Retro Flash – Episodes 4 – 7

Honor Among Thieves

Recap: Due to a TV budget, Ocean’s 11 is now 5.  Except it’s hard to escape when up against someone that’s faster than any getaway car.

Review: Ah the “long lost connection” plot, such a staple of TV shows.  Not that tropes are bad or anything, but exactly how well this works out depends on both the writers and the actors.  In this case, that Barry had a long lost surrogate father is… weird.  Oh John Wesley Shipp and Paul Linke have good chemistry, but so did JWS and M. Emmet Walsh so it’s somewhat hard to believe that Barry has that much conflict with his dad.  UNTIL two episodes later where we get to see Barry and Papa together for a period of time at which point it gets more believable.  Had the schedule been changed (and Sins of the Father aired before this) I think it would have worked a lot better.  I also wish they had done more to reinforce the feeling of “long lost parent”.  For example, at once point the professor mentions having lost track of all the cataloging in the museum.  Given that Barry admits he studied archeology, I kept expecting him to use his super speed to catch up all the professor’s paperwork as a way of saying thank you.

This episode also has probably the DUMBEST moment by the flash.  So the villains are in a getaway car.  Flash glances inside, then grabs a blanket from a window.  He then hops onto the back of the car and drapes the blanket over it so the villains drive blind into a crash, ALL WHILE FLASH IS HANGING ONTO THE CAR, RIDING IT!  I’ll chalk it up to him still being new at the hero game but still this seemed too stupid.  Why not just keep pace with the car and drape the blanket over it?  Why not reach in and grab the steering wheel?  Why not drape the blanket then get off the car?  No, the Flash has to stay on board until the car slams into a barrier and the Flash goes flying.  True he later gets hit in the shoulder with a THROWN spear, but I’m still awarding most embarrassing moment to the car thing.

Side-kick Sighting: Biggs & Wedge Bellows & Murphy get to work on night detail at the museum where they flirt with someone with the last name of “Wayne”.  I hope she’s not related to Batman.

SFX Win: The bit where the Flash steals a whole turkey and eats it.  That amused me.

SFX Fail: Would a guy really be that trapped behind a wall of bricks?  Even a weakling like that guy?

Conclusion: One can tell the writers were really struggling with trying to make what should have been a fifteen minute plot, stretch out to forty-five.  The comedy in this one is pretty unintentional but I think from here on out they realized that just regular crooks aren’t going to cut it.

Double Vision

Recap: The Flash gets mind controlled with what he first thinks if voodoo but turns out to be mad science.  No I’m not making that up.

Review: This episode is so crazy and fun it’s hard not to love it.  Yet even the places where it eschews craziness are masterfully done.  For example the opening is an incredible bit of mini art, taking a long slow cut to show us the city, coming to rest on a “Help” painted on a building… beautiful.  The entire episode is best represented by the gang members which appear dressed in the manner of 50s era gangsters.  At first glance it’s goofy and upon reflection seems silly, but damn if they don’t look sharp and inspire a bit of respect.

This is also the episode that, in my opinion, John Wesley Shipp and Amanda Pays really start gelling as a pair; the moment their relationship went from “meh, the spark’s there” to “just kiss already!”  I also like that we got to see Barry interact more with the citizens of Central City.  It opens up the city and enforces the feeling that this is a real place where people, especially our protagonists, actually live.  It certainly helps that JWS gets along great with the guest stars and they all play off each other like one would imagine members of a community.  Hell we got to see Barry’s dog again which seems to vanish every other episode.

Still, the best part is that this is the moment where the show really feels like it’s embracing the silver age roots of its source.  Even episode 2, with mad-Hulk-scientist was played quite straight and serious with a heavy sense of realism (like why the guy is doing what he’s doing).  Here we have things like a man has figured out how to control people with microchips, AND USES IT FOR PETTY CRIMES!  Never mind the revolutions he could bring to neuroscience, just imagine the money he could make creating treatments for paralyzed people.  He doesn’t make a government official cater to his needs or have a CEO wire him millions, he uses this tech TO FORCE THE FLASH TO PUNK SOME FOLKS!  That’s just comic book logic that you can’t help but giggle and embrace. (heck the villains should know Flash’s secret identity too, but nothing seems to come of it)  Though I do wonder how the villain can not only process what the Flash is doing at superspeed, but that his signal to the microchip is able to relay that fast.

I’m curious (and maybe JWS will answer this for us) what’s different with the suit this episode.  Up until now it’s been pretty “stiff” on screen with the Flash’s movements (at regular speeds anyway) seemingly restrained.  In this episode, we get a dream sequence where the Flash acts like a puppet showing more articulation than he had done in all previous episodes before, as well as throw a convincing punch at the climax! (previously his punches didn’t look like they’d have any power behind them)  Was the suit redesigned by now or was it just “broke in” enough that the actor and stunt doubles could finally move?

Finally, I like the revelation that Barry was into Mexican wrestling.  It gives the viewer an idea on how he was inspired to design the costume.

Side-kick Sighting: After the Flash carried some Catholic statues out on his own, Biggs & Wedge Bellows & Murphy must work together just to carry ONE back into the church building.  Did the writers forget that Barry isn’t supposed to be super-strong?

SFX Win: The bad-guy’s control glove is so obviously a painted Nintendo power glove.  It’s so rad.

SFX Fail: Camera shows us a clock at 3:15.  Cut a few seconds later to it reading 12:03. Barry then says, “I’ve lost eight hours.”  Uh.. more like 9 man.  Silly prop department.

Conclusion: Sheer insanity and fun that charms the viewer and earns the spot as “best episode” of the series (so far).

Sins of the Father

Recap: Something happens to give us an excuse to see John Wesley Shipp and M. Emmet Walsh to play off each other for an hour.  Nobody minds.

Review: The main plot of the episode is so by-the-numbers I’m falling asleep trying to relate it.  A criminal whom Papa Allen once caught escapes his confinement and comes looking for revenge.  Barry must try working with, and protecting, his old man.  Meh.  The real selling point of this episode is a chance to watch Mr. Walsh (a veteran, excellent character actor, who reminds me a bit too much of my own dad) act opposite of JWS which we didn’t get to see much from in the pilot.  Still both of them do a great job here.  The sad part is that the writing on this episode fails the actors.

Throughout the episode we are supposed to see Barry coming unraveled by the threat to his father until it culminates in him almost losing control on the criminal.  While he accomplishes the latter, the former is not sold.  To explain, a bit of explanation is in order.  See in the DCU, heck with comics in general, Batman is THE superhero for interrogating.  He can pull it off because of two main factors besides his appearance.  First: he’s crazy and he cultivates a reputation for being crazy.  So when he catches you, your imagination starts working on everything he might do to you, and then some since – well he’s crazy, you can’t get inside the head of a man like that.  Second: while he has his rule (as pointed out in the Dark Knight), in principle there’s always that concern, that doubt among criminals that just because he USUALLY doesn’t kill, doesn’t mean he never will.  Maybe this time he will.  Maybe you are the one he finally snaps on and executes.  Because, relating back to point 1) he’s crazy.  In order to accomplish what he does, Batman must cultivate a sense of uncertainty.  In the show, the Flash interrogates several people much like Batman (especially in that first Tim Burton movie) does, particularly by grabbing their lapels and holding them up.  Except that doesn’t work as well when you’re looking at a big red dude.  The Flash should use his super-speed to interrogate in any number of ways (and no, changing a die face does NOT count).  The writers should have shown Barry engaging in more than two interrogations with each one escalating in what Barry does to the target. (the ultimate, in my opinion, would be what I call a “yo-yo” – Barry drops a guy from a high-rise, then, using matching velocity, runs the guy back up the side of the building and does it again over and over…)  Instead the two scenes we get are no worse than any other time Barry’s “roughed up” a few punks for info.  Several points (like the dinner scene with Dad & Tina) could have been cut or trimmed to make room for these.  I would also have cut out most of the scenes with the escaped convict as they also eat up time that could have gone to our leads.  Let the guy remain off screen.  Let the audience remain in the dark like the characters do so we get a sense of the unknown and dread that they do trying to track this guy down.  Instead we watch the villain go through the same difficulties a small business owner must endure (hiring employees – in this case: henchmen, getting office supplies – in this case: guns, etc).

Another instance of the writing failing in this episode is that we see the Flash engage in two fights (midpoint and finale).  In the midpoint fight he engages in outright trolling.  Instead of taking out a guy right away, he stands there and takes away the pool cues the thug is trying to get one by one before the guy can get them.  Now this I chuckled at and enjoyed.  When you are the Flash, it must seem boring having to fight some people since you’re guaranteed to win, so I can see Barry trying to keep crime fighting “interesting” with little touches like that.  However he still fights in a semi-silly manner at the finale when we are SUPPOSED to be seeing the stress Barry is under come to head (especially as his father is being shot at).  The Flash’s attacks should be rather brutal and quick so we, can see – and know- that something is different this time, that it is personal for Barry.  Instead it all just kind of… falls apart.

Side-kick Sighting: Show up to help out the parents.

SFX Win: Where Barry gets so frustrated that he shatters a glass of water is not only well done, but also had good Foley work.

SFX Fail: I’m awarding it to Barry’s pole vaulting.  It didn’t look THAT bad, but one wonders if the pole would really be able to function at that velocity.

Conclusion: It’s a testament to Walsh’s & JWS’ skill and charisma that they can make what should have been a complete failing actually watchable.

Child’s Play

Recap: An outbreak of hippies strike Central City.  Unable to reach Eric Cartman, the citizens must instead rely upon the Flash to solve the problem.

Review: I remember this episode freaking me out when I first saw it, probably because my youthful brain couldn’t understand half of what was going on.  What a difference a few dozen years make…

Right off the bat the episode starts by showing us a theater in Central City showing the movies of both Superman AND Batman.  Which pretty much tells you everything you need to know: just hang on and enjoy the ride.  Evil, crazy, scene chewing drug dealer!  A purse dog that prevents kidnappings!  Flash mastering the power to rock!  Adam West.  ADAM – FREAKING – WEST!  If the writers weren’t on drugs when they wrote this episode they’re lying.  I mean you have an adult woman threatening an underage boy with “about to get turned on”.  Later that boy socks the gal to her face.  And yes, just like on South Park the Flash defeats the hippies by playing loud rock music.

Likewise the acting is all over this episode, often with just one person.  JWS goes from some brilliant, subtle moments to having to spew lines that you can almost spot him choking on (I’d kill to have outtakes of this episode).  Probably my favorite moment is near the beginning after someone’s died from a car bomb.  Barry gets a look in his eye and JWS plays the scene as… See, while I do sometimes give the character of Barry Allen a hard time, one thing I’ll give him credit for is that he was a police officer before becoming a superhero; meaning he doesn’t really need a motivation to do good, he was already fighting crime.  The lightning bolt just gave him a new way to apply his life’s work (which sort of bugs me with the premiere, I don’t think it was necessary to kill the brother right away).  That look JWS gives Barry in the beginning is one that you can imagine Barry having many times before it feels like a real part of his character.  The kids were ok and JWS had good chemistry with them, though the girl at times felt like she was trying a bit too hard to be precocious and adorable.

This episode though does highlight how out of sync the show still is.  Most of the scenes – especially the dramatic ones all take place at night or in very dark locations befitting Batman.  As I’ve pointed out before, the Flash is a bright and colorful hero, he should be about during the day.  With some of the really goofy parts of this episode, several scenes should especially be brighter lit as well.

We at least see signs that Flash is learning, this time by having him anchor an escaping van instead of trying to ride it like he did with the car 3 episodes back.  This is also the episode where Flash discovers he can vibrate his molecules, which should make him invincible now.  I mean, with the way he should be able to perceive the world, the dart that hit him two episodes back should have been so slow from his perspective that he could start vibrating and letting it pass through him as soon as he felt a slight prick of the skin.  Maybe we should institute a drinking game for every time the writers “forget” this to stretch out drama.

Side-kick Sighting: Hanging out in the station filling out paperwork.

SFX Win: Removing the undercarriage of the hippie van.  I wonder if they wrecked a real vehicle for that or a model.  Though an honorable mention towards making Brutus seem like a vicious attack dog.

SFX Fail: Kid on the skateboard.  Some of the greenscreen and composite shots didn’t survive the decades.

Conclusion: What once was terrifying is now a delight to watch and probably the funniest, and most insane, episode to date.

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