Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Flash 7x09 Review: "Timeless" (Senseless) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“Timeless”
Original Airdate: May 11, 2021

Hey, remember last week when the Speed Force straight-up killed a lady? Well, the show wants you to know that wasn’t a big deal and when you meet a murderer, you should just hug them. Hug it out with a coldblooded killer and you’ll cure them of ever murdering anyone ever again. It’ll be great! Thanks for the life lessons, The Flash. I don’t know what I’d do without you.

(SOUNDS OF FRUSTRATED SCREAMING IN THE DISTANCE)

Okay, usually my reviews are mostly plot recap with a little commentary sprinkled in, but I can't do the usual with this episode. Because this episode has broken my ability to understand what, exactly, is going on with The Flash. In fact, I don't think The Flash knows what's going on with The Flash. If they do know, they sure are hiding it well behind a fa├žade of mixed moral lessons, questionable motivations, and forced plotlines.

But here's a little plot recapping just to get everyone on board with where I’m going: last week, the Speed Force killed a person. A human person with dreams, loved ones, fears, and all the other human things that make a person human. The Speed Force killed this person — Alexa — intentionally, in cold blood and with malice aforethought, and after she finished she promised our heroes that she would kill again because the Speed Force wants to kill the other Forces before they can get to her.

And the other Forces themselves are not innocent. The one who can manipulate fears basically tortures people for funsies and the one who can manipulate time is full of all the malignant rage of a high school bully. So the problem of the episode is what to do with these Forces, including the murdering one who used to be an ally. Barry wants to make it so the Forces never existed in the first place by going back in time (Which, no! No, Barry. For the love of all that is good in the world I am begging you and the writers who make you this dumb to forget that you can travel through time!) and stopping them at their creation.

Iris, on the other hand, wants to reason with the Forces, starting with the Speed Force. Also known as the budding serial killer. Iris, by the way, is presented as the moral heart of this episode — she's the one we're supposed to agree with while we think Barry is going down a very bad, fruitless path with his time travel plan. And yes, Barry is in fact going down a very bad, fruitless path with his time travel plan, but not for the reasons the show wants us to think. Barry's time travel plan is very bad and fruitless because it's Barry freaking Allen attempting to go back in time and that has literally never worked out for him, but the show actually wants us to think his path is wrong because it's not the path of mercy that Iris has chosen.

Barry makes his decision to take out the Forces with time travel, Iris argues for leniency, they fight and split Team Flash to carry out their particular plans. While working on his plan, Barry calls in Timeless Wells and gets Cisco and Chester on his side. As they're working, Deon appears and plays school bully again. Cisco loses faith in the Barry plan and wants to go the way of Iris and it's implied that Chester is faltering as well but stays loyal to Barry because he's Barry, not because his way is right. When Barry is feeling down, even the pep talk Joe gives him pushes things to the side of forgiveness rather than trying to erase the very dangerous beings Barry and Iris accidentally set loose when they were trying to restore Barry's speed.

Even Barry eventually “comes to his senses” after traveling back in time, capturing the particles that would become the Forces, witnessing their almost-creation and deciding to let them be. The whole Barry/Iris/The Forces connection is all framed around the idea of the Forces being Barry and Iris’s children, and they should try and influence them into being good instead of outright denying their existence. Joe likens it to when Wally first showed up and was acting like a juvenile delinquent.

Except these cosmic forces with godlike powers aren’t wayward children spray-painting strip malls or shoplifting from Wal-Mart! Furthermore, the show never once mentions what the human beings being inhabited by the Forces actually think about their new dual identities. Last week, Alexa was terrified of the thought of being Fuerza. We haven’t seen Deon or the still-nameless human Psych used to be without the influence of their Forces; for all we know, they could be quivering in horror in the back of their own minds as some entity uses their memories and emotions to power their bodies like meat puppets. None of this is brought up, and none of this is questioned by any of the characters. Instead, it’s taken as a given that the humans want to be Forces and separating them from their new powers would be akin to murdering them.

And why are our heroes completely ignoring the elephant in the room that is bodily autonomy? Why is everyone so eager to be diplomatic rather than aggressive regarding the Forces, to the point of painting Barry as a misguided soul about to commit a dastardly deed when he goes to remove them from existence? Well, there’s a horrible habit that some writers have — that writers as seasoned as the ones on The Flash should not have — where the only way the behavior of the characters and progression of the plot make sense is if the characters know an outcome they shouldn't know yet. I suspect that’s the issue at the core of this episode, and why watching it live made me feel like I was taking freaking crazy pills.

I want to be wrong, but I can’t help assuming the lack of hostility on the part of the characters toward the Forces (the Speed Force included) is all because they’ll eventually be proven correct for that lack of hostility. Through the kind of prescience only powered by shoddy writing, the characters know this is the correct path because they’ve read the script and know it’ll all work out in the end. In other words, they can’t get rid of the Forces now or hate them now because the Forces need to be made into upstanding citizens of the universe later.

I’m making this assumption based on the fact that the show gave us a little microcosm of this fourth wall prescience on the part of the characters as a subplot in this episode: Iris’s immediate forgiveness of the Speed Force for murdering Alexa. All the characters’ reactions to the murder of Alexa, actually — which is to say, how most of them didn’t react all that much. It’s because they all knew that, by the end of the episode, some magical technobabble nonsense would mean Barry and Iris would be able to use their connection to each other and the Forces to raise Alexa from the dead.

So it turns out the Speed Force isn’t a murderer after all! And, in fact, she can’t be. Even though she goes after Deon at the end of the episode, we don’t have to worry about her killing again because Barry and Iris can just fix him later if he dies. Convenient! I am annoyed.

Other Things:

  • This episode should not have been named after Timeless Wells, who basically just acts as a time-shield keeping Barry from getting his grubby hands all over the past.
  • “‘Kay, did Nora kill somebody else?” He’s nonchalant about it, but at least Chester does acknowledge the fact that the Speed Force killed someone.
  • “I want to go back in time.” Name a more terrifying sentence to be spoken by Barry Allen.
  • I actually have no idea how Barry’s plan is logical as a way to time travel without affecting the timeline. People are the timeline, Barry. If you go back in time and stop Fuerza from existing, for example, she can’t kill Abra Kadabra — that’s affecting the timeline. You have messed up the universe with time travel so many times, how do you still not understand the butterfly effect?
  • I can’t believe we just had an episode where one of our heroes got slammed with a life sentence for a handful of non-lethal crimes and this episode is mostly spent arguing how it’s actually fine to forgive and forget murder.

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