After seventeen episodes that have ranged from awe-inspiring to awful, The Flash returned from a brief hiatus with crossover “All Star Team Up” on Tuesday night.
“All Star Team Up” sees Barry Allen avoiding STAR Labs as the investigation into his mother’s murder leads him straight to Dr. Wells. When a rogue scientist programs a swarm of robotic bees to target and kill her former colleagues, however, it’s all hands on deck for Team Flash. Meanwhile, Felicity Smoak and Ray Palmer visit from Starling City. As Ray and Cisco work on updating the ATOM suit, Barry confides in Felicity about his fears regarding Caitlin and Cisco’s loyalties.
Much like the massive Flarrow crossover extravaganza of December 2014, expectations were pretty extreme when the first glimpses of “All Star Team Up” hit the airwaves. Fans generally seemed to expect the episode to be either phenomenally fun or overall embarrassing. As it happens, however, “All Star Team Up” failed to overwhelm or underwhelm. The episode sort of just…whelmed. So, without further ado, here is a breakdown of what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen next on The Flash after “All Star Team Up.”
Note: Arrow fans seeking an in-depth look at the elements of the crossover that may influence the mothership might want to take a gander at the Bonus Arrow Edition of this week’s review.
What Worked: Despite moments of unadulterated silliness in its first season, The Flash has always managed to excel at avoiding filler episodes. Whether it’s a scene of Cisco being murdered after his evil mentor delivers the requisite villainous monologue or just a 30-second tag at the end of an hour reminding that Harrison Wells is a bit of a bad egg, episodes of The Flash are almost always fundamentally grounded in its mythology. Cisco’s revelation that he’s been having flashbacks to the erased timeline that saw his death at the hands of Wells works as a callback to a superior episode, and Caitlin’s initial disbelief spares audiences the contrivance of the duo joining with Barry immediately. The serious undercurrent raised the stakes even as “All Star Team Up” more or less treaded water, and the progress as Barry brings Cisco and Caitlin into his investigation of Wells promises intriguing twists in the final five episodes of the season.
Harrison Wells was not the major villain of “All Star Team Up.” That dubious honor goes to spurned scientist Brie Larvan, played by The Walking Dead’s Emily Kinney. Dubbed the “Bug-Eyed Bandit” by new BFFs Cisco and Ray, Brie’s vendetta to go on a murder spree via robot bees was one of the more far-fetched plots of The Flash thus far. Nevertheless, a villain who is not a metahuman is always refreshing, and not just because she can be incarcerated by the authorities rather than locked away for eternity without due process in the STAR Labs dungeon. If this show is going to last for more than a few seasons, the gallery of rogues will need to include far more bad guys than those affected by the particle accelerator, and the Bug-Eyed Bandit is an ideal candidate for a return appearance on The Flash.
Already on her second return appearance on The Flash was Felicity Smoak, taking a break from her duties as hacker extraordinaire to Oliver Queen on Arrow to…mostly play dutiful girlfriend to Ray Palmer, although her epic metaphorical mic drop after out-hacking Brie was a joy to see. When not hanging off of his arm, however, Felicity’s relationships with the Flash characters were on display and lovely to behold. The lady love was out in full force in a male-dominated show, and seeing Felicity and Caitlin bond over their shared intellectual pursuits rather than falling into stereotypes was a breath of fresh air.
Best of all, however, was the dynamic between Barry and Felicity. Emerging from their fruitless flirtation without so much as a hint of bitterness, the duo enjoys an unparalleled openness with one another. Grant Gustin and Emily Bett Rickards sell the sense that these two characters care deeply for one another without any tiresome angst, and the writers have successfully exploited the fun aspects of their similarities without boring the audience with redundancies. Barry and Felicity are not the sort of acquaintances who will fade in and out of their lives; Barry and Felicity are the sort of friends who will make a pact to get married if they’re both still single at 40.
Also charming was the dynamic between Ray and Cisco. With Ray in his element in STAR Labs and Cisco finding another engineering enthusiast, the twosome managed to create a thread of humor without becoming superfluous to the plot. They were two guys being geeks in a technological wonderland. Ray felt like he belonged in a way that he has not on Arrow, and the character was consistently likable for the first time since his introduction into the shows’ universe.
What Didn’t Work: Charming as Ray and Cisco were together, they undoubtedly shone particularly bright in comparison to the other gents of The Flash. That the three most important people in her life – her father, her boyfriend, and her best friend – are now working as a unit to actively deceive Iris is downright shameful. Eddie gets a bit of credit for at least struggling with the decision to keep Iris in the dark, but his exchange with Joe in the precinct as they argued over which of them had the greater right to dictate what truths are made available to this woman that they are meant to love was disgusting. Joe’s assertion that only the “vote” of a husband can outweigh that of a father should never have made it on the air without somebody on the show calling him out for it. Honestly, Eddie only seemed to take issue because he was outranked in the male hierarchy. The attitude is offensive and potentially ruinous to all of the characters involved.
Iris is at least lucky to have been deprived of witnessing some of the goings-on in “All Star Team Up.” The manufactured humor as Felicity and Ray literally discuss their sex life in front of Team Flash was cringeworthy, and the use of Felicity’s character as facilitator of plot twists lacked subtlety. The dinner scene was contrived, doing no favors to either Ray in his gratuitous show of wealth or Felicity in her fifth-wheeling of Barry.
Of course, plot device Felicity could have been avoided if less plot was forced into the episode. With advancement on the mythology, investigation into the Bug-Eyed Bandit, and the update of the ATOM suit all crammed into the same 42 minutes, there was not enough room for the narrative to breathe.
What Needs To Happen Next: Well, first and foremost, somebody needs to tell Iris the truth. Candice Patton is being wasted as Iris languishes in ignorance of the main plot of the series, and female viewers everywhere are feeling the slight of her treatment as the leading lady. With the way things are going, Iris will soon become victim to the vapors and be shamed by the men in her life for not carrying smelling salts in her bodice. Iris deserves to know the truth.
And she definitely deserves to be furious.
The show needs to stop saving the day by having Barry discover heretofore unknown uses for his superpowers. This is only the first season. At least save the big innovations like running through solid objects and becoming a human defibrillator for sweeps periods. The cornucopia of unearned new abilities runs the risk of spoiling the joyousness of the main character in his exploration of his powers.
Not that Barry couldn’t stand to tone down the joyousness when out in the field. The opening sequence that could have been epic and awesome was rendered almost irritating as Joe and Barry celebrated their own epic awesomeness. Just because they’re embracing vigilantism doesn’t mean they couldn’t stand for a bit of professionalism.
For a look at “All Star Team Up” from an Arrow perspective, don’t forget to check out the bonus Arrow edition of The Flash S01E18 – What worked, what didn’t and what needs to happen next .