It’s kind of unfair to the rest of the TV directors that “The Runaway Dinosaur”, this week’s installment of The Flash, was directed by Jersey-bred Gen-X auteur Kevin Smith. It’s not unusual for filmmakers with distinct brands to disappear into the writer/producer-friendly medium of TV, but Smith did so in such a gorgeous and seamless way that the feat threatens to overshadow the rest of the field’s efforts.
Following last week’s “Rupture,” Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) disintegrates into the Speed Force and goes through a Dickensian examination. The force of scientific nature that is the Speed Force takes on a dreamy form, in the guise of Barry’s family and friends, forcing him to shape up if he wishes to regain his super speed. Meanwhile, Harrison Wells’ (Tom Cavanagh) experiment awakens deceased meta-human Tony, a.k.a. Girder (Greg Finley), Barry’s childhood bully who turned into a metallic brute, and terrorizes S.T.A.R. Labs like an ‘80s horror monster.
“The Runaway Dinosaur,” a silly name made poignant as it was Barry’s favorite bedtime book, ruthlessly exploits The Flash’s best narrative components to great effect. Any time Barry deals with his mother Nora (Michelle Harrison) it’s always touching, but The Flash has wisely avoided going to that well too much. But the unsubtle Smith and screenwriter Zack Stentz aggressively take advantage and come away by the bucket loads, carrying all our tears with them.
Smith has always had a knack for sweetness behind sour humor, as in the case of his mid-aughts examination on being mid-30, Clerks II. But The Flash, a family-friendly show on a broadcast network, has no danger of being juvenile. No farts or dicks or Star Wars debates, The Flash stays The Flash at its best and Smith’s sweetness is all the more rich and flavorful as a result.
And it’s funny. Whether it’s a credit to Stentz or Smith, The Flash, though already a funny show brings its A-game alongside ‘80s horror sensibilities, a genre Kevin Smith has to know quite intimately. As a hulking zombie, Girder becomes Jason Voorhees, but his function isn’t grotesque. Rather, it’s a chance for S.T.A.R. Labs to step up, with solid giggles and chuckles from the cast’s excellent deliveries and chemistries.
It doesn’t work entirely; the Barry and Nora stuff is so good it should have been a whole episode, and Barry’s return to stop Girder is way too convenient to be coincidental. It could have and should have been a victory moment for S.T.A.R. Labs, but Barry’s reacquiring his super speed had to be shown off because plot necessitates it.
Yes, there’s a Jason Mewes cameo, but don’t worry Flash fans, it’s harmless. As is Smith to The Flash, an outspoken-but-aging nerd icon who at first seemed like an ill-fit for the youth-skewing, squeaky clean DC superhero. But he has an outstanding understanding of the material — you can watch Smith-cry watching the show’s Season 1 finale on YouTube, for some reason — and displayed the discipline to avoid stamping his episode “The Kevin Smith Episode” turned out one of The Flash’s absolute best. It’s so good, it’ll make you cry.