Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Flash Reviews: "Fast Forward"

I think I mentioned, way back when, that I watched this series religiously when it first aired on TV. Never missed a single episode. Out of all of them, this one was my favorite. This is the one that stuck in my head and whenever I thought of the TV series I would remember scenes from this episode.

So, given how much the show has suffered on being re-watched by me as an adult (as opposed to the teenager I was when it first aired), I was kind of afraid to re-watch this one.

The results were.... Well, you'll see....

The Plot: Motorcycle gang leader Pike (remember him from the pilot?) is released from prison as the judge overturns Pike's conviction for the murder of Jay Allen on a lack of evidence and the interference of the "vigilante" the Flash. Pike promptly sets about getting revenge -- first on Barry, taunting him and getting him to take a swing at him in public so that Barry gets suspended from the police force.

Angry over Pike's release, his suspension, and the fact that both Pike's lawyer and a local reporter have suggested the Flash may have been responsible for Jay's death, Barry decides to leave town for a week... despite the objections of Tina who thinks he needs to stay and fight.

Before he can leave, however, Pike unleashes his second revenge -- threatening to blow up the local dam and flood the city. Barry reluctantly becomes the Flash to save the city but finds instead a trap with a heat seeking missile. Pike explodes the missile behind the fleeing Flash and suddenly Barry finds himself cast ten years into the future.

The Central City of 2001, however, is not a place he recognizes. Pike has become mayor and rules over a corrupt, polluted, cesspool of a city. Worse, the explosion and time toss has robbed Barry of his abilities as the Flash and now has no way to stop him! How much will Barry be willing to risk in order to put everything right?

My Take: After the passage of about twenty years this story is.... actually not that bad. Don't get me wrong, there are still problems... lots of problems... but at least things are not absolutely horrible.

Most of the big problems with the story are what generally gets casually termed "Plot Induced Stupidity" these days. That's when completely nonsensical stuff happens because it has to happen in order for the plot to get where it needs to go.

For example, as I recall from the pilot, the problem wasn't that the police didn't have evidence that Pike was behind the crime wave, the problem was that they couldn't find him/catch him. Ergo, even if the judge threw out Pike's conviction for the murder of Jay Allen he still should have been in prison for the multiple counts of robbery, destruction of public property, assault, accessory to robbery, accessory to assault, Assault with a deadly weapon, etc., etc., etc. But the plot demands that he be released from prison so all those other charges get conveniently forgotten.

Then we're expected to swallow that a thug, who has been in prison and likely had all of his ill-gotten funds taken away from him, can still afford to somehow get hold of a military grade heat-seeking missile. Just the fact that we're expected to swallow the idea that this thug can *get* a military grade heat-seeking missile is pretty stupid. But, once again, the plot demands a big-ol' explosion so... military grade heat-seeking missile.

And of course, the big thing is Pike's mayorship. When I was a teenager this largely passed unnoticed by me but one of the things about growing up is that one becomes more politically savvy. The idea that the governor of the state that Central City is located in (and for the record the state is never given but still, it has to exist in a state) would allow Pike to get away with breaking state laws is ridiculous. And that's also ignoring the idea that the *Federal* government would allow Pike to get away with breaking the laws he does. Wouldn't happen. But the audience is expected to swallow Pike's Orwellian overlord control of one American city because the plot demands it.

The rest of the problems with the episode are more trope based rather than Plot Induced Stupidity. For one thing, this story is obviously a "Crisis" story. It's pretty standard stuff for the hero to have at least one story in which he or she starts to question their usefulness and threatens to or actually does hang up the hero spurs for a time. Of course we all know what happens -- the hero's faith is restored through one thing or another and they pick up the mantle again. The problem is that it's *such* a well-worn trope that a writer really has to either manage to invest the story with a lot of emotion or else be very clever in their approach and give it some kind of twist in order to make it feel fresh. And that doesn't happen here. There's also a little hint of It's a Wonderful Life to the episode which doesn't really help. In the Jimmy Stewart classic his character of George Bailey sees what life would be like if he'd never been born and "Fast Forward" doesn't go that far but Barry still gets to see what life would be like if he didn't exist for ten years so it's close enough. Thanks to the popularity of It's a Wonderful Life this sort of thing has become an overused trope as well.

One thing that just bugs me on a personal level is also the stereotype of Pike's lawyer. She is smart, obviously making good money, and talented in her career... so of course she's in love with the scum-sucker Pike. Because intelligent, educated women *always* fall for the "bad boys". Ick. I really wish this trope would DIE. Sure, it happens sometimes in real life but it's usually pretty rare. A smart, career driven woman is going to want a smart, good, man but in Hollywood it seems to *always* happen that the smarter the woman is the more susceptible she is to the scum-sucker. And in this case it's even a scum sucker with enough grease in his hair to make the deep fat fryer at McDonald's jealous. Ick again.

There is also the laughable view of what things would look like in 2001. Hollywood is lousy at predicting the future. Seriously lousy.

The last of the bad for this episode is John Wesley Shipp's performance. Overall, it is solid but, as with the pilot, don't ask him to do "grief". When characters die Shipp's performance is... not good.

So with all the bad I've listed you might be asking why I still say the episode overall is pretty good. Because, the Plot Induced Stupidity (PIS for short because I'm getting tired of typing the words) is really no worse than the PIS in a *lot* of other TV shows and comic books. Once you just shrug and accept it the story gets pretty solid. Particularly it is fun to see the story coming back to ideas planted in the pilot -- namely that Barry became the Flash to be more or less a symbol -- a figure of justice rather than a man -- and he succeeded. Now, however, he must deal with the full meaning of that. He never really thought through what it might mean to be a symbol and now that he is one he struggles with the pressure of living up to it when he feels that he is only a man.

Barry also must pretty much finally face up to his powers. Throughout the series he's waffled a bit on them -- sometimes wanting them, enjoying what they allow him to do and sometimes hating them and wishing he could be rid of them because of the burden they place on his life. With this episode he has to finally make a decision and make his peace with his abilities. He either accepts the burden and quits whining or he gives them up... and quits whining.

So, taken as a whole, the episode isn't too bad and is at least watchable without cringing... or being tempted to turn it off... which is quite a step up from the previous stories in the series.

Flash Facts Trivia:
This episode has an explosion combining with the Flash's speed to "rip a hole in the space/time continuum" in order to allow the Flash to travel through time. In the comic books the Silver Age Flash used to travel in time quite a bit using a device called the "Cosmic Treadmill". The Cosmic Treadmill harnessed the Flash's speed in order to allow him to control his movement forward or backward in time.

In Pike's dystopian future the resistance movement has created a kind of shrine/museum to the Flash for inspiration. Again, in the comic books there was, and still is, a Flash museum in Central City. The difference being that the comic book Flash museum is dedicated to all versions of the Flash (Golden Age to Modern Age) as well as branches of the Flash family (like the characters Johnny Quick and his daughter Jesse Quick and Max Mercury).

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