Tom Cavanagh, Grant Gustin, Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes/The CW

Three episodes in, The Flash remains the most likeable superhero show on television, but it’s also flirting with becoming the most formulaic. It’s way too early to say the show is stuck in a rut, and there is some forward movement on a few plot strands, but the general contours of “Things You Can’t Outrun” line up pretty closely with what we’ve seen already. We’ve got another freak of the week plucked from deep in the DC Comics vault, another pep talk for Barry when he feels being a superhero is too much for him to handle, and another tag scene with Dr. Wells being ambiguously futuristic and evil.

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This week’s meta-human villain is the Mist, who dates way back to 1941 as a nemesis of the Golden Age Sandman. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) The Mist can turn himself into a poisonous green gas, which he does in order to wipe out an entire crime family. (I’m sure it’s just coincidence that this episode airs the day after Gotham also featured a toxic green gas, but I reserve the right to retract that if another one shows up on Arrow tomorrow night.) After the Mist also kills a judge in a mall elevator, Barry and the STAR team are able to identify him as Kyle Nimbus (Anthony Carrigan), who was supposedly executed the night of the particle accelerator explosion. (If only they‘d narrowed their search to criminals with cloud-based puns for last names, they might have identified him sooner.) Instead, the accident gave him the power to transform into hydrogen cyanide, the very gas that was supposed to kill him.

It’s a neatly ironic origin, but in practice, Barry battling a green cloud isn’t all that different from Barry battling a tornado two weeks ago. It turns out that the best way to fight the Mist is to simply tire him out until his unstable particles are forced to reform. Since you can’t lock up a mist-man in Iron Heights, Dr. Wells volunteers the particle accelerator as a prison for meta-humans, which will no doubt remain ultra-secure throughout the run of the series. Messing around with the accelerator means replacing the childhood Barry flashbacks of the past couple of weeks with memories of the night the accelerator exploded. This counts as a positive development, both in fleshing out Caitlin’s character and laying groundwork for future events. Now we see what happened inside STAR Labs the night of the blast: Caitlin’s fiance Ronnie (Robbie Amell), the particle accelerator’s structural engineer, entered the accelerator to do some science that would cause the explosion to go upward rather than outward. In doing so he became trapped inside when Cisco locked down the blast doors on his orders.

Now, you may ask yourselves why this team of super-smart scientists would assume Ronnie was killed by the explosion when we’ve seen the effect of the accelerator blast on others has been to imbue them with super-powers. And that would be a fair question. There’s certainly reason to believe we’ll see Ronnie again in some form (and if you don’t want to be spoiled on this matter, avoid the show’s IMDb page), but at least now Caitlin has come to terms with what she thinks happened and is ready to chill out a bit.

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One person who no doubt knows exactly what happened to Ronnie is Harrison Wells, as the show continues to drop anvils that his past lies in the show’s future. “I feel like I’ve waiting for this day for centuries,” he says as he prepares to fire up the accelerator for the first time. The last scene echoes the final scenes of the previous two episodes without really adding anything new to our knowledge: We see Wells enter his secret chamber just as the accelerator is about to blow and watch a video feed from Barry’s lab in the seconds before lightning strikes, transforming him into the Flash. (There’s been plenty of fun theorizing about Wells’ true identity in the comments, so I’ll leave that to you guys for now.)

The romance between Iris and Eddie Thawne still feels too sketchy, but at least it’s now out in the open as far as Joe is concerned. (And it’s entirely predictable that the detective would announce he’s already figured it out.) The theme of the week—it’s right there in the title—is hammered home so often, the episode almost resembles an afterschool special. The show can do better than this, as it’s already shown us, and I expect it will. To stick with the freak-of-the-week formula for too long would be a misstep, no matter how fleet of foot The Flash has proven to be.

Stray observations:

  • At this point I think the writers are deliberately coming up with scenes requiring Jesse L. Martin to almost, but not quite, cry. This time it’s his reunion with Henry Allen at Iron Heights.
  • Does anyone know if Rick Cosnett ever won a Kiefer Sutherland sound-alike contest? Because I believe he could.
  • Caitlin: “So we’re just supposed to get used to working above a makeshift prison housing evil people with superpowers?”
  • A clever moment when Barry is injecting Joe with the antidote in full view of his father: He blurs his features so Henry can’t identify the Flash as his son.
  • I expect Cisco will be the one to dub our hero “the Flash,” and he ought to do it sooner than later. “The Streak” has unfortunate associations with a Ray Stevens novelty hit from 1974.

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