As the old axiom goes, all actors really want to direct. Danielle Panabaker, who normally plays Caitlin Snow, gets her shot with this week’s episode of The Flash, in which she even gets to introduce a new speedster villain.
Forget about Cicadas #1 or #2 for a moment. We’re going to take a brief time-out to finally tell the backstory of Nora West-Allen.
The episode begins in the present day. Nora is locked in a Pipeline cell, having been tossed in there by her father after he learned that she’s been working with Eobard Thawne in the future. Iris argues that they should give their daughter the benefit of the doubt, but Barry’s not at all interested in hearing her side of the story. He only grudgingly relents when Ralph suggests reading the girl’s journal.
Cut to 2049
Following in her father’s footsteps, Nora is a CSI for the CCPD. She has no meta powers yet, at least not as far as she’s aware. Working a case involving stolen chemicals, Nora becomes convinced that a new speedster is the culprit. Her partner and best friend (perhaps much more than friend?), Lia (Kathryn Gallagher), thinks that she’s a little too eager to jump to conclusions. However, when following up on a lead at Ollins Laboratories, the two are indeed attacked by a speedster garbed all in white. He introduces himself as the “god of speed” – perhaps forgetting that was Savitar’s thing. Lia will later redub him “Godspeed.” He blasts Nora with a bolt of lightning and escapes with more chemicals.
Nora wakes up in the hospital with Lia at her side. She feels fine. Better than fine, really. Lia informs her that the doctors removed a strange chip from under her skin. They’re not sure what it was. Nora shrugs this off as something that must have happened to her in the laboratory. Not long after, she discovers that she has speedster powers, and assumes that this must be a side effect of being hit by lightning, much like the origin story for the original Flash. An obsessive Flash fan her whole life, she’s totally psyched. Lia struggles to come up with a hero nickname for her. They reject “Flashwoman,” “Lady Flash,” “Femme Flash,” or (worst of all) “Hot Flash.”
When the report of a bank robbery comes in, Nora is eager to test out her powers and make her hero debut. She screws it up pretty badly, unfortunately, and almost lets the robbers get away. With no other mentors available to turn to, she decides to visit Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash, in prison, hoping to Clarice Starling him into telling her how he was defeated so she that can apply that lesson to Godspeed. (Official records of Thawne’s battles with the Flash were locked, and the Flash Museum offers few details.) Thawne immediately recognizes that Nora is a speedster, but doesn’t give up much information in her first visit.
Lia has news about the chip removed from Nora’s body. After doing some testing, she determined that it was a meta power dampener. Nora didn’t turn into a speedster after being struck by lightning; she was a speedster all along. It doesn’t take Nora more than a few seconds to piece together that her mother is responsible for hiding this from her.
Godspeed strikes again, this time at a lab called Stagg Industries. (As ever, Central City has no shortage of high-tech labs.) Nora tries to stop him from stealing more chemicals, but he overpowers her without much difficulty and kills Lia. Nora is devastated.
Back to the Present
At this point, Iris has heard enough from the journal. Against Barry’s wishes, she marches down to the Pipeline and releases her daughter from captivity to let Nora tell the rest of the story herself.
The Future Again
Nora confronts the older Iris about the power dampener. Her mother admits to lying to her, and says that basically everyone in their family and circle of friends also knew. A furious Nora can’t even bear to speak to her mother ever again.
Determined to avenge her friend (if that’s really all she was), Nora figures out that the chemicals Godspeed stole amount to a recipe for Velocity-9, the artificial speedster drug that gave Zoom his powers back in the day. Godspeed is trying to perfect the formula to make it more stable.
Nora returns to Iron Heights Prison and begs Eobard Thawne for help. He agrees to talk to her on comms and instruct her how to fight Godspeed. Nora sets up a trap for the speedster in the Tracy Brand Building at CCU. Sadly, it fails pretty quickly, and Godspeed chases her through the city. Thawne tries to teach Nora how to phase through a brick wall, but she chickens out and won’t attempt it. As an alternate plan, they trick Godspeed into running in front of a satellite dish transmitting something that disrupts the chemical bonds of the Velocity-9 in his system, rendering him powerless.
The police take Godspeed into custody. Nora asks Thawne to train her in the speedster ways, but he informs her that there is literally a countdown clock to his impending death. Instead, he tells her about the Time Vault room in S.T.A.R. Labs and how to get in. There, she activates Gideon, who recognizes her and drops the bombshell that her father was the Flash. Gideon plays Barry’s last message to his daughter, recorded on what appears to be an active battlefield. It doesn’t say much, but Barry tells Nora that he’s proud of her and will always love her no matter what.
Why So Harsh, Bro?
The Barry Allen of the present day isn’t quite so adoring of his daughter. After Nora finishes her story, he just can’t get over the fact that she returned to Eobard Thawne again and again, even after learning that he killed Barry’s mother. He says that he’ll never trust her.
Barry grabs Nora and races her through time, depositing her back in 2049, and tells her never to return or speak to him again. Nora can’t believe that her father would treat her this way.
Before returning home himself, Barry stops at Iron Heights to tell off Eobard Thawne. The countdown timer to Thawne’s death has only ten minutes left.
Barry’s behavior in the last couple episodes seems very out of character for him and doesn’t make a lot of sense. I understand his hatred for Eobard Thawne, but taking that out on Nora goes too far. I’d think that his first instinct would be to assume that Thawne tricked the girl, not that she’s evil and willfully betrayed their family.
Perhaps this is all part of a greater fake-out and Barry just needs Nora to think that he’s severed ties with her? I’m probably giving the show too much credit to assume that.
The countdown to Thawne’s death needs a better explanation. Is he going to be executed, or has he just run out of Speed Force? Whichever is the case, it feels cheesy.
Those issues aside, this is a pretty good episode for the most part. Nora’s backstory fills in some important narrative gaps this season. For her part, Panabaker makes a perfectly competent directorial debut. While the episode may not be one of the show’s best, it’s also definitely not one of its worst. If I hadn’t been paying attention to the credits, nothing about the direction would stand out to me one way or another. For episodic television, that means she did her job correctly. Quite frankly, I’ll gladly take another one like this over the last Kevin Smith-directed episode without complaint.