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Friday, July 15, 2022

The Flash 8x20 Review: "Negative, Part Two" (Finale Frustrations) [Contributor: Deborah M]

“Negative, Part Two”
Original Airdate: June 29, 2022

It’s finale time again! “Negative, Part Two” is as convoluted and haphazard a finale as one would expect from a season full of vague explanations and looming questions lacking satisfactory answers. All the bad habits this show has developed over the years make an appearance, from confusing motivations to convenient character flaws to developments that stretch the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. It’s definitely not the positive outro we got last season, which makes me respect that finale a whole lot more.


We start where we left off last week, with the newly-resurrected Reverse Flash and... wait. I know Tom Cavanagh is a decent actor. He’s been fine during most of his run on this show. But what in the world is he doing in this opening scene? Not only do we get growl-acting and William Shatner-esque pauses, but also incomprehensible hand gestures, all of which is really distracting for what should be a tense and emotional moment. I just needed to point this out, because it’s weird.

Anyway, Thawne explains how the Negative Forces chose him to replace the Negative Speed Force and mocks killing both Barry’s mom and Iris. Of course, Barry flips out and attacks Thawne, only backing down with the arrival of Nora and Bart to tell Barry that killing Thawne would make him “just as bad as” the time-traveling mass murderer who has openly admitted that his only goal in life is to make Barry and everyone associated with Barry miserable. 

I’ve beat this drum before, but: no, Barry would not be “just as bad” as Thawne if he killed him. Thawne has proven time and time again that he cannot be contained in a jail and he cannot be changed for the better. While I don’t believe even killing him would solve the problem of this man-shaped bad penny, the fact that the characters refuse to see it as an option is frankly ridiculous. Doubly ridiculous is the idea that Barry killing him would be on equal ground with all Thawne’s past, present, and future crimes. This is a thing the characters bring up not because it’s a moral hard line — Joe has surely killed criminals in his role as a police officer, do Nora and Bart think he’s the same as a time-traveling serial killer? I doubt it! — but because the writers can’t think of another way to keep Eobard Thawne around except by having the characters refuse to kill him. This isn’t about ethics, it’s about poor writing.

Thawne disappears in a burst of black-white nega-sparkles, leaving everyone to convene for an angry meeting of Team Flash in the next scene. Before we go, though: a quick bit of kudos to Kausar Mohammed, the actress playing Meena, for clearly portraying “the love of my life just got his face torn off in front of me” while every other person in the scene focuses on Barry and Barry’s anger instead. Poor Meena’s pain gets almost no consideration despite her love for Eobard being paralleled to Barry and Iris’s love, so it’s good the actress got to give something.

Barry still wants to kill Thawne because he’s absolutely certain that Iris is dead. Yeah, Barry Allen — whose relationship with Iris has been consistent stubborn denial of anything telling them they can’t be together — has immediately given up on ever getting his wife back. Nope. She’s just dead to him now and he’s moved on to revenge. Barry, you know “acceptance” is supposed to be the last stage of grief, right? Not the first? I think Barry might be getting grief confused with having a drinking problem.

Of course Iris isn’t actually dead. She was saved by the Time Stone used by Damien Darhk during the Armageddon storyline at the beginning of this season, delivering her to an echo of an erased timeline, and — hey! Damien Darhk is here! Aw, buddy, I’m as glad to see you as I am annoyed to have to type your name. That stray ‘h’ is just never where my instincts expect it to be.

Darhk is around to be amusing and deliver some exposition on what’s been happening with this convoluted season. Although, since all he does is say that Iris’s time sickness was her being used as an incubator for the new Negative Speed Force avatar and she’s determined enough to defy death, I probably shouldn’t call it exposition. That word has connotations of excessive detail and Darhk’s explanation tells us virtually nothing about how any of this was possible or why it worked. Anyway, Iris also doesn’t feel connected to Barry anymore, which I suppose explains why Barry went full-tilt into despair and revenge — still, even in The Flash’s universe most people don’t feel a supernatural connection to their loved ones and manage to have a little hope.

Iris isn’t the only one visiting deleted timelines! Thawne appears in a static version of that deleted timeline where he and Iris were together. The Negative Forces show up, Tom Cavanagh continues to make weird acting decisions (more incomprehensible arm movements, plus it looks like someone bet him he couldn’t say all his lines without moving his lips and Cavanagh plays to win) and then the Negative Forces turn him into the Negative Speed Force avatar.

Back in the real world, Cecile tries to talk some sense into Barry but is interrupted by a staticky call for help from Bashir, the severely weakened Sage Force. No, it is not adequately explained why time sickness utterly debilitates the Forces while the Negative Forces losing one-fourth of their team only makes them angry and still capable of creating an avatar for a Negative Speed Force that doesn’t exist anymore. We just have to accept it.

Barry, Nora, and Bart try traveling to the Negative Speed Force but the devices fail. Frustrated, Meena zips off in anger to destroy the machine she and Eobard created because she thinks it’s all the machine’s fault, even though I’m pretty sure Eobard would’ve been killed no matter what because of the whole timeline thing. Barry talks her down and asks her to share her speed with him, since she taps into the Negative Speed Force. Why wasn’t she your first option?

All this Negative Speed Force travel stuff culminates in a short scene in which Barry gets there and the Negative Forces show up to blame him for causing all the problems when he cut Thawne off from his speed. Something, something, destroying the Negative Speed Force avatar means Barry “upset the balance” — oh please, the original versions of you guys didn’t even exist until last season! What are you talking about, “the balance”? You’re the ill-conceived creations of a writer’s room running on fumes! “Balance?” I’d “balance” the lot of you into an active volcano.

Thawne’s transformation into an avatar finishes and he gets plopped in the middle of town with a new black suit and a penchant for killing folks at random. Barry, Nora, Bart, and Meena confront him, but Thawne quickly zaps the other three into the past in order to face Barry alone. 

Meanwhile, Cecile has her own thing going on as she tries to strengthen Bashir with the begrudging help of those psychic metas whose powers she accidentally stole. They all do a little seance to call Bashir to them, and Bashir gives Cecile his mask to wear in order to reabsorb her powers and transfer them to him, restoring him and (for some reason) the rest of the Forces. I suspect the original plan was to get one member of Team Flash to help an associated Force, but that obviously fell through so… yeah. Just one needs to be helped and they’re all fine now.

The Forces arrive at the fight between Barry and Thawne, do a glowy thing where they all get absorbed by Barry and give him equal power to Thawne, leading to a drag-out fight that nearly levels the city. Iris “reignites” the spark between her and Barry, which gets her out of the Time Stone and revived in the real world. Jay Garrick zips her to the speedster fight, just in time to talk some sense into Barry about collateral damage, so Barry takes the pacifist option and... meditates Thawne to death? There’s some vague hand-wave explanation about Thawne’s thirst for power leading to his destruction, but yeah. Barry wins the fight by meditating. Thawne is ostensibly dead, but I have no faith he’ll stay that way.

We’ve arrived at the denouement, with Barry and Iris contemplating the inevitable return of a Negative Speed Force avatar while we get an ominous shot of a glowing blue crystal on June 29, 2049. Welp. That’s a problem for the future, I guess. Bye for now, everyone!

Other Things:

  • Caitlin’s plotline: unknown! We don’t see Frost or Caitlin, but Mark looks terrified and confused by whatever comes out of that regeneration chamber.
  • “This is a nice office.” Bashir can join Damien Darhk as the only levity in this episode.
  • “Who’s his new tailor? Satan?!” Okay, there’s also Bart.
  • “It was all ‘aster’ — no ‘dis’.” “I don’t even know what that means.” Let. Grant. Gustin. Do. More. Comedy!

Friday, July 1, 2022

The Flash 8x19 Review: "Negative, Part One" (Converging Convolution) [Contributor: Deborah M]

“Negative, Part One”
Original Airdate: June 22, 2022

The penultimate episode of The Flash’s eighth season has arrived as the first part of a two-part finale — and boy, is it convoluted! I fully expected things to get a little crazy because this season had about ten plots to tie up but not enough content in any of them to slowly roll out information in a way that was intriguing and measured, but this is... a lot. Again, I ask how this show can be eight seasons in and still so bad at pacing.


We start off in 2049, where Bart and Nora are playing some video games before being interrupted by a call from Iris. Then that call is interrupted by Iris disappearing in green sparkles and a younger version of Iris appearing in the room, having been deposited there by our old friend Time Sickness. Or, actually, Deon — but we’ll get to that stuff in a bit. Nora wants to run her not-yet-mom back to the past to get help from Barry, but the same sort of barrier that stopped her and Barry from leaving the Still Force earlier this season is preventing Iris from traveling.

Meanwhile, back in 2022, Barry and Eobard are helping Meena with her training when she decides to push herself too far and gets flung off the superspeed treadmill. Meena has a bit of a freak-out, runs off, and has to be talked down by Barry, who de-masks to reveal his secret identity in order to push the idea of heroes being ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Does Barry enjoy revealing his secret identity to people? Is it just fun for him? Meena is the fourth person this season, after Despero, Chief Kramer, and Mark Blaine. Having calmed down from her crisis, Barry dubs Meena “Fast Track” and they return to the labs.

Over on Lian Yu, Deon kills Thawne by rapidly aging him until he’s naught but a Spirit Halloween decorative mummy. This sends off all kinds of alarms to Team Flash, and Barry zips over to find the corpse. Before anyone’s hopes of Thawne being gone forever get too high, though, the Negative Forces show up to try and kill the other Eobard Thawne. Yeah, that’s right: Negative Forces. The godlike beings the show wasted far too much time on last season, slowly and deliberately converting them from villains to good guys? They’re back, they’re evil again, and they’re duller than ever.

Barry manages to keep the Negative Forces from killing Eobard, but just barely. In the fight, Barry’s speed gets messed up in the same way the accidental lightning bolt from Meena’s Negative Force powers affected him last week. Connecting the dots leads to the Negative Forces realization, and a trip Nora takes from 2049 further reveals that the reason why the Negative Forces are attacking is because cutting Thawne off from the Negative Speed Force disappeared Negative Speed Force Nora and the Negative Forces are now out for revenge. I love writing sentences that would be utterly incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t seen this show. That one’s borderline incomprehensible to people who have seen this show.

Chatting with Nora also helps Barry figure out that Iris’s time sickness was just a way for Iris to infect the other Forces and weaken them, since Negative Deon knew Deon would try to help. It’s not clear why Iris, specifically, was infected or at what point the Negative Forces had access enough to infect her, especially since no one knew they existed before this episode and their existence barely makes sense. The Still Force is the opposite of the Speed Force but there’s also the Negative Still Force and the Negative Speed Force, so they’re opposites of each other and also have extra-extra opposites… Oh, jeez, why do I keep trying to understand the mess of this show’s lore?

Team Flash has to prepare for another showdown with the Forces and Meena is stressing out again and is sorry that Eobard isn’t the one with the super speed, since she never wanted it. Meena’s reservations about being a hero seem to be the closest we get to an emotional foundation of the episode. It’s minor — which is to be expected, since the first of a two-parter isn’t going to be fully formed on levels of character or plot — but it’s there. 

The problem is we don’t know Meena well enough on this, her third episode, to fully dig into what makes her tick. Her fears even shift in the episode, going from the “I want to be a hero but I’m not cut out for it because I’m just a person” panic that Barry helps her through in the beginning to “I never wanted to be a hero, I just wanted to help other people be heroes” panic that Eobard helps her through toward the end. Being a complex person with multiple fears she can’t grasp and verbalize is great for a character, but when it’s all done in the span of an episode it seems like the writers weren’t paying attention and hoped the audience wouldn’t be either.

Anyway, Barry suddenly has the idea of sharing Meena’s powers with Eobard, a thing that has never happened and probably shouldn’t have entered Barry’s mind as possible. The entire conflict of Meena getting powers instead of Eobard is based on the fact that their speedster-generator can only grant speed to one person! And now they can just hold hands and share speed, without halving said speed’s power at all, because Barry suddenly knows that’s a thing? Whatever! Fine! Moving on! Eobard has the Reverse Flash costume and he’s a speedster now.

The fight between Team Flash and the Negative Forces commences, intercut with scenes of Iris having time sickness headaches in the future. Now three speedsters work together against the Negative Forces, while Iris gets visions of events that have happened throughout the episode, including Deon talking about how “sacrifices” must be made. It was assumed that Thawne was the sacrifice, since Deon killed him, but just as Iris realizes that’s not the case, Barry ramps up a lightning bolt to throw at the Negative Forces.

Instead, Deon snaps Iris into the path of the lightning bolt, killing her. As Barry mourns Iris, her body disappears into green sparkles that swoop into Eobard, who starts buckling over in pain. In without a doubt the grossest thing this show has ever done, Eobard peels off his own face to reveal the other Thawne’s face, laughing maniacally.

Other Things:

  • Other plotlines: Cecile can steal other psychic metas’ powers now and she’s becoming the most powerful meta ever, apparently. Maybe we’ll get more info about that next episode. Also, one scene of Caitlin stepping into a machine she and Mark Blaine built to resurrect Frost.
  • The quick-cut edits where Meena’s freaking out by a dumpster weren’t the usual style of this show, but I liked it.
  • Meena, after a Barry-delivered pep talk: “Damn, that’s good.” “I have my moments.” Roughly once an episode, in fact.
  • This episode gets a Cisco mention! I miss you, Cisco.
  • What is this show’s obsession with Tom Cavanagh playing Reverse Flash/Eobard Thawne even though that makes absolutely no sense since that is NOT HIS FACE.