Today we’re discussing the latest episode of The Flash (Season 9 – Episode 4: “Mask of the Red Death, Part 1”) as well as an episode from back in The Flash‘s halcyon days: Season 1 – Episode 4: “Going Rogue”, the episode that introduced us to Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold.
As far as “Mask of the Red Death” goes, I realize I’ve been on a bit of a negative streak lately, so here are my positive impressions of this episode:
- Our new masked, mystery speedster isn’t having their origins, identity, and ambitions dragged out. Even given this season has fewer episodes to work with than most, they still revealed it all less than a fourth of the way in, which is refreshingly upfront.
- Javicia Leslie takes Red Death in some very hammy directions, and I quite liked it. Helps they were given a chance to do the memetic “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!” line.
- They’re committing to the Rogues being a constant presence as a group throughout this storyline, which it’s nice to see The Flash finally managing.
- Hey, Chillblaine might be dead!
The Flash – Season 1, Episode 4: “Going Rogue” review
When I chose this episode for Arrowverse Classic, I did so because it was the debut of Captain Cold, a character I never got to talk about much, since they were killed off before I began my Arrowverse Avocado reviews. However, as I rewatched “Going Rogue”, I discovered something else I wanted to talk about. Something I brushed against many times in my past critiques of The Flash, but that never fully crystalized in my mind until now. The true reason why The Flash Season 1 is regarded by so many (myself included), as the show’s best, a delightful experience that later seasons have never managed to replicate.
Having not seen this ep since I first watched it seven years ago (seven years!? … damn), I was surprised on rewatch just how exuberantly fun “Going Rogue” is. Some of that can be chalked up to Wentworth Miller, bringing loads of charisma as Captain Cold. And some is due to these early episodes really committing to their bad-guy-of-the-week stories in a way The Flash rarely does anymore (there are some ongoing storylines advanced this ep, but they feel like garnishes to the episodic adventure, while in later seasons that ratio is usually reversed).
But what truly makes this episode work , and this season work, isn’t story structure or specific characters, but the theme behind them all.
What I hadn’t put together till now is that, in this first season, The Flash is a show about youth.
When we first see Barry this ep, they’re “training their powers”. By which I mean, using their superspeed to simultaneously play Chess, Ping-Pong, and Operation with Wells, Cisco, and Caitlin. Barry is preparing themself for a battle against evil, being tested by a trio of genius scientists in their advanced research institute … but it’s really just them hanging out with friends in their private clubhouse. More than any other scene, this sets the tone for the season.
It’s not that Season 1 Barry doesn’t have responsibilities, but those responsibilities don’t dominate their life. They fight bad guys and save lives, but they approach it with a brash confidence that mixes work and play. They’re preparing themself to face the Man In The Yellow Suit, something they do take very seriously, but that, for the moment, is a distant goal. Barry is training, getting faster for when that day arrives, but with a lightness of spirit that says that day doesn’t have to be tomorrow or next week or any other day worth getting anxious over.
Barry, in these early episodes, has the luxury of youth. The view that the most important work they do is yet to come, that they have ample time to become the person who will do that work, and that, until that day comes, having fun with their pals is as important as anything else.
Maybe it’s how much older I’ve become since I first saw this ep (again: seven years!? … damn), but it struck me how this episode focuses on the perspective of the young. Barry struggles with telling their childhood crush how they feel. Iris is upset that their dad doesn’t approve of their new boyfriend. Cisco tells Professor Wells about the cold gun like a kid reporting to the principal’s office.
Even Snart, who’s not precisely young themself, is effectively discovering a second childhood. They’ve treated crime as a game since they were a little kid, and when they find themself facing a genuine superhero, and growing into a genuine supervillain, they are delighted, because it keeps the game interesting. Just look at the way they smile when Cisco names them “Captain Cold”.
I’m now convinced that this youthful perspective was the key to making Season 1 such a joy to watch … and it’s a perspective that the show, almost invariably, had to lose. No one can stay young forever. As the years have gone by, Barry has grown up. They’ve gotten married, raised children, mentored a new generation of heroes, stepped up as the leader of Team Flash, taking on more and more responsibility.
They can’t be the same person they were when “Going Rogue” first aired, and so the show can’t be the same as it was, either. We can still wish that The Flash did a better job of evolving into something new, but what it gave us here at the beginning: that was always going to be a shooting star burning bright.
- I do still want to talk a little about Captain Cold’s debut. While they’re a compelling villain right off the bat, they haven’t become fully formed yet. Their planning-everything-to-the-second trait, while theoretically useful for a normal dude fighting a speedster, wouldn’t last past their second episode. And Wentworth Miller hasn’t yet developed Snart’s distinctive way of speaking. Here, the character talks in a fairly conventional manner, while in later appearances … I once heard someone compare Miller’s Snart voice to Julie Newmar’s Catwoman, and I can’t not hear it now.
- I applaud the fact that they kept Captain Cold as a badass thief with a freeze ray. Given the particle accelerator setup, it would have been so easy to make them yet another metahuman. That they were willing to go “yeah, there are also freeze rays in this universe” was one more step towards embracing the full absurdity of superhero comics.
- Felicity’s guest spot is well done, Emily Bett Rickards is delightful, and I love how she’s the one character who can go from Team Arrow to Team Flash and feel perfectly at home in either. I wish the shows had done this sort of crossover more often, where it’s not some big world ending crisis, just one person stopping by to check on their friends for an episode.
- It’s been a long time since I’ve read fanfiction, but if anyone knows some good ones exploring what would happen if Barry and Felicity had tried giving dating a shot …
Question of the Week: Who’s you favorite Arrowverse villain?