A review of last night's The Flash coming up just as soon as I have a morgue-morgue…
Hey, there's the show I liked so much in the first place!
Last week, I noted that this season had become too grim, and too much a rehash of season 1's Reverse-Flash arc, only with a much less compelling villain, and wondered if the creative team – some of them involved in up to four different superhero shows across two networks – was being stretched too thin.
Leave it to a pair of Flash newbies – albeit two guys with a lot of experience reading and/or writing superhero stories – in writer Zack Stentz and director Kevin Smith to come in and craft the best Flash episode of the season, which side-stepped nearly all the show's recent stumbling blocks and found the tonal sweet spot that allowed Barry to be constantly on the verge of tears in the same episode where Cisco and Iris were bantering up a storm, and that could follow up Barry and Iris' epic Speed Force reunion with Cisco and Wells' hilarious apologetic looks as they explained the Zombie Girder situation to Barry.
It helped that Zoom only appeared in the final minutes (and once again left me wondering if we'd all been better off had they cast Tony Todd in full and not just his voice). But “The Runaway Dinosaur” had an incredibly strong command of the regular characters throughout. And, in the case of Iris, this was the best and most fun she's ever been. The show has stumbled a lot with her from the start, whether keeping her out of the Flash loop too long or the recent romantic business where she's been more or less, “Well, everyone keeps telling me I'm destined to end up with Barry, so I guess I maybe sort of should probably just accept that even if I'm not really feeling it myself.” This was a much more assertive Iris, with more of an obvious role on Team Flash (albeit during an outing where Barry was largely absent), and someone whose reactions to Cisco felt amusing in a way that was unique to that particular combo. And for all the problems the show has had in the past at trying to make Barry/Iris happen, their connection in the swirl of Speed Force lightning had a grandeur the pairing very badly needed.
Of course, that scene was visually reminiscent of the climax of Guardians of the Galaxy (which also involved the hero getting emotional closure about the death of his mother when he was a boy), just as the device of having the Speed Force appear to Barry as various loved ones is a familiar genre trope (it's how the Bajoran prophets appeared to Ben Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, for instance). But tropes become tropes because they have power, and these were used to tell a very Flash-specific story about Barry's need to accept the reality – and necessity – of his mother's death (something the season 1 finale had to gloss over a bit, given how much plot it was carrying) and just how deep his bond to the Speed Force runs. The episode also did a nice job of dancing around whether there was more to “Nora” than to the other Speed Force incarnations Barry met during his stay there; it could be that the powers that the Speed Force chose to humanize itself more in that moment to help Barry get the necessary epiphany, or it could be that, because Nora was killed by a speedster, her spirit wound up there rather than some other places in the greater cosmology of the DC Universe. It was ambiguous enough to let us treat the relationship as real, so we'd be as wrecked as Barry was at the final reading of the eponymous children's book.
We'll see what happens now that Barry is back in Central City and the conflict with Zoom will surely dominate the season's final episodes. But this was wonderful, and a pleasant surprise. Kevin Smith loves this material, and has written some pretty dark stories when he's dabbled at Marvel or DC, but he's got a pretty specific tone and style to his work (even his one previous television episode, the Reaper pilot, felt very much him), and I wouldn't have expected him to so seamlessly handle an episode this ambitious and all over the place emotionally. But he did. Bravo.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org