The Flash: “Back to Normal” Season 2 Episode 19 Review

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The strongest thing The Flash has going for it right now is how it recycles classic superhero stories and tropes and spits them in a nice, upbeat manner that reminds us why we read comic books to begin with. The opening scene of “Back to Normal” puts Barry Allen back into his old life before a lightning strike granted him amazing speed. We’ve seen this type of story many times before in the visual medium (Spider-Man 2 and the first Thor come to mind), but Grant Gustin does a wonderful job making us feel affection for Barry in this hopefully brief moment of weakness. This is an episode aimed to remind us why we love this man who puts on a mask and races around saving people. On that front, it largely succeeds.

When Dr. Wells is captured by a metahuman while looking for his daughter, the S.T.A.R. Labs team must find a way to rescue him without their most valuable asset. Even without his speed, Barry puts himself in the front lines. He plays forensic scientist, a card the show doesn’t pull often enough, at the scene of Wells’ disappearance. He dawns the costume even if the super strong Griffin Grey can kill him in just a few punches. It’s a welcome reminder that Flash isn’t the hero, Barry Allen is.

On top of this strong character work on our lead, Griffin ends up being the rare one-off villain that actually really works. Unaware of what become of Earth-1’s Dr. Wells, he kidnaps Earth-2’s, blaming him for the particle accelerator explosion that robbed him of his youth. Griffin is an 18-year-old kid aging at an accelerated rate, destined to die once his body reaches its natural end. The more energy he exerts, the faster he ages. It’s a simple concept, but one that really gets to dive into the way Wells’ experiments affected the world. Sure, Griffin is talking to the wrong doctor, but Earth-2’s Wells allowed the same event to happen on his world, creating the likes of Zoom. For any of this storytelling to work, we need to care about Griffin, and the writers manage to pull that off by lacing some tragedy into his abilities. There’s even a bit of sadness when he dies after trying to defeat Flash and reverts back to his 18-year-old face.

This does all lead to the far too melodramatic reunion of Wells and his daughter. Tom Cavanagh usually pulls off Wells’ coldness perfectly, but his whispering and fabricated sobs were close to laughable. In the same vein, Wally meeting a masked, powerless Flash on a rooftop didn’t quite hit in the way the writers intended it to.

Meanwhile, there were some great bits with Caitlin on Earth-2, mostly shared with her icy doppelganger. Having Danielle Panabaker play both sides was a ton of fun. The juxtaposition of the cold, heartless villain and her shy, collected other self really stood out when they chatted about how their mother is pretty much the same on both worlds. Sadly, once they manage to escape their cells, Zoom rushes in and kills Killer Frost, ripping away easily the most fun doppelganger we got all season. Hopefully it won’t be too long before Panabaker gets her hands on Killer Frost again.

This also still points to a larger problem with The Flash overall right now. Perhaps it’ll all come together beautifully in the finale, but the creative decisions going into many of this season’s bigger moments, especially lately, have felt unjustified. Most of “Back to Normal,” while small, was far more focused than “Versus Zoom.” It’s not great to see a big episode fumble around like it did, leaving a smaller one like this to pick up the pieces while nothing really happens. Now with just four episodes left this season, The Flash needs to come up with a way to get us excited about the series again. This episode’s smart construction points to that. Grade: B+

Some Other Notes:

  • ACE Chemicals? Really?! This universe just loves to tease Batman’s existence.
  • Of course the show’s first great new villain in probably ten episodes, maybe more, is already dead.
  • Zoom seems like he’s set a course for Earth-1, which was obviously inevitable. Not sure exactly what his motives are now, though. He’s got Caitlin and the show hasn’t quite justified that he’s crazy enough to think he can conquer two worlds.

By Matt Dougherty

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