Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Flash Season 3, Episode 9: The Present

This week on The Flash we get the big mid-season finale, or winter break as the networks like to call it. How I loathe these artificial interruptions in the show's storyline.

For several weeks now, Cisco has been the president of the "I Hate Barry Allen Club." He's actively resented his former friend for altering the timeline, which inadvertently killed his brother Dante. Suddenly in this episode all is forgotten, and Cisco and Barry are buds again. So what the heck happened?

See, last week in Legends Of Tomorrow, Cisco himself went back in time to 1959 and inadvertently caused an alien invasion in 2016. He then realized how easy it is to screw up a timeline, and immediately forgave Barry. 

I can't imagine why, but apparently the writers thought it was a good idea to wrap up a major Flash storyline on a different series. What about people who didn't watch the Legends episode? They're going to be totally in the dark. The least they could have done was throw in a line explaining why Cisco's no longer mad.

It's always good to see the real Jay Garrick on the show. Kudos to actor John Wesley Shipp, who somehow plays Jay different from Henry Allen, despite the fact that they have the same face.

We also got a surprise visit from Mark Hamill, as the Earth-3 version of the Trickster. Hamill was in full Joker mode here, as he even looked like the character. At this point they might as well get it over with and just start calling him the Joker.


The Plot:
We flash back to Julian Albert (Barry Allen's nemesis) on a Mummy-style expedition in India. He finds an ancient artifact, and like an idiot, opens it. His face is bathed in a blue glow. Sadly, no Ark-ghosts melt it off.

In the present day, the STAR Labs Gang is discussing Savitar, the God Of Speed. Cisco discovers that Julian published a paper about an ancient relic called the 
Brahmastra, which can allegedly create metahumans. The Brahmastra is also known as— the Philosopher's Stone! Barry goes to the Central City PD and questions Julian about the Stone. He says he used his personal fortune to find it, but unfortunately failed. Barry senses he's lying, and asks about Savitar. Julian looks shocked at the name, and tells Barry not to waste his time on the matter.

Meanwhile on Earth-3, the Joker the Trickster robs a bank. He's stopped by Jay Garrick, the Earth-3 Flash. The Trickster sets off a bomb, but before it can explode, Barry leaps out of a dimensional breach and disarms it. He ties up the Trickster and leaves him for the police.

Barry asks Jay if he knows anything about Savitar. He says he's heard of him, as he was the world's first speedster. He follows Barry back to Earth-1 to help him take down Savitar.

At the CCPD, Joe asks Cecile to the West Family Xmas Party. HR trains Wally, and notes he's becoming faster than Barry. At STAR Labs, Cisco keeps seeing visions of his late brother Dante. He also whips up a device which can sense when the Philosopher's Stone is activated. Is there anything he can't do? Caitlin finally gets a line, and says she found out everyone on Julian's expedition was killed. Except him, or course.

The Philosopher Stone alarm goes off, and Barry and Jay rush to the source of the signal. There they find Alchemy, surrounded by acolytes as he attempts to summon Savitar. Hilariously the followers bugger off the second they see the speedsters. Savitar appears, and Jay goes after him. Unfortunately the God Of Speed throws him around like a rag doll. He throws him against a wall and is about to stab him in the heart. Just then Barry yoinks the Stone from Alchemy and puts it in a special box. Savitar instantly disappears. Really? Has he ever done that before? Barry pulls off Alchemy's mask, revealing Julian, which we've known for a couple weeks now.

Back at STAR Labs, Jay recovers from his battle. Cisco tests the Box, and says it doesn't show up on any of his instruments, as if it isn't there. Joe's furious with Wally again for using his speed, and even furiouser at HR for training him. Barry puts Julian in the Secret Super Jail. He asks Julian about being Alchemy, but he has no idea what he's talking about. He says he needs Julian to trust him, so he removes his mask and reveals his identity to yet another cast member. He asks Julian if he's been blacking out, and he says yes.

Julian says his sister died, and then began appearing before him. She said if he found the Philosopher's Stone they could be together again, so he formed an expedition to find it. He did, and that's when the blackouts started. When he awoke and saw everyone on his team was dead, he fled to America in fear. He says when he blacks out, he hears a voice in his head.

Meanwhile, Dante appears to Cisco again. He tells him if he opens the box, they can spend the holidays together. HEY, CISCO! JULIAN JUST TOLD A STORY ABOUT THE SAME THING! TOO BAD YOU DIDN'T HEAR IT AS WELL! Cisco opens the box, and right on schedule Savitar appears. Barry and Wally begin fighting him inside STAR Labs. Caitlin pleads with Cisco to close the box. He reluctantly does so. Savitar disappears just as he was about to kill Barry and Wally.

Barry lets Julian out of his cell, and tells him that Savitar's been speaking through him. They ask if he's willing to let them hook him up to a technobabble device so they can speak directly to Savitar. He agrees. Cisco hooks up Julian and activates the machine. Julian is immediately possessed by Savitar and says, "Hello, Barry. It's been a while." He tells them he's from their future, and knows all their destinies. He says "
One shall betray you. One shall fall. One will suffer a fate far worse than death." Sounds ominous. 

Barry asks what Savitar what he wants. He says that Future Barry trapped him in eternity (?), and he wants revenge on him in the past. Barry takes the technobabble device off of Julian to shut Savitar up.

Barry wants to destroy the box so Savitar can never be freed. Cisco say it's indestructible. For some insane reason they decide to toss it into the Speed Force, since, as Jay puts it, it's an infinite void. 

Barry and Jay run as fast as they can around the particle accelerator. Barry somehow siphons off some of Jay's speed and opens a breach into the Speed Force. He throws the box into it. Unfortunately explodes and blows Barry five months into the future (!). 

A confused Barry wanders the streets. He stops when he sees his future self confronting Savitar, who's holding Iris. Savitar kills Iris and disappears. Future Barry cradles her lifeless body in his arms, as our Barry looks on in horror. Suddenly Jay Garrick appears and yanks him back to the present.

Barry's terrified by what he's seen. Jay tries to calm him down, saying the future's always changing, and what he saw isn't set in stone. He tells him to focus on now, and returns to Earth-3.

Everyone goes to the West Family Xmas. Joe and Iris give Wally a present— a Kid Flash suit. What happened to them not wanting him to ever use his powers? HR gets drunk on eggnog. Julian even shows up and joins the party. Cisco's sad that it's raining, so Caitlin uses her Killer Frost powers to make it snow. It's a Christmas Miracle!

Iris asks Barry when they're going to exchange gifts. He says right now, and zips her off to a spacious new apartment, and says both their names are on the lease. He says, "I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but I want to spend every single moment with you, Iris." Until you're murdered by the God Of Speed.

• At the beginning of the episode we see Julian on his expedition to find the Philosopher's Stone. He sits in his tent and writes the following in his journal: "It's 
been six months since I arrived here in India. Though I have faith it's out there, the voice that once drove me has waned. And I fear my quest may be for naught."

Why is he dressed like Indiana Jones and writing like someone from Downton Abbey? According to the onscreen caption this expedition took place four years ago!

• This episode gives us our first-ever (I think) look at Earth-3. Of course it's federal law that every establishing shot of a parallel world must contain at least one blimp floating above a city.

• Mark Hamill makes a brief appearance in this episode as the Earth-3 Trickster, battling John Wesley Shipp as the Earth-3 Flash.

Of course Hamill and Shipp played the same roles in the 1990 Flash series. Cool!

• Since the character was introduced, Hamill's Trickster has always been sort of a poor man's Joker, becoming more and more like him with each subsequent appearance. That's never been more true than in this episode. He's even standing like Heath Ledger's Joker in this scene!

Note that with his pale complexion, dark circles around his eyes and ghastly teeth, the Trickster looks a lot like Conrad Veldt in The Man Who Laughs.

And Veidt's character Gwynplaine was famously the inspiration for the Joker! So they've come full circle here. Hamill's imitating the character who inspired the character he's imitating!

• Cisco does some digging and discovers Julian Albert wrote a paper about the Brahmastra. Oddly enough, according to the google search it appears his real name is Julian Albert Desmond. Wha…?

So according to this episode, Albert Desmond mounted an expedition to find the Philosopher's Stone in India. He found it, was possessed by Savitar and blacked out. When he woke, everyone on his expedition was dead, presumably by his possessed hand. He then fled India in fear and came to America. He then assumed the false identity of Julian Albert, marched into the CCPD and was hired on the spot.

So what's the big deal? Welp, it means that the CCPD apparently doesn't perform simple background checks on potential employees, else they'd know that "Julian Albert" doesn't exist. 

By the way, there is an Albert Desmond in the comics. It's a long, long story, so I'll try to be brief. Albert Desmond was a scientist who suffered from multiple personalities. One of those personalities called itself Mr. Element, and built a gun that could change one element into another. Like alchemy, get it?

While in prison, Desmond learned about the Philosopher's stone from a fellow inmate. He broke out of jail, tracked down the Stone and became Doctor Alchemy. The comic version had nothing to do with Savitar though.

• Barry goes to the CCPD to question Julian about his expedition. Julian says, "Many years ago, I heard about the Brahmastra, or as it's colloquially called, the Philosopher's Stone."

In-jokes Ahoy! Tom Felton, who plays Julian, played Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone, or as it's known everywhere else in the world, Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone. Wakka wakka!

• Jay seems to know a lot about Savitar, despite the fact he's never actually seen him. When Barry asks him how he knows so much, he says, “Speed Force myths, legends, and rumors." I guess maybe there's some kind of speedster newsletter or magazine?

• Barry reveals his secret identity to Julian in an effort to gain his trust. 

Sigh… Why in the name of Bruce Wayne does Barry even bother wearing a mask anymore? At this point every character on the show with a speaking role, with the possible exception of Cecile and Capt. Singh, knows he's really the Flash. He might as well tear off his mask and throw it in the trash, for all the good it does.

I bet the only reason he still wears a mask is because the character has one in the comics and all the merch.

• So ever since Julian's been possessed by Savitar, he's been keeping his Alchemy costume in a drawer in his office at the CCPD. Got it.

• When Savitar speaks through Julian he tells the STAR Labs Gang, "One shall betray you. One shall fall. One will suffer a fate far worse than death."

Let's see if we can figure out this prophecy. Who's the betrayer? My money's on either Caitlin or HR. There's no way the Killer Frost storyline is over, as it was resolved WAY too easily. I would not be surprised if she takes over Caitlin again before the season's over and betrays the Gang.

There's also something slightly sinister about HR, and I think he's more than a harmless, hipster doofus. Savitar calls him "Fake Wells" here, and a few weeks ago we saw that HR has a piece of Earth-19 technology that can alter his face. Do not be surprised if he turns out to he someone other than who he says he is.

The writers would like us to think "the one who falls" is Iris, since we saw her future death in this episode. That would probably be too obvious though, but then again that's what I said about Julian being Alchemy, and look how that turned out.

Is Julian the one who'll fall? I could see him sacrificing himself to save his former enemy Barry. I think he's the most likely suspect, as I can't see Tom Felton wanting to stay on the show for more than a season.

So who's the one who'll "suffer a fate far worse than death?" My money's on Wally. There's a fan theory out there that he somehow becomes Savitar in the future. In this episode Savitar is pretty pissed at Barry, saying he took everything from him and trapped him in eternity or something. Maybe something happens and Barry accidentally sends Wally into the Speed Force, and can't get him out?

• The Gang figures out that Savitar can only appear when the Stone is released from its magic box. Unfortunately the box is indestructible. So they come up with the brilliant idea of tossing the box into the Speed Force to get rid of it forever. 

I honestly don't understand how this is a good idea. Yes, they say the Speed Force is an infinite realm, and the box will be lost forever inside it. But Savitar lives in the Speed Force. Why risk him stumbling onto it? 

This plan is like tossing your keys in your car to keep a thief from stealing it. 

Why not just shoot the box into the sun? I bet that would take care of it. And if Cisco can't do that, he knows some people with a time ship who could.

• When Barry's thrown into the future, he sees Iris murdered on Infantino St.

This is a reference to Carmine Infantino, the most famous of all Flash artists, and the one who designed the all-red suit. In 1961 he drew the Flash Of Two Worlds issue, which introduced the concept of the multiverse to DC Comics.

• Last week in Invasion!, Cisco mentioned that Supergirl is from Earth-38. This was a shoutout to 1938, the year in which Superman was created. Being the pedant that I am, I wondered why they didn't say she was from Earth-59, since the character was created in 1959.

Several readers noted that in DC Comics, there are currently only fifty two earths in the multiverse— the result of the New 52 miniseries or something. So it would be impossible for Supergirl to be from Earth-59. 

I knew about this was a thing in the comics, but wasn't sure if it was the same on the show. I couldn't remember anyone on The Flash ever stating there were fifty two earths. Besides, when I hear the word "multiverse," I think of millions of worlds, not just fifty two.

Welp, looks like Jay Garrick just confirmed I was right. During his conversation with Barry, he says, "This is why speedsters don't travel to the future. Nobody should know this much about their own. Just as their are infinite Earths in the multiverse, there are infinite possibilities to the future!"

So there are millions of worlds, and Supergirl could have been from Earth-59.

• After Barry screwed up the timeline a few months ago, he was dismayed to see that the holographic newspaper in his secret Time Closet in STAR Labs had changed. The headline article is no longer written by Iris West Allen, but by Julie Greer.

Now we know why it changed. Iris is scheduled to be murdered by Savitar in five months.

By the way, I'd just like to point out once again that The Flash believes that we'll all be reading holographic newspapers in 2024. Hear that, Science? You have eight short years! You better get busy!

• All season long, Joe and Iris have done nothing but bitch and moan at Wally for wanting to use his new speedster powers. Suddenly at the West Family Xmas Party, they give him his own Kid Flash suit. What. The. Hell. So what changed? Did they finally realize he's gonna use his powers no matter what they think, and give up?

Whatever their reason, this is one storyline I'm glad to see go. Their constant whining was getting old.

Oddly enough, the suit Joe and Iris give Wally looks identical to the one he wore in the Flashpoint timeline, which is something they can't possibly know about. Did they have Barry draw them a quick sketch from his memories of that timeline, so Cisco could make it?

• A contrite and apologetic Julian shows up at the West Family Xmas Party and is welcomed into the fold. Now that Julian's warming up to the cast, that means he's doomed, right? 

• At the Xmas party, 
Joe and Cecile have a "nog-off," as they each pit their grandmother's eggnog recipe against the other. When they taste the respective concoctions, they sputter and cough. Joe says, "Damn, that's strong. Our grandmothers are alcoholics.”

By the way, during the party, Cecile gets a call from her daughter, and I'm pretty sure this is the first ever mention of her. Does this mean a new character will be showing up soon?

• Drunk HR, complete with ugly Xmas sweater, was a lot of fun. He approaches Cisco and Caitlin, saying, "
Caitlo... Caitlo, Ciscan! OK. Whoo. You got to try the eggnog a holiday concoction done by Joe and his hot girlfriend!"

• Cisco's sad that it's raining on Xmas. Caitlin sees him moping and apparently thinks, "Eh, what the hell. I'll just risk turning into a super villain again by whipping off my dampening bracelets and using my unstable powers to makes some snow for Xmas."

• By far the most unrealistic part of this week's episode wasn't the speedsters, the parallel worlds or the interdimensional scrap metal monster. Nope, it was the idea that Barry could ever possibly afford a vast, luxurious apartment like that. No wonder Iris was upset that all she got him was a wallet!

I don't know what the real estate market is like in Central City, but that looked like it was $5,000 a month if it was a penny. 
How the hell did Barry afford a place like that? He didn't even have a job until Julian asked him to come back to the CCPD!

Maybe housing's cheap in Central City due to all the supervillain activity, which results in constant property damage?

We know that Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne/Reverse Flash gave STAR Labs to Barry in Season 1, but… does that mean anything? Is STAR Labs a business? Does it actually produce some sort of product or do anything that turns a profit? I guess it somehow generates enough income to keep the lights on and pay Cisco and Caitlin a living wage.

Does owning STAR Labs mean Barry's rich? If so, why does he still work as a CSI? Why not just devote all his time to being the Flash?

So many questions. And absolutely no answers.

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