Friday, May 26, 2017

The Flash Season 3, Episode 23: Finish Line

It's the Season Finale of The Flash!




Overall this wasn't a great season of The Flash, but it had its moments.

The whole "Flashpoint" storyline turned out to be a dud, mostly because it only lasted a single episode. Think how much they could have done with the "alternate reality" concept if they'd given it four or five episodes and let it breath a bit, ala The Framework arc over on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

We also got not just one but TWO "Villain With A Shocking Secret Identity" storylines this year, which was at least one too many. The first, the Alchemy arc, was muddled and mishandled as he turned out to be Julian, the most obvious candidate possible. In fact I was convinced he had to be anyone but Julian, because he was such a glaringly blatant choice. 

The "Who Is Savitar?" storyline was similarly botched, as it dragged on for months and months. He first appeared in Episode 6 for Thor's sake, and his identity wasn't revealed until Episode 20! Fifteen episodes was WAYYYYY too long to drag out that mystery, as most of the audience (myself included) stopped caring weeks earlier. And when Savitar was finally revealed to be a future time remnant of Barry Allen, it required some heavy duty and convoluted time travel shenanigans in order to make it work.

Thankfully the season wasn't all bad though. The big Invasion! crossover episode with all the other Arrowverse shows was a highlight, as well as the two part return of Gorilla Grodd.

And the season actually started picking up near the end, once the mystery of Savitar's identity was finally resolved. It was a bit too little, too late though. Three or four good episodes do not a season make.

In a perfect world, The Flash showrunners would adopt Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s "story pod" system, and give us three or four shorter arcs per season. They sort of tried that this year with Flashpoint, Alchemy and Savitar, but if was clunky and much less elegant than the way S.H.I.E.L.D. effortlessly does it.

This week's episode was a bit of a mixed bag. There were a couple of cool developments, a head-scratching, puzzling sequence, and a terrible ending pulled straight out of the writers' asses. 

Last week I totally called the fact that HR used his transmogrifier to impersonate Iris, and that Savitar actually killed him instead. And that's exactly what happened, right down to the stage directions I described. Boo-yah!

I was also very surprised that the writers decided to have Killer Frost reject her cure, and remain a quasi-supervillain. Conflicted, anti-hero Killer Frost is much more interesting than meek, vanilla Caitlin any day.

On the down side, I didn't for one second buy the scene in which Barry and the Gang try to reach Savitar, and he actually accepts their offer of help. He tried to murder them all season long, and we're supposed to believe he does a complete 180ยบ turn after just one pep talk? Doubtful.

The worst part of the episode though was the ending, in which Barry enters the Speed Force as penance for his time travel shenanigans. It came completely out of the blue and gave new meaning to the phrase "tacked-on." It feels like the only reason this ending exists is because the writers realized they hadn't come up with a cliffhanger yet, and cobbled one together in five minutes.

Lastly, The Flash executive producer and co-showrunner Aaron Helbing announced he won't be returning for Season 4. His brother, co-showrunner Todd Helbing, will remain with the show. I don't know whether this is good news or bad.


The Plot:
The season finale picks up right where we left off last week— with Barry cradling the dead form of his fiance Iris, who's just been murdered by Savitar. Tracy Brand looks on in disbelief, while up on a nearby rooftop, Joe collapses with grief.

But wait! Iris isn't quite dead after all. And she isn't quite Iris either! She pulls out the facial transmogrifier and instantly transforms into HR, just as I predicted last week!

See, shortly after HR said his weirdly stilted goodbye to Cisco in the previous episode, he used the shard of Savitar's blade to find out where he was holding Iris. He then used the transmogrifier to make himself look like her, and vice versa (which we didn't know it could do, but whatever). Iris protests, but HR convinces her to go along with the ruse.

HR and Tracy share a brief goodbye, as he tells her he loves her. HR then gives Barry a special message for Cisco and promptly dies. Joe points out that Savitar took the Speed Force Bazooka with him after he killed "Iris."

Meanwhile, Cisco and Killer Frost are facing off in the forest. Savitar appears and tells her not to kill Cisco, as he needs him for a special project. Savitar then doubles over, saying something's not right. He realizes— as new memories from Barry form— that Iris is somehow still alive.

Back at STAR Labs, Joe says that since Iris wasn't killed, Savitar will never be created and should vanish from reality. Barry says this is technically true, but it could take several hours to happen. Julian tells the group that he worked with Caitlin's mom (remember her?) and came up with a cure for her Killer Frost-ism.

In Savitar's lair, he orders Cisco to alter the Speed Force Bazooka so it will shatter him and spread his fragments throughout time, so he'll exist simultaneously in the past, present and future. He says this will make him immune to the paradox that wants to erase him from history. Cisco of course refuses to help. Savitar threatens to kill, er, Killer Frost if he doesn't, and Cisco reluctantly gives in.

Barry, Iris and Joe enter the Time Room and see that the holographic newspaper now once again has Iris' byline on the front page, indicating things are back to normal. Iris asks Barry what he's going to do next, and he says "the last thing that Savitar expects!"

Barry goes to an abandoned (of course) warehouse and a few minutes later Savitar meets him (I guess he remembered this happening in the past?). He pleads with Savitar to let the STAR Labs Gang help him, dredging up memories of past fun times. Amazingly, this half-assed attempt at psychology somehow works on Savitar, seemingly reversing centuries of anger and hatred in just a few minutes.

Barry brings Savitar to STAR Labs, and asks the Gang (or what's left of it) to help him. Despite the fact that Savitar tried to kill Iris and ruined the past year of her life, she's willing to give it a go and forgives him. Tracy's not so generous, refusing to help the man who "took away her future." Iris tells Barry she knows someone who can convince Tracy to help. Savitar says it was a mistake to come to STAR and zooms off.

Tracy sits in her lab, brooding. Suddenly she sees what she thinks is HR's reflection, and spins around. Turns out it's actually Harry, who the Gang somehow transported from Earth-2 without Cisco's help. She's disappointed of course that he's not the HR she knew, and says she's not helping Savitar. Harry gives her a Patented The CW Pep Talk™, telling her not to be such a Gloomy Gus and that it's what HR would have wanted.

Suddenly an alarm sounds, and Barry sees that Savitar somehow left the Philosopher's Stone in a lab and it's "rigged to go off," whatever that means. He and Wally zip everyone out of the building seconds before a comically cliched giant blue laser shoots through the roof and high into the sky.

Back at Savitar's lair, Cisco says he's done modifying the Speed Force Bazooka. To no one's surprise, Savitar then orders Killer Frost to kill Cisco. She fires a barrage of deadly icicles at him, but he's saved by the timely appearance of Gypsy, who tackles him and vibes him to safety.

Savitar and Killer Frost then take a trip to a park, where he zooms around in a circle and opens up a Speed Force portal (which is different from an Earth-2 portal) so he can begin his ascension into godhood. He says the Speed Force doesn't like it when speedsters mess with time, and right on cue, the Black Flash exits the portal and zooms toward Savitar. Killer Frost nonchalantly freezes Black Flash solid and he shatters.

Savitar then stands in front of the portal, as Killer Frost shoots him with the modified Speed Force Bazooka to fragment him across time. It begins to work, until suddenly Savitar's knocked over by a superfast figure. It turns out to be Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-3, who's now been freed from his "prison" inside the Speed Force.

Just then Barry, Wally, Cisco and Gypsy show up to take on Savitar and Killer Frost. Savitar zooms away, with the speedsters (including Jay) in hot pursuit. Cisco and Gypsy battle Killer Frost. They manage to defeat her, and Cisco tosses her the serum that will turn her back into Caitlin Snow (Um... where'd he get that?).

Savitar outmaneuvers the others and returns to the park. He picks up Cisco and is about to kill him, when he's blasted by Killer Frost, who I guess has decided not to be semi evil. 

Barry returns to the park well, and Savitar tells him he's going to kill Joe, Iris (for real this time) and Wally. Barry then leaps at Savitar, phasing into his armor and throwing him out of it, which I have to admit was pretty darned cool. For some reason the Savitar armor turns red with Barry inside it.

Barry extends a blade and looks like he's about to execute Future Barry, who hisses at him to just do it already. Barry begins vibrating and shatters the Savitar suit from the inside, and walks away from the now-beaten Future Barry. Suddenly Future Barry screams and runs toward Present Barry, intending to kill him. A gunshot rings out...

Future Barry falls dead to the ground, as we see Iris was the one who shot him. That was easy! She says that for months Barry tried to save her, but in the end she saved him.

Cut to the Gang at HR's funeral, as they all say a few words over his grave. Barry tells Cisco what HR told him as he died: "Tell Cisco this took strength, and he gave it to me." Barry sees Killer Frost lurking behind a tree, watching the funeral. He, Cisco and Julian approach her. She gives them back the serum, saying she's not going to take it. She says she's no longer Killer Frost, but she's not Caitlin either, and needs time to figure out just who and what she is.

After the funeral, Barry and Iris relax at their place, discussing their wedding plans. Suddenly a series of tremors strike, as violent lightning stabs down at Central City. They return to the ruins of STAR Labs, and determine that the disturbance is being caused by the Speed Force. It requires a speedster to maintain its balance, and once Jay exited, it became unstable.

A Speed Force portal opens in the center of town, and what appears to be Barry's mother walks out of it. She tells Barry to come with her. He tells the others it's time for him to pay for altering time and creating Flashpoint. He says goodbye to everyone and walks into the portal. It disappears and the lightning stops.


• The past few weeks I've commented on how difficult it is to write a logical time travel episode, one that's not riddled with inconsistencies, paradoxes and plot holes.

This episode is no different, but credit where credit's due— at least its blunders are consistent with what's gone before. 

When HR saves Iris by switching places with her, this prevents Savitar from ever being created. Instead of Savitar simply winking out of existence like you'd expect though, it takes a while for the paradox to catch up to him. 

This is the same way we've seen time travel work over on Legends Of Tomorrow. There, Rip Hunter tells his teammates that they have a bit of latitude when trying to change the past or future, because the timeline "takes a while to harden."

So while Savitar sticking around for a while after being "uncreated" doesn't make any sense, at least it's consistent with what's gone before.

• The first time we saw HR's transmogrifier in action, it simply altered his face. Last week when Barry borrowed it, it transformed his entire body to make him resemble Lyla Michaels of ARGUS. Now this week we find out it can somehow cause two people to swap appearances, even when only one of them is actually holding the device.

BOO! Bad form, writers! You can't keep adding new functions to sci-fi tech like this every week as the script demands! How are we ever supposed to know what a device is capable of if you keep changing its rules? It's as bad as the sonic screwdriver on Doctor Who!

• Future Barry actually calls his headquarters his "lair!"

• I guess speedsters really do heal faster than a normal person. Last week Savitar gave Wally a severe beatdown, even appearing to break his leg. Poor Wally was even bedridden at the end of the episode.

In this week's episode (which takes place immediately after the previous one), he's up and around with nary a bruise to be seen!

• I wasn't a fan of the scene in which Barry tries to redeem Future Barry as it came out of nowhere and seemed completely unrealistic. He's been an evil, unrepentant bastard all season, and then suddenly after one heartfelt chat with Barry he's willing to try to be good? Feh!

The only reason this scene existed is because they needed to pad out the runtime a bit.

• Seems like the writers momentarily forgot that Savitar automatically remembers ANYTHING that Present Barry thinks or does.

At one point Barry and Iris sit in the Time Room and ponder what to do about Savitar. Iris asks Barry what he's going to do. Barry says, "The last thing he'd expect."

Cut to an abandoned warehouse, where Barry waits. Suddenly Savitar shows up. Barry says, "I wasn't sure you'd come... so you remember coming here."

Um... why is Barry so surprised that Savitar remembers meeting him in the warehouse? Does he really think that "doing the last thing he'd expect" could possibly work? It doesn't matter what Barry does. He can zig instead of zagging all he wants, but it's all ancient history to Savitar. Do the writers not understand this?

Then a bit later Barry brings Savitar to STAR Labs to "help" him somehow. Savitar's very uncomfortable, and really does seem like this is something he didn't expect the Gang to do. Again, this is not possible. From Savitar's point of view, ANYTHING Barry or the others do has already happened. There cannot be any surprises.

• Is murder not a crime in the Arrowverse? When the Gang tries to talk him into being good, he says he murdered people. Iris says, "And you are going to have to live with that. But we won't give up on you, okay? That is not what we do." 

Really? That's it? Just living with it? What about, oh, I don't know, throwing his ass in prison for first degree murder?

• I don't think I've mentioned Future Barry's makeup since he first appeared. Um... yeah. It ain't good.

Maybe they didn't wanna get too graphic in prime time, but his scar looks reeeeeally cartoonish. It's much more Freddie Krueger than what a real burn scar looks like.

Early in the episode Cisco mocks Future Barry, saying his face looks like a thin crust pizza. That's a pretty apt comparison, as it actually does look more like a pizza than damaged skin. The milky contact lens is a nice touch, but the overall look is one big fail.

By the way, did they ever explain how Future Barry got his facial scar? A couple weeks ago in I Know Who You Are, Tracy mentioned that Savitar's armor protected him from the massive heat generated when he ran at super-superspeed. 

Is that what happened to him? Did he run so incredibly fast he literally burned his face?

• In Cause And Effect, Barry discovers that Savitar is a future time remnant of himself. They then have the following chat:

Savitar: "God feels no pain. All I had to do was become one. And I only need two more things— for Iris to die so that you are driven so far into the dark that I can be born."
Barry: "And the other?"
Savitar: "It may sound ironic given who I'm talking to, but I'll keep that one to myself."

Um... so what was the mysterious other thing Savitar was keeping to himself? Was it the Speed Force Bazooka, that he meant to use to fragment himself across time? Or was it something else and the writers just forgot about it?

• Somehow the Gang brings Harry to Earth-1 without Cisco's help to open a breach.

OK, I honestly can't remember any more— can Barry open breaches to other Earths by himself? I thought only Cisco could do that?

• Glad to see the return of Harry this week. He's been the best version of Wells so far, and I hope he sticks around next season. Why not? Now that Jesse's living on Earth-3 he's got nothing to keep him on Earth-2.

By the way, here's how great an actor Tom Cavanaugh is. After HR was killed I thought, "Gosh, that's too bad that the actor who plays him just lost his job!" It took me a minute or so to remember that Cavanaugh's still on the show, playing Harry! He really did make HR seem like a completely different person.

• Speaking of HR, remember earlier in the season when there were multiple occasions where his actions seemed borderline sinister? We'd see him lurking in the shadows, or eavesdropping on conversations with an ominous look on his face. For a while it honestly thought like he had some sort of dark secret, and could turn on the Gang any second.

So what the hell was that all about? Was it a red herring to make us think he might be Savitar? Or was there going to be an Evil HR subplot and the writers ended up abandoning it?

• Everyone who didn't foresee Cisco double-crossing Savitar by futzing with the Speed Force Bazooka, stand on their head.

• When Killer Frost attacks Cisco, why does he need Gypsy to save him by vibing him away? Other than to give Gypsy and excuse to appear on the show again, that is. Couldn't he have escaped by opening a portal by himself?

I think maybe he needs his special glasses to do that, and Savitar took 'em away from him? I swear I've seen him vibe without them though, so who knows?

• Nice to see our old friend the Blue Laser getting work!

So is STAR Labs destroyed for good? The outside looked OK, but the Cortex was definitely trashed. Will the Gang have to find a new HQ next season? 

• When Savitar opens a portal to the Speed Force, the Black Flash emerges and makes a beeline for him. Killer Frost freezes him and he shatters into a million pieces. 

Well that was certainly easy! Eobard Thawne spent most of Season 2 of Legends Of Tomorrow running from the Black Flash, implying he was an inexorable and unstoppable force of nature. And then Killer Frost dispatches him without breaking a sweat. Too bad Thawne didn't have her number!

• After Cisco defeats Killer Frost, he tosses her Julian's serum and says it'll cure her. 

Where the heck did Cisco get that? Julian unveiled it at STAR Labs AFTER Cisco was captured by Savitar. I guess maybe Barry took the serum with him to the park and handed it to Cisco while we weren't looking?

• The scene in which Barry phases into Savitar's armor and shove him out of it was pretty darned awesome!

As were the scenes in which Barry was then wearing it (Barritar?)

Was there any reason though why Barry turned the armor red? Other than because it looked cool, and to differentiate it from Savitar?

• At one point Cisco calls Savitar "Two-Face." How does Cisco know that name? Does that mean Batman exists somewhere in the Arrowverse? Or are do they just have Batman movies there?

• I guess after they inscribed the Mark Twain quote on HR's sleek, ultramodern tombstone, they didn't have room for his birth and death dates?

• Late in the episode, Cisco actually says, "Hey, Wally, can you reverse the polarity on the neutron flow?"

This is of course a shoutout to Doctor Who. For some reason the technobabble phrase has become associated with the Third Doctor, even though he only said it twice during his tenure on the show! He said it once in 1972's The Sea Devils, and again in 1983's The Five Doctors, which was the 20th Anniversary Special.

The Third Doctor would often use a shortened version of the phrase, saying, "Reverse the polarity," so maybe that's how the whole thing started.

• After Savitar's defeated, Barry and Iris relax at home. Suddenly their apartment is struck by a powerful quake. Iris is gobsmacked, declaring, "There's never been an earthquake in Central City!"

Sorry, Iris. According to the U.S. Geological Survey's Earthquake Information Center, EVERY state in the U.S. has experienced an earthquake of some magnitude at one point or another. The USGU does list Florida and North Dakota as the two states with the fewest earthquakes though.

Once again, I am not a seismic geologist. I found this out with literally fifteen seconds of googling.

• When the crazy lightning appears over Central City, the Gang gathers back in the ruins of STAR Labs. Cisco manages to get some their equipment up and running to analyze what's going on. He spots a large portal in the center of town, and says, "Holy plutonium! What even emits that many kilojoules?"

Sigh... Again with the joules!

A couple weeks ago in Cause And Effect, Tracy unveiled the Speed Force Bazooka, and said it needed 3.86 terajoules of energy to function. This greatly impressed Cisco, who said, "That's more energy than in the sun!" That statement was woefully wrong, but never mind that now.A joule is described as "the work required to produce one watt of power for one second." A terajoule is equal to ONE TRILLION joules. A kilojoule however, is equal to one thousand joules.

Why is Cisco so impressed by something that's literally a million times LESS than a terajoule?

• At the end of the episode the Gang discovers the Speed Force is unbalanced, and needs a speedster inside it to restore order.

For a brief second I honestly expected Jay to volunteer to return to the Speed Force instead of Barry.

• I guess as of this episode Savitar's prophecy is now complete. Way back in The Present, Savitar (through Julian) said, “I know your destinies. One shall betray you. One shall fall. One will suffer a fate far worse than death. This is the knowledge I have for you about your everlasting damnation.”

So how'd he do? Caitlin is obviously the one who betrayed the Gang. HR was the one who fell. And based on the end of this episode, Barry's the one who suffered a fate far worse than death, as he became trapped in the Speed Force.

• This Week's Best Lines:
Savitar: "Fix this."
Cisco: "Fix what? The Speed Force bazooka? Hey, I didn't name it. If I didn't name it, I didn't make it. And if I didn't make it, I don't know how it works."
Savitar: "Oh, you know enough about it to alter what it does."
Cisco: "Oh, I see. You want me to alter it. Well, what do you want me to alter it into? Like, a hair dryer? Or a waffle maker? Oh, I know. Maybe something that's gonna fix that thin-crust pizza you call a face?"

Savitar: "Get to work, Francesco."
Cisco: "How about I sit on my ass and let you obliterate permanently from existence? How's that sound?"

Barry: "Are you still planning on becoming a god?"
(I included this line because it makes me laugh)

Savitar: "So how's this gonna work? Where will I live?"
Barry: "What do you mean?"
Savitar: "Are Wally and I gonna be bunk-mates? Am I supposed to just rejoin Team Flash, fight some Rogues? What kind of life were you thinking I'd lead?"
Barry: "I hadn't gotten that far yet."

Iris: "He wasn't a genius, and he didn't have super speed. But when we needed him the most, he was our hero. He was my hero."

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