“The Race of His Life”
Original Airdate: May 24, 2016
"We know you plan to power up the Magnetar so you can destroy the multiverse!"
Ah, bask in the glory of that delicious, ridiculous comic book line. I’ve read and re-read (and listened and re-listened to) that line many times and it still entertains the heck out of me. I want it printed out, framed, and hung on my wall. I want a t-shirt with that line printed across it. I want it stitched onto a throw pillow and given a prominent display place on my couch. If I could pull a Barry Allen and travel back in time, I would make that line my senior quote in my high school yearbook.
(Actually, that’s a lie. I would make my senior quote a line from Hamilton — but the one about the Magnetars and multiverses would be a close second choice and, since I was on the yearbook staff, I’d probably sneak it into the margins of a page somewhere.)
And yeah, using time travel to go back and change my senior quote would be petty — but at least I wouldn’t be erasing any timelines or disrupting an entire universe by doing it, unlike SOME PEOPLE we all know, love, and once compared to puppies...
PLOT, THEN PARADOX
The Flash starts where it left off: Zoom has killed Barry’s dad, except we get a few more heart-wrenching moments of Barry’s reaction and Zoom’s gloating than we got at the end of the previous episode. It’s pretty emotional — obviously, since Grant Gustin is aces at emotional acting — and, I guess, sets up Barry’s mindset for the rest of the episode. And for what he does at the very end of it.
Zoom’s goal is to race Barry, and I’m very confused by this guy’s obsession with racing until it’s made clear that Zoom’s got a world-exploding device called a Magnetar set up and he intends to use Barry’s speed to help him charge it. Not that he needs Barry’s speed, of course — like any good villain, there’s an emotional “win” in taking the hero down a few notches. He wants to make Barry more like himself, wants to prove that he and Barry are the same, regardless of how “heroic” Barry thinks he is.
Since Barry’s not in a good headspace at the moment — there’s a whole lot of talk about revenge and murder, which sends up some alarm bells — Team Flash decides to lock him up and deal with Zoom on their own. This plan goes into action at the halfway mark of the episode, which means it’s destined for failure.
It actually succeeds, though! Except, when Cisco opens up a breach to Earth-2 that sucks Zoom inside, Joe is taken with him. Oops! Understandably, Wally is upset by his newly-found dad getting sucked into an alternate world with a mass murderer. Because Wally is quickly becoming one of my favorites, he immediately releases Barry and tells everyone they’re getting Joe West back. You go, Wally.
Okay, so Barry uses Cisco’s vibe powers to project himself over to Earth-2 and tell Zoom he’s willing to race, in exchange for Joe West — unharmed. Zoom agrees, they meet up at the Magnetar, and a race happens. Barry splits off into a time remnant version of himself, who sacrifices himself to stop the Magnetar from exploding and destroying the planet — and connected Earths in other universes — so, yay! Time Wraiths come out and kill Zoom, too, so double yay!
Everything is bright and beautiful. The Earth-2 Wells Family goes home. Joe’s alive. (A version of) Barry’s alive. That guy in the iron mask who’s been a mystery for most of the season is alive. Heeeey, so this means we can open up that mask and see who’s on the inside! How exciting!
Iron Mask Guy turns out to be an Alternate Earth version of Henry Allen, the Real Jay Garrick. It’s apparently the sight of this parallel version of Barry’s dead dad that makes Barry do the stupidest thing he’s ever done.
THE STUPIDEST THING BARRY’S EVER DONE
Barry and Iris have a mature and understanding heart-to-heart, where Iris tells Barry that she’s more than willing to wait for him to be okay emotionally and mentally before they get together. They have a very pretty, backlit kiss (HUZZAH!) and then separate, sadly (NOT-HUZZAH!) and when Iris is gone, Barry give her a Shakespearean Aside Apology and starts running. We see the familiar scene of Nora Allen’s death, and then Barry’s suddenly there — stopping Reverse Flash from killing his mom.
From the doorway, the Barry that decided not to do this stupid thing (we’ll call him “Smart Barry of Yester-season”) fades out of existence. Dumb Barry looks on, and I like to imagine he had a brief moment of clarity in which he realized how epically terrible a decision this was.
As a fan of this show and this character, I don’t have any idea why Barry’s ethics and consideration for others would shift so dramatically in this way. I can excuse a lot of it as Barry being a mourning son with the ability to go back in time, but... did he think about the consequences of his actions at all?
Barry had no idea what saving his mother would do to his life, or the lives of all the people around him. Everything he and Team Flash accomplished during the two(ish) years they’ve been working together relied on the fact that a series of events happened exactly how they happened. Barry getting his powers, fighting metahumans, saving lives, stopping Reverse-Flash, finding the alternate Earths, stopping Zoom — all of it hinged on Barry’s timeline following the path we’ve seen him follow since the first episode, and Barry saving his mother could affect any aspect of it.
He could have just caused the deaths of any number of people. He probably just brought Zoom — the villain Barry has been single-mindedly dedicated to stopping almost all season — back to life, thus damning all of Earth-2 to fall to Zoom’s reign again. So many things could go wrong, because Barry chose this moment to be unbelievably, insurmountably, agonizingly selfish.
Holy crap, Barry, what on Infinite Earths were you thinking?
“TIME TRAVEL IS REALLY HARD TO WRITE ABOUT.”
There are a couple ways the show could progress without absolutely destroying everything. No matter what, it’s going to take some really good writing to weave this development into the next season in a way that doesn’t make fans feel like they wasted their time with the first two seasons. The Flash is toeing a dangerous line, teetering toward the awful “it was all a dream” cliche, and it needs to think carefully about how to balance what's to come with everything that came before.
It’s not impossible to make this work. Although much of Barry’s life was orchestrated by Eobard Thawne, the existence of speedsters — and Harrison Wells’s particle accelerator explosion — on other Earths means that Barry can still be in the right place at the right time and get his powers. Nora Allen living does not mean that the Flash can’t live alongside her, so the show’s main premise is already pretty safe.
But all the relationships that have built up so far, all the character development we’ve witnessed during the past two seasons? None of that’s safe, and that’s actually pretty sad. I don’t like thinking about a version of The Flash where Joe isn’t basically Barry’s dad or Cisco and Caitlin aren’t a part of Barry’s inner circle. I don’t want the third season of the show to be a reboot of the first season in terms of building relationships. I'm not interested in a revisit of Barry keeping his powers a secret, or learning to trust these people he should already trust because sweet heavens, we’ve all known them for two years and it’s not compelling to us, as viewers, to see our hero mistrust his entire team.
While I question the logic behind the writers creating such a massive headache for themselves, the bottom line is that I don’t hate this finale. When I think about it, there are just as many ways this could go right as there are ways this could go wrong. If the writers are careful and thoughtful about what they’ve done to these shows’ timelines (because, yeah — The Flash is connected to three other shows, so there should be some consequences elsewhere) the third season has a chance of being incredibly compelling and fun to watch.
I mean, Flashpoint is a thing. It’s not like they’re flailing in open waters, here.
BARRY ALLEN PUPPY GIF OF THE EPISODE:
YOU DONE MESSED UP, PUPPY!
- The messier these timelines get, the closer we all get to a TV version of Crisis on Infinite Earths. If the Monitor shows up, you know what’s in the works, folks.
- I never get to talk about Wally much in my recent reviews, but let me just say that he has grown so much since he first appeared. He’s so likable and heroic and wonderful now that I genuinely hope none of that changes next season, and that we can still see him a lot. Him trying to comfort Barry after the funeral was just wonderful.
- “It’s like I’m watching Transformers in 4D — but, like, ten times more realistic. And with much better acting.” Hee. Cisco.
- "Barry has an ample number of fathers to kill." Haaaaarsh, Zoom.
- Joe laughing as he says, "It was killing you!" to Hunter Zolomon is my favorite. I love you, Joe, please don't let the messed up timeline change you.
- "Don't worry, I'm gonna save your dad." "No, you're gonna save our dad." I hate that, in the newly-created universe, Joe will no longer be Barry’s “dad.”
- "Ramon, you're gonna be great." And infinite sad-faces at the lack of Cisco and Harry friendship in the new universe.
- “Have you ever worked with a tool before?” “I’m working with one right now.”
- "My dad told me his mother's maiden name was Garrick!" You gotta pay attention to the foreshadowing in your life, Barry.