It's amazing: The moment Patty disappears, The Flash finally reaches the heights of season one. Barry is no longer a mopey, myopic whiner. Iris gets substantial screen time and an actual story line. (This show really struggles to integrate more than one female character at the same time, doesn't it?) We even get development with the Earth-2, Zoom, and Harry plots.
This season has been a mess — if only because of all that Legends of Tomorrow setup — but I think the show's core problem is a misunderstanding of its strengths. The Flash is at its best when it revolves around the idea of family, which plays heavily into "Fastlane." Sure, there's another forgettable metahuman-of-the-week, but the episode hits all the right notes where it counts. Two revelations that stand out to me: Harry shares an important trait with his Earth-1 counterpart, and Joe and Iris West are the true hearts of the show.
Let's start with Harry. He isn't much like his Earth-1 counterpart — although admittedly, we're much more familiar with Thawne-as-Wells than Wells himself. Harry is far more gruff, blunt, and unforgiving. Despite sharing the face of Team Flash's greatest foe, he's proved himself to not be as underhanded … until he agreed to Zoom's deal to save his daughter anyway.
But that leads us to the important trait Harry shares with Wells: his single-minded pursuit, or perhaps obsession, with reaching his goal. For Harry, that goal is rescuing his daughter. So that's why, during an argument, he tells Barry that despite attempts to make him a part of Team Flash, "I will choose my daughter. I will betray you." Unfortunately, Barry believes in Harry's goodness. He's always eager to see the best in people. And this time, he's only half-right.
Harry may essentially be a good man, but he will stop at nothing to save his daughter. This includes creating new tech — based on the Turtle's brain matter and knowledge he picked up from the Reverse-Flash — that he slips onto Barry's suit, which will discreetly siphon his powers whenever he taps into the speed-force. Barry and Cisco both notice he's a bit slower than usual, but they shrug it off until Harry's decision has major consequences. Even as Harry makes strides to save his daughter, he's guilt-ridden about this betrayal, and often lashes out at Barry. He can't even muster up joy when he and Barry figure out a way to close the inter-dimensional breaches.
Can we talk about Zoom for a moment? He only appears briefly in "Fastlane," but he makes a lasting impression. When Zoom meets Harry to get the bit of Barry's stolen speed, I didn't expect him to shoot it up like an addict. The character has grown to be more of a mystery in light of last week's revelation that Jay Garrick's Earth-1 doppelgänger is named Hunter Zolomon. (That's the real name of Zoom in the comics.) Unfortunately, Jay is yet again put away in whatever attic he's kept in until the show decides to trot him out. Anyway, back to the point: The very small bit of speed Barry loses has a ripple effect on everything else.
Meanwhile, Joe is making strides with Wally, but makes the mistake of relating to him as a friend rather than actually being a parent to him. It's understandable that Joe is apprehensive — he just met Wally, and Francine's death looms large. (Yes, she is officially dead.) Iris doesn't hesitate to call out Joe on how he isn't being that good of a parent to Wally. So, she goes into full-blown, big-sister mode and decides to end Wally's drag-racing career before it gets him killed.
Iris has always felt like an important element of the show, which is why sidelining her has proven to be so disastrous for The Flash. Iris is caring, intelligent, brave, and witty — and these traits are finally coming back into the spotlight. We've heard a lot about her career as a journalist, but the show didn't really capitalize on that until "Fastlane." First, we see her presenting research to Joe about the young kids who get hurt and killed in drag races. Then, she goes after the sleazy criminal who organizes and benefits from the races. Without backup or notifying Barry, she faces this man down because she loves Wally. She threatens him, showing him the mock-up of an article she'll publish unless he stops the races. He doesn't take that too well, but when he turns the tables on her, she reveals that she's been recording their entire conversation. Is Iris scared as she does this? Yes. But she's also brave. Candice Patton brings a lot of warmth to the show. We need more of her.
In terms of the metahuman, this week's episode actually opens with his backstory. His origin involves being thrown into a tar pit by low-rent criminals over some money he hid. In the pits, he somehow doesn't suffocate — and minutes later, the particle accelerator explodes. He's stuck in a factory until the present day, when nearby construction finally allows him to escape, revealing himself to be a metahuman Cisco names Tar Pit. Unsurprisingly, Tar Pit is out for revenge against the men who tried to kill him.
All these story lines intersect toward the end of the episode when Tar Pit targets another person on his hit list: the criminal organizing the races. And Wally happens to be racing the very same evening. When Tar Pit makes his presence known, Iris calls Barry. He rushes to the scene, saving both Wally and the criminal Tar Pit wants to kill … but he isn't able to save Iris from a stray piece of broken glass that pierces her shoulder. In the episode's most visually dynamic scene, we watch in slow motion as Barry struggles to be fast enough to save Iris. Her face is refracted in the pieces of glass hurtling toward her. When she's actually hit, her look of pain and surprise is terrific — even if she's remarkably graceful about her brush with death.
Earlier in the episode, Barry says in a voice-over that "time changes everything." And for him, that's all too true. Those few seconds, stretched out to what feels like an eternity, make him question himself. If he's unable to protect those closest to him, what does that say about his role as a hero? Team Flash eventually stops Tar Pit, but he's got other things on his mind: Iris's health and figuring out what is going on with his powers.
Iris survives, of course. I would riot if she didn't. Her near-death experience ends up bringing the West family together. Joe admits to Wally (and himself) that he needs to be Wally's father, not his friend. That's what family is for: Painful moments happen, but there can also be joy and forgiveness. That's what we're seeing happen with the Wests.
I like how Wally stays at Iris's bedside when Joe heads to S.T.A.R. Labs. It's a lovely moment for the two characters. I've been anxious about the way Wally has been written, but "Fastlane" finally begins to give us some development. We see his sense of humor. We learn how his desire for speed is tied to his happiest memories with Francine. Wally West is, in my opinion, one of the best characters in the entire DC Universe. He's the version of the Flash that really awakened my love of my comics when I was younger. Don't mess him up, The Flash.
After Iris got hurt, I wondered how long it would take Team Flash to figure out it was Harry's fault. Would he continue to steal Barry's speed? As Harry listens to Barry agonizing over his diminished speed and inability to save Iris, he makes a decision I didn't expect — he confesses. This leads Joe to punch the hell out of him, then throw him into one of the metahuman cells. I'd do the same thing too, Joe. But what are they going to do with him?
Harry pleads to Barry and Joe to let him return to Earth-2. They can close the breaches so Zoom won't be able to cross over. He'll save his daughter on his own. Joe is in favor of that: "Someone needs to send his ass back from where he came from or I'll shoot him." But Barry is ever the optimist. He sees the goodness in Harry and understands that anybody on Team Flash would make the same decision if it meant saving someone they love. He proposes that they do something different. After all, if they send Harry back and close the breaches, they won't just doom him and his daughter. The entirety of Earth-2 will face Zoom's wrath.
So, what is Team Flash going to do? They're going to Earth-2. Finally!
The Flash still has some lingering threads that bother me: the ever-disappearing, underutilized Jay Garrick; Barry's romantic love for Iris completely drying up; and the mystery behind Hunter Zolomon. But "Fastlane" goes a long way to remind me why I fell in love with this show.