Last night’s episode of the Flash was pretty basic and mostly existed to set up the next story arc, where our characters will travel to the alternate reality of Earth-2. They fought a low level villain of the week, Tar Pit, and a member of the West family was highly emotional. Pretty standard stuff for this series. Except for one sequence that I can only describe as perfect.
Thanks to the power of the internet, here is the sequence in question:
Now to explain why this sequence is, to me, perfect requires breaking down some constructs of episodic storytelling.
In a typical episode of television, there are three plots at play. The A plot is the one that most of the episode is focused on. It’s the case of the week in a police procedural or new situation in a sitcom. The B plot takes up the second most focus. These are usually a more emotional plot that exist to propel character dynamics in future episodes. Finally the C plot takes up the least space and is the hardest to pin down. Sometimes a C plot is frivolous and played for comedy but other times it is a major dramatic push for the season, but one the main characters haven’t registered yet. Whatever the case, the C plot is always in the background, the A plot is in the forefront, and the B plot is somewhere in between.
Last night’s episode of the Flash, Fast Lane (which is an excellent title for a Flash episode, but maybe not this one), had an A plot that focused on Tar Pit as a villain of the week. Tar Pit is a metahuman who’s body is made of tar that he can heat up and swing around and attack people with. Eventually he’s a giant hulking tar monster.
Tar Pit wants revenge on the guys who dumped him into a Tar Pit on the night of the particle accelerator explosion that created all of the metahumans in Central City.
I’m sorry. I need a moment to process that sentence. This show is on TV. And massively popular. What a time to be alive.
Anyway, the B plot is the continuing adventures of Joe and Iris West struggling to reach out to Wally. The son and brother that the Wests didn’t know they had has turned out to be a
speed street racer by night. Joe has decided to stand by and allow this so that he doesn’t create further friction with his son. Iris, on the other hand, is tired of seeing people she loves get hurt. She stops by a race and discovers the identity of the guy running it all. She confronts him and threatens to write an expose if he doesn’t shut down the races. He threatens her right back and keeps doing his thing.
Which brings us to the C plot. Which involves the overall plot of the season and multiple versions of the same character. There’s a lot to unpack here so I am going to adhere to some great words of wisdom…
Harrison Wells, a genius from Earth-2, was fighting Zoom, an evil Flash from Earth-2, since before that world and ours, Earth-1, were connected by breaches. His daughter was kidnapped by Zoom, and he has been threatened into stealing The Flash’s speed to give to Zoom to save his daughter. Got it? Good.
In the C plot, Harrison develops a device that can siphon of speed force energy when Barry runs and store it into a battery. He hates doing it, but believes he only has two choices and decides to save his daughter. Early in the episode people notice that Barry has slowed down but not enough to recognize that Harrison has done something.
This brings us back around to that perfect scene. One where all three plots come together to create something truly special. It turns out that the jerk who runs the street races is one of the guys who accidentally create Tar Pit. So, when we think we’re watching a B plot scene about Iris and Joe coming to stop Wally from racing once and for all, the A plot comes barging in and causes Wally to get into a massive car crash. Iris calls Barry, who’s been hanging out with Harrison over in the C plot, and he runs in to save the day.
Barry grabs Wally out of the falling car, but the show knows to depict this as a particularly gnarly crash (more on this later). The car falls toward the jerk, and Barry manages to run over and save him too, but the car still isn’t finished. Glass and metal fly off, and Iris is standing closer than anyone else. Normally, Barry would be fast enough to catch all of this debris before it hits Iris, but thanks to Harrison in the C plot, he’s been sapped of just enough speed to fail to save Iris from a flying shard of glass.
The writers essentially tied a noose around Barry’s neck, or Iris’s really, that you couldn’t see until that exact moment. Iris was too close to the action, literally, and on this one occasion Barry was too slow. But the best part is how this sequence affects all of the plots moving forward in the episode.
In the A plot they discover the connection between Tar Pit’s victims and use that to predict his next attack and defeat him.
In the B plot Wally survives a traumatic crash, coming to terms with the danger of street racing. He also comes to terms with his responsibility for his family, since Iris being there was his fault. And on top of all that, he has his first encounter with the Flash! It’s important that their first meeting is with the Flash as a heroic savior. Wally loves speed, and he’s probably about to become a major Flash fanboy.
In the C plot Harrison quickly reveals he was the cause of Barry’s speed loss. Joe punches him, everyone condemns him, but then Barry decides to forgive him. They have all chosen family in a similar way, and they are only hard on him because he shares a face with their season one enemy.
Instead, the C plot leads into the A plot of the next episode. A trip to Earth-2 to rescue Harrison’s daughter.
This kind of scene, where the different plots come together, isn’t necessarily rare. It happens all the time in fact. I just think this one excels because of the dynamic visual effects and how, as an audience, we are shown all of this but not told. It leaves you to connect the dots on your own. There’s real dramatic irony when Barry can’t save Iris. We know why, but he doesn’t, and that makes it hurt all the more.
The Flash airs Tuesdays on the CW at 8. You can catch up on Hulu or the CW website.
PS – Apparently the Flash will be crossing over with Supergirl in March. I’ve got something to say about that, but I think I will save it for Monday.