Shantel VanSanten, Grant Gustin/The CW
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After a month-long hiatus, The Flash returns with an episode focused squarely on the season’s larger arcs, unburdened by the spinoff-launching obligations that sometimes made for bumpy sledding in the first half of the season. “Potential Energy” maintains an ideal balance between the villain-of-the-week story and various personal complications, while keeping Zoom in the picture as the looming threat of the season. The episode is not without its frustrating moments, however, and as usual Barry’s romantic life is at the center of most of them.

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Barry’s relationship anxieties (manifested in a nightmare in which Zoom drops Patty from the top of a high-rise) stem from his indecision about whether to tell Patty that he’s the Flash. You know, that closely guarded secret he lets slip every other week? This is one of the oldest and most tired of superhero tropes: the costumed crusader who must keep his identity from his loved ones lest he put them in danger from his enemies. Wells-2 is even saddled with a speech tonight in which he tells Barry as much. That horse has left the barn, however, since literally everyone else Barry cares about already knows his secret. What’s one more at this point? It really doesn’t make any sense, because if a supervillain discovers Barry is the Flash, he’s going to be able to find out Barry is seeing Patty whether or not she knows. Ignorance is no protection for her, and that’s even setting aside all questions of whether any relationship can survive the lack of honesty about such a major issue.

It’s a shame because Barry and Patty have been a fun pairing up until now, but most of their scenes this week are a drag on the episode. When they dance at the art opening, with Barry in his tuxedo preparing to spill his guts before being interrupted by the untimely arrival of a super-villain, we might as well be watching any of a half-dozen Batman movies. The resolution (or lack thereof) is a bit out of left field, with Patty announcing her sudden plans to move to Midway City to pursue her education. It’s an abrupt sendoff for the character if that’s in fact what it turns out to be, but barring a reversal in which Patty learns the truth and becomes another member of Team Flash (which is threatening to become overcrowded as it is), it may be for the best.

Otherwise, “Potential Energy” is a solid episode featuring another old-school Flash villain in the Turtle, although this incarnation (played by Battlestar Galactica’s Aaron Douglas) hews closer to the more recent DC Comics revamp of the character, with his ability to drain speed from those around him. Draining speed is something that interests Wells-2, in that Zoom has promised to release his daughter if Harry is able to transfer Barry’s powers to the Earth-2 menace. It’s also of interest to Cisco, for the opposite reason: the Turtle may hold the key to reducing Zoom’s speed to the point where Barry can successfully take him on. In the end it is Wells-2 who wins out, extracting a sample from the Turtle and presumably killing him in the process. Tom Cavanagh is doing stellar work as this very different version of Harrison Wells; his controlled, low-key intensity in the scene in which he relays the details of Zoom’s cop-killing spree to Cisco is one of the episode’s highlights.

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Also this week, Joe and Iris get an extended introduction to Wally West, the presumable future Kid Flash now known as “Taillights” for his street-racing acumen. (Get it? He’s already fast and furious!) Wally resents Joe for trying too hard to insert himself into his life after being an absent father for so long, but it’s clear that he won’t be able to resist the magnetic pull of Joe West (and all those Chinese food leftovers) for long.

If Wally does acquire superpowers sometime soon, we may be looking at a glut of speedsters on this show. This week’s tag scene reintroduces the Reverse-Flash in the person of an Eobard Thawne who has not taken on the persona of Harrison Wells. More than likely this is the Thawne of Earth-2’s future, although where he has arrived and what he has planned remain to be seen. (Heck, he might not even be a bad guy.) It‘s to the producers’ credit that they’ve become ever more fearless about adding these potentially confusing comic-book elements as the show has gone along, but might we be nearing some sort of breaking point? As Gwen Ihnat writes today about DC‘s Legends of Tomorrow, sometimes more is less. The Flash has earned our trust over the past year and a half, but this is a trend that bears watching.

Stray observations

  • The episode gets a fun running gag out of the fact that everyone on Team Flash already knows about the Turtle except for Barry himself. The shoe is on the other foot for once.
  • Jay has not only lost his powers, he’s dying. The only cure is to get his speed back, but he’s not confident Caitlin can figure out a solution he hasn’t tried. Prediction: She will figure it out, and Wally will somehow get caught in the middle of it, acquiring his own super-speed in the process.
  • Joe and Iris called Barry “The White Shadow” as a kid. Look it up, young people.
  • You know someone must have suggested casting Jerry Ferrara as Turtle.

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