The S.T.A.R. Labs team battle a zombie meta-human while Barry is lost in the Speed Force in The Flash 2×21 – “The Runaway Dinosaur”
At last, the long-awaited episode of The Flash directed by Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats) and written by Zack Stentz (Thor, X-Men: First Class) has arrived. And it’s mostly a successful episode, but only in spite of itself.
“The Runaway Dinosaur” opens right where we left off last week, with Joe, Iris, Henry, Cisco, and Wells standing slack-jawed as Barry has seemingly been killed by the particle accelerator experiment. Wally and Jesse are soon found unconscious in the hallway, but while Wally quickly recovers, Jesse is in a coma eerily similar to the one that affected Barry when he first acquired his powers.
Meanwhile, Barry is actually alive but is trapped within the Speed Force itself. While appearing as Barry’s various loved ones, the Speed Force speaks in cryptic puzzles, urging Barry to chase after a mysterious blur running through the fantasy landscape.
Cisco and Iris head to the morgue to retrieve Eobard Thawne’s files on Barry when they discover the particle accelerator experiment has had another unintended consequence: it has somehow reanimated the corpse of Barry and Iris’ childhood bully, Tony Woodward (AKA Girder). How it does this is never explained and makes almost no sense, but whatever. The S.T.A.R. Labs crew need something to do while Barry is gone.
Eventually Barry is reunited with his mother — or, at least a Speed Force representation of her. They bond over an extremely heart-breaking recitation of Barry’s favorite childhood book, the titular Runaway Dinosaur. The Speed Force tells Barry he still hasn’t gotten over Nora Allen’s death, and he must do so in order to become whole. When he finally accepts her loss, Barry is able to grab the speeding blur, which is revealed to be Barry as The Flash. The two merge, allowing Barry to regain his powers and accept his destiny.
Girder now has the S.T.A.R. Labs crew trapped in the particle accelerator room, so Cisco makes a last ditch effort to vibe Barry’s Flash suit and bring him home. Iris comes along for the ride and begs Barry to “come home to me.” Luckily, Barry obliges.
He quickly uses his speed to power up the electromagnets set up by Cisco and incapacitates Girder. Iris and Barry then visit Nora Allen’s grave and begin their new life together. Meanwhile, Zoom finally appears and has amassed a meta-human army from Earth-2 in preparation for his conquering of Central City.
Kevin Smith makes the most of what he’s given in “The Runaway Dinosaur” and pulls out some amazing performances from an already stellar cast. Grant Gustin in particular has never been better than in his emotional scenes inside the Speed Force. There are even a few subtle camera angle changes that bring a new feel to some familiar Flash locales, and Smith cohort Jason Mewes puts in a cameo that’s more hilarious than it is gratuitous.
The problem is that this is yet another episode in the Arrow/Flash pantheon that is simply stalling for time. If this had been a succinct 10-13 episode cable-style season, the events of “The Runaway Dinosaur” could have been covered in 15 minutes and the B-story with zombie Girder eliminated completely.
There are also some massive story problems at play here. There’s been no indication all season long that Barry still isn’t over Nora’s death, so the importance of that point seemingly comes out of nowhere. Most of Barry’s grief over his mother’s death seemed to have been resolved during the Season One finale.
Even the Girder story has issues, beyond the fact that it’s a silly premise to begin with. If Tony’s lone goal was to get to Iris, why did he run past her when he first emerged? She was standing right in front of him! Yet later, Isis is able to use herself as bait to lead him back to S.T.A.R. Labs.
The absence of Zoom is strange this week, as well. Sure, it’s easy to assume from his cameo appearance at the episode’s end that he was busy amassing his army, but it seems odd that he would learn of Barry’s “death” at the end of last week’s episode and not immediately start causing havoc all over town. In fact, the B-story would’ve been much more effective if it had been Zoom or one of his meta-human lackeys who were stalking the S.T.A.R. Labs team instead of a reanimated, frankly forgettable, foe.
Yet, despite those criticisms, “The Runaway Dinosaur” is still a stand-out episode based solely on the weight of the performances and the emotional heartstrings they tug at. The drama behind those story beats may seem unnecessary once you pull back, but in the moment, they are simply outstanding.
Next week, Zoom and his army invade Central City, lead by Earth-2’s Laurel Lance: Black Siren!