“I could never make the choice to leave you. But if my death is the only way to save the universe, to save you? I’m willing to do that.”
If Westallen fans thought they would get a break from having their heart ripped out this season, then “A Flash of Lightning” certainly proved them wrong. On the second episode of the season, The Flash has already shifted into high gear. The stakes have never been higher, the tension never more palpable. The love Barry and Iris share more poignant. Strap in, folks! This ride is just getting started!
The most heart-wrenching thing about the upcoming Crisis storyline is that Barry has been shadowed by the specter of his own disappearance (and possible death) for years. Even at his happiest times as a speedster, that headline hung over his head like the sword of Damocles. And now, the timeline has moved forward. Precious memories that were supposed to be savored over years now must be relished in mere months.
“I stared at that newspaper for so many years. … First it felt like a guide. You know, like proof that things were headed in the right direction. Then it became a sword hanging over my head. A part of me always felt like if I vanish in whatever crisis is coming, maybe I was still out there somewhere, looking for a way to come back to you. According to the Monitor, that doesn’t happen. ‘To save the lives of billions, the Flash must die.’”
It is a heavy burden to bear, and so of course Barry decides to go into the future, to the day after the crisis, to see if the Monitor’s words were true. In the last two episodes (as they have many times before), Grant Gustin and Candice Patton have demonstrated why they are the male and female leads of the show – and two of the best actors on the entire network. Gustin absolutely nailed Barry’s despair at seeing his world be destroyed in billions of timelines. Watching his friends die hurts him, but it is seeing Iris die that finally breaks him.
With this kind of setup, is there any doubt that we’ll get to hear him utter his iconic line in Crisis? “As long as I remember Iris, I’ll be all right.” Westallen fans better go ahead and stock up on tissues now!
On the bright side, Barry was allowed to be both smart and heroic this episode. He built a mobile Gideon unit by himself, and he took down the villain on his own. On a series titled The Flash, moments in which he’s allowed to shine have been entirely too rare lately, it seems.
Meet Mr. and Mrs. Allen…I Mean Garrick
That the show allows Barry to really shine in this episode isn’t to say that he doesn’t get help. Indeed, he turns to the Jay Garrick of Earth-3 for help. Jay may not be the speedster he once was, but he’s been otherwise occupied since we saw him last. Barry’s dead father’s doppelgänger has gotten married…to Joan, who looks just like Barry’s dead mother, Nora.
I know I’m reiterating the point, but Gustin’s facial expression when he sees a woman who looks like the mother? Come on! Can this man try not to break my heart for thirty seconds? I can’t take this level of heartache!
Of course, Jay and Joan help Barry to see his possible futures, to verify that the Monitor’s words are true. But the heart of the episode is in its returned focus on family. I’ve said it before in reviews (many times), but the heart of The Flash has always been in its focus on family. Like the premiere, the second episode of the season reiterated how much the show had lost its way over the last two years, by losing that focus on its heart. Barry and Iris. Barry, Jay, and Joan. Barry and Joe. Barry, Iris, Jay, and Joan. The scenes between the West, Allen-doppelganger, and West-Allen families were unquestionably standouts in an overall very strong episode.
It’s this focus on Barry’s love for his family – his parents, his wife, and his (then) future father-in-law – that made us fall in love with him in the first place. And it will be this focus on his family’s love for him that will no doubt obliterate the Flash fandom at the inevitable midseason finale cliffhanger mid-Crisis.
I’m not ready!
A Touch of Villainy
Ramsey may not have done much this episode, but he did make me realize that I would happily listen to a recording of Sendhil Ramamurthy reading my e-mails to me on endless repeat. That’s all I have to say about that.
The Flash wasn’t the only one to shine in his iconic role this episode. After years of begging for Iris to explore her role as journalist, season 6 is finally making good on prior show runners’ promises. When Cecile’s powers (which I could frankly do without) lead her to realize a metahuman she’s supposed to prosecute is actually innocent, Iris and (rapidly growing) company start doing some digging. It also makes Cecile realize she wants to move to the other side of the table, from prosecution to metahuman defense. As in the first episode, it is Iris’s investigations that actually lead to the identity of the episode’s Big Bad – and save an innocent person from death…or unjust imprisonment. That’s my heroine and head of a future media empire!
The Central City Citizen team also seems to be a nefarious organization experimenting on metahumans. Show runner Eric Wallace teased #TeamCitizen would investigate a big mystery this season. I have no doubt that this is it. However, I do wonder where this plot will lead. To the season 6B villain, perhaps?
Stranger? in a Strange Land
The one part of the episode that fell a little flat to me was the storyline with Killer Frost. I get that Caitlin is taking a back seat to Frost this season, and her plot will be getting to know the members of the team. But…doesn’t it seem a little late in the day to explore that storyline? I suppose it may be a “better late than never” situation. However, for a character that has been rebooted at least as many seasons as she’s been on the show, this particular plot seems a little regressive at this point. She’s been in Caitlin’s mind, exchanging Post-It Notes and sweet, sweet mental whispers. She’s even been in the driver’s seat before. But she somehow has absolutely zero interpersonal skills?
I get it, I get it. She’s supposed to be the colder half of Caitlin. Except not, because one of her reboots was to pretend Frost and Caitlin have always been two different people. On the other hand, she’s been chatting it up in Caitlin’s mind for a good year and going all Frosty Oprah on Ralph. Caitlin never shared with her the finer art of Not Being a Total Inconsiderate Asshole? Not even when she shared with Frost the medical knowledge it seems she somehow imparted, since Frost was acting like a doctor at the end of the episode?
And for the record, I’d be down with an arc for Frost revolving around Not Being a Total Asshole. If that arc was based around the recognition that she hasn’t always been on the side of the angels. She has done some bad things. If her plot was “I’ve been a bad guy in the past, and why did I decide to do those bad things, and how can I atone for them?” Sure! That’s a storyline that makes sense to me for her character. A plot revolving around how Being Rude to People Sure Is Mean? Just doesn’t make sense to me at this point in the series, given the (admittedly repeatedly rebooted) history of the character.
And it doesn’t make sense that her plot is supposedly “getting to know the team better.” Since the show has never really allowed to let Killer Frost go really bad in any sustained way (and has been happy to pretend the evil she has done never happened), she’s been a de facto member of Team Flash for two years. Supposedly always being there for Caitlin, helping her with…whatever. I guess. (When she wasn’t, you know, actively working with the villain to try to kill the team. Or apparently mutilating people. Working with human traffickers… Oh, I’m sorry. For a second, I forgot we’re supposed to pretend none of that ever happened.) We’re supposed to believe she’s partied with Cisco and Ralph and given out advice to Ralph in that time but has never learned a single interpersonal skill? And watching her learn that drawing is hard is somehow a more logical storyline for her than exploring why she decided to be evil in the first place? Sigh. Okay.
Frost’s plot this episode would have made sense two years ago. Or even maaaaybe last year. But it seems a little too late in the day to explore at this point. Or maybe I’m just annoyed because this first episode of Frost’s “journey of self-discovery” had her coming off at times like a surly teenager. And, yeah, I know she might not have been born yesterday but she was not too many days before that. But I am just done with this show writing adult women a good decade younger than they are.
But, hey. She learned that drawing is hard and Making People Feel Bad Isn’t Nice. And she set up the introduction of the real villain of the season: credit card company collections.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.