The Flash: 203 “Family of Rogues” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Captain Cold’s always been a strange character on The Flash. Aided by Wentworth Miller’s expertly hammy performance, the character is always a blast to watch, but the plotting of his episodes and the lacklustre characterisation of his partners in crime have always damaged The Flash’s frequent Rogues episodes. However, with Captain Cold heading off to mix with heroes on Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash had (what could be) one last chance to deliver a truly memorable Rogues episode…
Though it’s hamstrung by a consistent feeling that the episode is essentially filler, a breather from the complex and confusing Earth-2 and Zoom storylines, Family of Rogues is a genuinely good episode that presents the strongest portrayal of Cold that The Flash has ever served up. The central hook of Family of Rogues was a brand new entry into this uniquely messed-up family – patriarch Lewis Snart, who just about tops his children in the psychopath stakes. Michael Ironside fits the role like a glove, delivering a greasy, thoroughly unscrupulous performance that underlines the reprehensibility of the character. Sure, Lewis isn’t a nuanced character in the slightest, and you’d have to really squint to find a redeeming factor at all (he does appear to react angrily if his kids are insulted, but ‘reacting angrily’ in this case involved blowing someone’s head up), but Lewis works well as a facilitator in the sort-of redemption Captain Cold experiences this episode. By placing Cold alongside his dad, Family of Rogues increases the sympathy felt for Cold by showing he’s very much the lesser of two evils here.
One of the best things about Family of Rogues was its utterly spot-on portrayal of Captain Cold. Cold’s always been fun, but the show’s struggled to impart true uniqueness to the character, aside from being really hammy, so far – but Snart feels the most distinctive he’s ever been here. Part of that stems from The Flash following through on the promising development of Snart’s ‘no kill’ code that Barry set him last season – with Snart actually following that code this time around, he feels like more of a credible ally to Barry here. His and Barry’s uneasy frenemy dynamic is hugely fun to watch, and Grant Gustin and Wentworth Miller seem entirely comfortable with each other here – they’ve settled into an enjoyably antagonistic dynamic that creates some of the episode’s best laughs. Family of Rogues also lends a little more gravitas to Cold, who has been a little too over-the-top to feel like a serious threat at times. He’s something of a tragic character in this episode, and there’s real pathos in Cold’s struggle to work with the man who he despises so much – when Cold flinches at his father’s touch, there’s instantly a vivid sense of the discomfort Cold feels at the proximity to his father thanks to Wentworth Miller’s capable and versatile performance.
All this means that Cold’s minor redemption here feels like a satisfying payoff that’s been earned – when Cold turns his gun on his father, it’s almost a moment of triumph despite the pitch-dark fact that Cold is, y’know, killing his unarmed father. Barry’s speech to Cold about the goodness inside him is perhaps a little on-the-nose, spelling out what The Flash desperately wants the audience to understand in vaguely patronising style, but it’s still an intriguing and really welcome development for the character. First and foremost, it feels like a meaningful development for The Flash, which is actually impressive when the fact that Cold’s arc here is shameless set-up for his role in Legends of Tomorrow is considered. Like Arrow, The Flash appears to be going about its Legends set-up in a way that benefits the parent show above the spin-off, and that’s very encouraging indeed.
One thing that proved to be surprisingly great here, too, was Lisa Snart. She’s been a fun, if generic, Catwoman-type character in her previous appearances, but Family of Rogues goes a long way on the path to making Lisa a three-dimensional character. The Flash really managed to peel back the confident, flirty exterior here to reveal a vulnerable character still scarred by her childhood. There’s a case to be made that Family of Rogues actually goes too far the other way and turns Lisa into something of a damsel in distress with the bomb plot, but it’s encouraging to see The Flash turning a villain into a sympathetic character with terrible psychological scars, confronting moral ambiguity that it often flinches from in its pursuit of traditional comic-book conflicts between good and evil.
All of this dark, sensitively handled material meshes fairly uneasy with the madcap heist caper that makes up the central Snart plot – but it’s hard to nitpick too much when the aforementioned caper is so much fun to watch. It’s knowingly ridiculous, containing scenes like Snart freezing a laser grid with his cold gun and a couple of fun instances of Barry covertly using his super speed to push forward the heist, but the ridiculousness never actually punctures the more serious drama regarding Lewis’ relationship with his children. The fact that The Flash manages to place knowing, tongue-in-cheek dumbness alongside heavy, mature themes with only a small amount of tonal whiplash is a testament to the way the show consistently balances vastly different tones with style.
What’s slightly less interesting, however, is the slightly bland material surrounding the Rogues action. Jay and Caitlin’s burgeoning romance is nice enough, but it still feels rushed and unearned despite the obvious chemistry between the actors, and Jay’s late decision to stay in Earth-1 despite the creation of the portal barely elicits a shrug, because of the sparse amount of screen-time afforded to the ex-speedster this episode. Meanwhile, the main subplot regarding the West family’s turmoil is pretty hit-and-miss. Some of it’s actually really great, with a clear anti-contrived-drama ethos that helps to streamline a plot that’s really not all that interesting. This refreshing ethos is most prominent in the key scene where Joe reveals that Iris’ mother is still alive – it’s handled exactly as this reviewer hoped, with Iris displaying the necessary shock and surprise before calmly quashing a potentially dragged-out bout of tension with Joe by reassuring Joe that she understands his decision. It’s mature, efficient plotting, and it shows that while the material might not be all that interesting, it can be elevated to ‘watchable’ levels through savvy writing and strong, emotionally grounded performances.
There’s also a curious lack of attention afforded to last week’s cliffhanger, where Martin Stein collapsed. As it turns out at episode’s end, The Flash was unashamedly treading water and waiting for the next twist here, but that means that we never get a satisfying follow up to a hugely intriguing cliffhanger until the very end of the episode. Furthermore, The Flash almost invalidates last week’s cliffhanger entirely by having Stein collapse again here – this time with some added bells and whistles as Stein bursts into blue flame. It’s still an interesting conclusion, but it’s hard to be shocked when it’s essentially a recycled version of last week’s cliffhanger – and it actually raises the question of whether last week’s collapse was necessary at all. That’s frustrating, as the trailers for next week indicate that this week’s cliffhanger genuinely is a lead-in to a Firestorm episode, meaning that the moment that spins The Flash onto a Firestorm story doesn’t elicit nearly as much shock and suspense as it should have as the shock factor was pretty much used up last week.
On the bright side, Family of Rogues had an ace up its sleeve with the final stinger, which somehow tops last week’s terrific twist. Yep, the Earth-2 Harrison Wells we saw last week had decided to pop through the breach in STAR Labs’ basement.
There’s absolutely dozens of implications with this one, and so many of them are exciting. There’s so much story potential tied to the idea of Barry meeting someone, even if this Wells is benevolent, with the face of the man who killed his mother, and the idea of Tom Cavanagh tackling an entirely new character is something that instantly raises this viewer’s anticipation for next week’s episode. That’s not even mentioning the clash of mentors if Wells comes face to face with Jay (presumably, they’re both aware of each other from Earth-2), or how the rest of the team will react, or what this Wells’ agenda in coming through to Earth-1 actually is… yep, it’s safe to say that The Flash has outdone itself here. No matter what’s to come with Wells, one thing is certain: this is going to be interesting…
Family of Rogues is a solid slice of filler, and it’s perhaps the strongest episode for the Rogues this show has ever served up, pushing the villains into entirely new and surprisingly sympathetic areas. The subplots don’t stack up to the quality of the main plot, but it’s clear that The Flash has settled into a rhythm in its second season. Next week, it’s the brand new Firestorm…