Stripping a superhero of his powers is such a well-worn trope, it’s not even new to this season of The Flash, as Barry spent the better part of an episode in Harrison Wells’ old wheelchair after his first battle with Zoom. It’s a quick, convenient way of grounding our protagonist, forcing him to rely on his wits and other skills to get by, and humbling him a little by putting the supporting cast in a position to do some of the heavy lifting. But on a practical level, it means an episode of The Flash without, you know, the Flash. At the risk of stating the obvious, “Back To Normal” is lacking a bit of pep in its step.
The day-to-day effect on Barry is dealt with in an opening montage. He has to take the bus to work and wait in line for coffee like a regular schmo. He can’t zip through his files at work, and when he spills his coffee, he’s not quick enough to snatch it up before it hits the ground. As far as the bigger picture goes, Barry and the rest of Team Flash are unable to do anything to rescue Caitlin, now trapped on Earth-2 with Zoom. (There was some question last week about how Zoom was able to get back to his own Earth, but from what I could gather here, he used the breach Cisco vibed open last week. Did we not see Cisco close it?)
Team Flash doesn’t have much time to work on that problem anyway, as a new situation arises when Harry takes off in a huff to find his daughter Jesse. After he finds her and it turns out she still wants nothing to do with him, he is kidnapped on his way back to Central City by a new metahuman, Griffin Grey. (You know he isn’t sticking around long when Cisco never even bothers to give him a nickname.) Grey was caught in the original particle accelerator blast, which gave him superhuman strength (that’s good!), the use of which rapidly ages him (that’s bad!). Knowing nothing of parallel Earths, he assumes any old Harrison Wells is the one who did this to him, and thus is the only one who can reverse the curse.
That Harry is forced to pay for the sins of an entirely different version of himself (who wasn’t even a real Harrison Wells) when he still feels guilt about his own missteps adds a little resonance to what otherwise isn’t a particularly interesting one-off villain encounter. The solution to the Griffin Grey problem is obvious from the start, and once Team Flash identifies his weakness, it’s just a matter of making him exert himself until he becomes too old to do any damage. Barry is able to get through it with only the Flash’s reputation (and a white dwarf-enhanced suit), but he still gets knocked around enough to gain some extra appreciation for his powers of both speed and recuperation whenever they return.
The rest of the episode concerns the happenings on Earth-2, where Caitlin is being held prisoner in Zoom’s mountaintop menagerie. The man in the iron mask is still rapping on his cell, but there’s really not much more to say about him because that’s all he ever does. Danielle Panabaker finally gets the chance to do double duty, as Killer Frost is also being held at the Zoomquarters. I’ll give Caitlin the benefit of the doubt for going along with Frost’s escape plan even though the rest of us could see the double-cross coming a mile away. It can’t be easy to mistrust a version of yourself who shares many (though not all) of your own experiences and memories. The result is predictable, as if Zoom planned it, which I’m guessing he did: Frost is dead and Caitlin is still Zoom’s prisoner, and now they’re heading back to Earth-1.
That last piece of information only adds to the sense that was a filler episode designed to stall for time. It accomplished some character work in reestablishing the bond between Harry and Jesse and forcing Barry to contemplate the possibility of a powerless future, but The Flash is usually able to pull that off while still delivering a zippy adventure. This week, however, the pacing was off and everyone was downbeat; even Cisco was too dispirited to crack wise. “Back To Normal” isn’t grim and gritty, exactly; it’s just kind of a bummer.
- Harry calls his daughter “my little Jesse Quick,” which means the assembly line of new speedsters isn’t going to shut down anytime soon.
- Having now seen Original Caitlin and her villainous doppelgänger in the same place at the same time, I think I figured out what Panabaker is doing as Killer Frost: it’s basically an impression of Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold. Which makes sense given their similarities, but now it seems a shame they’ll never meet. (Unless, of course, our Caitlin eventually becomes Killer Frost.)
- Wally bugs Joe for a chance to thank the Flash. Wally gets to thank the Flash. Wally is still just sort of…there.
- So Harry’s brilliant plan is to give Barry his speed back by creating another particle accelerator explosion. I can’t see any possible way that could go wrong.