Back To Normal – Despite having lost his speed, Central City still needs Barry Allen to be a hero when a new metahuman, Griffin Grey, comes to town stirring up trouble. Catlin Snow runs into a very familiar face while being held captive by Zoom and Harrison Wells finally tracks down his daughter Jessie.
You have to love the irony here from a full-season perspective. Back in episode 2, it was Jay Garrick that was faking being The Flash despite an absence of speed as he and Barry faced Sand Demon. Now in the tail end of the season, with his speed stolen by Jay/Hunter Zolomon, Barry finds himself on the other end of that routine only with no one else to back him up. The episode also has its work cut out for itself because its base concept of speed loss was done early last season (episode 7, Power Outage) but succeeds because Barry’s speed loss is a surprisingly small part of the episode. While the opening montage plays the change in Barry’s life for humour, like showing him hating the bus ride to work, the power outage is mainly used to add stakes to the to the conflict with Griffin Grey. Speaking of Grey, he’s very much changed from his comic incarnation (a failed hero-turned-villain with lightning shooting powers in the Bart Allen era) but makes for an interesting villain. The idea of metahuman with costs to their powers is something we haven’t seen since the early days of Plastique, and Grey’s aging based side effects creates a fascinating dilemma to his situation. It’s similar to the magic usage of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Queen Lamia in Stardust as her every magical usage takes a physical aging toll. It goes as far as creating a significant degree of sympathy towards Grey when he’s revealed as merely being 18 and forced into this James Dean lifestyle by the particle accelerator explosion. Despite his means, he’s still just a scared kid starting down the barrel of gun making his actions relatable out of desperation. The makeup department do a great job of showing his progressive aging and its bizarrely satisfying to see Barry getting an old school beat down his increasingly withered foe. The only place it falls apart is over Barry’s non-speed based heroics. They just don’t feel very.... well heroic. Sure, he takes a punch or few but the way the climax showdown is staged, it feels extremely dumb that Grey doesn’t once question why the Scarlett Speedster is barely moving faster than him. The use of dwarf star alloy is a great little Easter Egg though (the same substance Pay Parker built his ATOM suit with).
Catching up with Catlin turns out to be much more rewarding than expected after being whisked away to Zoom’s evil Earth 2 layer. Rather than wasting Danielle Panabaker on damsel duties, the episode actually gives her by far the best material of the week as Catlin comes face-to-face with her Earth 2 doppelganger, aka Killer Frost. The last time we met this icy version of Catlin. she was holding off Zoom so the others could escape as assumed to killed=off screen. However, now it seems that she was spared to be Hunter Zolomon’s Catlin doll when he couldn’t have the real Catlin anymore. This is an interesting twist despite how awkwardly in plays out when Hunter breaks out the L-word. Yet all that matters here are the Catlin/Killer Frost exchanges because they make the episode in itself. Panabaker constantly makes each lady feel like their own distinct personality while the script examines the things they have in common. In keeping with Killer Frost being Catlin’s “Other road chosen”, we learn that she also went to medical school but dropped out ,and on both Earths, their mother wasn’t their favourite person. It definitely feels like the show is trying to leave the door open for Earth Catlin to don the white hair and heavy makeup even if they never actually go there. Killer Frost’s notions of just waking up one day cold-hearted imply a dormant or repressed state of powers that can be triggered or just randomly surface (like with Cisco’s Vibe powers). The mention of a surprise sibling also feels highly deliberate and embedded for the future. Of course, being The Flash, the show also finds a lot of fun and playful material from these Catlin on Catlin scenes such as fashion choice criticism.
The Harrison Wells and Jessie Quick story is very effective. Firstly, it’s just great to have Jessie and Violett Beane back as she was such an energizing new team member before skipping town. For several parts of the episode, their story becomes the main focus which all serves to reunite father and daughter, and bring Jessie back to Star Labs. It does this well because it achieves it without being detrimental to Jessie’s intelligence. Rather than being a more typical case of love based forgiveness we see Jessie going through an intellectual based understanding as the tables are turned as Harrison is kidnapped from her. Although she may never agree her father’s decision to kill for her, we do follow her process of understanding when she too is prepared to do whatever it takes to get him back. Wally only makes for a minor feature but a solid one. Like Jessie, it’s so good to see the writers letting Wally be the smart kid he’s pledged as rather than making him dumb for plot purposes as he pieces all his recent encounters together to figure out Joe is a card-carrying Team Flash member. Wally’s thank you meeting with The Flash has clear notes of Kid Flash foreshadowing as Wally talks about not wasting the new chance at life he has been given. It’s a clear declaration that he plans to mask up.
While it’s certainly not as action packed an episode as we’d normally expect due to Barry being out of action, Back To Normal does bring with it a lot of great character developments and examinations. Then of course, there is the ending. I mentioned it in the last episode’s review that there seemed to be a few nods towards certain events of a very famous story in The Flash’s comic publications. This would appear to confirm that (as does next week’s trailer!) meaning that we have some very exciting times ahead of us..... anything but normal.