This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 5 Episode 22
What a mess. Taken completely in isolation, “Legacy” would be an acceptably middle of the road episode of The Flash. As a season finale? It’s almost unacceptable. Rescued only by the anti-heroics of Eobard Thawne in its final half, The Flash season 5 finale is the muddied, logical endpoint of a season that started with tremendous promise, lost its way, and never quite managed to find its way back on track.
“Legacy” never, not even in its better moments, felt like a proper season finale. From the opening on Ralph’s “kinetically inverted” form (the result of the awkwardly edited cliffhanger with the mirror gun from last week’s episode), this just felt like “business as usual.” We got a cool, disturbing visual of Ralph in this bizarre geometric form, and he dramatically blurts out “Cicada…Thawne…Dagger.” But what was the point of this? It affects nothing whatsoever in the ultimate stakes of the episode, it’s just a leftover idea in a season that had to pack plenty of those into one hour. Were this a different point in the season, they could have gotten an entire episode out of this, instead it’s resolved by Cisco using his powers (at Sherloque’s urging) with no greater consequence than Ralph speaking in reverse syntax for a few scenes.
In fact, we may as well get into the Cisco problem, because it’s a big one. Cisco uses his powers to “shock” Ralph essentially back to life. He saves his friend, currently trapped in a hideously deformed, and presumably quite painful state, with his powers. There is literally nothing better or more noble or more helpful that he can possibly do with his powers in that moment. You need validation for your existence as a meta? Look no further, dude.
And then what do they do? Instead of having Cisco, one of the most brilliant minds on a team full of brilliant minds, continue to look for a Cicada solution? Caitlin tells him to go make time with his girlfriend. Thousands of lives are at stake, but Cisco needs to go confess that he’s a metahuman, complete with a display of his powers right in the middle of Jitters. This is a spectacular headscratcher. Again, in a different episode, this is an important moment. But did we spend enough time with them as a couple to make this feel earned this season? Does this seem like it should be the priority in the season finale of all episodes? The answer is no. It feels obligatory, like a plot point from an index card that was mistakenly shuffled into this episode’s story. But that aside, she gives Cisco her blessing and total understanding of where things have to be if he is to lead a double life.
So what does Cisco do? At episode’s end he lets a calculated line from Thawne taking credit for giving him his powers to get in his head and motivate him to take the cure. The metahuman cure, since its very introduction, has very quietly been the absolute worst. Even worse than Cicada, the metahuman cure has felt glaringly out of place all season, a device swiped from bottom of the barrel X-Men stories, and changing the very nature of how metahumans see themselves and are seen in the Arrowverse for the very worst. We’ll all have forgotten Cicada ever existed by November, but turning Arrowverse metas into half-assed Marvel mutants is unforgiveably lazy.
It’s an enormous testament to Carlos Valdes that none of these scenes collapse under the weight of their own nonsense. His future with the show remains unclear, despite ongoing rumors about his imminent departure. But you would think that if he were indeed leaving Team Flash for good he would get a more dramatic exit. He certainly deserves better than what we got here with lines like “I’m scared but I’m hopeful.”
But unsurprisingly, the biggest problem of the episode was Cicada. Knowing that we would finally get some kind of resolution with Thawne later in the episode made Cicada feel even more consequence-free than before, if that was even possible. Utterly low-stakes and tedious, there are fewer more unintentionally funny scenes in this show’s history than “Cicada Family Hour” in which Cicada II comforts her younger self while the hallucination of her beloved Uncle Cicada looks on, also briefly accompanied by the hallucination of the “good” post-cure version of said Uncle Cicada. Nora going into Grace’s head was of questionable entertainment value when they did it last episode, so doing it here was particularly snooze-worthy, and it allowed the show to hammer home the “I’m not a meta!!!” freak-out to make sure we’re all completely on board with the idea that now, like Marvel’s mutants, metahuman powers are inherently undesirable in the Arrowverse.
Cicada’s story has bordered on incomprehensible for much of this season’s second half, and never more so than here, requiring nonsense expositional logic for why the (awful) cure won’t work on Grace to be spouted by Sherloque. You see, apparently the scar contains enough dark matter energy “to counteract that cure.” If The Flash can’t give us reasonable challenges with our big bads, it should stop doing big bads entirely. This show can’t survive another villain like Cicada, whose rules could seemingly be written on the fly and rewritten on a whim, and its viewers shouldn’t have to endure one.
After a ridiculous “superhero choice” cliche about how they could stop Cicada or stop Thawne, and after Ralph ends up contorted into…whatever that was, they end up having to destroy the dagger anyway, basically rendering the previous 30 minutes of handwringing meaningless. Nothing feels better than having a show admit to you, in story, that it just wasted its first act.
God, Thawne is great, though. His moment of escape was harrowing, with some great music by Blake Neely, and the use of Nora’s time reveral there was a terrific, clever moment (right down to the reversal of the music itself). While I still find it exceedingly difficult to swallow how Thawne manipulated the events of the past from his present (and it does take some extraordinarily talky monologuing on his part to make the point), the fact remains that Tom Cavanagh’s version of Eobard Thawne remains the greatest villain this show, if not the entire Arrowverse has ever seen. I appreciate that they’re hesitant to keep going back to the speedster well for big bads (especially since, in terms of direct conflict, it feels like we’ve kind of seen everything that can be done in this context), but at this point, Thawne is the only one I trust for next year. I hope I can be proven wrong.
The Thawne beatdown showcases some of the best superpowered teamwork we’ve seen on this show. It’s inventive, it uses everybody to their best strengths, and ultimately, it’s used as a tool to help illustrate that whupping Thawne’s ass by traditional means isn’t ever really gonna mean a damn thing. Nora still disintegrates into the timestream, Thawne still gets to make a veiled threat to Iris and hint about Crisis on Infinite Earths, and everyone is left more unsettled than they were before knowing he’s back out in the world plotting and scheming.
I’ve been Team Nora for much of this season, and I long had the sense that she was doomed. In fact, I’m willing to say she has the most satisfying heroic death this show has ever delivered. One that is unfortunately completely undercut by the unnecessary, completely saccharine and overwritten goodbye message that is played via Gideon. While its inclusion here over that montage spared us the insufferable “post-Coldplay piano ballad played over scenes of people doing things” that far too many CW shows end on, like so much of the last few episodes of this season, it’s just more needless dialogue, restating what has been endlessly shown and told already. More time with Barry and Iris actually coming to terms with their daughter’s essential erasure from existence, more actual grieving, and less reminding us all of what we just witnessed with our own eyes would have been welcome here.
Lest you think I’m picking on Nora, that entire wrap-up in the lab was packed to the gills with cringeworthy dialogue, up to and including Cisco’s big moment with the cure. And of course, that ill-advised moment manages to get one additional “fuck you” in to me, personally, with Caitlin saying goodbye to Cisco on behalf of both her AND Killer Frost. Any time this happens it is like nails on a chalkboard, and I am genuinely curious, as I know that there are big fans of Caitlin’s arc over the last two seasons (I am not one of them), if anyone actually likes this particular element of it. With that new costume that Cisco whipped up for her, there had better be a serious rethink of the Caitlin/Frost relationship, because this ain’t it, kids.
Speaking of broken characters, this show needs to figure out what to do with Cecile next year, because “Cecile as a meta” isn’t merely not cutting it, it has crossed into “very bad” territory. Bringing her along on missions isn’t particularly amusing or helpful. Remember when she was a badass district attorney and not “comic relief Deanna Troi” on this show? When she got whacked by whatever it is that Cicada hit her with, my only hope is that it knocks loose her meta powers and she can go back to being a character with some purpose and steel, not whatever it is they’ve stumbled through with her over the last 18 months of this show. Perhaps with Joe’s new role as Captain, Cecile can find her way back to the DA’s office…hopefully sans powers. At least Joe’s promotion and Singh letting Barry know that he has known for ages gave the proceedings the triumphant lift that was lacking in the episode’s major conflicts.
Ultimately, as we saw in previous episodes (and similar to what befell season four), eventually this show can’t outrun its early mistakes. I think all of the Arrowverse shows could do with some re-tooling of their approach. While I don’t think going for a “monster of the week” procedural format is the right move, it’s definitely time to consider shorter, multi-episode arcs, especially if they’re determined to keep going with these endless 22 episode seasons. These shows are popular enough (and The Flash is now the de facto flagship of the Arrowverse) that they can get away with rewriting the rulebook a little bit. After this mess, they may need to.
What we got in terms of major DC Universe developments was worth unpacking in more detail than I’m usually able to do in this section. I went into detail about the entire ending right here.
And one final note before I sign off …thanks again for sticking with me and keeping the pace since day one. This show has its ups and downs, but I still love writing about it, and that’s all because there are so many fun, thoughtful readers on this site. See you in October when The Flash Season 6 gets off the starting blocks. Although, really, if you’re a regular Den of Geek reader (and why wouldn’t you be?) you’ll probably see me going on and on about superhero stuff all summer long. Thanks for helping to make my job so much fun.