Forensic scientist Barry Allen gets splashed with chemicals and struck by lightening as the particle accelerator at Star Labs explodes forty-five minutes after initial activation. When he awakes from a coma nine months later, he finds that he has the power of extreme speed. Not long after, he discovers that he’s not the only one to have developed powers after the explosion, so he enlists the help of the Star Lab scientists to help him track down these criminal meta-humans and help protect the people of Central City. Meanwhile, Detective Joe West investigates a series of robberies which coincide with freak storms.
Barry (Grant Gustin) works as a forensic scientist for the Central City Police Department, where he works under Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin). When Barry was eleven years old, his mother was murdered and his father convicted of the crime, although he’s always maintained his father was innocent and that a lightening bolt man killed his mother. Joe West is the man who investigated the crime and took Barry in after his father’s conviction. Barry is charming but slightly awkward, extremely smart but prone to lateness. He is undoubtedly in love with Iris West (Candice Patton), Joe’s daughter, who seems oblivious to his feelings for her.
As the episode starts off, Central City PD is investigating a series of robberies involving the notorious Mardon Brothers. Barry arrives at the scene to analyze a set of tire tracks – with cool Sherlock text-on-screen style investigating – and tells Joe to look for a Shelby Cobra, hidden away at one of four farms that still use a certain kind of antibiotic in their livestock feed (this last from an analysis of some feces left by the tire). Because of his quick work, Barry and Iris have time to attend the activation of the Star Labs particle accelerator. Barry misses the actual activation because he’s busy running after a guy who stole Iris’s laptop bag. When Barry arrives back at his lab, disappointed by his inability to catch the thief, the particle accelerator across town blows up, sending a wave of energy out across the city. At the same time, Barry gets struck by lightening and is thrown back against a shelf of chemicals, all of which splash over him. At the same time, Joe is out investigating Barry’s lead on the Mardons and catch up with them just in time to see them fly their getaway plane into the wave of energy from Star Labs, destroying the plane. Barry is taken to the hospital where it is believed that he’s flatlining, when in fact his heart was beating too fast for the machine to detect. He falls into a coma that lasts nine months, during which he is watched over by scientists at Star Labs.
When he awakes he finds that Star Labs went out of business as a result of the explosion, that star scientist and Star Labs founder Harrison Wells had lost the ability to walk and that his colleague Caitlin Snow lost her fiancee in the explosion. None of them have a career left to speak of, but find amazing potential in Barry. Barry leaves the lab immediately after waking to reconnect with his friends, but soon finds that he has some unusual abilities. Meanwhile, a number of unusual robberies coinciding with freak storms continue to baffle police. Barry soon discovers that this is due to Clyde Mardon, presumed dead but able to control the weather as a result of the Star Labs explosion. Barry tells his theory to Joe, who not only thinks he’s crazy, but that his theory is another manifestation of his belief in the mysterious lightening man who killed his mother. However, witness descriptions from the bank robbery look a lot like Mardon, so Joe investigates the farm where he last saw him.
Barry enlists the help of Star Labs to track down Mardon and stop his mayhem. Star Labs gadget king Cisco Ramon gives him a suit that will withstand his high speeds and has a communications and vital monitoring system built in. Barry arrives at the farm just in time to save Joe from Mardon’s tornado. As Joe watches on, Barry unravels the tornado by running around it in the opposite direction. Just as Mardon goes to shoot Barry, Joe steps in and shoots Mardon. Joe apologizes to Barry for not believing him and asks him not to tell Iris anything about his powers, for her own safety. Barry goes to see his father in prison to let him know that he still believes in him, more than ever.
This Barry is a little more unsure than the character is usually depicted in comics and television, a little more geeky and a little less cheeky. In most of the DC animated adaptations and in the 1990 television series, Barry is wisecracking, lady loving, and full of himself in a humorous, charming way. Gustin’s Barry seems very young and consequently still coming into himself and what kind of man he wants to be. He clearly has a good heart with good intentions and a determined confidence in his own beliefs. So far, he’s also a pretty serious guy. There’s no telling whether or not the character will suddenly become interested in witty banter and wisecracking comebacks as the series progresses – but whether or not he does, and despite his adolescent appearance and demeanor, Gustin has great potential to be a solid Barry Allen. Gustin has already displayed the ability to seem suddenly mature when struck with a certain determination of will, and rather than the wimpy geek who could neither win nor outrun a fight, he’s suddenly a force to be reckoned with.
There is an excellent scene between Barry and Arrow‘s Oliver Queen in which Barry tells Queen his story and asks his advice. This is an old trick that spin-0ffs sometimes employ in order to instill the spin-off with authenticity and continuity for the viewer. Star Trek and Stargate are common examples of shows with spin-offs that would bring in a character from the original or established series to make a guest appearance in the first episode of the spin-off. Gustin had already appeared in Arrow last season, pre-Flash, but the appearance of Stephen Amell as Arrow in this episode seals the deal. And the scene is undeniably awesome, establishing not only the two shows’ interconnectedness, but also conveying the admiration the two lead characters have for each other. As they part, in their unique superhero styles, they both watch each other go and mutter, “Cool.”
And the show is actually pretty cool. I have to say that the first episode was a lot of fun to watch. The special effects were impressive, the pacing moved along quickly, the story was compelling, as were the characters and their various relationships. I very much look forward to the next episode, to see where the show progresses from these spectacular beginnings, and to see how closely they may pull from the comics or animation adaptations. At the very least we can track the progression of Barry and Iris’s relationship from one of unrequited love to one of practical destiny. They are meant to be, eventually, and seeing how it happens I’m sure will be only one of the many joys this series will offer.