The Flash: 122 “Rogue Air” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Barry Allen has faced a whole lot of colourful metahuman villains with powers in The Flash’s first season – and with only a few kicking the bucket at the end of their episodes, the surviving bad guys have been briefly seen locked up in a special prison for powered people. That prison has been something of an enigma so far, with furious Internet debate over how the metahumans are fed/how they survive, etc – but so far, no answers have been forthcoming…
As Barry and co faced the question of how to transport the threatened prisoners, Rogue Air finally began to delve into the moral question mark that is the illegal, undocumented prison in STAR Labs – it’s a debate that’s been flagged up by plenty of fans over the course of season one, so it was intriguing to see The Flash actually begin to explore this commonly discussed moral debate. While Rogue Air was too stuffed to really explore this moral debate to the extent it perhaps should have been explored, the scenes we did get were intriguing enough, adding a welcome dose of realism when the idea of the police helping out was completely vetoed, and highlighting that perhaps the STAR Labs team aren’t entirely the shining knights they’ve been presented as at points. It’s unlikely that, with the metahumans all gone, this issue will rear its head again any time soon, but Rogue Air’s exploration of the issue was at least one of the thematically meatier parts of a fairly plot-heavy episode.
The road that pushed Barry towards asking Captain Cold for help was unfortunately something of a pile-up of thinly veiled plot contrivances and conveniences that couldn’t help but stick out like a sore thumb, but Barry’s uneasy alliance with Cold allowed The Flash to explore Barry at the end of his tether, after losing to Wells again and again. The concept of Barry trying to essentially emulate Oliver Queen’s darker take on vigilantism was surprisingly well explored, and concluded on a note that underlined the differences between Barry and Oliver in a way that was perhaps a little too on-the-nose (with Joe essentially telling Barry in a speech that sounded curiously similar to previous heart-to-hearts between the two characters), but worked well enough especially considering that Oliver actually appeared in person later on.
However, the fact that Barry’s attempt at manipulation and dealing with the devil ended in abject failure was fitting – not only displaying a different Barry to the pure hero we’ve seen all season, but actually re-affirming The Flash’s take on less morally ambiguous superheroics. Barry Allen has been a instantly likeable and successful hero because of his good-hearted moral certainty, and the lack of anti-hero tendencies that have clouded some recent takes on superheroes, and while trips on the darker side like Barry’s deal with Cold in Rogue Air are entertaining as a one-episode affair, The Flash’s emphasising of the importance of Barry’s more straightforwardly heroic tendencies was an encouraging indicator for the future, making it abundantly clear that there’s very little chance of a much darker shift for the show in season two.
Rogue Air marked the fourth and probably final appearance this season of Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold – and despite the fact that Cold is heading the new Legends of Tomorrow spin-off full time next year, it’d be a real shame to lose Cold from The Flash, as Miller’s performance has been a consistently entertaining part of the often slightly weakly plotted Rogue episodes, delivering an enjoyably heightened performance that keeps away from ‘ridiculous’ territory in a way that Dominic Purcell has often failed to do as Cold’s overblown sidekick Heatwave (not present here for unexplained reasons, probably on holiday)
Likewise, Lisa Snart aka the Golden Glider was great fun here too, overcoming her fairly nondescript first appearance back in Rogue Time to provide a dynamic with Cisco that yielded a few of the funniest scenes of the episode. The hints here at an expansion of the Rogues were also very exciting indeed, pointing towards a much larger version of the criminal gang in season two with some new meta-human members to boot. It’d be preferable to bring in a couple of villains who are slightly more interesting than the mostly Z-list meta-humans seen in Rogue Air, but the steps towards a fully-fledged version of the Rogues are nonetheless fun and tantalising fanservice.
The central fight between the STAR Labs crew and the escaped meta-humans was perhaps a little disappointing – almost all of The Flash’s best episodic villains have either escaped or are six feet under, so the motley bunch that Rogue Air served up was admittedly a little uninspiring and insipid (if anyone was clamouring for the return of the Rainbow Raider or the Mist, I’d be genuinely shocked), taking away some potential thrills from what was generally a solidly directed scene with passable effects. The escaped villains will doubtless make a return at some point in the future, but it’s hard to muster much excitement for a collection of generally paper thin, obscure bad guys who made just as little an impression here as they made in their first episodes.
After Wells’ evisceration of Eddie last week by showing him a future where things really weren’t going Eddie’s way, Rogue Air dealt a little with the fallout of those revelations on Eddie. I noted last week that Eddie’s stability all season has made him often a little boring as a character – yet with all of that taken away, Eddie has become a far more complex character, with the improved writing allowing this reviewer to invest a little more in his plight. By sending Eddie to rock bottom and exploiting his family relation to Wells, The Flash has now worked out a way to maximise Eddie’s potential as a character, and his brief scenes in Rogue Air are therefore surprising emotional highlights. At this late point in the season, it’s encouraging that The Flash is slowly working out how to use its slightly more troublesome characters such as Iris and Eddie in more compelling ways. Eddie’s break-up with Iris was also a strong emotional moment, featuring little of the histrionics that can often crop up in the relationship drama subplots of The Flash – simple, efficient and fairly mature drama that proved that going lower-key is a surefire way to improve relationship drama for The Flash.
Considering that it was plastered all over the trailers leading up to this episode, it was surprising that Wells’ big fight with Barry, the Arrow and Firestorm was confined to the final five minutes of the episode – and it therefore didn’t quite gel with the rest of the episode, feeling tacked-on to the end of an episode that had already come to a satisfying emotional conclusion. Still, it’s very hard to complain about a fight scene that saw Wells’ Reverse Flash suit pop out of a ring on his finger, and the battle between the Reverse Flash and the three heroes did come very close to meeting the lofty expectations fostered upon it by weeks of constant promotion and hype.
It’s impressive that we’ve got to the point where a fight scene like this can be done well with convincing visual effects on a TV budget, but it’s clear at this point that The Flash has essentially mastered the art of providing thrilling spectacle that often convincingly emulates The Flash’s big-screen superhero cousins (at admittedly far shorter lengths; this fight lasted about three minutes) and the fight scene in Rogue Air is just another example of this point. It also managed to let all three heroes shine in their own right, with the powerless Oliver packing a pretty hefty punch – if it wasn’t obvious yet that Ollie is this universe’s Batman (the depowered guy who can go toe-to-toe with metahumans with just a little prep time), his takedown of the Reverse Flash underlined the point nicely.
The biggest shock of Rogue Air is that it ends with Wells lying on the ground, seemingly defeated with an arrow in his back – this might just be his plan (it would not be the first time that a villain wanted to be captured), but Barry and co seemingly defeating Wells before the finale was a genuine surprise that infuses next week’s finale with a great deal of additional unpredictability, and marks an effective shift away from the Arrow formula of leaving the penultimate episode with the villain still at large. So, with Wells in STAR Labs’ hands now, it’s up to Barry to embark on the mission that he’s been preparing for all season. Can he save his mother? Will that make everything go very wrong indeed? Will everything go wrong anyway? It just depends if Barry’s Fast Enough in next week’s season finale…
Rogue Air unfortunately fumbles a great premise in places and features a jarring shift back into season arc territory at episode’s end, but it’s an entertaining episode that goes about its finale set-up in a very unexpected way.
Scene of the Episode: Justice Crew – It’s not quite the Justice League, but the superhero team-up to take down Wells saw The Flash unashamedly embrace some fairly wacky comic book ideas.