Thursday, 10 December 2015

Review - 'The Flash', S02E09 - 'Running to Stand Still'

As mid-season finale's go, this episode of The Flash felt relatively low-key - lacking in much of the tension and drama that we had in the episode that brought us to last years mid-season break. Barry's encounter with Zoom, a few episodes ago, felt like it would have been a much more appropriate way to end things, here - what with it being every bit as tense a confrontation as Barry's first official run-in with the Reverse-Flash. But, maybe that's why the decision was made to place that episode earlier in the season? Maybe it was felt that the two episodes were simply too similar?

Whatever the reason, the tense and dramatic confrontation which could have brought us to the break actually happened a few episodes ago - and, what we have in its place is, essentially, a 'Christmas' episode. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course - this is still a very entertaining episode. It is simply an episode that lacks much of the tension that the audience may have been expecting.

But, in saying that, the episode makes up for it by simply being a lot of fun - as you might expect, given that this is the episode were Mark Hamill returns to play the Trickster, once more.

When the Weather Wizard, Mark Mardon (Liam McIntyre), returns to Central City set on finally killing the Flash, he knows that he is going to need help. So, he sets about breaking Captain Cold, Leonard Snart (Wentworth Miller) and the Trickster, James Jesse, out of prison. While the Trickster is, naturally, very eager for another chance to kill the Flash, Captain Cold is ultimately unwilling to go along with Mardon's plan. Snart still feels as though he owes Barry a debt, after all - so, rather than helping Mardon, he actually shows up at the West family home to warn Barry, before making good use of his new-found freedom, and vanishing (leaving him in the perfect position to turn up, later, in Legends of Tomorrow - which was, I suppose, the true reason for his appearance, here).

Undeterred by Snart's disappearance, the Weather Wizard and the Trickster devise a plan to draw the Flash out in a way that would leave him vulnerable. A plan which, naturally, revolves around explosive Christmas presents - because the Trickster is involved, so of course it does. There are elements of a villainous 'double-act' in the way that these two interact with each other that makes them a lot of fun to watch - with Mardon, obviously, playing the role of the 'straight-man' to Jesse's more flamboyant brand of insanity. Although, once again, Mark Hamill's Trickster is easily the most entertaining of the episode's villains, Mardon does manages to hold his own with his calm confidence. Also, Mardon seems to have learnt how to use his weather controlling abilities to fly since his last appearance - in a new development which gives us a fantastic chase scene.

At the same time, though, Mardon's return to Central City adds another complexity to Barry's life. Mardon was, after all, responsible for the death of Patty's father during a bank robbery years earlier - and, she had devoted much of her life, since then, toward the hope that she would one day have the opportunity to confront him. Now that he has returned to the city, though, Patty finds herself caught in the classic dilemma of 'justice' versus 'revenge' - as it becomes increasingly clear that she doesn't intend on sending him back to prison.

The way that Patty Spivot is being treated on the show, lately, definitely feels a bit strange to me. With the ever increasing number of people who know that Barry is really the Flash, the fact that Patty is being kept in the dark is becoming increasingly bothersome. It doesn't really add any drama to the series, either - being little more than a retread of the same plot-line we had last season, where Iris was the one deliberately being kept out of the loop. Here, we even have a return of Barry playing 'the Flash' as a different person when interacting with Patty in costume. Sure, it's nowhere near as creepy as when Barry would flirt with Iris while 'in character' as the Flash - but, just like last season, it really doesn't add anything interesting to the episode.

Joe's decision to wilfully break the trust that Patty had placed in him, when she had told him about her history with Mardon, might also have come across as similarly problematic when you consider how complicit he has been in keeping secrets from her - but, at least, this did actually seem to be born out of a genuinely warranted concerns. Joe was understandably concerned that her anger would drive her to do something reckless - and, as we learnt, he was absolutely right.

Despite all of this, though, Patty did get some great moments in her quest to track down Mardon. The fact that she would be shown as being intelligent and observant enough to pick up on the same clues as 'Team Flash' (the fact that the 'clue' in question happened to be a reflection in the Trickster's eye during a broadcast was a little absurd, though). She even managed to make her way to that abandoned factory before the Flash. Sure, it turned out to be a trap - but, it was still a clear high-light for the character.

While all of this is happening, Zoom does also find time to put in another appearance. Though, rather than confronting Barry directly once more, he seems intent on offering Earth-2's Harrison Wells a deal - one that would allow him to get his daughter back, but only on the condition that he agree to betray Barry in much the same way that Eobard Thawne did. It's a sub-plot that allows for some revelations about Zoom's true motives - and, and the idea that Wells might, however reluctantly, end up turning on the rest of 'Team Flash', after all, is an interesting new twist. But, it really didn't add much to the episode, as a whole. Although, to be fair, this sub-plot did give us that wonderfully bizarre moment that opened the episode, in which Zoom chased down Well and grabbed him by the throat, only to wish him a 'Merry Christmas' in the most threatening way imaginable.

To round the episode off, there is also room for more West family drama, as Iris finds herself feeling compelled to finally reveal what Joe's estranged ex-wife, Francine, had revealed during her brief time in Central City - that Joe actually has a son he has never met. While I haven't been too invested in this plot-line up until now, it has always given us some great moments from Jesse L. Martin and Candice Patton - and, that continues here. Of course, the true purpose of this particular plot-line was as lead up to the introduction of Wally West, another character fans of DC;s comics should be very familiar with - and, although we do see him, briefly, in this episode, we are going to have to wait until next year to meet him properly.

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