This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 5 Episode 8
Well, here we are. 100 episodes of The Flash. Almost five years to the day since we first met Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen on Arrow in “The Scientist.” It’s been quite a race, and we’re nowhere near the finish line.
There were several ways “What’s Past is Prologue” could have gone. The most obvious would have been to really lay on the syrup and turn this into a self-congratulatory fan-centric party. To their credit, they didn’t do it. Instead, The Flash episode 100 exists firmly to advance the season’s story (which it does, in a couple of surprising ways), and almost gets a little playful with the conventions of anniversary episodes. With all the time-hopping back to specific episodes, could you almost consider this a clip show? I mean, of course not, but I have to wonder if that was anywhere in anyone’s mind when putting this together.
From its format to its defiant insistence on keeping the spotlight on a brand new character (Nora), to the fact that it moved the overall story of the season along better than arguably any episode since week 4, and the aforementioned “clip show but not a clip show at all” format, “What’s Past is Prologue” sometimes plays like an almost subversive, anti-anniversary episode. For a show that occasionally gets caught up in sentimentality (and not always to its credit), this was a pretty gutsy move.
I sometimes can get a sense (a vibe, if you will) of how an episode will go inside of those first five minutes. I had a good feeling about this one from the start. The opening was a fun way to catch folks up who haven’t seen the last two, somewhat lackluster chapters. If you’ve been slacking on this show, you could almost jump right in here to check in for the anniversary festivities and go from there.
Was the time travel and MacGuffin logic a little fuzzy? Sure. But when isn’t it when you’re dealing with this stuff? The exposition got its work done, and then it was time to go, as Huey Lewis said, “Back in Time.”
Really, Barry and Nora sneaking around in the background of key moments from this show’s history…shouldn’t work? Instead, it was downright cool seeing things like Thinker and Grodd inserted into the pilot’s origin sequence, or the casual mention of Hartley Rathaway by Wells to Cisco. Some of these bits worked better than others, but all in all, it got things done.
I would like to point out that I’m really into Barry this season. He can be assertive without being overbearing, and he’s every bit the confident, seasoned superhero. On the other hand, it helps that they show Iris talking some sense into him about allowing Nora to do her thing (as well as saving his ass physically and emotionally at key points in history). While Iris didn’t have much to do this week, at least they made it a point to spotlight those moments (and I’ve really enjoyed the evolution of the Iris/Nora relationship). But Barry’s “alright, let’s do it” and then later in the episode, when they know it’s time to go get Cicada, well… if I could have seen just those line deliveries five years ago, I would have known Grant Gustin was the perfect Barry Allen. I’ve loved watching this character mature into someone I absolutely believe could stand shoulder to shoulder with the Justice League.
All of this is good enough. But what really elevates this episode is the “season one” scene with Barry, Nora…and Tom Cavanagh as Eobard Thawne. This is one of the greatest scenes in the history of the show. Why? Because it sums up just how insane the whole Flash timeline is, especially whenever Thawne is involved.
Matt Letscher has done a fine job picking up the Thawne mantle on this show and Legends of Tomorrow, and he feels very much in line with the comic book version of the character. But nobody does Thawne like Tom Cavanagh. He casually gets right to the heart of how bizarre it must be for this guy to come from a future where he already knows everything that’s going to happen on this show, even though he himself hasn’t experienced the events yet (if he ever will). It’s not just about subtle menace, it’s about the weird, casual, way he rattles his future facts off.
Almost (but not quite) lost in the shuffle of a brilliantly played scene between Cavanagh and Gustin is how, with just a couple of lines of dialogue delivered by Thawne, the show restores the mystery and menace of Cicada. After over-exposing the villain with a maudlin origin story last week, Thawne’s smirking “the one that got away” crack, and the faraway look indicating he knows even more about Cicada, was a nice way to reestablish that tone that had been set in the early episodes of the season. Later on, Cicada reveals he intends to kill himself once his mission is complete, which certainly adds another weird layer to the character. Let’s see if they can carry all this into the second half.
But the season one wonders didn’t end there. Cavanagh has leaned so hard into the comedic aspects of the various Wells over the last couple of years that it’s easy to forget just how great he was as a villain. His Wells/Thawne is still the most well-realized baddie this show has ever had, and “What’s Past is Prologue” really drives home that nobody has even come close, not even on the show’s very best day. But let’s not forget how compelling that version of “Wells” was, either. Able to switch from affable, mysterious charm to suspicious, probably evil dick with nothing more than a sidelong glance, and yet I was always still left hoping that he isn’t a secret villain in those earliest episodes, no matter how much evidence there was to the contrary. And yes, Tom Cavanagh directed this episode, but the spotlight would have been on him anyway, and you can thank a smart script by Todd Helbing and Lauren Certo for the reminder of just what made the early Wells days some of the best in the show’s history.
Is it perfect? Not at all. Killer Frost miraculously saving the day was an incredibly lazy moment (although it was nice that Danielle Panabaker got something to do), and I had a chuckle when Cicada just casually strolls out the hospital door in full gear. It’s kinda funny when a show that has done powered superheroic action perhaps better than any other in TV history (ok, fine, I will also accept Supergirl as an answer) stumbled a little in its only big superheroic action moment for the big anniversary. It felt kind of obligatory, and didn’t quite live up to those previous scenes. All in all, these are pretty minor complaints.
And that ending with Nora and Thawne in 2049? Well, all my notes say is “oh shit.” After my ode to Cavanagh as Wells in this review, I have to wonder…is Sherloque a red herring? For that matter, is Cicada? Are we going to end up with the return of the original Reverse-Flash as the real threat for the second half of this season?
“What’s Past is Prologue” is an elegant celebration of the weirder elements of this series over the last four plus years, leaning hard into the time travel/speed force/dark matter mumbo jumbo, and exploring key pieces of the show’s history with friendly nods rather than celebratory high fives. You could certainly make the argument that series stalwarts Iris, Cisco, and Caitlin got shortchanged in the course of all of this. For all of its crazy conceptualizing, “What’s Past is Prologue” is about as low key a 100th episode as you’re ever gonna see from a superhero show. And y’know what? I don’t think I would want it any other way.
– Yes, Back to the Future references are fun, but it’s low hanging fruit on a show dealing with time travel, right? Well, yes…EXCEPT when it’s a perfectly timed surprise needledrop of Huey Lewis and the News’ “Back in Time” from the Back to the Future soundtrack. Everybody remembers “The Power of Love” from that, which was the bigger hit, but “Back in Time” is at least as good a piece of nostalgia. Honestly, if there’s one thing missing from this show it’s a better soundtrack, and I would looooove to see them start embracing a kind of quirky, ‘80s vibe with some tune choices every now and then.
– Was it me, or were all the dates on Cisco’s board off by one or two days? They didn’t line up exactly with the episode air dates for the moments they were exploring. Honestly, if I wasn’t so tired I would specify exactly which episodes they leapt into, but this review is long enough and I’ve been awake for 19 hours.
– Thawne sure dropped some quality names…
Jesse Chambers was, of course, Jesse Quick, but you knew that. Ah, but Libby Lawrence was the comic book Jesse Chambers’ mother, and the All Star Squadron member known as Liberty Belle, who married Johnny Quick to bring Jesse into the world.
Danica Williams is a Flash from the Batman Beyond timeline. Schway!
Ah, but…Barry’s other daughter…Dawn Allen. Remember when Nora first started popping up last season and I thought she was Dawn? Well…there you go!
– You don’t need me to tell you that’s the great John Wesley Shipp wearing his original Flash costume from the 1990 CBS TV series. That ain’t Jay Garrick (who I love), kids. That’s the original Barry Allen. If The Flash chapter of “Elseworlds” doesn’t kick off with John Wesley Shipp’s voice saying “my name is Barry Allen, and I’m the fastest man alive,” then I quit.
(note: I am not actually going to quit)
Lotta dead heroes hanging around there, including Stargirl, Firestorm, The Ray, and what appears to maybe be the Smallville version of Green Arrow. My question is, are these an assortment of multiversal heroes assembled to take on the Monitor? Or are these the DC superheroes of Flash 1990’s Earth? Note that we never had any mention of other heroes on that show.
Oh, and speaking of The Monitor, he’s the catalyst for Crisis on Infinite Earths, the event that has been teased literally since episode one of this show, red skies and all. While “Elseworlds” won’t be that…it sure will continue to set it up!
– On a personal note…can you believe it has been 100 episodes? I’ve reviewed something like, 90 of them (with talented folks like Kayti Burt, Marc Buxton, Jim Dandy, Delia Harrington, and Tyler McCarthy filling in whenever the Time Wraiths have managed to chase me off track). It’s sometimes a little tough keeping up with the demands of writing these weekly reviews while I run Den of Geek, but I’ll let you all in on a secret…
The instant it was announced that Arrow would introduce Barry Allen before spinning him off into his own series, I made The Flash a personal mission. This is a character who has always meant a great deal to me (and that goes for Jay, Wally, and Bart, too!), and the prospect of a weekly TV series, especially in this golden age of live action superheroes, was just too exciting. Over the last five years, The Flash has become one of the most popular topics on this site, drawing traffic numbers comparable to our coverage for shows with far larger audiences.
It helps that this show is (more often than not) quite good, which makes it fun to write about. For that, I thank the cast and creatives. But for making The Flash a cornerstone of Den of Geek? Well…that’s on all of you. Thanks for reading every week. See ya in the Speed Force.