I have yearned to see a live-action Wally West since I was a kid. In many ways, Keiynan Lonsdale perfectly encapsulates the mix of bravado, vulnerability, and yearning to grow beyond his predecessor that I’ve always loved about the character. “Untouchable” uses a metahuman personally targeting the West family in order to inspire Wally to reach a new level as a speedster. After all, what’s better motivation than the safety and security of your family? There are failures and setbacks along the way, witty comebacks and successes, too. At one point, Barry says, “Run, Wally, run!” — a callback to all the times Harrison Wells said something similar to him. As delighted as I was by many moments in the episode, though, it didn’t quite land with the emotional impact necessary for one big reason: The Flash has been here many times before.
For all the zany, inventive qualities of the comics this show employs (and even created in its still unmatched first season), The Flash is struggling to explore new territory. It’s simply transposed Barry’s arc onto Wally. He needs to get faster in order to beat whichever villainous speedster is at hand. He doesn’t believe in himself, which leads him to fail at first. But thanks to a pep talk from his mentor, he learns to do so and gains new abilities in the process. For a show that has alternate universes and timelines, The Flash is frustratingly repetitive. At least in this week’s episode, Wally has to face a criminal who seems to be a bit of a challenge — even if he isn’t all that interesting.
Bodies are turning up across Central City that decay into ash, unlike any pathogen or bacteria our plucky scientists have ever seen. It takes Barry a while, but he realizes the one link between these disparate targets: They were all cops in the Flashpoint timeline. This leads the team to discover the metahuman-of-the-week, Yorkin (Matthew Kevin Anderson). He’s cut from the same cloth as all the other interchangeable metas who only appear for one episode: a scruffy white dude with little personality beyond being a bit too cocky. Yorkin has what Cisco calls “the touch of death.” With just one touch, he can kill a person, leaving their body a pile of ash. Even bullets don’t affect him, as Joe learns when Yorkin crashes his plans with Cecile and her daughter, Joanie (Riley Jade), at Jitters.
Even though Yorkin was originally targeting Joe, he soon turns his attention to Iris. “If I really want to make him suffer, I should kill his daughter instead,” he says to Iris after making his way into her apartment. It’s a line of thinking that has powered pop culture for generations: harm the daughter or love interest in order to wring maximum drama from the event. Wally tries to prove his mettle by saving Iris from Yorkin — those panic buttons Team Flash have on their phones are very useful — but he isn’t fast enough. Yorkin touches Iris. This, in turn, forces Caitlin to use her abilities to freeze Iris’s arm, slowing down the process of the decay spreading throughout her body. Iris’s predicament only makes Wally feel even worse about himself. How is he ever going to beat Savitar if he isn’t even fast enough to take down a metahuman like Yorkin?
As established in the previous episode, “Untouchable” is predicated upon Wally training to be faster than Barry in order to take down Savitar. It opens with a race between the two speedsters in which they’re nearly tied — until Barry phases through a building, beating Wally to the finish line. It’s the skill of phasing through solid objects that Wally needs to master to save Iris and take down Yorkin. But his training is laughably bad so far. He keeps running into the solid wood he’s meant to phase through, getting more and more frustrated each time.
As Iris struggles against the decay racing through her arm, Barry finally blames himself for the poor pace of Wally’s training. He realizes he has been letting Wally coast on “raw talent” instead of giving him the perspective necessary to grow as a speedster. From there, Cisco uses his powers to vibe to an alternate universe in which Barry never left Flashpoint, and they’re able to figure out who Yorkin will target next: a private investigator named Laura Stone (Caitlin Stryker). She’s on the job when Joe approaches her about the trouble she’s in. So they decide to multitask: continuing to shadow a cheating wife on the train and talking about Laura’s predicament. Yorkin just so happens to be at the train station, watching them, too.
Somehow, Yorkin gets ahead of the train and decays a structure on the tracks. Barry and Wally get there just in time, and Barry shows some growth in his abilities by phasing the entire train and everyone on it so they don’t crash into the rubble. Wiped out after such a feat, it’s Wally who has to handle Yorkin. Apparently speedster blood counteracts Yorkin’s powers, so Wally cuts himself, phases through Yorkin, and saves the day. Julian is able to create an antidote for Iris and all is well.
The way Wally is being built up is making me a bit suspicious. He’s either not going to be able to stop Savitar or will die trying. Maybe he will beat Savitar and save Iris, but will somehow travel to the future or another Earth, unable to get back in the process. Also, is the only way for him to feel good about himself as a hero is to be praised by fawning girls? This week, Joanie couldn’t stop gushing over Kid Flash — although he’s only been on the scene for a few weeks, so I’m kind of surprised by this. More importantly, the writers need to develop Wally in a way that better differentiates him from Barry. Using the same plot points and goals for each speedster makes this show seem like it’s out of ideas.
Even Iris’s story line feels repetitive. This time, it was Joe kept in the dark about the truth. I’m glad she was emboldened enough by Yorkin’s attempt to kill Joe to tell him the truth about her future. But can we stop with Team Flash keeping secrets from each other? It only backfires and engenders distrust.
Although this was generally a delightful episode, there are several nagging issues I couldn’t ignore. HR is an annoying character and he needs to go. I get the showrunners and cast absolutely love Tom Cavanagh. I do, too. But not as HR. He’s worn out his welcome. Can we get Earth-2 Harrison Wells back? HR is just another symbol of the show’s inability to grow. He’s a character who serves no purpose and is only around to continue the Harrison Wells mythos.
Also: Cisco being able to vibe to a different timeline that no longer quite exists is a pretty nifty skill, but it reminded me how desperately The Flash needs to evolve. This is a show with multiple worlds and timelines. Why does it still feel so small? There are so many interesting avenues to explore. Why does Caitlin turn evil as Killer Frost? Can we get an Iris-heavy episode, a la “The Zeppo” on Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Iris has been getting more development, but it would be nice to see her stand on her own. Candice Patton is more than capable of shouldering an episode herself. Can Team Flash start facing main villains that aren’t evil speedsters? The ending of “Untouchable” promises some new territory, as Jesse travels to Earth-1 to get help. She tells Wally that Harry has been kidnapped by Grodd and he’s trapped in Gorilla City. But with so much room for growth, this show needs more than a few Grodd episodes to capture my attention and admiration. Ultimately, The Flash needs to start taking some risks.