Jesse L. Martin

With the heavy lifting of establishing the Flash’s origin, world, and supporting cast out of the way, “Fastest Man Alive” gives us a better idea of what to expect from The Flash on a week-to-week basis. If it wasn’t clear already that the TV version won’t be shying away from the way-out sci-fi aspects of the comic books, this second episode makes it undeniable as the Scarlet Speedster goes up against a villain who can self-replicate into dozens, even hundreds of copies of himself.

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In doing so, the show also demonstrates a willingness to reach deep down into the DC bench for its guest characters. Simon Stagg (William Sadler) and his bodyguard Java date back to a 1965 issue of Brave And The Bold, but they haven’t exactly been major players since then, and Multiplex isn’t even a Flash villain—he’s part of Firestorm’s rogues gallery. That doesn’t make these characters a bad choice for the second episode, however. It would be a shame for the show to burn through the Flash’s extensive roster of foes too quickly, and using a more obscure character for a one-off appearance in an episode that’s more focused on Barry Allen’s personal life is probably the way to go.

Another advantage to reaching down into the villain discount bin is the freedom that comes with re-shaping a little-known character to the narrative’s purpose. Odds are that most Flash viewers have never heard of Stagg or Multiplex, and even those who have probably don’t care all that much if their storylines deviate from the comics. (I’m not doubting there are Multiplex purists out there, but there can’t be that many of them.) In this case, Stagg is a wealthy corporate scientist being honored as Man of the Year for his work in cellular cloning for the purpose of growing replacement organs. Not everyone admires Stagg, however; former employee Danton Black (Michael Smith) was close to perfecting the process when Stagg stole it from him, leaving Black unable to save his wife from her degenerative heart condition.

Black, another meta-human empowered by the particle accelerator meltdown, is able to spawn countless duplicates of himself which he is able to control. This leads to some fun moments: Caitlin conjuring up an inert Black duplicate at STAR Labs using only a little blood that got smeared on Barry’s costume; the Flash zipping his way through an army of replicants in search of the original, then knocking him out and seeing the entire force of Danton Blacks sprawled on the floor where they’d stood. The episode also revives an aspect of Flash lore added to the comics in the ’80s (when Wally West succeded Barry Allen) and also employed on the 1990-91 TV series: Barry has to eat great quantities of food to fuel his super-speed or risk passing out from hypoglycemia.

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This is all fun stuff and the super-speed effects already look to be improving (I particular enjoyed Barry running in place on Cisco’s retrofitted treadmill), but “Fastest Man Alive” is more concerned with our hero’s life outside the red suit, particular as he relates to two of the people he’s known the longest, Joe and Iris West. On that score, the episode is far more successful in terms of the former relationship than the latter one. I’m especially wary of childhood flashbacks in the wake of the current season of Boardwalk Empire, but they worked well enough in this case, completing the circle of Barry’s resentment against Joe for taking his real father from him. Much of the credit goes to Jesse L. Martin, who has a real knack for welling up with emotion. Maybe he’s just naturally moist-eyed, but he continues to suggest depths of feeling in Joe only hinted at in the writing.

The show still has something of an Iris problem, although this episode at least takes a step toward giving her an identity beyond love-triangle pivot point between Barry and Eddie Thawne. Sure, that identity is basically Lois Lane, given her newfound journalistic interest in the red blur, but that was true in the original comics as well. What really might become a drag on the show is her continual cluelessness when it comes to Barry’s true feelings for her. Around the third time she can’t figure out what he’s about to say (or he gets cut off by the sudden appearance of a gang of jewel thieves), it starts getting old. Given the quality of the show so far, though, I have faith that the creative team will address this problem sooner than later.

Stray observations:

  • Cisco and Caitlin remain generally likeable even as they tiptoe right up to the edge of becoming annoying.
  • Cisco comes up with the name “Multiplex,” discarding his original choice of “Captain Clone.” That’s a good thing, since there are already too many captains in the Flash’s rogues gallery.
  • Aside from Martin, top acting honors go to Tom Cavanagh, both enigmatic and magnetic as Harrison Wells.
  • Great moments in bonding: Joe discovers Barry’s secret murder board and decides to help him clear his father’s name.
  • “We were all struck by that lightning.” Too corny by half, but Grant Gustin is just about earnest enough to pull it off.

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