This The Flash review contains spoilers.
I have been a Flash fan since I could read, and I have the embarrassing childhood Halloween costume pictures to prove it. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would ever see a version of The Flash TV series with the kind of ambition that we saw this season. Specifically, the kind of ambition on display in The Flash season finale, “Fast Enough.”
From the utterly perfect opening with Barry confronting a now caged Harrison Wells, to the multiple payoffs scattered throughout the episode, to the almost absurd levels of fan service dropped in at just the right, non-distracting moments, to that insane final moment, The Flash season finale was a pulse-pounder. I can say with some degree of pride and/or shame that I have read virtually every Flash comic published in my lifetime, and quite a few from the years before I entered this timeline.
What the hell does that matter, you ask? I’ll tell you.
The Flash managed to surprise me at nearly every turn this episode (and for the moments that mattered all season). Comic book scholarship was virtually meaningless when stacked up against the dramatic moments that this show has earned for its characters over the course of twenty-three episodes, and didn’t prepare me for any of the chances they were willing to take. In other words, “Fast Enough” managed to absolutely steamroll me just as surely as if my first exposure to this world came on TV last October, and not via decades of comic reading.
Superhero movies and TV shows will become increasingly self-referential as the public becomes more accepting of the genre and the source material, and it would be easy for a show like The Flash to just ease back and play on that. “Fast Enough” most certainly did not. I don’t think it could have if it tried. It wasn’t just the most ambitious episode of The Flash (and the most ambitious piece of TV I think I’ve ever seen the CW attempt), this was the most incredible hour of live-action superhero storytelling ever put on the small screen…or possibly any screen, for that matter. And it wasn’t just the special effects (which were the high point of a season that has already done some tremendous work), it was, as usual, all about the cast and the character moments the show has earned all year long.
There are the usual paradox issues that present themselves whenever we’re dealing with time travel, and if you look to closely at them, things might unravel. That’s irrelevant here. The characters were so strong, and the story so relentless (even though nobody puts on a costume until the final twenty minutes), that I can’t be bothered trying to pinpoint where the headaches that are inherent with these stories begin.
If anything, I’m not sure I bought everybody’s willingness to let Barry go back and alter the timestream for any number of reasons. Iris, for example, seemed entirely too chill about the whole thing, when as somebody who hasn’t been “on the inside” for more than a couple of episodes, this should have been melting her brain. but I’m willing to chalk that up to the fact that, like the audience, everyone who comes into contact with Barry Allen roots for him and wants to see him find happiness.
As with many episodes this season, the show did its best work when splitting characters up into pairs. There’s a real pattern of duality that we’ve seen since the pilot, and that will certainly manifest in the key parallel reality introduction of Earth One/Earth Two next year (and that IS coming, make no mistake, so get ready…more on that down below).
Eddie going back to woo Iris one more time was wonderful, and the strongest their chemistry has been all year. Barry and Henry Allen was another strong, but expected moment, as was the genuine tear-jerker that was Barry and Joe’s farewell (“goodbye, Dad” that sound you heard was me sobbing like an eight year old). And I love that Henry Allen, the man with the most to gain from all of this, is the one telling Barry not to do it while Joe, who potentially has the most to lose, is telling him to do it. On The Flash, everybody’s superpower is selflessness.
Meanwhile, we had additional father/son moments with Barry and Wells/Thawne, and more importantly, Cisco and Wells. Carlos Valdes brought it to this one, with all of the weight of his forbidden timeline knowledge and the steel of a guy who has spent the last year watching the world change around him and actively working to make it a better place. Heroes are built slowly, and they’re still clearly in no hurry to bring Cisco around to his heroic destiny, and that’s just fine. Oh, and Tom Cavanagh’s offhanded “I’m sure I had good reason,” crack about killing Cisco was hilarious, too.
But the surprising one for me was Eddie and Professor Stein. “You are the only person in this whole story who gets to choose his own future,” Stein told Eddie. Did you ever think you’d be rooting so hard for Eddie Thawne, a character the show went out of its way to convince us was going to turn out to be a dick so many times? Instead, he turned out to be the biggest hero of them all.
I have gone on at length about the absolute wonder that is The Flash cast for 23 episodes now, and this one was no different (although Victor Garber showed up to distinguish himself nicely and give us a fine indication that he’ll be a perfect anchor for Legends of Tomorrow), but it’s time to really appreciate the star, Grant Gustin. Barry was down and conflicted all episode long, and we’ve seen him there before, but he had to say goodbye to three different parents and all of his friends throughout “Fast Enough,” and every time, he brought something new to the table, and it culminated in that heartbreaking and cathartic farewell to his mother.
It was a stunning performance from the guy who has already delivered the single most likeable superhero since Christopher Reeve wore a cape, and I get the feeling that next year’s Barry Allen is going to be no less loveable, no less sympathetic, but considerably stronger.
I can’t wait.
Infinite Earths Watch
– You can spot a parallel reality where Barry is the one in prison, not his Dad. I don’t think they’ll ever revisit this, but you never know. That’s not important, though. This one is…
– Eobard Thawne hated Barry Allen so much that he decided to kill Barry’s mother in an attempt to traumatize him so that he never becomes the Flash. In other words, there was already a version of Barry/Flash operating in a universe/timeline where is mother survived. This means that Barry had the stuff to become a hero anyway, even if his mother didn’t die.
This is a little bit meta (and awesome) for two reasons. First of all, it calls back to the fact that in terms of broader Flash mythology, the idea of Nora Allen’s murder is a fairly recent addition to things, first introduced by (now Flash executive producer) Geoff Johns in The Flash: Rebirth in 2009. Before that, both of Barry’s parents lived to ripe old ages, with neither going to prison.
But perhaps more importantly, I can’t help but see it as a thumbing of the nose at the ridiculous Batman-centric notion that only horrific personal tragedy can create sufficient motivation for an ordinary person granted extraordinary abilities to turn to superheroics.
Barry Allen’s real superpower isn’t his great speed, it’s his inherent goodness. He was always going to be a hero.
– There’s a bit from the Legends of Tomorrow promo in there, too. I suspect that show will be dealing as much with the Multiverse as it does with plain old time travel.
– And, of course, my favorite Infinite Earths moment belongs more in…
– the Mercury-esque helmet that comes clattering through the wormhole is that of Golden Age superhero, original comic book speedster (and personal favorite of mine), Jay Garrick, the Flash of the parallel world of Earth Two. I am so happy that none of you were around to hear the maniacal laughter I unleashed when that little relic made its appearance.
Now if they can only find some excuse to fix it so that John Wesley Shipp can play Jay Garrick, I will pretty much consider my mission in this world finished.
If you want to know more about Jay Garrick, let me know in the comments or on Twitter, because I can easily write a couple of thousand words about why he’s awesome…and probably will whether you ask me to or not!
– You can clearly see The Flash Museum during Barry’s trip into the past, with a nice big statue of our hero on its steps. This is what the grateful citizens of Central City will do for you when they love you enough.
– Also during that bit, that was indeed Caitlin Snow in full Killer Frost garb unleashing some frosty goodness on someone unlucky.
– Future Barry stops Our Barry from saving his Mom. Why? I suspect it’s because at some point he’s going to try one more time to save his mother, perhaps with the foolish notion that he’s figured out a way that it won’t drastically change all the other good he’s done.
If you’ve ever read the Flashpoint comic (ummmm…don’t bother…it’s not very good), you’ll know that things turn out horribly for everyone involved. Presumably, the Future Barry on the scene here has already experienced that, and that’s why he tells him not to do it.
Or maybe it’s something else entirely.
– By the way, Future Barry is wearing a different costume. The white logo is clearly visible. It also looks like Cisco was developing a more streamlined/faithful cowl in his workshop. I’ve grown to love this Flash costume over the course of the season, but I really can’t wait to see how they tweak it for next year.
– ok, you all know this by now, but Cisco Ramon will become the metahuman superhero known as Vibe…eventually. But one of the neat things about Vibe is that his vibrational powers are what make him attuned to the vibrations that separate the realities of the Multiverse. In other words, as this show starts branching out into some crazy Doctor Who stuff over the next few seasons, it’s gonna be Cisco who helps take everybody there.
– Correct me if I’m wrong, but Thawne says he was born 136 years from now, right? That puts him in the 22nd Century, the year 2151. In the comics, Thawne was from the 25th Century. Did I mishear this? Does it even matter? Probably not. Unless, of course, it does.
– The Time Sphere that Thawne is looking to make his escape in is an important little piece of DC technology. He references Rip Hunter (who we’ll meet in Legends of Tomorrow), but the 31st Century’s Legion of Super-Heroes were quite fond of them as well. I wrote more about Time Spheres right here, because of course I did.
– Professor Stein makes a reference to how that wormhole could take them to “infinite times” of their choosing. It’s all about that wording, and “infinite” is so key to the DC Universe.
– I can’t think of a “Katie Rogers” in the DC Universe, but it could be a reference to Des Taylor’s beautifully illustrated Katie Rogers comics. Des Taylor draws a wonderful Superman, too, so I imagine he has some fans in the DC crowd.
– Barry has one minute and fifty-two seconds to close that wormhole. Y’know, just the roughly 52nd time we’ve had the magic DC number thrown around between these shows this year.
– “May the Speed Force be with you.” Even when he isn’t trying, Cisco is naming stuff from the comics!
– Stein’s “Excelsior” crack is a reference to Stan Lee’s hyperbolic exclamation of choice. And no, Stan Lee had nothing to do with any of the characters who have ever appeared on this show.
– Look, Eddie probably isn’t dead. He just got sucked into a wormhole where anything can happen. We’ll be seeing him again. I’m even more sure that we haven’t seen the last of Eobard Thawne. If The Flash is turning into the Doctor Who of superhero shows, then this guy is The Master.
– Just to end things on a lighter note…there was never a single moment in my life, even as we watched this season unfold, that I ever thought I’d get to write this sentence.
Are you ready?
We just watched one half of Firestorm preside over the wedding of the other half of Firestorm to Killer Frost with Vibe as the ring-bearer and Crowded House playing in the background. That, my friends, is some absolutely insane and joyful stuff right there.
One Last Thing…
Thanks, everyone. Thank you so much for coming to DoG every week to get your Flash fix from me. You’ve helped me spot some fun stuff I’ve missed, and called me out and motivated me when I got tired. This is a fun job, but you make it even cooler.
Please stick around. I think this show (and Arrow) left us all plenty to talk about while we wait for the new seasons (and for Legends of Tomorrow to start!). I’ll be writing plenty of DC TV Universe stuff all through the summer, and hopefully that will keep us from drowning while we wait for The Flash season 2 premiere. Speaking of which, I think I know when that’s happening…
Mike Cecchini feels like he should try to be a better person after watching this show all year. Keep him honest on Twitter.