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Last night, The Flash slowed down long enough to make sense

With half the characters running around there's more room for the ones we love

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

It is hard to imagine that a television program could swing so wildly from failure to success, but somehow CW's The Flash manages to do it. Just when I've been pushed to the brink by crummy scripts filled with boring schlock they go and do an episode like they did last night.

The second season's 12th episode of The Flash was fantastic.

It started back on the evening of the STAR Labs disaster with the origin story of a tragic metahuman named Tar Pit. A small time thug, Tar Pit (Marco Grazzini) is dropped into a vat of boiling tar and lies buried on the grounds of an industrial plant for more than two years before a backhoe digs him up. Able to transform himself into a molten monster, he uses his powers to hunt down his old crew and smother them one by one.

As far as monsters of the week go, Tar Pit is threatening and beautiful, but he wasn't the focus of the episode. Instead fans were treated to a dramatic rollercoaster where both Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) and Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) were pushed front and center.

Flash 02/02/16

Wally won't stop racing cars, and his sister Iris (Candice Patton) is pissed. With their mother Francine out of the picture Iris knows he's not doing it for the money. He's doing it because he's addicted to the danger, and so Iris hatches a plan to bring down Central City's entire underground racing scene like only a comic book journalist can; by publishing an expose on the leader of the entire racing circuit, Clark Bronwen (Teach Grant).

But as it turns out, Bronwen is also an old associate of Tar Pit. In one of the episode's two excellent climaxes Wally "Taillights" West peals out against another drag racer, only to find that Tarpit has consumed the course. Turning himself into an asphalt ramp, Tarpit throws Wally and his car back towards the starting line in an attempt to kill Bronwen.

Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) arrives just in time to pull Wally from the car before it hits the ground. Then he saves Bronwen, pushing him clear of the wreckage as it lands. But Allen simply isn't fast enough to save Iris, who takes a nasty chunk of glass to the shoulder.

There was a moment frozen in time, with Allen wide-eyed and terrified, flailing at the spinning shrapnel as it closed in on Iris. It proved to me that the faster this program moves the worse it is. By slowing things down, by removing extraneous plotlines and characters, The Flash is able to focus on moments like these, moments filled with emotional energy and exceptional action.

Flash 02/02/16

Of course, Iris is fine after just a few days in the hospital. But in the aftermath her and Wally are able to get a little closer, to bring down the walls between them. And Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) gets into the action as well, masterfully performing the role of both a stern parental figure and a loving role model at the same time.

If you don't care about the West family after this episode, including Wally, you are simply damaged inside.

But why wasn't Allen fast enough to save Iris in the first place? 1,500 miles per hour should be plenty fast enough to outrun the bouncing wreckage of a classic muscle car.

Turns out Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) used The Turtle's brain matter to create a device that wirelessly drains Flash's Speed Force. In a painful scene, he even hands it over to Flash's arch nemesis, Zoom.

But the guilt begins to get to Wells and before the episode is over he comes clean, admitting that he's a traitor to the team at STAR Labs. Before the episode is over Joe has punched him square in the jaw, threatened to shoot him dead and locked him up in an isolation chamber. Meanwhile, the team almost casually deals with Tar Pit with a novel new grenade that freezes him solid.

With "ten times the nitrous" of a race car's boost tank, expect gearhead Wally to get his hands on Cisco's (Carlos Valdes) latest explosive invention before the season is out.

Flash 02/02/16

But in the end it's Allen who convinces the team at STAR Labs that they have to release Wells, and that they have to work together to save his daughter. In a touching and intimate monologue Flash convinces Cisco, Caitlyn Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Joe to release Wells. Instead of closing the portal to Earth 2, next week they're packing their bags and bringing the fight to Zoom.

And, for the first time since all the interference caused by Patty Spivot and Hawkgirl earlier this season, I'm actually excited for next week's episode.

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