The Flash: The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 1

"How many times do I have to suffer for you? When is it your turn to suffer?"

By nature I love brevity: Something in the writing and execution of this one was a bit lacking, but the cast freaking killed it. In fact, this may be the best performance I've ever seen from Grant Gustin.

A dilemma is a writer's best and most useful tool for showing character change and growth. It's also probably the easiest one to mess up. Often writers don't make both choices bad enough, and one is clearly the better road of the two. Even more often, a writer will put their character into a devastating and powerful dilemma, well-constructed to box the character in, and then get them out of it without making the character choose. When the writer lets their character choose and then relieves them of the consequences of that choice, it's even worse, because you have the built-in excuse that 'the important part is that they chose.' Spoiler alert: any episode called 'The Last Temptation of [Insert Name Here]' is going to be a dilemma episode. And it's almost always going to be either brilliant or terrible.

This one, though, is somewhere in between. By no means did they cop out on Barry's dilemma, and it was certainly a resonant one - they've been building the season's themes to this point all along - but the specifics of the final situation were a little bit iffy. Neither the Speed Force's argument nor Ramsey's argument really clicked with me while they were making it, even though both make a ton of sense on paper. Barry's final choice did, and the little twist at the end worked very well even though I saw it coming a mile away, but that doesn't negate the fact that I wasn't really feeling it for a good chunk of the episode.

What finally drew me in, I think, was Grant Gustin's raw performance. Even though I didn't believe the words coming out of his mouth, I believed him. And that really made up all the difference. I can't explain it, but there's this weird factor in this season that is bringing the best out of every performer week after week. It's not about the quality of the writing, since we've seen a dip in that over the last two episodes, and the acting has remained incredible. It might be something about the energy that a new showrunner and a fresh new direction for the series brings to the table. Regardless, this dilemma about half worked for me, which is a rarity among 'Last Temptation'-style episodes.

Of course, this will all be resolved by the end of next episode, just in time for Crisis. I have hope, however, that the team that's been raising the bar on this show this whole season long will bring it to a conclusion in a way that doesn't just negate the meticulous character work we've seen. The writing this season has been remarkably committed to the consequences of its choices, and has rarely, if ever, backed down. Here's hoping for a satisfying resolution, even though we know that Ramsey must go and Crisis must begin.

The other side of the episode featured the first major challenge for the Central City Citizen crew. I like all three characters, so it was perfectly fine to watch, but I imagine a lot of the folks who aren't fans of them would be frustrated by the focus on them. Regardless, much more of the time was spent on Barry's journey, as it should be. There was some good movement on the meta-training/manipulating organization (we don't really know a ton about them yet, do we?) plot, which will undoubtedly be a big factor following the Crisis. I like that they're initiating Allegra into the team very quickly, and I suspect this is important to the post-Crisis world they're preparing to inhabit.

This brings me to my next point. As excited as I am for Crisis - and it's really hard to overestimate how excited I am for Crisis - I am almost as excited for the post-Crisis world of The Flash. I can see the wheels turning, I can see them setting things up to follow later, and for once, I can't for the life of me figure out where it's going. Every other season of this show has followed a similar formula for the overarching plot, to the point where I kind of knew where the show was going every week even though I didn't know any of the specifics. This season is not doing that. I know Ramsey's defeat will come at the end of the next episode, but after that, all bets are off. The fact that I don't even know if this show will have a main character three episodes from now is staggering. This is your playground, oh showrunners. The potential is limitless. If you'll pardon the pun, run with it. Let's see what you can do.

Running Plot Threads:

-As predicted, Nash didn't do his thing until the very end. Is it just me, or is it stretching suspension of disbelief that he's doing maybe five minutes' work, tops, each episode? Like, what is he doing with the other vast swaths of time he clearly has? All I'm saying is the things he had to do could all have been done in about two days easily, the schedules of other participants notwithstanding.

-If you thought Iris and company were on the trail of that secret organization before, they're, er, really on its trail now. Yikes. We really didn't learn a ton about them, did we?

-Ralph is hospitalized in an A.R.G.U.S. facility to recover from Ramsey's attack. Presumably he'll be better in a few weeks for the big event whose name I'm tired of typing. Speaking of which, the production of this episode and the next was probably when Hartley Sawyer filmed his scenes for said event.

-Ramsey now controls the Flash, and will use him to... accomplish some unclear goals. Hopefully we'll get a decent villainous plot to wrap up Ramsey's run next week.

Pensees:

-I've been saying it all season long, and I'll keep saying it. This show does not have the budget to be throwing epic CGI action sequences into every episode. And when they do, the CGI sucks, as evidenced very well by Ralph's fight with Ramsey. I'll take my excellent character work and brilliant performances any day over this, thank you.

-Michelle Harrison returns again as the Speed Force. I guess they're getting all they can out of her guest contract for this season, assuming she appears in Crisis as I suspect she will.

-Props to Sendhil Ramamurthy and Michelle Harrison as excellent sounding boards for Gustin to work off of. Giving another actor something to work with without taking too much for yourself is a hard task, and both pulled it off very well.

-I didn’t see Ronnie Raymond's name on any of the headstones that Ramsey showed Barry. Not that that's in any way important as the CW gears up for a cameo-heavy, acting budget-spending event. (He's totally not dead you guys)

-Neat Negative Flash nod there at the end. And another appearance of Cavanagh's Thawne is never a bad thing.

-If Barry stabbing the image of his mother with a vibrating hand isn't thematic, I don't know what is.

-The CW app for Apple devices is one of the worst streaming applications I've ever used. It's really a massive pain, and it makes my reviews take far, far longer than they otherwise would. Get your tech team working on fixing it, CW, because it's barely usable for casual purposes, and borderline impossible for reviewing purposes.

-Sorry this review is a bit late. I was enjoying Thanksgiving with my family.

Quotes:

Allegra: "I don't know how you're going to bring yourself to write this article, I just know you're never going to forgive yourself if you don't."

Iris: "Kamila knows that Barry's the Flash."
Allegra: "Really? Since when?"
Kamila: "Last summer. Cisco used to be Vibe."
They still don't share information too well around Team Flash, do they?

Speed Force: "You've answered our call before. It's always been difficult. What's changed?"
Barry: "I've lived more."

Barry: "I don't wanna die. I know that's selfish. I'm sorry I let you down."

Barry: "You're not my mom. You're the reason I buried her."

Speed Force: "You would lose the best of you. Your joy. Your passion. Your light. The part of you that Iris loves."

5 out of 6 powerful dilemmas. Just for the performances.

--
CoramDeo is thankful that there's so much great stuff to watch out there.

No comments: