Arrow: “The Scientist” (Episode 2.08)

TV Reviews
Arrow: “The Scientist” (Episode 2.08)

If you’ll allow me, let’s cut past the usual intro and get right to the point. This is the episode that introduces Barry Allen, the junior scientist from Central City set to make the eventual transformation into The Flash. How does it work?

Good news—“The Scientist” is far from a disaster, and actor Grant Gustin displays some definite charm as Barry, albeit maybe not exactly the type that demands to be explored in its own spin-off. But no matter, Barry’s lanky figure, baby face and predilection for articulating his deductions like a gawky Sherlock marks him a nice contrast to the brooding, self-serious Oliver. Moreover, it’s endearing to see our regular hero play off against an equally noble character who is very much his intellectual superior.

Arrow faced quite the conundrum when they initially announced the appearance of The Flash. How could such a character, a goofy hero with decidedly unrealistic abilities, fit into the somber, grounded(-ish) world of Starling City? To the writer’s credit, they’ve been good about offering subtle hints and clues as to the existence of superpowers, including Ivo rattling on in past episodes about genetic experiments and Easter Egg news reports that speak of a “particle accelerator.”

If there were only hints before, however, the opening of “The Scientist” doesn’t so much slyly introduce this new reality as bust down the door and announce its intentions. Literally. The episode actually opens with two unfortunate warehouse security guards meeting a grizzly fate when a super-powered being (Brother Cyrus, on the warpath after being transformed last episode) slams his way into the area and dispatches both men with his inhuman strength and agility. No sooner have Oliver and his team arrived at the crime scene than they meet Barry Allen, an energetic forensics scientist who, as it later revealed, has gone rogue from his job in order to seek out the infamous “Arrow” figure.

“The Scientist” attempts to cram a half dozen or so plots into its limited runtime and comes off as a bit overstuffed in the process. Next week sees the last Arrow episode before the Christmas hiatus. Wanting to go off the air with a bang, “The Scientist” will no doubt use all these set-ups as fuel for an explosive mid-series finale. In this way, for better or for worse, the episode feels very much like the first part of a two-part story.

Besides obviously introducing Barry, the episode also focuses on the aforementioned robbery case, Barry and Felicity’s developing romance, Moira’s dealings with a recently resurrected Malcolm and Roy helping a desperate Sin track down her missing friend. Then there’s the added value of the flashback scenes, which sees the (supposed) death of Slade. (Here’s hoping Sebastian Blood’s superhuman serum will both bring him back to life and complete his long-awaited transition into Deathstroke in the process.)

With all these subplots struggling for screen time, one gets the feeling that there are far too many balls in the air to truly connect with any of them on an emotional level. This is particularly unfortunate in the case of Slade’s death scene, which loses a bit of its potential gut-wrenching-ness when forced to share time with several lesser story beats, including a fairly uneventful dinner party scene that feels a bit wasteful considering how little time the writers have budgeted to develop their story.

With that in mind, as with any recent episode of Arrow, there are also a fair share of effective scenes. Although their relationship feels hugely rushed, Gustin and actress Emily Bett Rickars’ chemistry really help sell the blossoming romance between Barry and Felicity. Likewise, Moira’s scene with Malcolm when she invokes Ra’s al Ghul’s name as a threat provides the kind of lively spark that seems to be missing from large sections of the story.

“The Scientist” was written by show co-creator Andrew Kreisberg and comic book scribe Geoff Johns, who serves as the Chief Creative Officer at DC and has helped pen some of the company’s most memorable stories over the past decade, including an acclaimed run of The Flash. Here, while the episode certainly boasts the intrinsic plot mechanics and fast pacing that characterizes much of Johns’ best work, the overriding demands of the story appear to soften the impact of its biggest beats.

Overall, it’s hard to judge the true quality of “The Scientist” since I feel like I’ve only witnessed the first half of a story. Next week will determine whether or not the Arrow team can stick the landing. In any case, with the Pandora’s Box that is superpowers now open, the writers are faced with a world where Oliver can face-off against villains with supernatural abilities. Such a development has the potential to either drive the story into exciting new places or veer it horribly off-course. Fingers crossed.

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