Having established a pattern with its last episode, “Things You Can’t Outrun” finds The Flash offering further variations to its procedural formula. Unfortunately, unlike the previous entries, it also shows a bit of miscalculation when it comes to giving the proper emphasis to storylines.
Ostensibly, though the episode hinges on Team Flash capturing a criminal with the ability to morph into poisonous gas, the emotional core centers on Caitlin and her attempts to face the trauma of her boyfriend’s death. And while I’m certainly open for anything that would give actress Danielle Panabaker some good stuff to work with, this can’t help but feel like the kind of episode that would come about later in the series, after Barry has established a deeper connection with his team. As the third episode of the show, it all feels like too much too soon.
But let’s get into the nitty gritty, shall we?
Barry is called in by Joe to investigate the mass killing of an organized crime family. The deceased all appear to be victims of some kind of toxic gas. When Caitlin and Barry look into the evidence, however, they discover that bits of someone’s DNA were left in the bodies. In other words, the killer wasn’t using gas to kill his victims, he was the gas. Some research into the killer’s victims soon reveals that he was a contract killer who was put in the gas chamber the same night of the Particle Accelerator meltdown. Thus, he now has the ability to transform his particles into noxious gas.
The only way to capture the villain, it seems, is to renovate the Particle Accelerator to act as a holding cell. This means that all of Team Arrow—Caitlin in particular—must face their demons and relive what happened on that tragic night nine months ago.
Complementing what’s happening in the present, the flashback scenes this time center on the day of the Particle Accelerator explosion and traces the events that lead to Caitlin’s boyfriend Ronnie (Robbie Amell, cousin of Arrow’s own Stephen Amell) preventing the machine from going into overdrive, thus sacrificing his own life to save hundreds of others. As I predicted last week, it looks as though the show will indeed be employing a Lost-type structure with its flashbacks. What’s comforting is that this episode shows that the flashbacks will not be all Barry-centric, but can apply to any member of the main cast. I still question how long this can be employed before the writers really start reaching for stories (will we see a young Joe training for his badge?) but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Caitlin’s struggle to face her fears leads to a few heart-to-hearts with Barry. And though these scenes are nice in their own way—the actors have enough chemistry that the writers could very well be laying groundwork for romantic complication down the line—I still stand by the fact that it all seems to be going a bit too fast, especially given that Caitlin was such a stick-in-the-mud just last week. Furthermore, her moving beyond this past trauma feels like something that would be explored over time, rather than in a single episode, particularly given the massive order that CW asks of its shows. The writers will, no doubt, complicate this storyline (we never saw a body, so my money is on him returning to life as Firestorm), but addressing this trauma so early on means that a big part of Caitlin’s potential character arc has already been wrapped up.
In the midst of all this, we are also given a minor subplot involving, of all things, Iris and Eddie gathering up the courage to tell Joe about their relationship. As subplots go, it’s just about the most extraneous you can imagine. There are definite hints of the Tommy-Laurel dynamic here; however, while that pairing was intriguing in how emotionally messy and complicated it was (a main character’s best friend and his betrayed girlfriend getting together is rife with dramatic possibilities), this one has no such baggage. As such, as the two bicker about what to do, it’s hard not to wish that the time could be put to better use exploring any of the other plotlines.
Another issue with the episode is that it’s starting to get a little repetitive when it comes to the closing Harrison Wells teasers. While the first two were shocking (Harrison showed he was faking his disability in one, and killed a man in the other), this one does not feel as substantial. We are shown Harrison’s POV during the aftermath of the Particle Accelerator explosion. After learning that Ronnie sacrificed his life, he walks into his secret room and watches as a pre-superpowers Barry is struck by lightning. Granted, this establishes that Harrison may have caused the meltdown, so that Barry could get his powers, but it feels a bit as though the writers are hitting this “Harrison-is-secretly-evil” beat a lot. Here’s hoping variations on this theme do not end every single episode from here on out.
While, overall, The Flash appears to have found its voice much faster than Arrow did, “Things You Can’t Outrun” demonstrates that it may have some bugs to work out when it comes to calibrating plotlines. Though certainly not a bad episode, “Things You Can’t Outrun” does stand as a weaker entry than the first two installments. That being said, it looks as though Felicity will be coming to Central City next week, so that’s good news for everyone.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.