It’s not difficult to imagine a Silver Age comic book cover emblazoned with the words “The Flash and The Atom Match Wits With the Bug-Eyed Bandit!” over an image of the two heroes facing a strange threat. It perfectly captures what happens in this week’s episode of “The Flash,” as Ray Palmer Felicity Smoak popped up in Central City to deliver an entertaining DC Comics team-up.
Having the Atom arrive to a chorus of “It’s a bird! No, it’s a plane!” was so wonderfully meta that it’s difficult to put into words. But once there, the fun began as “The Flash” continued to be the superhero series that refuses to dwell in darkness. Sure, it has its moments of pathos -- it’s difficult not to when the central narrative is focused on the death of the hero’s mother -- but the show’s lightness and unapologetic joy is really highlighted in “All Star Team Up.” It’s also a blast to see the interconnectivity between “The Flash” and “Arrow” even when Oliver Queen isn’t along for the ride.
The focal point of the episode is trust. With Barry reeling from the recent revelations regarding Harrison Wells and the Reverse Flash, The Flash doesn’t know who to trust. Sadly, that extends to Cisco and Caitlin, who are Barry’s greatest allies. That theme also complicates the relationship between Eddie Thawne and Iris West: She wants to know why Eddie is able to do his job so well lately, unaware that he’s now privy to The Flash’s identity. Iris is angry that her boyfriend doesn’t trust her enough to confide in her, but Eddie is unable to reveal Barry’s secret.
However, true joy of the episode involves Ray and Barry reenacting an issue of “The Brave and the Bold.” Sure, there was a freak of the week, but what a freak it is. Who could’ve imagined we’d ever see the Bug-Eyed Bandit on television? The Bandit is an old-time DC villain so lame that, legend has it, artist George Perez demanded to be allowed to kill the villain in “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” The television version is gender-swapped, with “The Walking Dead” alum Emily Kinney playing the ultra-campy villain with a wonderful straight-laced precision that makes her a convincing threat despite the cheesy premise. I mean really, the Bug-Eyed Bandit’s real name is Brie Larvan for heaven’s sake, but somehow Kinney makes it work, becoming a great adversary for Felicity, who takes her on in a hacking battle for the ages.
As cool as that is, it also highlights one of the episode’s major problems: Barry does nothing. Felicity, the Atom, Cisco, Wells and Snow all contribute to the Bandit’s defeat, but Barry just gets stung by bees and chases a lot. That does allow for some solid Ray Palmer action, and it is thrilling to see Palmer fly into action against a swarm of robotic bees that can take the shape of Emily Kinney’s face. But, does Palmer really have to look so much like Iron Man? Heck, even the sound effects are identical, and every pose the Atom strikes is pure Tony Stark. Be that is it may, this episode does feature the blossoming of an awesome new friendship between Cisco and Palmer, and also depicts the Atom using some of the Bandit’s miniature tech to upgrade his suit. That’s right, I said miniature.
We don’t get to see it very often, but the bond between Barry and Felicity is such a delight. It’s a great way to keep “The Flash” and “Arrow” connected, and I look forward to their next get-together. It looks like whenever that reunion does take place, Cisco and Caitlin will be part of it, as Cisco’s selfless acts in taking down the Bandit convinces Barry that both scientists can be trusted. It seems like a perfect time for a renewal of this trust as well, because Cisco has been having some disturbing dreams … of being murdered by Harrison Wells. They’re a peek into another reality where Wells killed his star pupil, a reality changed by Barry Allen’s time jump.
Trust will be more important than ever, because the Reverse Flash is way more dangerous than the Bug-Eyed Bandit. Maybe things are about to get very dark after all.