After eight episodes that have ranged from forgettable to fantastic, The Flash heads into its first hiatus after the airing of “The Man in the Yellow Suit” on Tuesday night. Coming on the heels of last week’s stellar two-part crossover event with sister show Arrow, the winter finale of this CW freshman show faced some pretty high expectations from fans new and old.
Fortunately for all, “The Man in the Yellow Suit” managed to epitomize in 44 minutes everything that is great about The Flash. Although the episode is far from perfect, it succeeds as the first pinnacle of plot in a show that has had more whimsy than substance. Despite being less overtly fun that most of Barry Allen’s earlier adventures, the familiar sense of joyousness is present even in the grimmest moments so that there is a sense of poignancy and hope to the heartbreak. The good of the episode was mostly strong enough to withstand the weaker elements, but “The Man in the Yellow Suit” nevertheless leaves viewers with a few sticking points to stew over until the show returns on January 20. So, here is what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen next after the winter finale of The Flash.
What Worked: The majority of the bad guys faced by our hero so far in the run of the show have been villains of the week with little carryover into subsequent installments, and none have had the capabilities to outfight the Flash for very long. Naturally, Barry’s victories have almost entirely resulted from his superspeed; as such, the action sequences of the show have already begun to stale somewhat. Last week’s Flash/Arrow showdown between Barry Allen and Starling City’s Oliver Queen was an exception…and also the most exciting fight scene to that point. There’s a fun inherent in a superhero with superpowers and superhealing, but the stakes had never before felt particularly high. The earlier villains struck what victories they could due to their own raw abilities rather than any actual mastery. The very non-metahuman Oliver changed things as he effectively defeated Barry in hand-to-hand combat via tactics and skill. The battle set a tricky precedent, and an immediate return to Metahuman Of The Week would have been a genuine disappointment.
Luckily, the villain of “The Man in the Yellow Suit” was a far cry from token enemies with token powers. Although possessing superspeed almost identical to that of Barry, there was a sinister quality to his easy defeat of the Flash in their first faceoff. Luring our hero into a football stadium, the yellow speedster proceeded to thoroughly trounce Barry in speed and strategy. Barry was defeated at his own game, and it was immensely satisfying both from a narrative standpoint and for those Arrow fans offended on behalf of their protagonist as Barry used his superpowered advantage to slow-motion pummel him in the crossover. The first round of the Flash vs. Reverse Flash set viewers’ hearts beating as Barry quailed physically and emotionally, and we got our first glimpse of what a real Flash supervillain would look like.
Of course, that first fight sequence only started our hearts jumping in our chests. The force field standoff at STAR Labs as Reverse Flash buzzed furiously inside of his trap while the officers of the Central City Police Department struggled to accept the impossibility before their eyes. Even before his escape and disturbingly brutal beating of Harrison Wells, the cops’ discomfort fueled the growing suspense in every moment. Eddie Thawne’s fear was contagious rather than comical, and there was a distinct lack of equilibrium among the good guys that left the vibrating man in the silly yellow suit a surprisingly terrifying figure in the fun Flash.
None of the fear or frustration of the main characters would have been at all catching were it not for the performances of the main players. Rick Cosnett as Eddie turned in his best work to date, and Candice Patton as Iris West managed to strike a balance between oblivious and understanding in her interactions with the increasingly open Barry. Her absolute silence as Barry explained how long he has harbored a secret love for her was nearly as affecting as his desperate plea for her to understand what he’s saying to her…which actually says a great deal about her performance, particularly since Grant Gustin activated his own superpower and wept in that special way that translates through the screen and has viewers everywhere sniffling despite themselves.
As ever, Gustin shone most in his interactions with his father figures. His scenes with John Wesley Shipp as the incarcerated Henry Allen never fail to achieve a great deal of depth despite the brevity of their scenes, and his more frequent moments opposite Jesse L. Martin as Joe West are always some of the most heartwarming of any given episode. Danielle Panabaker was given the opportunity to actually emote in “The Man in the Yellow Suit,” and she rose to the occasion as Caitlin Snow struggled to fit the much-altered version of her fiancé with the man whom she had loved and lost in the particle accelerator explosion. Despite the enviable bounce and curl of her hair in her scene as she broke down across Carlos Valdes as Cisco, Panabaker gave us a good ugly sob rarely seen on television. This was no One Perfect Tear beautifully trickling down her cheek; these were the tears of a woman whose hopes and dreams were being shattered all over again.
Then there was Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells. Cavanagh has faced the challenge of presenting a character with loyalties generally ambiguous but leaning more toward self-serving than sympathetic. He’s succeeded so far, and his delve into on-screen darkness as he added the stolen prototype hidden in his secret STAR Labs lair was more than welcome. We needed movement on his story beyond some dabbling in the morally grey, and “The Man in the Yellow Suit” delivered.
What Didn’t Work: Sadly, the heart-pumping sequences and exceptional performances were not enough to gloss over some of the flaws of the “The Man in the Yellow Suit.” While the narrative hiccups were relatively minor, they generally stuck out enough to interrupt the overall flow. One of the smallest and yet most irritating was the manner in which the episode ignored previously established show rules. A great deal of emphasis has been placed on the impossibility of Barry to use his superspeed to its full extent without heat and friction damage on his body and clothing, to the extent of melting his own shoes and sparking flames onto the shirt of passenger Felicity Smoak. This week, Barry very nearly kept up with Reverse Flash as they sped at a breakneck pace through the city without any damage to himself. Contrasted with Reverse Flash’s suit, Barry in his civvies was the only wrinkle in the first battle. If the show does not soon slow down on introducing awesome new aspects of Barry’s powers, it is going to run out of steam and spectacle sooner rather than later.
More general were the multiple contrivances of the episode. Certain parts of the story unfolded not because of any organic progression but because the plot needed them to happen at a certain point. Caitlin needed to be alone when she first encountered the Firestorm version of Ronnie Raymond; therefore, Caitlin sped off to buy a present for Dr. Wells and chose to follow the shadowy man who had been following her in a dark parking lot instead of locking herself and racing away at top speed like any normal person. Barry needed the tachyon prototype to set the trap at STAR Labs; with only a bit of vague blackmail from Barry, the previously steadfast woman in charge of Mercury Labs handed over the invaluable piece of technology without clarifying what strings were and were not attached.
Most unfortunate was the failure in continuity between “Flash vs. Arrow” last week and this week’s “The Man in the Yellow Suit.” While it usually wouldn’t matter all that much if the lesson learned from an earlier Metahuman Of The Week was more or less skimmed over in future installments, the message regarding Barry’s methods of fighting crime as well as Team Flash’s attitude toward the whole endeavor—while rather sobering for The Flash—did a great deal to counter the smugness of the hero that has begun to grate and the cavalier attitude of his support staff that has begun to wear. The lesson was hard learned in what had been one of the series’ most important episodes prior to this winter finale; for it to be forgotten was a major misstep for “The Man in the Yellow Suit.”
What Needs To Happen Next: The Flash has overall had a solid first season, and there’s no reason to be anything but optimistic for what awaits on the other side of the winter hiatus. The downside of any finale just means that viewers are heading into six weeks of cliffhanger curiosity. “The Man in the Yellow Suit” was kind enough to spare any life-or-death situations, but the tastes of Wells’ true character as well as Eddie’s apparent (and thus far unknowing) significance to Reverse Flash have opened the fandom up to plenty of potentialspeculation. If the show continues on the path set in the winter finale and begins to pace itself on the spectacle, viewers will all but have no choice but to tune in for the rest of the first season.
Also, Barry needs to call up Oliver Queen for a few more superhero lessons. He could use some work on his menacing glares. Oliver’s frown powered him for a season and a half of greasepaint identity concealment; the Flash mask would look less ridiculous with some real malevolence behind it. Besides, superspeed may be great, but Barry can’t throw a good punch against a real opponent for the life of him. As he learned last week, Oliver really, really can. But who knows? Maybe Barry will get a Tae Bo DVD in his stocking. It wouldn’t hurt.