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The Flash – Going Rogue (Review)

So, I’m considering reviewing this season of The Flash, because the pilot looks interesting and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Scarlet Speedster. I’m also considering taking a storyline-by-storyline trek through the 1987-2009 Flash on-going series as a companion piece. If you are interested in reading either of these, please let me know in the comments.

One of the more endearing aspects of The Flash is the way that it embraces the stock superhero clichés. It is a television show that seems completely unashamed of its genre trappings, occasionally basking in its cheesiness. The dialogue is occasionally corny, the set-ups occasionally forced, the plot beats a little melodramatic – but that is a large part of the appeal. The Flash feels like something of a live action comic book.

Going Rogue is an episode that basks in its pulpy four-colour roots. Not only does the episode find a bright design for Leonard Snart that hues close to the character’s roots, not only does the show bask in various “cold” puns, not only does it lean heavily on the “save the innocent or catch the guilty” moral dilemma, it even throws in a nice crossover love triangle to keep things interesting. Going Rogue is silly and goofy, but in all the right ways. Endearing and charming, it is a demonstration of how well the show can work.

Chill out.

Chill out.

With Some Things You Can’t Outrun, it seemed like The Flash had hit a brick wall. There was only so far that you could stretch certain comic book storytelling devices in live action before they threatened to snap backwards. Some Things You Can’t Outrun pushed the classic “powers-as-metaphor” comic book storytelling trope to breaking point, while offering little exciting or compelling on its own terms. Going Rogue finds the show back on an even keel again.

After all, Going Rogue basks in its comic book storytelling, to the point where the script takes a number of wry storytelling short cuts while trusting the audience to keep up. Like City of Heroes before it, Going Rogue covers a phenomenal amount of ground; this is largely due to the way it counts on the genre literacy of its audience. Not only is it able to deliver a functional and compelling origin for “Captain Cold”, but it also features a romantic story thread for Barry and a nice dramatic plot for the cast around him.

End of the line?

End of the line?

Going Rogue does this by allowing the audience to fill in the blanks. Leonard Snart’s personal reinvention here is the same broad character arc of the Joker in The Dark Knight. He is a common criminal confronted with a radical change to the way that he does business. Rather than trying to resist change, or hide from it, Snart embraces this shift in the way that crime is going to work in Central City. He reinvents himself as something more than a well-organised crook; he makes himself a super-villain.

It is a familiar plot that was covered exceptionally well by Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film. As such, Going Rogue knows that it does not need to show Snart’s transformation in too much depth. The audience can follow along, intuiting the arc and filling in the blanks. The script gives us all we need to know to understand why Snart operates the way that he does – and why he makes the decisions that he does.

The world's larges cubic zirconia...

The world’s larges cubic zirconia…

The idea that the emergence of a superhero provokes an “escalation” in crime is a very effective superhero storytelling convention. It is a nice way to account for all the iconography and imagery (and gimmickry) associated with colourful super villains. “You forced me to up my game,” Snart boasts to Barry at the climax of the episode. In the story’s postscript scene, Snart reflects, “If I’m going to keep working in Central City, I’m going to need a new kind of crew.”

These lines tell us all that we need to know about Snart as a character. Acknowledging that Snart will be a recurring character and that Going Rogue is only forty-five minutes long, the script is content to sketch the outline of the villain and allow the audience to colour it in themselves. We get the broad strokes of Snart’s origin. His father was a police man; he came from an abusive home; he has a sister somewhere; he seems to fondly remember his grandfather. It accounts for his need for self-reliance and mistrust for authority.

A cold customer...

A cold customer…

Indeed, Going Rogue leaves a lot of the finer detail unarticulated. Snart never explicitly states that he wants to be become a costumed baddie – instead, the episode has Snart silently commit to his decision to become a super villian during the scene where his henchmen opt for retirement. Snart’s decision to wear a bright blue coat is an obvious response to the Flash’s bright red outfit, even if it is never spoken. Similarly, his offer of gum to the kid on the tour suggests a more outgoing persona than the meticulous career crook.

Going Rogue was co-written by Geoff Johns. Johns enjoyed a long run on The Flash, where he devoted considerable time and effort to flashing out the Rogues. After all, the defining attribute of the Rogues is that they are something of a cooperative union of professional super villains. They do not plot for world domination, they make a living. Going Rogue borrows quite heavily from Johns’ reinvention of Leonard Snart, with the biographical details and professional outlook lining up quite smoothly with his take on the character.



The Flash has kept quite close to the character’s comic book roots. After all, City of Heroes put Barry Allen in costume by the end of the episode. Fastest Man Alive had Harrison Wells name Barry Allen as “the Flash.” In Going Rogue, Barry himself comes quite close to dropping that name himself. This comic book aesthetic is even reflected in the colouring and design of the characters. While Captain Cold’s comic book outfit would look absurd on screen, Going Rogue comes quite close to it with a bright blue parka jacket.

Even the dialogue feels quite comic-book-y. Batman & Robin undoubtedly made audiences quite uncomfortable with pun-spewing ice-wielding villains, but Going Rogue takes a great deal of pleasure in Snart’s deadpan one-liners. “Cool it,” he instructs his henchmen at one point. Later, he informs a goon, “You lost your cool.” Explaining why they don’t shoot guards or cops, Snart insists, “We don’t need the heat.” Figuring out how to use Barry’s humanity against him, he reflects, “Time for a test run. Let’s see how fast you are.”

You're not sending him to the cooler...

You’re not sending him to the cooler…

(Wentworth Miller’s deliver helps a great deal. Miller is decidedly cold as Snart – he consciously underplays the character. As a result, Snart seems like a character with a very vibrant inner life. Miller’s Snart seems like a character who has carefully cultivated a detached and impersonal exterior, but who is giddy at the thought of playing dress-up with an ice-gun. His sly little smirk when Cisco describes him as “Captain Cold” is a beautiful moment.)

The emergence of Leonard Snart is a big deal for the show – something Going Rogue acknowledges. After all, the episode has the first closing teaser not centred around Harrison Wells. While the first three episodes of The Flash featured very generic freaks-of-the-week, Going Rogue is a different beast entirely. Snart is very clearly a different sort of antagonist for Barry. He is the first non-super-powered baddie to feature on the show, but he is also the first to escape. He is the first promised to recur.

Gunning for the Flash...

Gunning for the Flash…

It works. Snart feels like a more credible and intriguing adversary than the Mist or the Weather Wizard or Multiplex. He feels like a character who poses a threat to Barry Allen, rather than simply providing a nice climactic confrontation. Given the casting of “special guest star” Wentworth Miller and the attention devoted to the character’s evolution as a new breed of criminal, it seems clear that Going Rogue is trying to establish a more anchored and more fully-formed villain.

Going Rogue leans on quite a few classic comic book clichés, all played earnestly. The Flash has a very wholesome and very sincere approach to superheroes as a genre. Over the course of his encounters with the hero, Snart quickly deduces that Barry Allen is more concerned with saving lives than catching crooks – and so forces the classic “punish the bad guy or rescue the civilians” moral dilemma upon his adversary. It is one of the great comic book plotting devices – a great way to raise the stakes quickly.

Race against time...

Race against time…

Similarly, the subplot involving Cisco at the lab is another tried-and-tested superhero plot device. After all, DC comics is very fond of Batman scheming to keep the Justice League in check – Mark Waid’s Tower of Babel comes to mind, but Johns himself used the device recently during his run on Justice League. The idea of designing a safeguard to defeat a hero is a very comic book plot, and Going Rogue embraces it wholeheartedly.

After all, this plot device lends itself to heightened drama. It is the most primal sort of betrayal. The revelation that a close ally is prepared to take you down adds an immediate edge to any interpersonal dynamic. “I thought you trusted me!” Barry yells at Cisco when he discovers that the freeze gun was built to keep him in check. It is a nice example of how comfortable The Flash is with superhero storytelling techniques. This is something still relatively novel to live-action superhero storytelling, used with confidence.

"His heart is cold..."

“His heart is cold…”

Going Rogue even features a little crossover with Arrow, the series’ elder sibling. This is the kind of crossover that comic books use quite regularly, with supporting casts (and even primary figures) passing between on-going series. It is nice to see the crossover handled so casually, with Emily Bett Rickards guest-starring as Felicity Smoak. Even within this nice cross-promotion crossover, there is a nice melodramatic love triangle at play.

There is also something quite wry and self-aware about the potential flirtation between Barry Allen and Felicity Smoak. Despite Iris’ best efforts, it is quite clear that Felicity cannot become Barry’s love interest. After all, she is a regular on another television show. As such, the realities of television scheduling mean that there is no way that the two could become a permanent romantic item. Going Rogue never really pushes the idea too hard, with neither character expecting too much to happen.

"He's also very good at prison breaks..."

“He’s also very good at prison breaks…”

It helps that Grant Gustin and Emily Bett Rickards play quite well off one another. Gustin’s “aw shucks!” charm set s a lot of the tone for The Flash, and Rickards feels quite comfortable in that mode. There is something endearingly cheesy about both characters, and Going Rogue suggests that Felicity is probably more comfortable in the bright surroundings of The Flash than the darker aesthetic of Arrow. The scene of Felicity talking to herself in the alleyway is an old gag, but it works well in the context of The Flash.

Indeed, Going Rogue lands quite a few of its very silly and quirky gags. The cow-saving exploits of Bobby “Bovine” McFeely seem like some long-lost Silver Age story – precisely the sort of weird and off-kilter folk tale you’d expect from a place that produces speedsters and ice warriors. In another of the episode’s better gags, the museum guide is able to identify Snart as a villain based on his unexpected interest in his cultural heritage. “This guy went through the tour twice. Nobody does that!”



Even Cisco’s closing bluff with the vacuum cleaner plays very well, as if the show is drawing attention to the goofy pseudo-science that ties together the mythos of The Flash. After forcing Cold to stand down by threatening him with an ice cannon four times as powerful as his hand-held device, Cisco reveals, “This is actually the S.T.A.R. Lab Vacuum cleaner. With a lot of L.E.D.s.” It is almost enough to forgive Thawne’s tired “are they even speaking English?” gag.

There’s an earnestness to the gags that is endearing, like Eddie Thawne’s choice of radio stations or Barry’s desire to see how fast he can run backwards. These are moments that could easily induce cynical eye-rolls from the audience, but which work because of the show’s sincerity. There is a sense that the show is genuinely quite chuffed with “E = MC Hammer” as a quiz team name, or that it really believes the name of the Millennium Falcon is cult knowledge. None of this is mean-spirited, which makes it easier to go along with.

Out Cold...

Out Cold…

The Flash is not a show that does subversive or deconstructive. It is a show that embraces its central character and the world around him. Going Rogue is very silly and very goofy. Then again, that is a large part of the fun.

You might be interested in our reviews of The Flash:

8 Responses

  1. Loving these reviews! I appreciate the honest yet forgiving analysis. The Flash is candy but really good candy.

  2. Very insightful review! I was kind of a proponent of meta human Captain Cold and I thought the show would go in that direction. I didn’t realize that the acquisition of the cold gun would play into themes of escalation.

    However, Manapul’s take on the metahuman rogues play on that theme of escalation and might possibly become a future plot point in the show.

    • I’m not as opposed to the super-powered rogues as some fans.

      That said, I do like the idea of the Rogues as blue-collar tradesmen, with their gimmicks serving as tools or uniforms. There’s something nice about comic book villains who look on crime as a profession rather than a philosophy. This is what they do, not who they are. You don’t really lose that with the super-powers, but I think it’s dialed down a bit. Captain Cold can hang up his parka and put away his cold gun at the end of the day. If he can’t do that, I think it weakens the character somewhat.

  3. Having finished the season, I actually really like The Flash. Sure the first few episodes are kinda cliché but once the Reverse Flash shows up it gets really interesting, and the plot and characters start getting fleshed out a little bit more.

    You’re right that it’s fairly traditional as far as superhero shows go, but I think there’s a fair element of deconstruction (in an Unbreakable way) in how the villain pretty much orchestrated the entire origin story and the show in order to serve his own goals.

    I think it’s a little better than you give it credit for, although the pop culture references and attempts at being “hip and cool” end up more annoying than anything.

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