The midseason finale for The Flash showed us Julian Indiana-jonesing it, Cisco seeing ghosts, and this was all setup for a complex episode which gave everyone some emotional advancement. I thoroughly enjoyed all of "The Present", but was left extremely worried for the future.
Illness delayed this review, so I hope publishing it now, just before the new episode comes, serves as a reminder of what happened before the hectic holiday season.
This episode starts with Barry hunting for information so he can fight Savitar, the extremely powerful thing that kicked his ass in the previous. Cisco discovers Julian, who's just kicked Barry out of his career in exchange for keeping Caitlin's Frozen thing on the down low, has done a dissertation on the subject, and apparently it all goes back to the Indus Valley and an ancient stone. Savitar was the first speedster, named after the Hindu god of motion. Other than this, however, Barry can find nothing–so he goes to find the only other speedster who might be able to help: Jay Garrick. What he finds out–and the subsequent events–put Barry in a position that makes me pity him. He still has to worry about the changes he's made to the past, thanks to Flashpoint and his previous attempts at rewriting history. Now it's also clear he has to worry about the future, in several different ways.
To Strive, To Seek, To Find: Julian
Julian has lost his sister, and that loss left him open to manipulation and suffering. It explains a lot - his unwillingness to let people in; his habit of spending Christmas alone. This episode and the knowledge Julian and Barry won from each other was tightly written and structured. Barry learned Julian was Alchemy, that he didn't know it, learned the mechanics of how Savitar controls other people if not the underlying principles, came up with a strategy to get rid of Savitar–and all that came from his work with Julian. Julian, for his part, learned a lot about Barry as the Flash, as the leader of a team, as a member of the Wells family. He also learned that no matter how abrasive Julian is, no matter what Julian gives Barry excuse to do (i.e. his actions as Dr. Alchemy), Barry is going to try to save and help Julian.
I mean, Barry could have used Julian being Dr. Alchemy as cause for revenge. He could have taken Julian's job on the strength of Julian being a known meta criminal. He could have had the lab back to himself. The police would have believed him and Joe over Julian, who didn't seem to ingratiate himself with anyone else at the station so far, over the season. Barry's fierce commitment to the truth led to Julian opening himself up, and hopefully will see us moving past the whole Julian/Barry friction storyline, which was beginning to get tiring and unnecessary. All of this felt very natural, in character, and perfectly timed re: development. How will Julian react in the future, however, when Savitar comes calling? After all, they can 'call' Savitar through Julian. Has Barry invited a Trojan Horse onto his team?
The silver link, the silken tie: Cisco and Caitlin
Cisco's grief for his brother is genuine. He's always wanted the opportunity to get closer to him and have that sort of relationship. I've always thought Cisco's tight friendship with Barry was the result of never having the close brotherhood Cisco always wanted growing up. Hallucinations, though? It soon becomes clear the hallucinations are an... echo of Savitar, or steam escaping from that crack in the rock.
But the point is that Cisco's relationship with Caitlin allows him to defeat that control, that power. We're talking about something which actually forced his Vibe hand out against his best friend. Caitlin talked him down, just as he supports her. In many ways this friendship racks up there amongst the best male-female friendships on television today, and the show doesn't evidence signs of turning it into a romance, which I love. It's a sis-bro thing. And it works.
Caitlin is getting more used to her powers, however. The idle turning of rain to snow, by the end of the episode? That's like Marvel X-Men Storm level powers. What happens when she gets too comfortable? And Cisco now has had his mind tapped by Savitar - what's that going to mean for the future? Finally, that prophecy Savitar made. Who will betray? Who will fall? Who will be worse than dead?
A Vision in Yellow: Wally
We finally saw the yellow leathers come out - and this time with the whole family surrounding Wally and supporting him. Wally's arc has been simple so far, but maybe deceptively so. In the beginning speed was an evil-ish escape for him, where he raced illegally to raise money to support his mother as she got surgery. Always trying to save others, but never so concerned about the means. In some ways he's still consistent–fighting to get training no matter what, being willing to be involved with the team and support Barry. More and more those moments of recklessness are actually moments of self-reflection. The problem I have with Wally is that, in many ways, he's an uncomplicated character. His one flaw - the recklessness - is being erased. All is good in Wally land. So... will he become the betrayer? Will he fall? Because at some point they're going to have to fight Savitar again, and it seems Savitar is the origin of Wally's better-than-Barry powers.
The Eye of Paradox: Barry
Barry, in this episode, calls on his spiritual 'father' from another world for guidance. His father gets beaten up by Savitar. Barry's spiritual 'son', the Kid Flash, also gets beat by Savitar, for all that Wally enjoys the outing. They are saved by a box being closed by nothing more than love and kindness. They come up with a plan, thanks to Jay, and fling the box into the Speed Force. And at the moment the plan succeeds, Barry is thrown into the future, where he sees his plan's eventual failure and the death of the woman he loves the most: Savitar returns in the future, probably furious at his ongoing imprisonment, and kills Iris West.
I saw this as Karma at its most tragic and empathic. So much of this goes back to Flashpoint, and the fact that Barry had to let another person he loved, his own mother, die. When he was sitting at the party at the end staring into the fire, I think the death of Iris which he witnessed was indeed going through his mind, but I also think there's a part of Barry which will be shell-shocked by the enormity of action and consequence, intent and outcome. This is not karma as in I killed your dad you killed my dad. This is Karma, the great wheel which spins events as they fall and relate to each other. Karma throws the Dice of Unintended Results, which roll and come up as they will. With great power, perhaps, also comes great tragedy.
The final present - Barry giving Iris the present of a life together, and bravely doing it with love and a smile knowing all the challenges to come, cemented my thought that Grant Gustin is one day going to be known as a romantic lead, and made me all verklempt. Yes, I know I don't like them sometimes, but I did this episode. (At the same time, I'm fully aware that this is Barry once again looking like he's open... and hiding a deep dark secret. Gonna come between them much?)
This is time travel writing at its finest, going beyond the simple your grandpa was my son ha-ha stuff, and going more deeply into the relationship between all things. It was also an episode which seemed to make an ending while leaving us gasping even more with the questions - which will hopefully be answered in the next episode.
Bits and Pieces
Nice Trickster cameo in Earth-3! I dug up this old and new photo of the pair:
So basically Draco was looking for the Philosopher's Stone here, too? Sorry, couldn't resist, but I wonder if two of his friends on the mission were named Crabbe and Goyle?
Wally is growing in speed faster than Barry did.
This isn't a main plotline... but it might be on its way: Joe and his hot girlfriend. Throughout this episode they and their interaction were the icing: from the moment they started the egg-nog challenge (and it's clear they're both huge family people) to the lovely 'our grandmothers are alcoholics' exchange at the party. So she has a daughter, does she? I bet she's a meta. Just putting it out there.
HR didn't have a major storyline, but he also showed great consistency and kind of more depth and self-belief as a character than I expected. His response to Joe when Joe was whaling on him about training Wally was genuine and meaningful without being confrontational, and carried weight as a result. Is he 'the Fake Wells?' Or is he becoming something more?
One criticism here. I think the show needs to be careful about these so-helpful Speed Force myths and legends. Either don't use them more than extremely sparingly and with lots of logic, or blow it up totally and have colleges round the country be setting up metahuman studies courses in Flashland.
Caitlin making it snow was gorgeous. And I loved Wells decorating the office. And the opening title had snow in it. Nice touches for the season.
Barry Allen: What do you want from us?
Savitar: Everything! Everything you took from me, I want it back. And I'm gonna take it back. Then, I will destroy you.
Barry Allen: They why haven't you already? If you're all-powerful, then why don't you just go ahead and kill us all now, be done with it? Because you can't.
Savitar: You did this to me. You trapped me in eternity. Your future self - you did this to me, Barry. And now the age of my revenge rises. My freedom is at hand. You will feel my wrath. The wrath of Savitar!
What's coming next?
This episode raised a ton of questions. Instead of doing an Overall review with a rating (I'll do that later) I'm doing a challenge. What do you think is going to happen? Which character will fit which prediction? What's the whole thing with Savitar and the box? How will Barry save Iris (Will Barry save Iris?) How will Savitar return? Will it even be this season? And will Barry figure out what he supposedly took from Savitar in the first place? How will Caitlin and Cisco move on with their powers and their grief? Put your predictions in the comments, please!