“Power Outage” wasn’t quite the inevitable “even Flash isn’t fast enough to be in two places at once” story that’s so blatant in its irony that it cries out to be told at least once with every incarnation of the Flash — but that was a good call, because that’s an easy story to tell and is all about super-powers. “Power Outage” was about Barry Allen’s need to help, not his need for speed.
It was a strong episode that helped me get past the one thread in this series that always felt thin to me: Barry’s constant claim that his sole motivation is “I like to help people.” That is an admirable motive, and I am perfectly fine with superheroes who are driven by a sense of duty and responsibility rather than vengeance…but what’s been most pleasantly surprising about this show is the way some of its secondary characters have demonstrated an unexpected depth. I came away from the pilot episode convinced that Joe West would be a fairly one-note father figure, yet week after week he becomes more textured. Obviously, Harrison Wells is heavily layered. But up until this week, I was still longing for Barry to show that same lack of shallowness; after all, he’s the lead.
Watching his frustration here at being helpless was eye-opening. Yes, Barry enjoys helping people, it makes him feel alive and fulfilled — but now I understand that it’s because the thought of being helpless, frozen, paralyzed the way he was when he watched his mother be attacked and murdered — that’s Barry’s greatest fear. It feels reductive and petty to suggest that every victim the Flash saves represents his mother. I’d prefer to think of it as every victim Flash saves is a chance for him to conquer a childhood trauma. That feels more universal to me. That feels like an emotional touchstone we can all plug into.
Flash Facts (a.k.a. Easter Eggs):
Blackout was created by series producer Geoff Johns and artist Andy Kubert in the comics series Flashpoint as a largely throwaway character. I’m sure Geoff was happy to have Farooq fleshed out here, to good effect.
The first surprise of the week was the appearance of William Tockman, a.k.a. the Clock King, a character crossover from the Arrow series (last season’s Arrow episode 14). Created in 1960 by Green Arrow writer France Herron and artist Lee Elias, the villain with the time motif has appeared frequently throughout DC’s comics and various TV series over the past 55 years.
The second surprise of the night for the hardcore fans was the wall of movie posters glimpsed during the delightful early scene where a gunman tried to rob Barry in broad daylight. I caught posters for Nighthawk & Cinnamon (two of DC’s old-west heroes), Blue Devil (name-checked previously in the series and in this column), and, for the second time, “The Rita Farr Story,” about an actress who (according to DC lore) acquired size-changing powers in a freak accident and help found the team called the Doom Patrol. I want to see this movie more than I want to see Big Hero 6 and Jurassic World combined.
And the final bit of fan service was that list of particle-accelerator victim names Professor Wells rattled off, almost all of them established DC heroes. I caught the Elongated Man, the Atom, Damage, Fire, and Amazing Man. I now live in a world where I might someday get to see the Elongated Man on my TV. If I could reach back in time and tell this to my 10-year-old self, his mind would explode.