Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Flash 5x08 Review: "What's Past Is Prologue" (Memory Lane) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

"What's Past Is Prologue"
Original Airdate: December 5, 2018 

Welcome, one and all, to the 100th episode of The Flash! Ah, a hundred whole episodes of this gloriously goofy and occasionally grim show about a dude who runs really fast. Can you believe it? Seems like only yesterday we met Barry “Humanoid Labradoodle Puppy” Allen... sigh. But anyway, what does the show have in store for us during this milestone episode?

Turns out, it’s time travel! ...Yeah, that’s pretty much par for the course. Keep on doing dumb things, The Flash. I do love you for it.


Team Flash is still trying to get info on Orlin Dwyer, the human alter-ego of Cicada, but they’re not coming up with a whole lot of helpful information. They think they’ve figured out why he’s targeting metas; they assume it’s because Orlin’s sister was murdered by a metahuman, but as I said last week, we never really get that impression from the flashbacks. It always seemed more like the doctor helping him had more influence over his actions than any sense of sadness or revenge, but I suppose I can’t expect Team Flash to jump to that particular conclusion.

Cicada’s dagger is the most crucial obstacle for the team, but Nora comes up with an elaborate plan to negate its power-dampening power: she and Barry will go back through time and collect materials that can counteract the dark energy and magnetic properties of the dagger by using Savitar’s suit and the Speed Force transmitter used by Zoom to steal Barry’s speed, recalibrated with the energy from the original particle accelerator explosion. Right. Okay, I think I got it. And they’re going to keep their plan a secret from Cicada by planting the items in the past for their future selves to find? I guess? This is seriously a hundred episodes worth of convoluted, I’ll say that much.

After short diversion during which Barry wants to keep Nora from time traveling with him (Iris talks some sense into him), the two speedsters decide they’ll go to the past together. Cisco et al. have pinpointed the perfect dates and times for Barry and Nora to travel to, so that they can avoid making too many ripples in the timestream. These moments just so happen to be important moments in the history of the show, too — when you boil it down, we’ve basically got The Flash’s version of a clip show. But, you know, better?

Barry and Nora are ready to go to the past. Ralph even cues up Huey Lewis and the News’s “Back in Time” to mark this momentous occasion that happens way too often. I’m not denying that the music is actually a really cute moment, though. I always applaud the show for its forays into corny whimsy, and nothing’s cornier than Huey Lewis and the News.

First stop: the end of the Savitar fight from season three. I’m getting flashbacks to how horrendously boring that whole season was. Yeesh. Past-Barry phases into Savitar’s suit, it explodes, Nora grabs the tiniest shard imaginable, and ends up witnessing Iris shooting Savitar-Barry in the back. Nora’s life is a world of weird, let me tell you. She runs off with Barry after that, both pursued by a Time Wraith. You guys remember Time Wraiths? Because I sure didn’t until this episode reminded me they existed.

Back through time. Barry and Nora are tossed out of the Speed Force and into 2016, just before Zoom steals Barry’s speed and kidnaps Caitlin. While the others play out a past episode, Barry searches for the transmitter Zoom used and Nora witnesses a scene of Iris comforting Barry in the hallway. Harrison Wells — the angry, mildly antagonistic version from Earth-2 — interrupts Barry’s search and almost breaks the transmitter in a fit of rage. Barry manages to distract him with an idea for finding then-missing Jesse, dodges an encounter with Zoom, and he and Nora zip back into the Speed Force.

Unfortunately, they had been running from Zoom, so their aim at a timeline wasn’t exactly precise. Barry and Nora stumble out of the Speed Force and accidentally break the transmitter. After fighting about whether they should seek out Eobard Thawne-Wells for help with the broken transmitter, Barry stumbles across an unconscious version of himself. Turns out, they landed in that episode from the second season where Barry traveled back in time to ask Thawne about running faster. Jeez, there have been so many stupid time travel gambits in this show I had actually forgotten about that one.

With little choice left to them, Barry and Nora decide to visit Thawne-Wells after all. Thawne spends a little time trying to figure out who Nora is, first guessing a couple lady speedsters before settling on her being Barry’s daughter. Apparently, Thawne is more familiar with a universe that’s closer to the comic books, in which Barry’s daughter is named Dawn. Nora, by the way, is terrified of Thawne during their encounter, which is understandable enough when the guy is screaming about going home, but there’s definitely a sense that she knows more about how dangerous he is than she should.

Thawne fixes the transmitter while dropping a few digs at Savitar-Barry that I can’t help but agree with. Also, Barry tells him that the idea of using Savitar’s suit to get Cicada’s dagger was Nora’s. Thawne-Wells looks impressed and calls Nora a “clever girl,” but must speed back to the plot of that season two episode before he can say much else. Onto the particle accelerator explosion!

The version of Thawne-Wells that no one knows is actually Thawne-Wells is about to turn on the particle accelerator when he senses something amiss. It is, of course, Barry and Nora arriving. Hiding out in Thawne’s secret room, Barry activates the Gideon computer and sets it to work doing something… important, I guess? The audio cuts out while Nora tries to poke at the Reverse-Flash speed suit, which Barry interrupts. He tells Nora the reason why he hates Thawne so much: Thawne killed Barry’s mom, hoping a truly tragic event would break Barry and prevent him from becoming the Flash. Thawne really needs to read more comics. Tragedy creates heroes, you doof!

Once Gideon finishes recalibrating or whatever, the particle accelerator explodes. We get shots of people affected by this show’s major catalyst — from season one’s shot of Barry getting struck by lightning to last season’s shot of DeVoe getting struck by lightning. Ah, we’ve come so far on this single plot device. Let us appreciate all it’s given us in a hundred episodes, just for a moment...

Moment’s over. Barry stashes the dark matter-dosed transmitter in a pillar at the hospital and he and Nora return before Huey Lewis finishes playing. With twenty minutes left in the episode, Barry actually thinks he’s about to get Cicada. Ha! You poor, foolish Labradoodle. No, instead, you’re going to fight Cicada, almost win, launch his dagger into space, and he’s going to recall it. From space. What? And then Killer Frost will save everyone from getting murdered because she’s actually immune to Cicada’s powers thanks to being a non-dark matter meta, which is a neat reveal, but... what?

Cicada gets away, but here’s a twist! All episode, Sherloque has been suspicious of Nora and her journal full of time language code. It kinda makes him seem sort of shady (he even repeats the “clever girl” line from Thawne-Wells earlier) but things only get more intriguing when we see that some of Sherloque’s translation of Nora’s journal reads “the timeline is malleable.” ...What?

After taking a quick trip back to watch the original Nora and Henry in the past and have a father-daughter moment with Barry, Nora uploads her journal to Gideon, sending it to “the same recipient.” Nora then decides to deliver a message to said recipient and does a bit more time traveling. She arrives in 2049, angry at someone who’s revealed to be... Thawne-Wells! Probably! I can’t really explain why Thawne would still be wearing Wells’s face and there have been so many versions of Harrison Wells that he could be literally anyone, but the episode does seem to be hinting at this being Thawne-Wells, so let’s go with it.

Other Things:

  • Holy crap, Tom Cavanagh directed this episode and played three (four, if you count Thawne pretending to be Wells) technically different characters? Applause to you, man.
  • I loved everyone talking over each other while trying to figure out the best name for a power-dampening dagger dampener. Moments that give me the impression these actors have a lot of fun on set are my favorite.
  • Thawne-Wells and Cisco doing an awkward handshake puts the “awkward handshake” count of the season on two, I think. New running joke?
  • Next week: Crossover event!


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