This review contains spoilers
2.21: The Runaway Dinosaur
So Barry’s not dead. In the most unsurprising news of the televisual year, the titular star of The Flash has not perished, but has simply been spirited away to an alternate dimension. A little more surprising is that this alternate dimension has Barry conversing with the Speed Force taking on the form of his friends and family, and an even bigger surprise is that The Runaway Dinosaur is a very good episode.
That shock comes mainly from the fact that this season, while rarely being actively bad, hasn’t had many standout hours. This episode was an event for a lot of people simply because Kevin Smith was on board to direct, but that’s no guarantee of anything. However, Smith appears to have tapped into something of the show that’s been missing for a while.
We start where we left off with the gang mourning Barry and discovering that Jesse and Wally have been hit with the particle accelerator explosion. Their grief is short-lived however, as Cisco almost immediately vibes that Barry is in fact trapped within the Speed Force.
Inside said Speed Force we follow Barry in a ‘this is your life’ style tour of various psychological aches and pains. He’s greeted first with Joe, then Iris, then Henry, then his mother. All the people he considers family and all the people that keep him grounded even when he’s having a big internal crisis such as this one.
I have some pretty big questions about the central conceit of this episode, and what exactly the Speed Force is and wants with Barry. From the off, it felt like it had some kind of nefarious plan and was manipulating Barry towards some sort of goal. It’s declarations that it is, as an entity, as old as the big bang and ‘reality as you know it’ just adds to my suspicions, but that could be somewhat down to Jesse L. Martin’s initially creepy delivery.
It felt tonally off, even when he’s eventually greeted by his mother near the exact spot in which he let her die a season ago. It might be enough for Barry to let himself off the hook for that act, which he’s been visibly struggling with all season, but for me it felt like the Speed Force was simply telling him what he wanted to hear.
As heroic as Barry is, he desperately needs validation from those around him. He spends as much time yelling at the Speed Force for guilting him as he does breaking down. I always enjoy when the show decides to do something with the less attractive parts of Barry’s personality, and here it served as a really good source of conflict.
The same goes for his life-long denial of what actually happened on the night Thawne came to his house. Here we learn that he’s never been to Nora’s grave, which is tragic on his own, but also that he frames his decision in the season 1 finale as valuing his life more than that of his own mother. It’s not hard to see it that way – he essentially decided he’d rather have Iris and Joe than the life he always thought he wanted.
But did you cry? Putting aside all of my reservations, the power of Grant Gustin’s ability to bring on the tears can’t be denied. All of those sequences are beautiful, but none more so than the final one – the one that gives the episode its title. It just takes Barry reciting the contents of his favorite childhood book while staring longingly at the mother he lost so long ago to remind us of the emotional power present in so much of this material.
While Barry’s dealing with all that heavy stuff, the rest of the gang have to track down zombie Girder (“you guys have a morgue, ew!”) and, while less memorable on the surface, I really think it’s this half of the episode that makes it special. Every single member of STAR Labs comes alive in the way only Cisco is usually allowed to, and this is hugely noticeable when it comes to Iris.
Where has this Iris been all my life and, more importantly, can we keep her?
If she had been around all this time, I might feel better about the obvious romantic breadcrumbs the show has been dropping for a while now. On the one hand, there’s the fact that the Speed Force includes her as family and she’s the one to bring him out but, on the other it’s never been in doubt that Barry has romantic feelings for her. It’s the lack of anything coming from the other side that bothers me.
Caitlin, sadly, doesn’t get to play with the others yet again this week, but the episode’s stinger does give us a glimpse at what might be coming in the last two week’s of the season. Jay has invited some friends over to Earth-2 but, now that Barry’s done some much-needed soul searching, our heroes might just stand a chance.
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Rupture, here.