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Barry battles a third-string metahuman-of-the-week in a subdued outing of The Flash

Tom Cavanagh/The CW
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“Fast Lane” feels like a throwback to the first half of season one in several ways. It’s got a metahuman-of-the-week who isn’t exactly a Rogues Gallery first-stringer: he’s a call-up from Triple A at best. The focus is mostly on the old-school STAR Labs team (give or take the dimensional origin of Harrison Wells), and for the first time in quite a while, the show doesn’t feel rushed or overcrowded. The season-long conflict with the Big Bad hasn’t come to a boil yet, but it’s starting to bubble up. It’s not a great episode by any means, and many of the emotional beats are too on-the-nose to be as affecting as they could be, but it builds to the sort of momentum shift that makes you wish you could press play on the next episode immediately.

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In keeping with that early Flash feeling, we go all the way back to the night of the particle accelerator explosion to witness the birth of Tar Pit, a low-level delinquent who is tossed into a vat of boiling tar by his criminal associates and spends two years encased in asphalt before a renovating work crew frees him. Now he has the power to turn his body into tar of either the sticky or molten variety, which should make him the natural nemesis of a speedster. Curiously enough, though, the episode fails to exploit his power in this way; in fact, the Flash barely battles Tar Pit at all in the episode. When Barry isn’t fast enough to stop a shard of windshield glass from piercing Iris’ shoulder, it’s not because his feet are stuck in tar, but because Wells-2 has sapped a bit of his speed.

Wells-2 isn’t betraying Barry and the team for selfish reasons like his predecessor; in retrospect, the visit from Thawne/Reverse-Flash last week can be seen as a reminder of that in preparation for this week’s events. It’s interesting to watch the relationship between Barry and this Wells develop in light of everything that’s happened so far. It’s Barry who is pushing to recapture the old mentor/protege dynamic he had with Wells/Thawne, even though that Wells betrayed him and this one warns him he’ll do the same. Wells-2 is resistant, in part just because he’s naturally cranky and irritable (he really hates Barry’s speed-learning of Earth-2 quantum physics), but also because he knows (or thinks he knows) there’s no future in such a relationship. He already has a daughter, and in his black-and-white world, he must sacrifice Barry for her.

It doesn’t turn out that way, of course. (Let’s face it, this show needs Tom Cavanagh and introducing a third Wells at this point would be stretching it.) Wells confesses, gets a punch in the nose from Joe and a night in the Supermax, and is forgiven in the end because we all do crazy things when family is involved.

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That’s the only reason Iris would do something as stupid as walking into a known criminal’s lair alone to confront him with the next day’s headline implicating him in a street-racing gang. The scene is salvaged somewhat by the revelation that she’s been recording their meeting and sending it up into the cloud, but I had to agree with Wally when he asked if she had a death wish. Maybe having the Flash on speed-dial has made her a little too fearless. As a whole, the West family drama this week felt like a rough draft with the temporary dialogue accidentally left in the final product. Jesse L. Martin can sell the emotion even when the script lets him down, but by the third time he told Wally that families care about each other because that’s what caring families do, I wouldn’t have blamed him for phoning it in.

The best is saved for last, when Barry convinces the rest of the team to give Wells-2 a second chance and they spring him from his cell to give him the good news (for both him and us): We’re all going to Earth-2 next week. We’ve had a few tantalizing glimpses of this alternate world, but based on the next couple of episode titles, it appears we’ll be getting a longer visit. It looks like fun, and this season could use a little more of that.

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Stray observations

  • Zoom makes another brief appearance tonight, which is the only kind of appearance Zoom has made so far. It’s been a smart choice by the creative team because he’s scary in these short bursts, but it does make me wonder about his overall effectiveness as a season-long threat. If and when Zoom gets more screen time, will he still feel as threatening?
  • Just downloaded Cisco’s metahuman social media app. Should come in handy.
  • “Who’s the best hacker in the world, people?” “Felicity Smoak.”
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