This review contains spoilers.
3.9 The Present
At this point, I don’t know what else to say about The Flash Season 3. I was so thoroughly disillusioned by the back half of season two and not particularly thrilled about the use of Flashpoint as a major story driver early on that I was perfectly ready to be kinda psyched for this show to just be okay this year, and I would have probably been cool with that.
But no. Instead, The Flash has delivered the longest sustained run of exceptional episodes in the show’s history so far this year. And the key to this might just be variety.
The Present couldn’t possibly have been a bigger shift from Invasion! but then again, Invasion! wasn’t exactly an episode of The Flash, and rather just an episode of CW DC Superheroes Having Fun. So the last “proper” episode of this show was really two weeks ago with the similarly excellent Killer Frost. But Killer Frost was primarily focused on one character’s journey, while The Present was, understandably, the most important episode of the year so far.
We got a satisfactory explanation and wrap-up for the Alchemy story tonight, hopefully one that means we’re done with the “Flashpoint as metahuman story engine” phase of the show. As expected, Julian, or should I say, J. Albert Desmond wasn’t revealed as some moustache-twirling dickhead, but rather, a run-of-the-mill misguided dickhead, and one who I imagine has more of an arc to fulfill. After all, now that he’s warming up to everyone and the audience is warming up to him, he’s surely a dead man, right?
The Present also solved some of my worries about Savitar, who I was beginning to fear would become just another speed powerhouse, kind of like Zoom was last year when there was still some mystery attached to him. His beatdown of Jay Garrick initially felt a little bit like how Zoom treated Barry like a ragdoll in a similarly excellent (atypical) season two episode. But no, Savitar is perhaps far scarier, because while his claims of divinity are surely nonsense, his ability to see the future is probably, at least a little, legitimate.
And instead of playing the mystery game like Arrow did (to its detriment) in season four with the grave, we now know exactly who is doomed this season. Unless, of course, we don’t. It seems unlikely that Iris will meet the fate that we saw here, but that doesn’t mean that somebody else won’t have to take her place. I can’t imagine that this vision won’t go in some way unfulfilled, likely right when Barry has started to forgive himself for his recent mistakes to drag him back down again. Normally, I might complain about this, but seeing as how this season has done almost nothing but make the right choices in terms of the big picture so far, I have no reason to doubt that the next five months or so of this show will be anything less than thoroughly compelling.
As a side note, and I’ve mentioned this a couple of times this year, Carlos Valdes has been brilliant. Even with the little bit of resolution we got between him and Barry during Invasion! he’s still carrying that weight around, and his scenes with his “brother” were just tremendous.
Or maybe I can complain about how easily everyone had a change of heart about Wally being a hero and having HR train him. But the reality is that there’s no reason to doubt Wally’s evolution at this point considering how quickly Barry went from zero-to-superhero in the very first episode of the show. Why overthink this? Keiynan Lonsdale has settled nicely into the role, and I think Wally deserves that costume, too. Plus, this means at some point later this year we’re going to get three, possibly four speedsters taking on Savitar. This is a wonderful thing.
And speaking of extra speedsters…
If you read these reviews often enough, you know two things about me: I love Jay Garrick and always have, and he’s one of my favorite comic book characters. You also know that I will never have anything but praise for the great John Wesley Shipp. When we finally got to see these two things I love combine last year, well, you can imagine my joy. But this episode, while only our third with Shipp as Garrick, is the one where this really clicked, where it stopped being a (wonderful) piece of fan service, and where we got the real benefit of the whole concept.
Unsurprisingly, Shipp is terrific as Jay. Perhaps a little surprising, though, is just how well he has managed to distinguish Jay from Henry Allen. Jay is more than a strong-jawed hero type, he’s the most experienced superhero we’ve seen on any of the CW DC shows ever, and it shows. I could imagine him giving orders to anyone we hung out with in the “Invasion” crossover, for example, and I suspect even Oliver would be like, “y’know what? I’m gonna listen to this guy.” He also plays Jay without the sadness that hung over Henry all the time, but considering we also had a “normal/happy” Henry Allen in Flashpoint earlier this season, the distinction between the two performances is even greater than that. It looks like we’re going to spend more time with him later this season, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
I said this about Killer Frost and I have to say it again about The Present. They got enough work done this week for two episodes. I’m amazed at just how economical this show can be, how it managed to sneak that massive crossover in between two of its best episodes without missing a beat, and how it has completely erased my lingering doubts. It’s at once a superhero show with all of the fixings (the Earth 3 segment was pure nerdy joy) and a sci-fi show with alternate reality/time travel elements that would work without the costumes at least half the time. As a bonus, we have the strongest supporting cast in superhero TV history.
And they even gave us a happy ending. It really is like Christmas. See? “Some traditions are multiversal!”
Read Mike’s review of the previous episode, Invasion!, here.