The Flash S02E09 “Running To Stand Still” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on: Sky 1, Tuesdays, 8pm
Writer: Andrew Kreisberg
Director: Kevin Tancharoen
Essential Plot Points:
- The Weather Wizard breaks Captain Cold and the Trickster out of Iron Heights prison.
- He wants them to combine their powers and skills to kill the Flash. Captain Cold politely declines.
- Cold warns Barry then buggers off to star in another series.
- Weather Wizard and the Trickster plough on regardless. As it’s Christmas they hatch a seasonal plan; the Trickster pretends to be Santa and hand out bombs disguised as presents to a hundred kids.
- Weather Wizard (who can fly now, by the way) blackmails Barry: either he lets himself be killed very publicly and very humiliatingly or the kids all die.
- It’s Wells to the rescue as he uses magic science to drag all the bombs into a breach, leaving Barry free to defeat the two villains.
- Oh, hang on, we forgot to mention that Patty is on a revenge trip because Mardon (before he became Weather Wizard) killed her dad back in the day. The Flash talks her out it.
- Wells is blackmailed by Zoom to help him steal Barry’s speed.
- Joe learns about his son, Wally, who turns up on his doorstep during a Christmas party (which was probably a good thing as it looked like Barry and Patty were going to get irritatingly mushy).
Right, so it took four credited writers to create last week’s muddled, mishmash of a crossover, while this week’s little gem of an episode credits just one scriptwriter. Is there a lesson to be learned there? Or maybe Kreisberg simply benefitted from not having to cram in so many disparate elements.
Whatever the case, “Running To Standstill” is a welcome bounce back to form; a focussed, fun and event-packed episode which still has time to spare for some good old sentimentality. As a Christmas episode it has to deliver some festive spirit with an accompanying cheese platter. Luckily cheese is something The Flash is an expert in; it’s a past master at delivering a dollop of schmaltz that leaves you feeling warm inside and not just a little bit sick from overindulgence.
So, amazingly, you get through an episode that features no less than four heartfelt scenes of high emotion (Iris reveals to Joe he has a son; Joe tells Barry he feels guilty for never being there for his son; Patty reveals to the Flash why she hates Mardon so much; and Barry tells Wells – through a pane of glass – that he forgives him) without vomiting and not feeling shortchanged on action. Because there is a lot of action. Some of it very good indeed (see below).
And out of those four big emotional scenes only the Patty one feels hammy. On the other hand, the most effective one is the virtual monologue Grant Gustin gives about forgiveness; once again he proves to be one of the most versatile leads in an action TV series at the moment.
Meanwhile over in the main plot Mark Hamill has a whale of a time camping things up as the Trickster and while Wentworth Miller leaves the action early, he has a few great moments of surly gittishness to savour. Liam McIntyre’s Weather Wizard remains a little by-the-numbers villain-of-the-week, but at least he gets to fly this time in an impressive action sequence.
The Christmas present plot is a rum old piece of tinselly toot, the kind of silly-but-still-fun nonsense Russell T Davies used to like in his festive Doctor Who episodes. Don’t think too hard about the logic and just enjoy the image of hundreds of Christmas present hurtling into a breach (though we’re thankfully spared the montage of crying kids).
Alongside all that we have the Wells/Zoom plotline unfurling in all kinds of interesting ways. At last we find out there is some sense and logic behind Zoom’s MO of sending countless hapless goons from Earth 2 to fight Barry (apologies for ever doubting there was): he’s trying to make Barry run faster so he can syphon off even more of the speed force. It still doesn’t explain why he’s taken so long to use Wells’s daughter for blackmail purposes, but what the hell; at least we know where Wells stands now, and we feel sorry for him. Let’s hope he can, eventually, be the hero this time round. Without dying. And keeping his sarcasm intact.
Oh, and Jay’s developed a sense of humour. His gentle ribbing of Caitlin and her geeky responses were actually very sweet. Y’see, miracles do happen at Christmas!
- The teaser was just magnificent and features some stunning FX shots and editing. All of that was trumped by the punchline, though: Zoom saying, “Merry Christmas”. What a cheeky git.
- The brief scene with Wells arriving at the door of some poor kid’s house and deadpanning, “Your toys… give them to me,” is one of the comedy highlights of the season so far.
- The slo-mo shot of Barry running across the helicopter’s blades must have been of those great ideas from the comics that the writers have been trying to crowbar into an appropriate plot for ages. It was worth the wait, though.
- Sure, Mark Hamill is just playing the Joker again (he does so in the animated Batman series) but the Trickster is still all kinds of fun to watch. His highlight here is coming up with new lyrics for a Christmas classic, “Deck the halls with body parts from a girl named Holly.” Though for some reason, his delivery of, “Don’t have a snit, Snart,” was hilarious too. And how much did he look like Johnny Rotten when he stuck his finger down his throat?
- “They didn’t have any Green Arrow dolls.” “I don’t know why anybody would want a toy of that crazy man.”
- Oh yeah, and this was our shot of the episode. How could you not love it?
- Not so much bad as, “Huh?” What is the episode title all about? It’s just a generic phrase that could apply to any episode of The Flash and has nothing to do with Christmas. The only other main cultural touchstone for the phrase is the U2 track of that name from The Joshua Tree, and that’s a track about drug addiction. Apart from the fact that heroin is sometimes referred to as “snow” we can’t fathom a connection there.
- Patty’s whole speech about “Mardon didn’t kill my dad… I did!” is a steaming great “IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME!” cliché. Even actress Shantel VanSanten looks like she’s grimacing as she delivers it. It’s not like the episode even needed it; Patty on a revenge trip for the death of her father was convincing enough without an extra dollop of guilt.
- So not one of those hundred kids didn’t sneak a look at their present early? We find that hard to believe.
- The scientific logic behind reversing the magnetic polarity of one bomb so that it would attract all the others is what’s technically known as “bobbins”, aka, “TV sci-fi science”.
And The Random:
- In the DC comics universe Wally West was Kid Flash and eventually the third Flash after Barry died during the “Crisis On Infinite Earths”. He was the comics’ primary Flash for around two decades until Barry returned during “Final Crisis”. His main girlfriend during this time was Linda Park.
- Snart may have been an odd choice for Mardon to spring from jail but somebody had to make him available for a certain spin-off that’s coming up. Which also explains this little piece of foreshadowing: “Sorry, I’m not interested in being a hero.” “You’re doing a lousy job of being the villain this week.”
- The toy warehouse was owned by Okamura Toys. Hiro Okamura was the third character in the DC universe to take up the mantle of the Toyman, though unlike his predecessors he wasn’t a supervillain. He actually helped out the Justice League.
- Cisco uses the phrase “Best of both worlds” which was one of the taglines used to promote season two. Though knowing Cisco he probably had the Borg on his mind.
- And talking of Cisco’s cultural references, “Magnets, bitch,” has to be a nod to Breaking Bad, surely?
- Okay, has Iron Heights’ psychiatrist seen the pictures in the Trickster’s cell? That’s what you call an obsessive personality.
Review by Dave Golder