“Run, Barry. Run.”
Standing in stark contrast to the third season of Arrow, this freshman season of The Flash has been coherent, energetic, and most importantly, fun. Very, very fun. That being said, there isn’t much to analyze. Some confusing plots with Iris’s character, a morally murky issue with a bunch of metahumans imprisoned in an abandoned particle accelerator, maybe some questionable casting choices, but overall, not much to complain about. Tonally, the main cast and how they work together, adapting from the comics — where it’s important — Flash is good. Better than Arrow was at this point, for sure. Partly that’s because the same principal creative forces are behind both shows, and learned their lessons well the first time around, but part of me feels that perhaps this character, The Flash, is better suited for this medium. This first season has been largely great, and when it hasn’t been, it’s at least been fun, which isn’t something you could always say about its older sibling this season.
Anyways, festivities tonight begin seemingly just after they left off last week, with Harrison Wells in custody and Barry questioning him. After some more good Wells/Barry interplay (I will miss this dearly once it’s gone), Barry asks what Wells knew he would: “Why did you kill my mother?”
“Because I hate you,” Tom Cavanagh sneers, before launching through a relatively smooth expository sequence that reveals how he learned who the Flash was in the future, planned to travel backwards in time to kill him as a child, was thwarted by “Future Barry”, and killed Nora Allen in a panicked attempt to ensure the Flash never comes to be, only to realize that without the Flash, he has no way to return home, no way to tap into the Speed Force (!). So, as Wells/Thawne himself puts it, he “created the Flash.” When Barry, confused, wonders why Wells ever helped him become a hero in the first place, Wells responds, simply, that he needed the Flash to become fast. Wells offers a deal, of sorts: if Barry can run fast enough to create a wormhole, he will return to his future, and Barry can return to stop him from ever killing Nora in the first place. It’s a good and important first scene, from Barry’s perspective the first time they’ve truly spoken on even footing; from Wells’s, perhaps the last. What makes it great is Wells’s admission that while he has always known hatred when looking upon the Flash, he has come to at least understand the pride Joe and Henry look upon him with. Which of course pisses Barry off even more.
Afterwards, the Flash Crew discuss the philosophical ramifications of Wells’s plan. If Barry is successful, the potential alternate timeline it could create might be unrecognizable from the one they live in now. It’s an interesting idea that falls very much in line with the Flash as a mythos, but again, what holds it together is Barry’s sadness that he might change things so Joe and Iris were never a part of his life to begin with. One of the most consistent themes of this season has been Barry’s dependence upon his three father figures: biological, adoptive, and surrogate. Henry (and Henry’s wrongful imprisonment) gave him his drive and his purpose. Joe gave him his morality. Wells gave him his abilities, and more importantly, taught him how to use them.
So it makes perfect sense that tonight’s third scene takes place at Iron Heights, with Barry telling his father their plan. Henry is vehemently opposed, reasoning that he doesn’t want Barry to change the past, because it might change Barry himself. It might change who Barry is in his core, who is an inherently good and special person. It’s a wonderful, poignant scene, John Wesley Shipp’s best thus far, and provides another counterpoint.
After such a strong start, it’s reasonable to expect a couple clunkers, and while the Ronnie/Kaitlin scene is too short to qualify as one, the Iris/Barry scene definitely does. It’s hardly the worst scene they’ve shared, and at least it conforms to the night’s theme, that Barry would consult the people closest to him for answers. Soon enough, thankfully, we’re back in the particle accelerator, where Barry asks how exactly this plan of Wells’s will work. It’s simple enough, as far as comic book science goes: if they activate the accelerator with only a single particle and have Barry hit it at the desired speed, he can create a wormhole. If not, he will die.
After finding a flaw in Wells’s time machine, Cisco goes to ask the man himself. Wells scoffs at Cisco’s assertion that he never valued the team’s contributions, Cisco reveals that Barry reset an alternative timeline in which Wells killed him, and that he can remember it all. Every detail. Wells apologizes, but not for killing Cisco (I’m sure I had good reasons), but that this proves once and for all, that Cisco was indeed affected by the disaster. That he is a metahuman. He now has a “great and honorable destiny,” as Wells puts it, and Cisco storms off. Considering who Cisco is named for, it’s a scene that is hardly surprising, but it’s Wells’s genuine contrition, and Cisco’s genuine anger, that deepens them both as characters.
Continuing the run of good to great scenes in this finale, we pick up with the odd couple of Eddie and Dr. Stein, with the former despondent and confused after his descendant kept him in bondage for several weeks and revealed to him his own irrelevance to the future. Dr. Stein has a different perspective: given the huge coincidence involved in Wells arriving to the same time, in the same city as his direct ancestor, Eddie is “the most interesting thing at STAR Labs,” and a completely unknowable wild card. This bolsters Eddie’s spirits enough that later he reconciles with Iris, but it also deepens Dr. Stein, which is important considering he seems to be a major character in Legends of Tomorrow. At the expense of diluting these two shows in comparison, The Flash has treated its franchise obligations like fast-paced crossovers instead of clunky exposition. Where Ray Palmer (despite being amazingly well played) soaked up mountains of screen time on Arrow, Ronnie and Dr. Stein have been just as well characterized in half the time.
After learning that a singularity could be created if Barry fails, the team confronts a sneering Harrison Wells, who maintains that he has been planning this for decades, and that he believes in Barry. Barry is confused and nervous, and he confides to Joe that he’s unsure of himself, another running theme this season. Where it dovetails nicely is when Barry realizes that saving one parent could rob him of another.
After Dr. Stein presides over Ronnie and Kaitlin’s quick wedding, Barry prepares to go on the run of his life. Cisco briefs him on what to expect, and he says his goodbyes to Joe and Iris, notably calling Joe “dad,” which nearly brought both Joe and myself to tears. After he hits Mach 2, he begins seeing his past and future lives at once. Wells informs him that he is inside the Speed Force itself, and that he needs to focus on when he wants to go. The Hydrogen particle is injected. Barry creates a wormhole and returns to the Allen house, 15 years before. As he watches the Flashes fight, his future (?) self sees him and warns him off. So Barry listens to his mother die, again, weeping. But she’s not quite dead yet. So Barry reveals himself to her, and says that he loves her as she dies. It’s a much more brutal and emotionally naked moment that I was expecting from a show on this network.
Then, shit gets real. As Wells, adorned in his suit, prepares to leave, he remarks that Cisco’s time sphere is so good that “Rip Hunter (!!) would be proud,” before Jay Garrick’s classic Flash helmet (!!!) flies from the wormhole. Wells thanks Cisco, sincerely, and starts to leave. As he smiles and thinks of his home, Barry comes through the other end and shatters the time sphere, stopping Wells, who is understandably furious. Accusing Barry of throwing away the life he wanted, Wells regains his use of the Speed Force as Barry responds that he already has the life he wanted. They fight, while Ronnie and Kaitlin attempt to close the wormhole. Ronnie is wounded by a blast, and Wells gains the upper hand. He promises to kill everyone Barry cares about before a shot rings out, and Eddie slumps to the floor, bleeding from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the heart. Cisco explains what is happening before Wells begins to fade away. First, his Harrison Wells mask, then his very body. “How will you get along without me, Barry?” the stranger in the yellow suit asks. Barry has no response, and Thawne is dissolved in smoldering blue light. The Thawne Family is no more.
Suddenly, the wormhole begins to reopen, forming a singularity over Central City. Eddie’s body is sucked in, as are the remnants of the time sphere. Barry resolves to stop it, running up the side of a goddamned skyscraper and trying to reverse the effects of a black hole. Which is how the season ends. Which is, I mean, probably the best cliffhanger I’ve ever seen. We know Barry will survive, because we know there will be a second season of this show, but if it had been the end, I couldn’t think of a better or more tonally correct way for a live-action Flash show to end.
I don’t really have much else to say, really. Just a damned good finale to a damned good season. If this CW/DC thing never yields another season of television as good as this one, I won’t hold it against them, because at least I’ll have this one to fall back on.
Finale Grade: A
Season Grade: A