For the first time, I doubted The Flash, as this week’s episode seemed clichéd. How many times have we seen Peter Parker bullied by Flash Thompson? It’s a trope that became even more tired when it was revealed villain-of-the-week Girder was in fact Tony Woodward, Barry Allen’s childhood tormentor, now with metahuman abilities. It could’ve been very tired, the unlikely coincidence of the bully becoming a supervillain; it could’ve been redundant and convenient. But not this series. No, never that.
In the comics, Girder is a typical thug villain with no connection to The Flash. It seemed a stretch for the television version have ties to Barry’s past, but there you go. Even Girder’s appearance was kind of dull, as the show forsook the comic book design and instead made him a poor man’s Colossus. It could’ve been disastrous, but this series has a sense of purpose and conviction.
Girder filled Barry with self-doubt as his childhood fears came rushing back. Yeah, at times, it felt like an hour-long version of the diner bully in Superman II, but Girder was really unlikable, and you really wanted to see him get his metal ass kicked. He also served to reinforce just how necessary The Flash is, as there can be an endless stream of thugs and bullies with metahuman abilities due to Harrison Wells’ failure.
So a frightened Barry got his scarlet butt handed to him by Girder. The clichéd thing would’ve been to have Barry train in a super-speed montage, and ultimately find the gumption to defeat him. In fact, it looked like the episode was going that way, with flashbacks to Detective West attempting to train young Barry to box, but that’s not where the episode went. Instead of a predictable Rocky moment, we had the 5.3-mile supersonic punch. Now, that’s why we love The Flash. In that instant, Barry lived a moment of wish fulfillment for nerds everywhere, for comic fans and dreamers, for brains and freaks, as he decked his tormentor.
The confrontation between Girder and The Flash had consequences greater than just the coolest comeuppance in recent television history. Iris West finally learned what a dangerous game she‘s playing by writing her blog about “The Streak.” Following a brief encounter with The Flash that ended with Barry’s hand shattered, Tony paid a visit to Iris to learn more about her superpowered obsession. And after a second confrontation that ended only slightly better for our hero, Tony returned to kidnap Iris, taking her to their old grade school (because of course).
Initially, “love interest as hostage” felt like a wrong move, story-wise. The idea that Barry had to find the gumption to fight his bully to win the day for his would-be girlfriend was a bit too much, I thought. However, it wasn’t the supersonic punch that finally took down Girder -- it was the right cross delivered by Iris West that saved this episode and demonstrated this series understands and defies clichés. It also showed that Iris will not be a passive victim.
The Girder stuff saved itself, but it wasn’t the main event of this week’s episode. That distinction belonged to Harrison Wells and Detective West. Being the detective that he is, West can’t ignore the possibility that Wells’ experiments had something to do with the fantastic events that led to the murder of Barry Allen’s mom. He confronted Wells, who responded with intense anger – and, as we know from the murder of Simon Stagg, when Wells gets angry, bad things can happen. It was a testament to West’s detective instincts that he sensed there’s more to Wells than meets the eye. However, there’s no proof, and West decides to make nice with a peace offering (alcohol, naturally). All seemed well, until a yellow man-shaped blur paid a visit to West to deliver a not-so-subtle warning: Abandon his investigation, or Iris will suffer. Is this Wells in the guise of the Reverse Flash or something bigger? Whatever the case, you have to be greatly concerned for the well being of Barry’s surrogate father.
The other big event was a christening of sorts. On Arrow, Ollie has never been referred to by his proper comic book moniker of Green Arrow. On Smallville, Clark barely went by the name Superman, if at all. The same near-shame in super-names was teased in the initial episodes of The Flash, as Barry was referred to as “The Streak” or “The Blur.” By the end of this episode, with Barry high off the victory over his high school bully, he reconciled with Iris and helped her to christen Central City’s new protector. Waiting to name the hero made the moment all the more special, as “The Flash” has meaning and resonance now.
But was anyone else troubled that Barry revealed his identity to the imprisoned Girder? Could this moment of admittedly earned hubris cost Barry in the future? Because, as Harrison Wells and the yellow streak that visited Detective West proved, the future is a very, very dangerous place.