The Flash’s 19th episode (“Back to Normal”) is anything but normal. Barry’s powerless and in the throes of a series case of moping. He has to wait in line for coffee, y’all. That’s just cruel. But in all seriousness, I get it. Going from hero (meta human) to zero (plain old human) is quite a fall.
Wells, in a fit of defiance, goes off in search of his daughter. Tom Cavanagh’s quiet, understated performance is something I’m enjoying quite a bit. He’s always so self-contained, and yet, clearly boiling underneath the surface. In this episode, his anger is palpable, but so is his guilt.
Right after that, Wells gets kidnapped by Griffin Grey (Haig Sutherland), who was affected by the accelerator explosion. He’s got super strength, but it’s making him old real fast. No, seriously. The more worked up he gets, the older he gets. Surprisingly, this plot point is not as rage-inducing as Ang Lee’s Hulk, who grew bigger the angrier he got. (Seriously, I will never forgive that movie for existing.)
Griffin laments his lost girlfriend, and that…that’s actually his only character development. He’s mad at Wells for causing his troubles, and he rains guilt and blame down on him mercilessly: “I’m one of your mistakes. One of your sins, coming home to roost.” Of course, Griffin doesn’t know it’s the wrong Wells. But he keeps piling it on: “How do you sleep at night, knowing you’ve destroyed so many people’s lives?” Wells: “I don’t.”
That “I don’t” could’ve been a throwaway line, but it’s clear from the delivery that Wells is carrying around more than one blame/guilt monkey on his back. He sets about concocting a bogus cure for Griffin, who apparently learned a lot about chemistry since the accident. Turns out, Wells can’t help him and was buying himself time, and that makes Griffin HULK SMASH. (At one point, Cisco quips, “Okay, He-Man’s got some power. And accuracy.” Bless Cisco forever.)
Jesse helps the team out (she had five majors in college, and okay, that makes me a slacker), and she discovered that if Griffin exerts himself too much, he’ll age enough…and then die. And that’s the plan. They’re going to let Griffin, essentially, kill himself in order to save Wells. Seems rather callous and heartless, but…okay.
This brings us squarely back to Barry, who is grieving the loss of his speed. Interestingly, during the episode, his shirt is the exact same color as his Flash suit. It’s a parallel and a divergence all at once. It highlights what Barry was and what he currently isn’t. It’s just a plain cotton shirt. But it’s Iris (Candice Patton) who reminds him that, like any good superhero, it’s not the powers, cape, or punch that makes the ultimate difference, it’s the person: “Barry, you’re supposed to be the same guy you’ve always been. Suit or no suit, that guy is a hero.”
And in life, we all need that person who brings us back to ourselves, when we can’t manage to see our own reflection clearly. Iris managed that deftly, like only a close friend ever can. And so, Barry puts on the suit, which is reinforced with some dwarf star alloy from Arrow’s Felicity Smoak, but only enough to withstand one punch.
The Nerdy Scooby Gang arrives at Griffin’s hideout—a freakin’ carnival, which reminded me of the Supergirl movie. Cisco phrased it perfectly, “Why is it that bad guys always insist on having the creepiest hideouts?” And Joe rejoins, “Because they’re crazy.” Gentlemen, you do not miss a beat, and I adore you both.
They, obviously, succeed in their plan, even though Barry takes one punch more than he was supposed to. And Wells and Jesse have a touching reunion, which only pulled at my heartstrings, because of Cavanagh. His subtle emotions and difficulty grappling with his feelings was beautifully done, and I felt for him in that scene. The problem is that I don’t know Jesse as a character. I haven’t connected to her, so while I know she’s Wells’ daughter, it’s like running into your best friend’s cousin’s sister at the mall. Sure, I know her, but I don’t know her. I think to build up to an emotional scene like that, we needed more than her telling her dad to bugger off in the beginning.
But what was most curious about this episode, for me, was Zoom. Hunter. Whichever name we’re calling him now. He clearly has some kind of warped affection for Caitlin. He kept Killer Frost locked up, because of the resemblance (it’s a little too Kiss the Girls for me, but okay). And then Zoom also saved her life when Killer Frost tossed an icicle at her, after Caitlin helped her escape her cage.
Don’t get me wrong: Zoom is clearly damaged and murder-y. But there is an interesting undercurrent of actual feelings dictating his actions. He was curiously kind and bizarrely concerned about her throughout the episode. I’m not saying they should get married, but I am enjoying that strange spark of humanity there.
Let’s take a quick look at Joe and Wally. Wally is desperate to thank the Flash for saving his life, and there’s a lot of back and forth about it, culminating in a severely overwhelming scene that maybe wasn’t necessary. Just send a thank-you note, Wally. Your earnest speech to Joe (“He saved my life, Joe. I owe him a thank you. … Look, I’ve been reckless my whole life. … He gave up his powers to save me.”) served your character just fine. I just felt bored by Wally, and I can’t put my finger on why. Keiynan Lonsdale is great. His lines are well-written. But there’s a connection that’s missing.
Speaking of missing connections, there might be one in Wells’ brain, because he proposes creating another accelerator explosion to give Barry back his powers. This is after Griffin spent the entire episode hate-ranting about how he got shafted in the power department and not everyone is as lucky as Barry. It’s basically like Dr. Frankenstein deciding to try his hand at a second monster. Clearly, nothing*can go wrong with this plan.
*Everything. Everything can go wrong. And probably will. And oh, hell with it. I’ll bring the popcorn.