The Flash Season 3 Episode 23 Review: Finish Line
The Flash Season 3 finale reveals the final fate of Iris West, and sets the stage for what's to come!
This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 3 Episode 23
I think I can safely say that I am satisfied with The Flash season 3 finale, “Finish Line.” What I didn’t expect was just how seriously they were going to take that “Finish Line” title, and for the second year in a row, they managed to throw fans a serious curve. More than one, as a matter of fact.
I’ve written so many variations of this over the last handful of reviews that I hesitate to go back into it one more time, but just in case you’re new here: I have been completely on board with the second half of this season (and the first half wasn’t too shabby, either). Considering that I’m not a huge fan of Flashpoint as source been a weird pivot instead felt like a masterful reveal, and the earlier, post-Flashpoint episodes focusing on Alchemy and a handful of minor metahumans was just a little misdirection, to get us comfortable with the usual Flash/CW superhero formula again.
I felt burned by season two of this show, which often felt like it was improvising, frantically, for a real message. Season three, on the other hand, had multiple opportunities to drop the ball, and I never once felt like there wasn’t a carefully planned payoff waiting for me at the end. Look, as much as I love The Flash, I’m not blind to the show’s limitations. It is often a victim of its episode count, and the necessary reliance on formula that plagues all broadcast shows. But this time around, even when I didn’t love individual episodes or moments, it felt like we were on a course as carefully charted as any cable drama or prestige TV show. “Finish Line” is no exception.
Many of you called the way out of last week’s cliffhanger. I don’t think that made the execution of tonight’s reveal any less clever or powerful. Joe’s reaction, fake HR/Iris’ reaction, HR’s final moments, all gave our supporting cast crucial, powerful little moments, all within the first three minutes of the episode. That was a genuinely emotional goodbye for HR, a character that they took their time making us like, let alone love, and I think they earned this one. I didn’t want to see him go, even though I’m fairly secure in the knowledge that the brilliant Tom Cavanagh will be back (in some form) for The Flash Season 4.
What is most remarkable, though, is how understated the vast majority of this episode is. This isn’t the first time they’ve overdelivered by underplaying things in recent weeks. It’s a smart move, as what could possibly top the tension of the final moments of the previous episode, right? We all get to exhale knowing that Iris survives, which means that Savitar is officially on his own personal doomsday clock, no punching required.
That Savitar paradox is a little headache inducing, but it’s still better than needing our heroes to overpower the giant armored foe by brute force. And really, what isn’t headache inducing about the way this show (and Legends of Tomorrow for that matter) have handled anything regarding time travel and paradoxes, right? I pretty much forgive all of it at this point, because otherwise, well…that way lies madness.
It’s in these middle acts (holy moley, this show got a lot done in it’s 40-something minutes the last couple of weeks, didn’t it?) that “Finish Line” really gets its work done. I suppose the Savitar/Frankenstein’s Monster parallels should have been more obvious to me sooner, but the quiet sincerity of this section, which played up the tragic elements of Savitar’s story and really allowed Grant Gustin to show us a side we haven’t seen before, were really smart. I’ve felt since season one that when The Flash fires up its sci-fi rather than superhero engines, it can feel a little like some of the better modern Doctor Who stories, and I feel like there was a hint of this here. I half expected Savitar to allow them to rehabilitate him, wipe the painful memories, and send him off to a parallel Earth where he could do some good.
If you remember, way the heck back in my review of the season one finale, I said “on The Flash, everybody’s superpower is selflessness.” That was exemplified once again here not just by HR’s sacrifice, but by Barry and Iris’ utterly sincere appeal to Savitar, and by the rest of the team’s willingness (however understandably grudgingly) to follow their lead. The key components of being a superhero, and I’m not talking about on TV, is a willingness to put others ahead of yourself, and a well-developed sense of empathy.
Of course, Savitar’s ultimate manipulations kind of take the wind out of my sails a little bit, but that’s not the fault of our heroes. But for real, was I completely alone in thinking that maybe this was actually going to work?
But when the time did come for the big action, I think “Finish Line” delivered admirably. It was clever, exciting, and tense. Barry phasing his way into the Savitar armor was a tremendously cool (and unexpected moment), and Iris mirroring the old Joe West “shoot the supervillain dickhead dead before he can hurt Barry” was a fist in the air moment (and a necessary one for a character who sometimes gets kicked around a little). For me, of course, nothing tops Jay Garrick’s entrance, and as I wished for, he helped deliver the feel good asskicking of the year. I would like to see like, at least 8 more John Wesley Shipp guest spots next year, please.
This wasn’t a perfect episode, but I think a certain amount of letdown was expected after last week. Like I said, I don’t know if I really follow the logic of why Savitar didn’t just blink out of existence, and there were a couple of things, notably involving Caitlin (I’ll get to her in a minute) that felt a little too neat. As much as I loved HR, I never quite bought the mad, whirlwind love affair with Tracy Brand (although Anne Dudek and Tom Cavanagh had wonderful chemistry, and I would have totally been down to see this explored). While it’s great to see Gypsy (and I hope they have room for Jessica Camacho next season), her appearance, as well as the appearance and quick dismissal of the Black Flash were both fairly extraneous. The ending (which I wrote an entire article about), while intriguing, also didn’t exactly blow my mind, although I’m more optimistic about next year than I was about Flashpoint…and look how nicely that all turned out!
But that ending (there’s a whole article for that, otherwise this review will be way too long) is a perfect contrast to the season two finale’s cliffhanger, isn’t it? I know we can all be frustrated with Barry from time to time, but I think this season delivered his most satisfying arc. Last season’s whipsaw of overconfidence, anger, and occasionally, downright stupidity, is gone for good. We saw the beginnings of Barry’s final evolution into a superhero and leader during this year’s Invasion crossover, and I think his willingness to accept his fate with an almost beatific smile is a sign that we’re finally done with the kind of “nice going Barry, you dumbass” stories we’ve had to endure.
Despite my minor misgivings, I can’t imagine a more satisfying conclusion to a 23 episode season. I really don’t think they took the easy way out despite being presented with many opportunities to do exactly that. I’m especially pleased that they didn’t revert Caitlin, and it doesn’t look like they ever will. It would be a shame to let her arc, and the excellent work Danielle Panabaker did getting us here, go to waste. Barry, Iris, and Caitlin have all gone through major evolutions this year, and I think the next step for the show is going to be getting Cisco and Wally to that next level. But wherever we end up when Barry emerges from the Speed Force in October (and c’mon, he will), I think it will be special. I have no reason not to believe that.
Lots of comic stuff in those final few minutes, but it’s too much to unpack here. Instead, I wrote you a whole other article!
– The idea of Savitar being “everywhere” kind of feels like what happens to The Flash in the Kingdom Come (by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, and for real, if you haven’t read this, what are you waiting for?) future. Although there, he’s definitely benevolent and not a Savitar-esque dick.
– Two unrelated things I like to bring up every now and then: Cisco’s Vibe costume is killer. Jay Garrick’s costume even moreso.
– It’s always nice to hear a Midway City (home of the Suicide Squad) reference, but Masonville? Man, that’s a deep cut. So deep, I had to look it up. The only reference I can find to Masonville is here (and it’s not something I’m familiar with), and I’m pretty sure it’s maybe a suburb of Metropolis? Maybe?
– Cisco calls Savitar “Two-Face” which is amusing. Have we definitively established that there’s no Batman on this Earth?
– Caitlin’s conflicted nature right now feels a little like where the Killer Frost character is in the comics right now, where she’s even a member of Batman’s Justice League offshoot.
– When that Speed Force storm started, I thought RED SKIES and immediately thought we were headed for Crisis on Infinite Earths. Not yet. Not…yet.
Once again, I just want to thank every single one of you who have been here reading and commenting on these reviews week after week. I have a lot of responsibilities at Den of Geek, and I don’t get to do as much actual writing as I might like, but talking Flash with you folks every week is an absolute highlight of an already cool job. I’ll be around all summer speculating on what’s to come with The Flash Season 4, and I might just have some cool tidbits coming your way about the upcoming Flash movie (as well as some Flash movies we never got to see). I also spend more time than is probably healthy on Twitter, so you can yell at me there, too.
I hope to see you all sooner, but if nothing else, pencil us in for the 2nd or 3rd Tuesday in October?