The Flash, Season 2, Episode 10, “Potential Energy”
Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Directed by Rob Hardy
Airs Tuesdays at 8pm (ET) on The CW
When The Flash’s second season premiered, the series was returning from one of the year’s most exciting cliffhangers on television, and the first episode back handled the resolution to that cliffhanger with intelligence and heart. Although network seasons aren’t always structured so that the final episode of the calendar year is a midseason “finale” (in the sense of being a clearly-defined midpoint in the narrative arc), more and more writing teams are working towards that idea. And while The Flash isn’t coming back to television in 2016 with a wormhole to deal with, The CW’s hit show still finished 2015 with a significant issue: what is to be done with Patty Spivot?
Among the many things The Flash does right is how the story deals with Barry’s identity in relation to the people around him. Some people don’t know he’s the Flash (mostly unimportant people) and never will; those who ought to know end up finding out, and the plot moves on. So, Patty being Barry’s love interest and not knowing about his superheroics tested the series, in this regard, more so than any other subplot that revolved around issues of secret identity; and, ultimately, it put a blemish on an otherwise excellent half-season. It’s not that a character like Patty can’t be taken seriously if she doesn’t know the truth about the person she’s dating. That line of thought unfairly excludes tons of narrative possibilities and assumes Barry and Team Flash can’t keep a secret. A version of Patty Spivot who doesn’t know Barry’s identity and is still a valuable asset to The Flash exists…it’s just that she might be living in a different timeline.
The scenes that were written for this Patty Spivot focused too much on tip-toeing around the Flash’s identity, not allowing the character to breathe and settle into her own stories (with or without Barry Allen). “Potential Energy,” thankfully, addresses the issue multiple times even as it falls short of completely resolving it. Like the episode’s villain, Turtle, both Barry and The Flash have to think about what’s being taken for granted. Of course, things being taken for granted are all over the episode: how Cisco still doesn’t understand the extent of the horrors that Zoom unleashed in Harry’s world, how Jay lets his feelings get in the way of telling Caitlin about his illness, every heart-wrenching thing having to with Joe and Wally. But the focus of the subtext of Turtle’s presence is directed at Patty. As stated, “Potential Energy” doesn’t clean everything up neatly; it still pulls the amateur punch of interrupting Barry just as he’s telling Patty the truth, and she doesn’t find out by the end of the hour. Another option is introduced, though: Patty’s departure from the series, even if it’s only temporary.
It isn’t the first direction I would have gone, especially since Shantel VanSanten has been a genuine revelation in the role in spite of the problems with the character and has lit up every scene she’s been in with incredible energy. Yet, it if this is what it takes for The Flash to move on, so be it. Harry’s conversation with Barry addresses a traditional dilemma for the superhero: if the loved one finds out, she’s instantly put in the line of fire. It would make sense if Barry lets her go, just as he was willing to let his biological father go because it was the right thing to do at the time.
Now, Team Flash has a more important mission—one that has been giving Barry nightmares and affects nearly every major character in the series. Zoom has to be dealt with. Turtle, while unashamedly two-dimensional in this episode, serves as a device for helping reach that goal. The original plan to make Zoom slower rather than Barry faster is given new life here, but Harry’s single-minded focus on his daughter complicates the scenario. As he says in his log, he would do anything to get her back, and the direction The Flash is going with that is pushing Harry into Harrison Wells territory by robbing him of his capacity to truly love those around him. It’s difficult on one level just to see Harry—someone we like—potentially become someone we don’t like, but there are added layers of discomfort when you take into consideration the aforementioned scenes Harry has with Barry and Cisco. The truth is that Harry is actually a very good mentor…or he can be. His advice to Barry about how to deal with Patty comes from somewhere real, and opening up to Cisco to tell him how Zoom got his name brings those two close together for viewers who are still bitter about Harrison killing Cisco in the first season. More than that, though, if Harry’s humanity is at stake because of Zoom, Barry’s mental health is, too. Because how could Barry ever recover if another Wells went through with betraying him after Barry has reluctantly let Harry into his life?
That is the single most important thing that the rest of the second season of The Flash will grapple with: how does the conflict with Zoom affect Barry? Anyone versed in superhero stories will know that, with some few and notable exceptions, the hero lives and the planet doesn’t get destroyed in the end. So, what are the stakes? With The Flash, Barry Allen needs to know that what he’s doing is for a reason. Helping people has to have meaning. Even if some people take that help for granted, even if others—like Turtle—can’t be redeemed and even if Barry himself isn’t always able to be totally honest with the people he loves, it has to add up to something positive once the fighting is over. The world has to be a marginally better place or else there’s no point in Barry helping anyone. That fight can be looked at on a much smaller scale, such as Joe’s constant battle to do right by his children. It just so happens, though, that Zoom is kind of a big deal, so the scale is much larger going forward.
- Welcome to 2016 coverage of The Flash! I’ll be your co-pilot for the back half of this season. Hopefully, it will be a bumpy ride.
- Nightmare sequence or not, it’s still pretty horrifying seeing Zoom drop Patty like that.
- Joe’s a good detective, right? “Obviously not,” says Wally. Ouch.
- On that note, the Joe-Wally stuff in this episode was legitimately fantastic. All of it. The show finds clever and fun ways of dealing with speed as a force, and having Wally racing cars to pay the hospital bills was a great touch.
- Also on that note, I’ve read zero Flash comics, so if any of these observations seem obvious, now you know.
- Among the many pairings that worked really well in this episode, it was nice seeing Patty approach Iris for some advice on how to deal with Barry. It’s good they didn’t go in the direction of awkwardness there.
- The Case for Cisco Being the Best Character on TV, Part I: “thirty-something metahuman not ninja turtle.”