The Flash was the breakout series of last season, the superhero show which came closer to capturing the tone of the comics than any other on TV. Season one was genuinely funny, its characters likeable, and it had a sense of optimism. It didn't get caught up in the darkness and angst that often swallows superhero shows whole (see season 3 of Arrow). For a debut season, it was almost perfect.
So hopes are pretty high for season 2. Last week we were reintroduced to Barry (Grant Gustin) and our friends in Central City in "The Man Who Saved Central City". So how did the season 2 premiere stack up?
The Man Who Saved Central City
For large chunks of this episode, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd stepped into one of The Flash's parallel universes, because life as we know in it in Central City seems to have been permanently altered by the events of last season's epic finale. The first indicator of this is Barry's new voiceover, now told morosely, in the manner of somebody who's just about given up.
"My name is Barry Allen, and I am the fastest man alive," he starts out, just like normal. "When I was a child, I saw my mother killed by something impossible, my father went to prison for her murder, then an accident made me the impossible, and I became the Flash." Barry sounds borderline suicidal at this point, before veering from the usual script with the confession that "I thought I would finally get justice for my family, but I failed ... I'm on my own now, decided it's better that way. Keeps the people I care about safe."
So we pretty get up to speed (sorry...) with the notion that Barry is punishing himself for what happened at the close of season 1, for the fact that his father is still languishing in prison, and that he's pretty much fallen off the radar. Cisco is now working with Joe on the meta-human taskforce whilst Caitlin is at Mercury Labs, working with some high tech equipment but looking less than thrilled about it. The bizarre thing about this episode is the way it seems to have had a personality swap with sister show Arrow.
Barry does a surprisingly good Oliver Queen impression
Oliver Queen has always been the angsty one. Barry is supposed to see the good in people. He's the guy who rises to the challenge. He's not the one who wallows in self pity and pushes the people he loves away. For much of this episode, it's a difficult pill to swallow that Barry is so down on himself whilst Oliver, in the Arrow season 4 premiere, was practically doing his best Maria von Trapp.
Barry's determination to go it as a lone wolf leads him to confront the Atom Smasher, the episode's super-strong villain, without the help of Cisco or Martin Stein, even after a stirring speech from Iris (who feels completely refocused as a character now, with more purpose than when she was a pretend journalist).
Finally, Henry Allen is a free man
Only a reunion with Caitlin changes Barry's course, after watching the video confession left by the fake Dr. Wells, in which he assumes total responsibility for the murder of Barry's mum, liberating Henry Allen in the process. It's the first time in this episode where we really feel for Barry, and get some understanding of the wall he's put up around himself, but it's also the trigger he needed to see that he needs the help of his friends.
After Henry gets out, he tells Barry that he can't stick around if Barry is going to fulfil his potential in Central City. It's pretty rough on Barry, and caps off a heavy episode by this series' standards. I get why we needed this more downbeat re-introduction to season 2, but going forward I hope the show remembers that it's loved because it's upbeat and has the light touch of the comics - otherwise Arrow might have to steal back the title of my number one hero series, and we really can't be having that.
What did you think of The Flash season 2, episode 1? Did the darker tone work, and will the STAR Labs gang having reunited bring back a sense of fun next time? See the episode 2 trailer below, leave a comment and make your thoughts heard.