed by a hunk of glass, his actions are very frowned upon. He’s also one of the people Joe punches in the face.

I really liked the dynamic between Barry and ParaWells in this episode. You can tell that Barry’s feeling a bit restless after his breakup with Patty, and his family — the Wests — are dealing with their own thing. He doesn’t have very many places to go, other than S.T.A.R Labs and since he’s at a lab, he does some science and chatters to Harry the whole time. Completely clueless, meanwhile, that Harry’s patience levels are sub-zero and the guy’s clearly under some stress.

Barry admits that the time spent with the Wells of Earth-2 has reminded him of his days with Thawne-Wells before that guy revealed himself to be evil. ParaWells is very unhappy with this confession — since anxious fathers loaded up with tons of guilt are immune to the puppy-like cuteness of Barry Allen — and snaps at Barry. Because not only does ParaWells have other stuff on his mind besides playing mentor to a team of superheroes, he doesn’t want to add more people to care about and worry about to his list. It was bad enough last week, when Cisco almost died and Harry nearly lost his mind. Now, with the fact that he’s the one causing Barry to lose his speed, and with the knowledge that he has to choose his daughter over Team Flash, Harry just can’t allow himself to get any closer to these people than he already has.

I think the growth of the Earth-2 Wells character has been an interesting one. He started out so abrasive and harsh, but slowly eased into a familiarity with the team. As viewers, it was easy for us to sort of gloss over the fact that Harry seemed less restless and less harsh as time went on and it seems like it was easy for ParaWells to do the same. He had no idea that he was starting to like Team Flash. He had no idea he was starting to care about them, that he allowed himself to care about them, but then Cisco almost faded into a time paradox and he had a revelation. He thought he would have to lock down any of those pesky emotions before they got further out of hand, because he knew that — in the end — he would have to save his daughter, alone.

... Until Barry learns about this self-sacrificial plot, of course, and pep talks everyone into helping Harry out, saving Jesse Quick, and stopping Zoom. By going to Earth-2. Yay! Field trip!


Other Things:
  • “Shouldn’t you be out doing...” (Harry karate-chop arm-dances.)
  • I can’t believe that Barry is my age. What am I doing with my life? Why don’t I have superpowers yet?
  • “That’s annoying.” You jealous of Barry’s speed-reading skills, Harry?
  • Cutting back and forth between the endearing interactions of Cisco and Barry, and the guilty shadiness of ParaWells modifying Barry’s suit, was a nice editing touch.
  • “Did I just make the metahuman Tinder?”
  • Barry clearly needs hobbies that aren’t sciencing or superheroing.
  • I kind of wonder if Harry throwing the eraser was in the script or not? Because it was random and perfect.
  • "Who's the best hacker in the world, people?" (Barry and Caitlin, in unison): "Felicity Smoak."
  • “Ten-year-old determination. You remind me of her.” “Did you scold her as well?” “...yes.”
  • “How many felonies are we committing breaking into sealed court records?” “Eh, three or four — nope! Five.”
  • Harry carried his headache pain in his shoulders, apparently.
  • Haha, Harry’s “I guess that was pretty cool”... Poor dude, you’re hooked on this family of well-meaning misfits.
  • Wally West excels at cockroach metaphors.
  • (Sidenote: I like Wally a lot more after this episode. He’s a good character when his main function isn’t just standing around, being angry and making snarky comments.)
  • I love it any time someone calls Barry Joe’s son.
  • I’m not sure I’m buying the whole “Wally loves speed because it reminds him of his mom” thing but sure, it’s fine.
  • 1940s-aesthetic Earth-2 next time, people!


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