This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 4 Episode 23
There’s a moment that comes about halfway through The Flash season 4 finale that got to me in a very weird, very specific way. When Barry encounters Ralph in DeVoe’s mindscape, the bizarre, dreamlike world where most of the episode takes place and where Team Flash must make their stand against the Thinker, the two exchange pleasantries and information. And then the unreality of it all sets in, and they ask each other “wait, how are you here?”
I don’t know if this is something specific to me or not, but often when I dream of a friend or loved one who is dead, there are these moments of intense joy, as almost impossibly vivid recollections of my time with them come back. And it always ends the same way…when I realize something isn’t right and I ask, “wait, how are you here?” If this is a universal experience, please tell me, because it does feel like the writers of “We Are The Flash” tapped into it almost perfectly.
It’s a shame, then, that this episode, despite several high points, wasn’t really enough to salvage the season. What’s worse, the shortcomings of the entire season were too great a drag on this one to ever allow it to really stand out. It wasn’t bad, and it’s certainly an improvement over the previous two episodes, but it’s certainly the weakest season finale this show has ever produced, all the more jarring since this is an area The Flash has usually excelled.
But it had its moments, one of which being that genuinely touching reunion with Barry and Ralph. Never mind the fact that I never fully bought into their friendship or Barry’s guilt over his death. When written right, Barry and Ralph are a fun pair, and this was one of those moments.
And just like last week, we had a brilliantly visualized opening sequence. There are times when The Flash feels like a step ahead of the other CW superhero shows in terms of FX. Those were pretty rare this season, but that perfectly directed DeVoe horrorshow from last week combined with the onset of the Enlightenment this week were nice reminders of just what a visual joy this show can be when it takes the time. Really, “We Are The Flash” was lush and colorful throughout, perhaps to make a better contrast with what was happening in the “real” world versus DeVoe’s mind, which was suitably desaturated. Blake Neely stepped it up once again, too, offering some truly cinematic flourishes for the episode’s most dramatic moments.
Despite that, I never really felt the stakes were high enough while we were in DeVoe’s mind. I can’t tell you how tired I am of revisiting the bus, for any reason, at any point, and even here in a symbolic capacity as the nexus of Cliff’s brain made me audibly mutter “enough.” The “ticking clock” element of Cecile’s labor never really felt terribly urgent, although that might also be my annoyance about whatever the rules were surrounding her irritating meta powers and their connection to her pregnancy.
I was feeling better about this episode than I ended up feeling until the last act, which did a number on the momentum I felt had been built up in the first half and change. The fake out ending and the “punching of the satellite” climax weren’t exactly inspiring, despite some more great visuals and imaginative uses of power by Ralph and Cisco. After the endless detours this season subjected us to, that’s what we’re left with? I don’t care about the rewind or the additional speedster there, there was nothing satisfying there. Say what you will about season three (and I accept that I am probably in the minority here in thinking that was a strong year), the defeat of Savitar felt far more imaginative and like a true team effort than what we got here. Too much of this season has felt like video game side missions with little power ups along the way, and this was right in line with that.
It’s made more frustrating by getting yet another glimpse of the kind of villain Thinker could have been, as Neil Sandilands was excellent and full of menace, even when saddled with less-than-great dialogue. But even then, there’s this nagging suspicion that there’s no way this character and his story could have sustained 23 episodes, and I’m once again left hoping that someone sees the light that all of these shows would see a dramatic increase in quality and consistency if only they weren’t so committed to these old school episode orders.
Even what might have been the single best moment of the episode, if not the entire season, undermined itself later on. Cisco and Harry’s early experiment with the thinking cap, in one last ditch attempt to bring Harry back “online” was genuinely powerful stuff with both actors bringing real, raw emotion to the scene. It would have been even more powerful if the latter stages of his decline this season weren’t played so hard for laughs.
But Harry’s later return, albeit diminished, was nonsensical. Marlize handing a gadget off to the crew with a “this will restore your friends’ mind” before walking off into the sunset after a hug from Iris was…well, if I call it convenient it would be a generous reading of things. Not even in the most optimistic, charitable, selfless world of this show does Marlize deserve a fresh start. The return of Harry, but only with “average” intellect but now in touch with his feelings felt hollow, too. If his farewell is supposed to symbolize a farewell from the series for Tom Cavanagh, well…it had better not. The character might deserve better, but the actor most certainly does. (UPDATE! Cavanagh will indeed be back next season…as a new Wells. Great news, as it’s hard to imagine this show without Tom Cavanagh!)
One thing The Flash always does well when things are going right is that it elicits genuine emotion from its audience. We often empathize with the characters, and I find my own emotional reactions to this show to be genuine. With Harry’s farewell, I was being told how to feel, in no uncertain terms, via awkward dialogue. Here, the team’s confused reactions to Harry’s departure kind of mirrored my own. I don’t know what the point of any of this was. I ask you all honestly, were any of you satisfied with Harry’s arc this season?
In fact, were any of you satisfied with anyone’s arc? This nonsense with Caitlin and Killer Frost is left (blessedly, perhaps) unresolved. Has Barry grown in measurable ways the way he did in the first three seasons? I’m having a really hard time pointing to anything concrete that this season achieved. It told its story. At times it told it well. But none of it felt all that important.
I don’t know what The Flash can do next year to right the ship, and I know there are far more qualified minds than mine already at work on it. This certainly wasn’t a catastrophic season, but it never really developed a strong enough identity, delivered a long enough string of consecutive great episodes, or gave me the impression that the stakes were as high as everyone said they were. A season finale where things get handwaved and explained via exposition doesn’t really help.
Despite all this, I look forward to the promise of season five. We already know that next year won’t be a speedster villain. This year was the first departure from that, so this might have just been a manifestation of the show’s growing pains. This cast is too good and these characters are too easy to care about for me to ever give up. And hey, maybe this is the opposite of the old Star Trek movie curse, where we know we’ll be in for a good season since it’s an odd-numbered year.
And speaking of Star Trek…
– Cisco and Harry quoting The Wrath of Khan to each other will never not amuse me.
– Wally’s return was welcome, but…too little too late. He could have been here a week ago, given his little speech about becoming his own man, and then gone about the business of actually helping the team.
– The baby’s name is Jenna, which may or may not be a foreshadowing of future speedster XS (who was Jenni Ognats…although she was an Allen descendant, not a West). On the other hand…
– Our mystery girl isn’t XS or Dawn Allen after all…she’s Barry and Iris’ daughter Nora, named for Barry’s mother. That jacket, of course, is Iris’ speedster jacket, but I don’t know why I only just put it together that the purple and white color scheme is the same as Dawn Allen, one of the Tornado Twins from the 31st Century. In any case, this young lady isn’t from as far in the future as I expected, and she might just be the key to season five’s villain.
So what did you all think? Was I too hard on this episode? On this season? Let me know in the comments, and please, let’s talk speedster stuff all summer long on Twitter! I’ll be here on Den of Geek rambling about superheroes pretty much every day, too.