The Flash S02E19 “Back To Normal” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on: Sky 1, Tuesdays, 8pm
Writers: Brooke Roberts, Katherine Walczak
Director: John F Showalter
Essential Plot Points:
- Barry is (not) getting used to normal life again.
- Harry has worked out how to track daughter Jesse and goes to fetch her back.
- Jesse refuses to come
- Driving back to STAR Labs Harry is kidnapped by a super strong metahuman called Griffin.
- Griffin holds Harry captive in a fairground. Griffin is ageing at a superfast rate. The more he uses his super strength the faster he ages. He blames Wells (he believes Harry is Wells) and orders him to find a cure.
- Despite being powerless Barry suits up, tracks down Griffin and takes him on.
- The first encounter doesn’t go well so Team Pretend-Flash takes a different tack. Cisco and Jesse (who handily turns out to be a substitute Caitlin) beef up Barry’s suit with dwarf star alloy; the plan is to force Griffin to use his powers until he ages to death. Harsh!
- It works. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? Harry is rescued.
- Zoom is keeping Caitlin captive in his Earth-2 lair but allows her to wander around the place.
- She finds Killer Frost in a cell (as well as the Man in the Iron Mask). They make a deal: Caitlin will free Frost and then Frost will get them out of the lair.
- Instead, once free Frost tries to kill Snow; Frost knows that Zoom has only kept her alive because she reminds him of the “real” Caitlin Frost (which brings to mind horrible images of Zoom slapping the ol’ salami with his vibro-hand in front of her cell).
- But Zoom arrives and kills Killer Frost instead.
- He then tells Caitlin that he’s taking her back to Earth-1 and conquer it because hey, he’s conquered Earth-2 now. (Really? Has he? That’s news to us…!)
- Wally becomes a Flash fanboy and begs Joe to let him meet him… tricky with Barry currently powerless but somehow they pull it off.
- Jesse decides to move back to STAR Labs but guilt trips her dad into being a better man…
- …So Harry decides to create another particle accelerator explosion in the hope it’ll recreate the Flash!
“Back To Normal” starts out promisingly with an amusing montage contrasting Barry’s old life with new life (though we’re not sure why losing your powers would make you more or less prone to sniffing your grundies). It’s quirky, it’s melancholic and – it turns out – it’s one of the few sequences that’s really hits home in the episode.
In terms of the season’s structure this is a necessary episode; the alternative – to have Barry recovering his powers an episode after losing them and racing off to rescue Caitlin – would be far too trite and by-the-numbers. So, yes, there needs to be this breathing space. It’s a chance to take stock, to re-assess where all these characters are emotionally at this time.
The trouble is – following that perfect opening sequence – the episode wastes the opportunity. Instead too much of the running time is concerned with “how can Barry defeat the villain-of-the-week without his powers” and the answer – disappointingly – is pretty easily, with a bit of tech help from Cisco.
To be fair, Griffin’s raison d’être is actually to give Harry an epiphany that’ll make him deliver the episode’s shocking last line. Griffin is dying and he blames Wells; and even though Harry isn’t Wells he’s guilty of the same crime for different reasons on Earth-2 and Griffin finally makes him face up to the fact that he needs to account for what he’s done. Which is all well and good except we learn all this from slabs of dialogue which are barely more subtle, nuanced or eloquent than that last sentence. It’s all hammered home with the mallet made by the same guy who crafted Thor’s Mjölnir.
As for Barry, aside from a brief mention that he’s speeding through his forensics work, a bit or rib-rubbing after a fight and a soppy conversation with Iris, the episode shows little interest in examining how losing his powers is affecting him psychologically. Sure, The Flash shouldn’t suddenly turn into an intense emotional drama but the episode could have been smarter about addressing the issues in an action set-up.
If nothing else, this enforced lull in the season’s arc plot should have been an opportunity to explore one thing that’s been sidestepped all season – what the hell is Zoom’s endgame anyway? What does he want? How is he expecting to achieve it? This should have been the episode where we see him terrorising Earth-2. Last time we saw the wider world of Earth-2 in “Escape From Earth-2, it looked like their version of Central City was suffering a bit but it hardly felt like the world was trembling in fear at the name Zoom! Yet here, Zoom turns up at the end and tells Caitlin he might as well go back to Earth-1 because he’s conquered Earth-2! What? Really? Evidence please? Sure, he’s been missing most of the episode so he must have been doing something, but if he really was conquering the world it might have been nice to have seen some actual conquering going on.
There’s little downright bad about “Back To Normal”; the problem is the all-pervading “that’ll-do” feel about the episode. Cisco gets his usual batch of good lines (“That’s why I’m always dropping calls around you?”) and Killer Frost baiting Caitlin has some fun moments. But there are too many emotional beats that misfire or fail to fire at all, and too many missed opportunities.
- Refreshingly, Barry doesn’t recover his powers by the end of the episode. Good. This makes his loss feel much more crucial to the storyline and not just a gimmick.
- The opening montage is great fun, with Barry having to get used the mug-shattering banalities of normal life. Great choice of music, too: Desmond Dekker And The Aces’ 1968 reggae hit, “Israelites” (though even after all these years the main refrain still sounds like “me ears are alight”). Grant Gustin nails the world weary acceptance perfectly.
- The FX when Harry’s van crashes into Griffen are especially good – the image itself is a bit of a screen superhero trope but it still looks fresh and impressive here.
- Killer Frost taking the piss out of Caitlin was an obvious way to go but it was still very amusing: “So tell me, why hide the girls? I mean, you’ve seen our body, right?”
- While Danielle Panabaker is having fun being a bitch, Violett Beane as Jesse the stand-in-Caitlin is doing a much better job of making the technobabble sound convincing.
- The “Above & Beyond” Award goes to Merren McMahon who has a six-line cameo as Jesse’s roommate and puts so much charm and spark into it you hope she’s made a recurring character next season… (Unlikely, since it seems her final line – “Let me know if I need to find a new roommate” – turned out to be spot on.)
- Why doesn’t anyone raise the possibility of Barry using Velocity-9? It worked on Trajectory so you clearly don’t need to have the speed force to begin with for it to work (ie, it’s not just an enhancer). Presumably Barry doesn’t want to become an addict, but you’d think somebody would at least raise the idea at some point.
- Okay, so this week there is an explanation as to how Zoom can continue to nip between worlds (a plothole we complained about last week): apparently Cisco could open the breach but not close it. It would have been nice to have known that last week. In fact, you’d have thought the whole issue of Cisco not being able to close the breach would have caused some pretty heated discussions last week; it’s not exactly an insignificant factor in their plans. Plus, it seems really weird – not to mention suspiciously convenient for plotting purposes – that Cisco powers can only open breaches, not close them.
- The whole Wally plot is downright cringeworthy and requires Wally to practically change personality.
- There is one especially iffy special FX shot when Griffin throws a fairground car at Cisco and Joe and it appears to pass through them. It looks like nobody informed the director to keep the two actors a decent distance apart.
- Most of the ageing FX and make-up effects for Griffin are pretty decent, except the sausage-fingered aged hands for his oldest incarnation, which look like a pair of dodgy gloves.
- Why hasn’t Harry used the “cellular dead zone” method to track Jesse before?
And The Random:
- Does Jesse really share a room with her Dad at STAR Labs? There are twin beds in there, but that’s just… weird.
- Just as weird as having a poster for a fast food chain. Okay, Big Belly Burgers is a regular in-joke in the show, but how many people do you know with a KFC poster in their bedroom?
- 52-Spotting: There are loads of occurrences of 52 in this episode though some are old favourites:
- Channel 52 provides news footage again.
- Another piece of Cisco-designed software once again has “XRD 52” in the corner (top right) – see also S02E12 “Fast Lane”.
- There’s XRD 52 again on this screen (top left) but it’s more difficult to see. And finally…
- We’re not sure if we should have spotted this before (certainly this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this weapon) but this is the first time we noticed that Harry’s massive gun has 52 on the side.
- Griffin Grey was first introduced in the DC comics universe in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1 (2006) where he became known as the supervillain called The Griffin (that’s some powerful aptronym mojo going on there). As in this episode he did age rapidly but he also had others superpowers in addition to super strength, including enhanced vision and the ability to generate green energy bolts.
- Griffin and Barry fight in a warehouse belonging to Ace Chemical, which, in DC mythology is where a small-time villain called the Red Hood fell into a vat of chemicals and came out a green-haired maniac called the Joker – Detective Comics Vol 1 #168 (1951).
Review by Dave Golder