Thursday, March 22, 2007

Live Action: "Watching the Detectives"

“Watching the Detectives” (October 18, 1990)

Writers: Howard Chaykin & John Francis Moore
Director: Gus Trikonis
Editor: Bill Zabala

Synopsis: Private detective Megan Lockhart has discovered that Barry Allen is the Flash! Even worse, her employer is corrupt Central City District Attorney Thomas Castillo, a man with strong ties to a local mobster. Castillo is intent on dominating his partner in crime and soon both Lockhart and the Flash are being manipulated to that end. Knowing that his secret identity protects his loved ones, a blackmailed Barry Allen is forced to use his superpowers to support Castillo’s selfish schemes, even as a dangerous arsonist-for-hire continues to strike at strategic waterfront properties.

Commentary: The Flash hits its stride with this third installment, “Watching the Detectives.” This episode is more satisfying than anything that has come before. The story doesn’t rely on gimmicks or clichés like its predecessor. Instead, the script weaves an engrossing plot using a line-up of well-drawn characters. John Wesley Shipp, able to balance strength and humor, is excellent as always as Barry Allen. The show’s supporting cast is in place in the background, too, and they’re all delightful characters with something to bring to the action. There’s Alex Desert as Julio Mendez, Richard Belzer as Joe Kline, Dick Miller as Fosnight, and, of course, Vito D’Ambrosio as Officer Bellows and Biff Manard as Officer Murphy. (Murphy and Bellows, in particular, are hilarious. Their scenes represent the highlight of any episode.) Guest star Joyce Hyser is also memorable as sassy P.I. Megan Lockhart--memorable enough to warrant a return appearance later in the series. Additionally, this episode makes great use of the Flash’s unique superpowers. A pivotal scene that climaxes with Castillo forcing Barry to prove his abilities by pulling the pin on a grenade is later followed by a very funny sequence in which the fastest man alive brings down an illegal casino by rigging all of the games at high speed. This sort of action could only be delivered by the Flash and, for the first time, it helps the series to stand apart from those comic adaptations that so clearly influenced it. The unique art direction is impressive, as always, and Shirley Walker’s jazzy score adds to the atmosphere. It all comes together in an episode that is suspenseful, exciting, funny, and fast-paced. “Watching the Detectives” is outright fun in a way that sets a standard for the series.

High-Speed Highlight: In a ploy to force Barry Allen into proving he is Central City’s masked protector, Thomas Castillo pulls the pin on a grenade with a four-second fuse and tosses it at Earl, our hero’s beloved dog. Barry has no choice but to replace that pin and safely stow the grenade, all before the glass of water he’s dropped has a chance to hit the floor!

Quotable: “The angel of Satan! Red as the devil!” --Religious pyromaniac Noble John Spanier spies the scarlet speedster


rob! said...

I thought Joyce Hyser was great as that character--i wouldve preferred her as a regular and not the kinda-boring scientist lady...

Joyce's character had a kind of are-you-kidding-me vibe, which i thought worked well on the show.

Mad Mac Genius said...

I remember the day after that episode aired, we had a big talkback about it at the comic book shop! Half of us never expected the ending!

Dixon said...

Rob, I'd have to agree. Megan Lockhart is flat-out more entertaining in this one episode than Tina McGee has been during the first three episodes combined.

And you're quite right, Steve. That ending came as a bit of a shock to me as well! It's a perfect resolution for the plot, though. This is an episode chock full of surprising twists and turns.

West said...

Awesome write-up. I'm gonna hafta hunt this down.

Mad Mac Genius said...

West, they should still have the DVD set at Best Buy ( or for a quick fix, there's always eBay); also, I got off of eBay a video promo that CBS sent to their stations across the country to promote the show. Once I have it digitize, I'll let everyone know!