It could have been worse – Barry could have been sucked into the Speed Schwartz in this week’s recap of CW’s The Flash.
When I watched this episode when it first aired, I remember not liking it. I felt it moved too slowly and, after the last couple of episodes, was lacking in excitement. Rewatching it, that first complaint goes right out the window.
Spoilers under the cut.
The episode is actually well-paced, balances all the characters’ actions, and doesn’t really have parts to chop off. As for the lack of excitement, that’s a feature, not a bug. This is the episode that allows you to breathe before we charge into the finale. Not to say nothing important happens in this episode, because Barry gets his speed back and we’re introduced to the Speed Force as an intelligent entity, but these things are secondary to the main point of allowing Barry to emotionally catch a breath.
Which brings me to Kevin Smith. I was a fan of his for basically the entirety of my twenties, and I still consider Dogma and Clerks 2 two of my favorite films. Hell, I think i’m still one of the only people on Earth who enjoyed Jersey Girl. Smith is good with dialogue, he’s not afraid of bringing emotion, and he’s a huge nerd, so I think we were all surprised that he was only directing this episode rather than writing it. I mean, Smith has a visual style, it’s just not what his strong suit is. To be honest, there are times – especially with Girder – that the Flash house style can’t save him from some poorly-lit or ugly shots. But the times where Barry’s talking with the various avatars inside the Speed Force, or anything involving Cisco and Iris, Zack Stentz’s dialogue has a pop to it which other episodes need to consider affecting.
In fact, any time Iris is onscreen this episode is an absolute delight. She has agency, she has confidence, she acts like the person Barry tells us she is. I want to see more of this Iris.
By the end of the episode, Barry gets his speed back, Girder is laid back to rest, Barry and Iris are officially a thing, and the villains are rising. Now that we’ve paused to take a breath, it’s time to sprint to the finish line.
So Barry is presumed dead, but the intro monologue/clip show heavily hints at what those familiar with Flash lore already know – he’s been pulled into the Speed Force. Jesse and Wally are in comas after having been hit by the particle accelerator explosion mixed with Speed Force energy, and we know where that should end up. This means Barry is still MIA, the team has zero speedsters on their side, and Zoom is still bent on evil citywide domination while holding Caitlin hostage.
There is not nearly enough Harry punching going on here.
Cisco vibes that Barry is still alive, and we get a glimpse of how Barry is experiencing the Speed Force: as a strange playset of his childhood home the way it was after his mother’s death. He’s having a little heart-to-heart with the Speed Force itself, which is appearing to him as Joe West. It’s hard to grok conversing with a literal universal constant. Barry can’t go back until he catches something zooming around as a black blur.
It’s good that Team Flash figured out the “trapped in the Speed Force” thing so fast, as it allows them to keep working instead of grieving or beating the snot out of Harrison “we must do this” Wells. Seriously, the guy kind of deserves a pop to the jaw. Harry has consistently made decisions with horrible side effects or just outright murdered people (or been willing to) and he always justifies it as his intellectual genius excuses it, morality and consideration of others be damned, and he largely keeps doing it without the personal consequences hitting home for him.
Now Jesse is in a coma for Harry to manpain over, because she’s the only person who could be harmed (aside from himself) who might make him rethink his behavior patterns even a little bit. Really, the show needs to have some consequences visited directly on Harry’s head instead of continuing to use Jesse as a prop to make him care about the harm he does. I’m just really tired of the prevalence any version of Wells has on the narrative and how few of his actions come back to bite him personally. He still doesn’t seem to have learned anything, jumping straight to electroshocking Cisco’s brain to try to force control of Cisco’s dimensional powers. Iris has to stop Harry before he kills another member of Team Flash through his carelessness.
For our villain of the week, we have a zombie Tony Woodward (a.k.a. Girder) from the Season One metahuman collection. Luckily for everyone, brains don’t seem to be on the menu, just random property destruction and zombie-dialing his old crush Iris. Meanwhile, Barry is hopping from one Speed Force heart-to-heart to the next, with the Force trying to make him dig down to the heart of what makes him the Flash, a hero, and why it chose Barry to be those things.
One of the most difficult things the Speed Force makes Barry do is stop and accept the sacrifices, trauma, and consequences of his life as the Flash. There’s not a lot of commentary to be had about it, except that it’s a therapy session he’s badly needed. Once he accepts the grief that is part of his life, the black blur comes to him, and it is (of course) Barry in the Flash suit.
Cisco tries vibing Barry again, this time with Iris joining in to call Barry home. For narrative convenience, this times up with Barry being ready to go back, but it also syncs nicely to a couple of other things. The Speed Force in the guise of Nora Allen tells him “run, Barry; run”. Those words are the often-repeated catchphrase of the series from those who push Barry to move forward. The other thing is that the show has mentioned beacons a couple of times, and Flash comic fans know the way to drag a Flash displaced in time (or inside the Speed Force) back home is for their beacon – their personal lightning rod – to call them home. A speedster’s lightning rod is usually their significant other, and it’s been noted that it only works when both are reaching for one another, so it was vital that Iris’ confession happened last episode in order for her acting as Barry’s lightning rod to work now.
Barry returns, kills Zombie Girder, and there are hugs all around. Still, no one has punched Harry, and I feel the show is missing something really cathartic for the audience with that.
Barry goes to visit the comatose Jesse, wakes her up by touching her with the spark from the Speed Force. The others ask him how he did that and if he knew it would happen, which he confusingly answers with both yes and no. Nothing in this episode has really explained how or why the Speed Force works the way it does. It’s long been just an enigmatic power source and proto-dimension, much like the Force of Star Wars. Comic book fans of the Flash are used to shrugging this off. It’s the Speed Force, we don’t have to explain it. Now we just have to wait for Jesse to start exhibiting speedster powers and finally get some more speedsters who aren’t evil!
The episode ends with Barry and Iris deciding they were always kind of fated to be together and how much they support each other, then paralleling that with Zoom giving Caitlin a “with me or against me” ultimatum like the sociopathic murderer and kidnapper ex-boyfriend he is.
George Hatch feels kind of dirty for that hovertext reference. You can yell at him on Twitter at @Raeseti.
Becky Shire is everyone’s favorite Flash Guru, cosplayer and all-around badass. You can find her on Twitter at @ElfGrove.
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