This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 6 Episode 7
Before we go any further, I just have two quick disclaimers. First, I think I went a little too easy on last week’s episode and let an emotional final scene get the better of me. Second is my semi-annual reminder not to put too much stock in my star ratings unless we’re talking fours, fives, or the rare and dreaded one, they’re not really the most accurate representation of my feelings at any given time and they’re an admittedly imperfect system. I begin with this preamble because “The Last Tempation of Barry Allen, Part One” is, in virtually every way that matters, a better hour of TV than “License to Elongate,” but…I don’t seem to have a hell of a lot of nice things to say about it at the moment. Which is weird, I know.
But the good stuff first. The obvious. The inescapable. The thing I can’t even believe has to be said. Grant Gustin is very good. “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen” is a showcase for Gustin, allowing him to dig into some of Barry’s most human and imperfect thoughts and impulses for almost the entirety of its runtime as he comes to turn with his impending death. Gustin has to carry much of the episode and it’s really great work, especially considering how at its heart, this is a simple “battle for our hero’s soul” story. We’ve seen these countless times not just in superhero fiction but…well…everywhere (that title is no accident, kids) and there’s rarely any doubt how they’re going to turn out. It’s all in the hands of the actor, and Grant makes the most of it.
But I’m always ambivalent about “sentient Speed Force episodes” and that’s very much what “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen” is. I don’t know why I didn’t figure it out sooner in the episode. But the whole “the Speed Force works in mysterious ways” thing has been old for years now, and turning this into a battle between the Speed Force, which is decidedly not “good” and is simply a force of nature and Bloodwork, who is all but twirling a mustache by this point just felt like a cheat. Unless the Speed Force was never really “there” to begin with and even this was a product of Barry’s imagination. After all, Bloodwork won.
There are two fields that the Arrowverse as a whole are terrible at depicting. The first is anything involving courts or lawyers. The other? Journalism (and yes, I realize there’s an entire Arrowverse show built around that one and no they most certainly do NOT get a pass). This week’s episode did the staff of the Central City Citizen no favors in that regard, and every minute spent on whatever this distraction of a story they’re investigating could have been better spent elsewhere. Allegra telling Iris what she should be doing in the leadup to her husband’s death and her continued “nobody tells me anything” act didn’t particularly help matters, and this all continues to feel like a needless side quest at a point in both the story and the season when time is a luxury nobody has.
In fact, let’s talk about time for a moment, shall we? After two curiously Iris-free weeks (which I excused because I just assume that any cast absences recently have had something to do with everyone’s likely insane Crisis on Infinite Earths shooting schedules), we still haven’t managed to get any time with Barry and Iris working things out in the leadup to his certain death. Instead, there’s distraction, and some really difficult to swallow drama surrounding Iris’ unwillingness to write the story of Flash’s disappearance. You’ll all forgive me if I don’t find “pre-writing a story you have prior knowledge of” to be a substitute for actual acceptance. With this week’s cliffhanger and next week looking like a “hero gone bad” villain punch-up, I’m starting to worry that none of this will be resolved in a satisfactory manner before Crisis. Also…don’t they have a child to conceive? The baby showed up and everything! (In what may have been Grant’s best scene in an episode full of great ones)
I’m trying to figure out what was actually accomplished with this episode, and I’m coming up a little empty. We got to see Barry fully accept his fate, with all of the unpleasant thoughts that come along with it. It’s a truly full circle moment anchored by a great performance. But did we need a two-parter to do that? We had probably the best visual representation this show has ever done of Ralph’s powers, theoretically proving he can go toe-to-toe with a season level baddie like Bloodwork and thereby reinforcing the idea that he could be Central City’s A-list superhero after the Flash is gone. But didn’t we kind of prove that point already last week?
Perhaps next week, it will be Iris who pulls Barry back from the brink of Bloodwork zombiedom. I’m just worried that it’s all going to feel like too little too late in the face of what’s looming. Dr. Rosso needs to be put out of commission in the next hour and then Crisis has to begin. How high can those stakes really, truly feel under these circumstances? On the other hand, if we get more line deliveries from Sendhil Ramamurthy like “life demands your death” you can sign me right up, because that was appropriately chilling. I still think the overall format of this season was the right move, and it’s easily the best batch of Flash episodes we’ve had in years. It was bound to hit a wall eventually, and I might still be grading it on a curve after those extraordinary early episodes this season.
Hell of an ending, though. Even with the knowledge that this was a two-parter, I didn’t see that coming. Barry’s distracted, condescending “not really listening to you” half smile when Iris was trying to get him to come home and chill was a perfect, subtle capper to all the strong work he had done throughout the rest of the episode. Candice Patton’s body language and wordless “this shit is wrong” demeanor as she turned towards Cisco and Frost helped drive it home. Every episode this season manages to find that one little extra something, and this was no exception.
I’m still not quite sure what to make of “Maelstrom Couriers” and their stylish spiral (Spyral?) badge. At this point, I don’t particularly care. We’ve got red skies a-comin’.