The Flash S02E01 Review – “The Man Who Saved Central City”

Hey there, Flash fans! Have you all been eagerly anticipating this new season as much as I have? Before we launch into this new season’s premiere, “The Man Who Saved Central City,” let’s take a quick look at where we ended last season, in “Fast Enough” (S01E01):

Having finally captured Eobard Thawne (the Reverse Flash), who had been masquerading as Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), Barry (Grant Gustin) and the team are presented with a tantalizing choice. Thawne/Wells gives Barry a way to go back in time and save his mother, Nora, from her murder at Thawne’s hand. It’s dangerous, and it comes with a catch; while he goes back in time, Thawne can use the same time portal to return to the future from which he came. Barry agonizes over the decision, before ultimately deciding to take the offer. However, when he goes back to the past, his own future self warns him not to intervene, before spiriting his younger self away from Thawne. Barry tearfully stays out of the room, as Thawne stabs his mother in the heart. He says a very sad goodbye to his mother, the one he never got the first time around.

Back in the present day, as Thawne is about to board his time capsule, we see a winged helmet fly through the wormhole. Thawne says, “That’s my cue to go,” boarding his time ship. Before he can enter the wormhole, however, The Flash returns from the past and shatters the time ship, stranding Thawne once again. Enraged, Thawne attacks Barry, and they fight at super speed, as Caitlyn (Danielle Panabaker) and Ronnie (Robbie Amell) shut down the wormhole to prevent a singularity from forming which will swallow the Earth. Thawne gets the best of Barry, and is about to kill him, when we hear a gunshot. However, it is not Eobard Thawne who has been shot; rather, it is Detective Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), Eobard’s ancestor in this time, who has shot himself in the heart. His sacrifice erases the Reverse Flash from existence, but at the cost of his own life. It also appears to have re-opened the wormhole, and the feared singularity forms in the skies over Central City. Despite a warning from Dr. Martin Stein (Victor Garber) that it can’t be stopped, Barry races into the funnel cloud of debris being sucked into the maw of the black hole, and the episode cuts to credits.

(Incidentally, Eddie’s sacrifice erasing his descendant from time doesn’t make any sense, but we’ll talk about that another time, perhaps…)

Phew, OK, so that leads us into our season premiere, “The Man Who Saved Central City.” Whereas most cliffhangers like this one would pick up right where we left off, instead we start the season with what seems to be a time jump. We open with Barry facing off against Leonard Snart, a.k.a. Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), and Mick Rory, a.k.a. Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell). He beats them with an assist from Firestorm, the combined form of Ronnie Raymond and Dr. Martin Stein, then comes back to S.T.A.R. Labs to celebrate with the team. We soon see that this can’t be real, however, when that team includes Harrison Wells. We cut away to Barry standing alone in the S.T.A.R. Labs command center, and the show’s typical voiceover explains that he works alone now, to spare his friends from danger. He races past posters for a Flash Day celebration, and we learn that six months have passed after all, and he did (by all appearances) save the city.

Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), Barry’s foster father, meets him at a crime scene, where he is doing his day job as a forensic scientist, investigating the apparent strangulation of a worker at a nuclear power plant. The victim was killed by someone very large and very strong. “Or some thing?” Joe asks, but Barry assures him that it wasn’t Grodd. Leaving the crime scene, Barry is photographed by a mysterious stranger.

Returning to the police station, we see that Joe is now heading up an Anti-Meta-Human task force, with the help of Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) as his scientific adviser. Later, in the ruins of C.C. Jitters, Joe’s daughter Iris (Candice Patton), the love of Barry’s life, finds him working away to rebuild the coffee shop, to repair the damage for which he blames himself. She tries hard to convince Barry to put in an appearance at the rally in The Flash’s honor, but he is hesitant.

Finally, we cut back to the fateful day of the black hole, and see how Barry stopped the disaster. While The Flash was able to stabilize the singularity, we see that he didn’t defeat it alone; Ronnie and Martin joined as Firestorm and then separated within it, collapsing the event horizon, but at a cost. While Martin survived, there is no sign of Ronnie.

Adam Copeland as The Atom Smasher
Adam Copeland as The Atom Smasher

Back in the present, the day of the rally arrives, and Joe and Cisco are on duty, watching out for trouble. Cisco catches a glimpse of Caitlyn as the mayor begins to speak, while a hooded figure shoulders his way through the crowd. The mayor presents the key to the city, and at first it appears that The Flash will be a no-show, but he arrives after all. (A little late, as usual, eh, Barry?) Just as Barry is about to accept the key, a hot dog cart comes flying at them. Barry carries the mayor to safety in the nick of time, but the hooded man pursues. He hurls Barry like a rag doll. Cisco sees a vision of the villain in another place (or time), and is momentarily shaken, but then he snaps out of it, and hands Joe a B.F.G., with which Joe shoots an electrified anklet onto the villain, expecting to drop him. Instead, our Bad Guy of the Week grows to gigantic proportions, and snaps the anklet off. Barry comes to, and grabs two propane canisters, which he then throws at the giant. Joe shoots them, and they explode. The giant shrinks back down, slightly dazed, and his helmet peels away momentarily, to reveal the same face as the supposed power plant victim. His helmet re-engages, and he runs off.

Cisco confirms that the murder victim is still dead, and was not exposed to the particle accelerator explosion that created the Flash and all his meta-human adversaries. He has no twin brother, so how does this new bad guy have the dead man’s face? Stumped, Cisco goes to Caitlyn at her new job at Mercury Labs, and asks for her help analyzing a depleted radiation tag from the murder victim, one Al Rothstein’s, body. Meanwhile, Barry gets a a visit from an attorney representing Harrison Wells’ estate. Apparently, Wells/Thawne left S.T.A.R. Labs to Barry, along with a video message for him, which he must watch to finalize the transfer. Barry refuses, and tosses the video device on his desk. He then zips off when he sees an alert on his computer.

He arrives at S.T.A.R. Labs to find Cisco, Iris, Martin, and Joe working on identifying the baddie, whom Stein christens The Atom Smasher. (Cisco, far from being annoyed at having his normal role usurped, congratulates Stein on the name with a hug.) Barry thanks them, but continues to insist that he doesn’t want their help. When they identify the villain’s location, a toxic waste disposal facility, Barry races off without his comm system.

We find the Atom Smasher (Adam Copeland) inhaling toxic waste, the source of his power, when The Flash arrives. When Barry asks why he killed Albert Rothstein, and why does he look just like him, the bad guy replies, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Cisco taps into the surveillance cameras at the waste plant just in time to see Atom Smasher shake off Flash’s tornado arms, then grow back into his giant form and begin thrashing Barry. The Atom Smasher says, holding Barry by the throat, “He said you were some kind of big hero, but you don’t seem worthy of him, or this city.” At Stein’s suggestion, Cisco triggers the alarms, which distracts the villain just long enough for Barry to slip loose, race back to S.T.A.R. Labs, and collapse.

Jesse L. Martin as Joe West and Grant Gustin as Barry Allen / The Flash
Jesse L. Martin as Joe West and Grant Gustin as Barry Allen / The Flash

Barry wakes up in the sick bay of the lab, with Joe by his side. Now it’s time for the tough talk. Barry isn’t responsible for the choices the others made to help him, Joe tells him, and it’s time to stop pushing everyone away. Chastised, he goes to visit Caitlyn, to apologize. She doesn’t blame Barry for Ronnie’s death; she blames herself, for not leaving Central City when Ronnie asked her to – if she had, he might still be alive. Barry drops the video will, and when she finds out what it is, Caitlyn offers to watch it with him. It turns out to be a video confession from Harrison Wells to the killing of Nora Allen, which Barry can use to get his father, Henry, exonerated and released from prison. A last gift from his mortal enemy, but Wells assures him that it won’t make him happy.

While Joe works the phone with the D.A. to get Henry freed, Barry and the now reassembled team devise a plan to beat the Atom Smasher. Barry lures him with a “Flash-signal.” (Cisco on how he thought of it: “I dunno, I think I saw it in a comic book somewhere.”) Flash leads the villain on a chase into the reactor core of the nuclear plant, where he is then trapped, unable to absorb all of the released radiation. He shrinks to normal (even puny) size, then gives Barry his confession. “He promised he’d take me home if I killed you.” “Who?” Barry asks. One word in reply: “Zoom.” (We don’t see if Rothstein was dying or merely incapacitated and headed for the Pipeline.)

Barry picks up Henry outside Iron Heights, and brings him to Joe’s for a “Welcome Home” party. Stein gives a toast to moving “forward.” The jubilation is short-lived, however; Henry tells Barry that he isn’t going to stay in Central City, so that he won’t distract Barry from being The Flash.

After Barry drops Henry at the train station, he meets Joe and the team at S.T.A.R. Labs, where Cisco unveils the newest “upgrade” to the Flash’s suit – a white-backed chest emblem, like the one from the future Flash’s costume. He and Caitlyn start to brag about all of the upgraded security in the building, and how no one will get in now, when (of course) a stranger (the same one we saw photographing Barry at the beginning of the episode) enters the room. When Barry challenges him, he says, “My name is Jay Garrick, and your world is in danger.”

So, my thoughts:

  • The special effects for the Atom Smasher were a little hokey (the growing/shrinking, in particular, looked like 90s CGI). The fight sequences were also pretty blah.
  • Clearly, Atom Smasher is Al Rothstein’s doppelganger from an alternate universe (the same one Zoom and Jay Garrick are coming from?), but why bother killing his mirror self? He didn’t take over his life as a cover identity.
  • The ambiguity over Ronnie’s disappearance/death will probably be short-lived, since Firestorm is going to be part of the team for DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, which launches mid-season.
  • I’m glad that Caitlyn isn’t blaming Barry for the loss of Ronnie (that would have been a little too much Arrow-style angst for my taste), but blaming herself isn’t much better. Is this self-resentment what’s going to lead her to become Killer Frost?
  • I don’t like the ambiguity over whether Rothstein lived or died. It almost looked like the team deliberately poisoned him. I’d also like to know whether the Pipeline is back in business, and if not, where are the Flash’s Rogues going to go?
  • Cisco’s “Vibe” moment was not very clear or helpful. What, exactly, were we supposed to glean from his vision? It didn’t tell us anything about Atom Smasher, his powers, or the place he came from.
  • I understand why Henry isn’t sticking around from a show-runner standpoint (he disrupts the father/son dynamic of Joe and Barry), and I see why they had to let him out of prison (having Wells confess from beyond the grave was their last chance to do it legally, and Barry needs to have that weight off his shoulders), but I do wish, for Barry’s sake, that he was staying around.
  • Iris seems a little too OK with losing her fiance, Eddie. The glimpse of Eddie’s photo on the Wall of Honor in the precinct is the only indication we get that she is hurting just like Barry is.
  • We’ll have to see if Stein can make a worthy substitute for Wells in the team dynamic. However, even if he does, once again, we know it will be short-lived, due to Legends of Tomorrow. What are the plans for a mentor figure once he departs for that show? Is the rumored Earth-2 Harrison Wells going to be a permanent addition when he arrives?
  • I’m interested to see how long Jay Garrick is sticking around. We know that next week’s episode is titled “The Flash of Two Worlds,” and draws its inspiration from one of the most famous issues of the comic ever. Teddy Sears is listed on IMDb for 19 episodes so far, but since we don’t even have titles for anything beyond episode 4 yet, I wouldn’t necessarily trust that. Plus, as much as I’m geeked out over the crossover appearance, I think a whole season of having two Flashes will actually get a little stale.

Overall, this was a somewhat disappointing start to the season for me. While I recognize the need to tie up some loose ends from the cliffhanger, the episode bogged down a little in the process. The Atom Smasher wasn’t a particularly compelling villain. The restoration of Henry’s freedom, only to be immediately squashed by his departure, left a bitter taste for me.

What did you think of the episode? Was it a stumble, or did it come out of the blocks strong? Let us know!

Chad Patten

Chad Patten

Chad is an all-around geek's geek. He's a software engineer, a science fiction lover, a comics fan, an actor, and a writer. His particular interests are The Flash, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, and all things Marvel.
Chad Patten

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