Things are really ramping up in these last two episodes before the crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earths. After several episodes spent preparing the team for what is to come, the show’s focus is once again on its hero.
“The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 1” explores Barry’s grief and rage at the unfairness of it all, leading our hero down a dark path that I suspect only Iris can save him from in the end. It’s a very strong episode that serves to get the season back on track, only slightly brought down by the fact that it took so long to explore these emotional beats in the central characters.
In the Face of Death
The episode opens just two short days before Barry is set to die in Crisis, but he doesn’t have time to worry about that because Ramsey is up to no good. He’s kidnapped and infected Ralph, which requires Barry to attempt a blood transfusion. Of course, he gets infected by Ramsey’s blood in doing so.
In a sense, the episode is a dark twist on the Superman story, For the Man Who Has Everything. Barry is presented with the life he could have led, in other circumstances. Everything he stands to lose if he accepts his fate and sacrifices his life for the world. His struggle is undeniably heartbreaking, particularly when he tries to hold his daughter and his arms go right through her. Once again, I feel it bears repeating that Grant Gustin is one of the best actors on the entire damn network, and anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves.
There’s something very seductive about the promises Ramsey makes, if Barry gives in and the two team up together. Even the speed force recognizes it, as well as the reason why. His promises are tempting because they are based on truth. A promise based on a lie would be easy to resist, but everything Ramsey offers could be true – at least in a sense. Of course, not really, because even the speed force points out that giving in would mean Barry would lose the best part of himself. The part that Iris loves.
But Barry’s struggle with temptation is sympathetic because it is based on reality. He’s been given amazing powers that have allowed him to do incredible things, but consider the sacrifices he’s had to make in doing so. The people he’s lost. And now, he faces his own supposedly-inevitable death. Barry’s heart is and has always been with his family – with his parents, Nora and Henry, with his wife, Iris, with his father-in-law, Joe, with his daughter, Nora. There is nothing more important to him. But he has lost so much in being the Flash. His parents murdered. His wife threatened with death by an evil version of himself. The disappearance of his daughter.
Not only is Barry’s anger at the speed force understandable, it’s well-deserved. For a moment, he almost gives into temptation and willingly joins Ramsey. In the end, he tries to hold strong, reminded that it isn’t worth fighting for his life if he loses the part of him that makes him who he is. But it seems that, for now, Ramsey is stronger than the speed force, because the Barry that wakes up isn’t the man we know. And Iris is the first to recognize it.
Is there any doubt she will be the one to bring him back next episode? The episode repeatedly reinforced Iris’s importance to Barry. As we’ve seen many times before, if anyone can get to him, it’s her.
Tragically, of course, she’ll likely have to save him only in order for him to face the fate that awaits him in Crisis. These two simply cannot catch a break.
Central City Citizen
If there’s one area where the show has really dropped the ball this season, in its build-up to Crisis, it’s in giving Iris’s perspective proper attention. At the start of the episode, Iris consoles Barry that he’s gotten them all ready for the upcoming Crisis. But has he? He’s given Frost a birthday party and convinced Cisco to have the self-confidence necessary to lead the team. He named Ralph the next hero of the city. But while Iris started the season determined to find a way to defy fate, she seemed to accept it in this episode. How did she get there, emotionally? Does she really accept the situation, or is she still in denial? Have Barry and Iris really talked about what a future without him would mean? Have they talked about the fact that Nora will never be born if he dies? While Barry’s been preoccupied with getting the team ready (and Iris has been inexplicably more focused on reminding him to get the team ready than in processing her upcoming loss), have they ever taken a moment to mourn the life they wanted to live together?
I’ve said it many, many times, but the West-Allen relationship (and family) are the heart of the show. It’s baffling to me that the focus on naming the next hero of the city has taken prominence in the plot over Barry processing his upcoming death and what it means for the people he’s loved his whole life. It’s absolutely inexplicable that Iris has been denied a voice and perspective for so many episodes leading up to this event that has been teased from the first season.
When she reassured Barry that he’s prepared everyone for Crisis, I was stunned. Did he prepare her for Crisis? Did the two of them prepare each other for what is to come? And if so, how? When? What did that look like? This episode, we thankfully got to see Barry’s regrets for the life he will lose, but what about Iris’s sorrow over the life she will be denied?
Thankfully, we did get a little of Iris’s perspective in this episode, as she and Allegra talk about her upcoming article. I was happy enough to see it that I’ll ignore the fact that I found Allegra’s attitude about being kept in the dark regarding the Flash’s secret identity to be infuriating. If they want the audience to like that character, they aren’t doing her any favors. She’s known Iris for all of five minutes, and one doesn’t have to be a genius to understand why a superhero’s secret identity is usually kept secret for a reason. When her friendship with anyone on the show has a longer shelf life than a bottle of milk, maybe her attitude about being kept in the dark will make sense. Until then, the show really needs to dial back on her sense of entitlement to the secrets of near-strangers.
Frost versus Snow
I’ve written about this several times lately, but I think it bears repeating one more time. What the heck is the show doing with Frost and Snow? I get that the writers are more interested in exploring Frost’s “learning to live a life” than they are in giving Caitlin a plot of her own. I’ve written before about how baffling it is that they focused on Frost being disappointed she might die before getting ice cream, rather than spending five minutes on letting Caitlin process the probable (in their minds) future.
I can only roll my eyes every time they have Frost step in as a doctor instead of utilizing Caitlin in those scenes, making the latter character seem even more redundant and unnecessary. But the utilization of Frost over Caitlin was particularly jarring in this episode. Even in Barry’s own mind – which has no impact on Frost getting a life – it was Frost at the Red Thanksgiving. Not Caitlin.
Then, when seeing Barry unconscious reminded Frost of Ralph being in a similar state earlier in the episode, Frost completely shut down to the point where Cisco had to step in to help Barry after his efforts to get through to her failed.
Well, why on a couple of points there, because Frost once again showed more concern for Ralph in this episode than she ever really shows anyone else. And not for the first time this season. When he was unconscious in the beginning, she was almost hysterical. She’s consistently showed more concern for Ralph this season than even Caitlin, and I’d wonder if that wasn’t leading to something if I didn’t know that both Sawyer and Panabaker shot down a romantic plot between the two in the past.
Still, Frost shut down. She didn’t hand over the reins to Caitlin, and I guess Caitlin didn’t press the issue. Even in scenes where Caitlin would clearly make more sense to be involved as a character, the writers continue to utilize Frost instead. The show is prioritizing Frost over Caitlin to the point of absolute absurdity. According to show runner Eric Wallace, while Caitlin will have more scenes coming up in which she tries to save Ramsey, there will be no scene of her processing Crisis and its implications. It is certainly a choice they’re making, but I cannot for the life of me understand why.
All in all, this was a solid episode, strengthened by hitting many emotional beats that have been lacking thus far this season. And the fact that Gustin and Patton are always able to sell the emotion when given the tiniest shreds of material to work with doesn’t hurt. No doubt the next episode will hit the audience right in the feelings. Still, I can’t help but think that this solid episode would have been aided by giving more focus to the heart of the series in 6A, by having the episodes leading up to it focus more on Barry and Iris struggle to accept their supposed fate.
That Barry would be tempted by Ramsey’s promises make sense when one considers everything he’s gone through over the course of the series. But in this season, it wasn’t something that we really got to see him build up to – that struggle to come to terms with the future he may be about to lose. In its lead in to one of the biggest stories of the show, promised to the audience since the pilot, the show somewhat lost track of its emotional core and failed to really develop how Barry and Iris are preparing themselves and each other for Crisis. And that is a shame. Here’s hoping the next episode makes up for lost time.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.