What a beautiful episode of television.
The Flash doesn’t get accused of being very deep very often — not with its upbeat cast, fun freaks of the week and positive hero — but this episode should erase all of the notions that The Flash isn’t an emotionally-driven show. It’s undeniably the series’ best episode because it’s deeply rooted in character and tragedy.
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The only thing Barry Allen has always wanted was to amend the wrongs of the past and make his family whole again. It’s all there in the pilot — and even his two-episode stint on Arrow — that Barry wanted to solve his mother’s murder and set his father free. And this episode gives him the opportunity to do that and it smartly gives Barry the time to properly weight that increasingly complicated decision to go back to the past. The Flash is playing with many popular science fiction conventions like destiny and free will, and it wisely plays up the humanity of its main hero (and a surprising hero) with his unique relationships to everyone in this reality, making the decision to change his destiny all the more harder.
This is not an episode of The Flash that represents the series’ best, but it’s also at its most emotionally honest and oddly satisfying. It’s an episode that shows Barry as a kind, flawed hero who makes the decision not to save his mother — not because he didn’t love her, but because doing so would change everything, too much so. It could be easy to write off the fact that Barry is an idiot for not saving his mother, but thanks to Grant Gustin‘s performance, you see how much more difficult it is.
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1 Minute & 52 Seconds
Here’s the part where I admit I predicted this finale to a T. I’m not saying I predicted everything — Caitlin’s wedding to Ronnie is way out of left field, considering we haven’t seen her have a plotline since that time she almost chose Wells over Team Flash — but I predicted the big stuff. The ‘Barry travels back in time and chooses not to save his mother’ and the ‘Eddie sacrifices himself’ bits. But that’s because they were so beautifully set in place to do this.
First of all, who doesn’t love the tragedy of it all? Barry gets what he wants most of all — the chance to save his mother — but he doesn’t. Not because his relationship with Joe or Iris or the crew at S.T.A.R. Labs is more important and he really doesn’t care about his mother, but because of something more.
We know Barry will decide to go back in time, but the arguments for and against are incredibly compelling coming from his closest family. Joe forces a grim smile and tells Barry to save his mother because he will always be his father, regardless of the timeline. Yet Henry says not to because Barry’s at risk of losing himself, whereas Iris insists that Barry follow his heart and take care of himself for a change.
Barry’s literally choosing himself in this scenario, or the man he is today in spite of tragedy and because of it. He’s choosing the Barry who suffered a great tragedy at an early age instead of the one that one day creates one pissed-off Reverse Flash. He’s choosing the known rather than the unknown because, as he puts it, Barry Allen likes his life. Barry Allen is given the chance to accept that he can change.
I mean, what a better way to wrap up a storyline like that, where the hero gets what he wants, to save the day, and he realizes that he just can’t. Literally, future Barry tells him not to. So Barry travels back in time to hold his mother’s hand as she dies. If you don’t think that’s beautiful and tragic, I have nothing else to say about that. It’s the perfect resolution to Barry’s character arc, and where it will propel him, I do not know. But I trust that the writers will take us somewhere as wonderfully felt and earned.
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The Ultimate Sacrifice
Eddie has been mishandled as a character for most of the season, with the writers forgetting that he exists most of the time or is a person. However, Eddie is given the Tommy Merlyn treatment in the finale, which includes a true hero’s death for the woman he loves. (Honestly, watching Arrow helped clue me in on this narrative choice.)
Eddie has always been the wildcard, the anomaly that Martin Stein deems him because no one was exactly sure of his place in the show’s timeline (which, it admits, is an alternate timeline) or on the show, for that matter. There were intentional misdirections so we could ponder if Eddie was the Reverse Flash or a bad guy, but that isn’t the case. Eddie is the ancestor to one crazy Eobard Thawne and was the good guy who loved the wrong girl and said screw the future. He chose his own destiny and Iris chose him.
Then he decided to blow the future in the face by shooting himself in the chest, effectively killing one angry Reverse Flash and the hearts of any Eddie and Iris shippers (I do not know the name of the ship, though I’m sure there are supporters). Eddie’s sacrifice really is a game changer as it causes a massive black hole to engulf Central City.
I’m not saying this episode is perfect — if you squint hard enough, you’ll see the cracks — but it does what The Flash does best: emotional, melodramatic superhero-scaled storytelling. Here’s to a great season 2.
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— Good luck, Ezra Miller, you’ll really need it for that future feature film. In my book, Grant Gustin is the definitive performance as Barry Allen. Quick aside: what on earth are the people at DC thinking to use Barry Allen as a feature Flash when they already have a more than capable Gustin? They had an easy out to choose Wally West, but instead they made this decision.
— The Reverse Flash/Wells is possibly my favorite sociopath on television at the moment. There’s far too many to choose from, but Wells takes the prize because he’s an incredibly rational being that was driven to madness, but one also capable of intense love and pride. It’s all there in Tom Cavanagh’s quite amazing performance. When Cisco tells Wells he killed him, it’s all on the table. His casual admittance that if he killed Cisco he must have had a good reason, but that he still loved them. Same with his scene with Barry — he hates and loves him all the same. Again, The Flash is not known for nuance, but it’s so underestimated, as are its very talented staff.
— Another very important scene I’d like to quickly talk about is the scene where Iris and Barry meet in their special spot. Acknowledging that their feelings are weird since they were sort of raised as siblings, Iris and Barry really do love each other in a lot of different ways. The fact that they can put this on hold and be supportive of one another is a testament to their relationship. Basically, brava.
— Among the past and future lineups as Barry travels back in time, we see Killer Frost (squee!), Barry in prison (*raised eyebrows*) and a confirmation that Cisco is a metahuman. Plus, a mention of Rip.
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— Again, I think it’s so easy to criticize Barry for shortchanging Nora, but it’s a really powerful character-based decision. I can understand any criticisms of “fridging” Nora for character development too, but I disagree. Maybe I’m just a little in love with the tragedy of it all.
— Finally, a shoutout to all the Iris West and Caitlin Snow lovers, and to the writers, cast and crew of The Flash for a great first season and for everyone reading these. Here’s to a great second season.
(Image courtesy of The CW)