*Minor spoilers ahead*
It's Christmas in Central City in the final episode of The Flash before its mid-season break. "The Man in the Yellow Suit" opens with snow falling and Christmas lights being hung in a set up for another fun installment, then two streaks race by the camera: one red and the other yellow. With that the joy is gone and the villain who started the story has returned.
Surprisingly, it's not the serious, mythos building aspects of this episode that seem the strongest (excluding the final minute of the episode). The group dynamics and interactions amongst the central cast are still the heart of the show and stand out the most after allowing the episode to settle. Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco (Carlos Valdes) are dedicated to an uninteresting B-story for most of the running time. Yet their interactions reveal how much these actors have grown into their roles, providing real drama and a genuine sense of friendship. Early in the series they played caricatures of comic relief and the concerned, motherly figure, but here they're complete human beings.
The fun of watching these two interact along with their growing ability to emotionally involve the audience is extra helpful too because the search for Firestorm is a storyline that never feels interesting or exciting. It consists of the two actors walking around Central City talking between encounters. Although Ronnie Raymond may have a greater part to play in The Flash, "The Man in the Yellow Suit" would have been much improved by removing him altogether.
That same type of fully formed relationship we see between Caitlin and Cisco is evident throughout much of the supporting cast. Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett) and Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) have perfected their reliable, but occasionally antagonistic partnership. There is a bond and friendship that has formed between them, but trust is something that still doesn't come naturally. It makes instances where Eddie challenges Joe seem just as natural as those where they rely on one another. Some of that distrust stems from Eddie's relationship with Joe's daughter Iris (Candice Patton), another example of two characters who began the season seeming some uncomfortable together, but who now seem a perfectly natural pairing.
Iris and Eddie's relationship makes Barry's continued fawning over her all the more painful to watch. It began to emerge as a problem when he hit on her as the Flash outside of Eddie's hospital room in "Power Outage" and risks becoming a real flaw after tonight. Barry is an unwelcome third party in a loving, healthy relationship and his efforts to force his way in are not the least bit endearing. Rather than attempt to continue forcing a will they/won't they storyline that isn't work, the writers choose to address the subject head on in a way that will hopefully bring an end to this forced romance (even if it's only a temporary reprieve).
As much fun as it is to watch these friendships evolve and grow, the first full appearance of the Reverse-Flash, Barry's greatest foe, makes for the episode's biggest moments. Both speedsters face off twice and the action sequences are thrilling. The first fight takes places in a stadium with lightning crackling along the video monitors. They race through bleachers and the field as streaks of lightning until they collide. Director Ralph Hemecker infuses even the blurred shots of both men side-by-side with a sense of excitement. As good as the initial encounter is, their final confrontation is the real show.
The penultimate segment of the show is filled with anxiety. All of the cast is in play and at risk as the action speeds up, it feels like anything could happen. Unlike the confrontation in the stadium and most other previous action sequences in The Flash, the violence here feels very real. Even when characters have died in the past, it has been a bloodless affair of special effects. Each punch and kick lands with force and there is ample blood to be shed. The danger found here feels like a promise of increasing stakes as the series continues in the spring.
As big and tense as these scenes are, they don't leave a lasting impact on the show and its characters. By the final scene the status quo has been resumed. Every character is the same person they were when the show began and there's no significant shift to their roles within the world. In the episode's very last minute, there is a significant reveal. That sort of thing doesn't represent a real change in the story or characters though. It's exciting as a viewer, but only because it reveals information hidden from the audience. Nothing actually changes in "The Man in the Yellow Suit" and it leaves a tense, enjoyable episode with an underwhelming after taste.
Tonight's episode of The Flash expresses the growth which the show has underwent over the course of nine episodes. Both the cast and the action sequences are much improved and feel far more natural now. Yet the overall consequence of the story here is negligible. It's a lot of flash, but with little substance.