This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 6 Episode 17
How good is “Liberation?” It’s so good that perhaps the most eye-rollingly saccharine, falsetto piano ballad-fueled final two minutes in the history of The Flash couldn’t even dent it. I’m leading with this because it’s the only time in this review I’m gonna bother to get my evil mirror shard knife hands out, because really, this was a great way to spend an hour.
Last week brought us “So Long and Goodnight,” which at times felt like the most traditionally superhero-y episode this show has had (excluding Crisis on Infinite Earths, of course) all season. But “Liberation” is one of those Flash episodes that feels like it could work just as well outside of the confines of the DC Universe. It’s another hour without Barry in costume (something we’ve seen a few times this season), one where he barely even uses his powers (still dealing with budget issues from Crisis and Bloodwork, perhaps?), and one that’s much more at home exploring its character’s feelings and relationships (and some pretty out-there sci-fi concepts) than it would be with all the super speed punching and lightning throwing in the world. Every now and then The Flash throws one of these at you, and it’s another monument to how strong the show’s foundation is.
And here, that foundation is very much WestAllen. The Barry and Iris relationship has been put to the test recently. Not that it’s really either of their faults. What else are you gonna do when your partner is replaced by a semi-evil mirror duplicate, right? And we knew eventually Barry would figure it out, but what we didn’t know was how, or the final little twists they would throw at us along the way.
It’s been no secret that there hasn’t really been as much focus as people might have expected on Barry and Iris this season. Even their pre-Crisis parting was held almost until the last possible minute, when it should have really been a major dramatic underpinning for multiple episodes before Barry went off to fight what everyone (Barry included) expected to be his greatest and final battle. But “Liberation” makes up for a LOT of that. I certainly didn’t expect so much of the dramatic weight within that relationship to be carried by an Iris impostor, but hey, whatever it takes.
But impostor or no, that was very much the real Candice Patton we had here this week, and this was handily her best episode of the season. Yes, it’s still great to see Mirror Iris spitting a little truth at Barry, but you could see a constantly awakening pain underneath her chilly exterior, a genuine authenticity that wasn’t merely a villain’s manipulations. It’s a subtle distinction, and one that I think could only be pulled off by an actor who has been inhabiting a role for as long as Ms. Patton has with Iris. I bought into it, just as surely as I was utterly confused by her reversal of Barry’s attempt to expose her. The fact that we got to see her engage in a genuine action scene, one of the most creatively staged in the show’s history would have been enough on its own, here it was just the cherry on top of an episode where she owned every minute she was on screen, regardless of which version of Iris we were dealing with.
One question for the readers: was Mirror Iris’ “I just want you to know that if anything happens I forgive you,” sincere considering how the rest of the episode played out? Or was it just what it appeared to be on the surface here, an expert bit of manipulation, one that may have had Eva’s hand in it. The fact that there’s room for discussion or doubt here is further proof of how good Patton’s performance was this week. She even gave us some convincing blood lust in that big fight with Barry, as well as some more subtle blood lust with her “I’m going to kill you” to Eva.
Similarly, this was the most intensity we’ve seen from Grant Gustin in a little while, too. His broody, Oliver Queen-esque “every day that the machine is off is another day that I can’t protect this city” line delivery was a wonderful contrast with his manic, conspiracy-unraveling demeanor a scene later, or his desperate, unsure, and suitably paranoid “I’m me! I’m the real Barry!” (sucks being locked up in your own illegal jail cell, doesn’t it?) Barry’s workaholism is always kind of buzzing in the background of this show, and it’s neat seeing how he is trying to keep up the pace even when he’s unable to use his speed to do so. We barely saw him use any speed at all this episode, and be honest: did you even miss it? I didn’t.
I feel like it’s been a while since we’ve had a particularly TENSE episode, and “Liberation” was certainly it. As the mirror duplicates started hanging out together, and as they started to execute Eva’s plan, you could almost feel the show getting its traction back. Their eerie/creepy habit of referring to Eva as “mother” was a nice touch. I still wish we had a better understanding of how these things work and the true extent of their free will, and I wonder if we’ll actually get the time before this show succumbs to its coronavirus-shortened episode order this season, but I’ll take these details wherever I can get ’em.
And don’t be fooled by the fact that nobody wears a costume in this episode, because it still delivers one of the most visually inventive (and chilling) action sequences in the history of the show. Mirror Iris doing her best T-1000 impression could have just been a fun moment to allow Candice to cut loose and get the obligatory action scene in. Instead, it’s low key, relying on claustrophobia, inventive uses of the mirrors (and ESPECIALLY their shards), and a great Blake Neely score to ramp it up. This was one of the most surprising fight scenes I’ve seen on any of the Arrowverse shows in quite some time, and it reminds me of how fresh and different the first half of this season felt.
Oh, and speaking of the first half of the season, it’s SO good to see Sendhil Ramamurthy as Bloodwork again. Did this appearance feel maybe a LITTLE bit obligatory? Maybe. Was he an absolute joy to watch, bringing a level of traditional villainy to an arc that has mostly underplayed things? Abso-frakkin’-lutely.
In fact, despite the lack of superheroics, “Liberation” had no shortage of great visuals. Whether it was the aforementioned mirror fight with Barry and Iris, Bloodwork getting to do his gross stuff, or even something relatively simple, like powering up the New Speed Force machine, like last week, there was a real crispness to the visual effects. The absolute highlight both visually and dramatically, was the way Mirror Iris “shattered” though. It genuinely hurt. Maybe less is more.
I got my major complaint out of the way up front, and anything else that didn’t sit totally right with me gets a pass. Whatever was going on with Cisco, Ralph, and Caitlin and her “ice coma” felt completely extraneous and disposable, but it wasn’t so jarring as to pull me out of the episode. Plus, Cisco and Ralph are just too much fun to complain about. But to make up for that, Cecile was perhaps the best she’s been all year, finally being useful and not unfortunate comic relief or the worst empath tropes on TV. I’ve said it many times, there’s terrific potential with this character, and it’s great to see her given more to do in the right way.
There’s not too much in the way of actual DC Comics references this week, but let’s talk about a few things…
- Dr. Rosso saying “Run, Iris, run!” was…well, you know what that’s a reference to.
- Mirror Iris talking to Barry about “sharing your bed” felt like the first acknowledgment that people in the Arrowverse who don’t hang out on the Waverider might occasionally enjoy sex in I don’t know how long.
- I’m gonna say it: Mirror Master is the best big bad this show has had since Savitar. Give Eva time and I bet she could rival Thawne (who I swear has been overstaying his welcome recently). Since this season has had its episode count cut short, I’d be all about seeing Eva return for The Flash season 7 with the revelation that far more important Central City figures had been replaced by dopplegangers or something along those lines. Really dug Blake Neely’s theme music for her, too.