The Flash revolves around the idea of family. The ways families can form and break down, the texture family adds to our lives, and how our families makes us who we are. Beyond the Silver Age zaniness and great action, the commitment to this idea is what makes The Flash so strong.
That's why "Running to Stand Still" feels disappointing. Despite its fun moments, the episode does a major disservice to the family at the heart of the show — the Wests.
On the surface, this episode should have been about family drama: Iris finally reveals to Joe that he has a son. This is such an important reveal, yet it feels mishandled. Are the scenes that focus on the Wests great? Definitely, but too many other things are going on too, which throws off the episode's pacing and emotional development.
"Running to Stand Still" starts off strongly, as Harry is chased by Zoom through STAR Labs. It quickly becomes obvious that Zoom has other plans for Harry. He has a deal in mind, which we find out about at the very end of the episode. Harry figures out that Zoom doesn't want Barry dead yet. He needs him to become faster so when he does take his powers, it's more worthwhile. Harry agrees to help make that happen in exchange for his daughter's life. It's curious to note that Zoom's plan mirrors what Wells wanted to do last season — they both want to use Barry's power for their own nefarious purposes.
Zoom's scheme aside, most of the episode revolves around an unlikely team-up of Weather Wizard, the Trickster, and Captain Cold, a trio of super-villains with completely different styles and desires. Weather Wizard breaks the other two out from prison, hoping they'll work together to kill the Flash once and for all. I love Mark Hamill's delightfully demented Trickster. And Wentworth Miller's sass as Leonard Snart, a.k.a. Captain Cold, has become one of my favorite developments on the show. Despite such a powerful team-up, their story line is oddly weightless.
Snart isn't feeling Weather Wizard's plan — not because he openly cares for Barry, but because he doesn't do "nonprofit" work. If there isn't any money in this, what's the point? So, Snart decides to break into Joe's home to wait for Barry. (While sitting around, he fires up some hot cocoa and delightfully drinks it from a reindeer mug. He isn't happy about the lack of marshmallows, though. I feel you, Snart.) He tips off Barry about the team-up, then completely disappears. His absence from the rest of the episode is infuriating.
We also see a redux of the idea that Snart is more a hero than he wants to believe, which was already the focus of an episode this season. I thought we were done with the Legends of Tomorrow setup, but it's still bogging down the show. Nevertheless, I like how Snart is a fan of Iris's work. At least someone on this show remembers she's a reporter!
Weather Wizard and Trickster's plan is the kind of half-brained idea that could only be cooked up within the world of comic-book heroes. Trickster pretends to be a mall Santa, and gives out presents that have bombs inside. Barry can't track down the bombs on his own, so Weather Wizard gives him a choice: If he lets them publicly execute him, they'll promise to not detonate the bombs. Why does Barry believe the promise? Desperation, I guess. Weather Wizard knocks Barry up and down the street, then the Trickster leans in finish the job — but Cisco, Jay, and Harry nix the bomb problem just in time, thanks to an Earth-2 portal and the power of science. Barry brushes himself off and takes the villains down.
This story line isn't about the Trickster and Weather Wizard's desire to kill the Flash, though. It's a chance for the show to develop Patty. Remember: Her father was killed by Weather Wizard, so she's out for revenge in a reckless way.
I'm not a huge fan of Patty. She still feels so forced, and the way she's developed here isn't doing her favors. Where should we even begin? Patty only became a cop to avenge her father and kill Weather Wizard. She continues to prove to be a terrible detective. She goes to the villain's hideout without a plan or backup, and only survives with Barry's help. Then, she nails Barry to the ground so he can't stop her from shooting Weather Wizard. She doesn't pull the trigger thanks to Barry's rousing speech — but this development makes her seem myopic, vengeful, and kind of dumb. If the writers want to endear her to audiences, this isn't the way to do it. And unfortunately, developing her character takes up a lot of time, which sidelines the interesting stories that could have been the focus of the episode.
I love Iris in this episode, except for the way she disappears to make room for everything else that happens. There are a lot of lovely moments between her and Joe. It's poignant to watch as she reveals the existence of Wally to her father, with Barry standing at her side. I'm glad he was in her corner for this one, though I didn't like the approach Iris took when telling Barry about Wally. Why defend the reasoning that kept her in the dark about Barry's secret identity last season? Those are two completely different circumstances. Still, Candice Patton nails the dramatic moments and wit of the character. I wish the writers would focus on Iris more often. It's also curious that Joe meets with Francine offscreen. Considering how important the Wests are to The Flash — and how major this story line should feel — it was a very confusing choice.
By the very end of the episode, though, Wally finally appears. He unexpectedly shows up to the Christmas party at Joe's house. I'm not surprised that the show decided to reveal him at the very end of the mid-season finale — hopefully his presence will lead to more screen-time for Iris, too.
With everything else "Running to Stand Still" is par for the course. Cisco breaks out one-liners with regularity. My favorite comes early in the episode: While Caitlin painfully flirts with Jay, he says, "The thirst is real." (Jay has been integrated back into the show, it seems. Where does he go when he isn't at STAR Labs?) Caitlin can't read sarcasm, but with some help from mistletoe, she finally gets to kiss Jay. I don't really understand the point of their romance or buy their chemistry or care even a little bit, but I'm going to cut The Flash a bit of slack. They just introduced one of the best comic characters in DC's arsenal. Wally West is the Flash I grew up reading and loving. If they get him right, I don't care how offbeat the rest of the season has been. He's worth the wait.