“I wasn’t fast enough.” —Young Barry in flashback in the the pilot
If given the chance, would you, and should you, travel back in time to prevent a personal tragedy even if it means changing everything about yourself and the ones you love? This is the dilemma Barry Allen faces in The Flash‘s outstanding and emotional season finale.
The Flash has put a lot of effort into making us care for most of its characters, so it shouldn’t have come as surprise how poignant “Fast Enough” turned out to be. And yet, it was. In fact, and bear with me, “Fast Enough” reminded me of The Americans. During a recent panel organized by Center of Communication, executive producer Joel Fields said that a director once observed that an episode of The Americans was more concerned with emotional setpieces than action setpieces.
In a lot of ways, this felt very much like the case with “Fast Enough,” where the big action moment didn’t arrive until the end of the episode and was still overshadowed, in a good way, by everything that was going on emotionally for the characters. The first 45 minutes or so of the episode were spent with Barry weighing the pros and cons of the decision, reaching out to his friends and family for advice, and working with Team Flash to make sure that if he does do it, they don’t destroy the entire world (more on that later). Tears were definitely shed as Barry was finally fast enough. Let’s dive into this tearjerker of an episode. (And by the way, I haven’t spent much time on this in the recaps, but composer Blake Neely’s work has been fantastic throughout the season and was essential to making all of tonight’s emotional beats land.)
Descending to what feels like hell or at least a ring deep within it, Barry heads down to the pipeline to get some answers from Wells. At this point, Dr. Wells has shed is facade and what we and Barry get is full Eobard Thawne: a man whose confidence verges on arrogance and who has nothing but hate for Barry Allen/The Flash, or at least the man he is to come. Tom Cavanagh is relishing the opportunity to let Eobard Thawne loose on us, and it’s a scary delight to watch as he explains their history to Barry and why he killed his mother.
In the future, Wells recounts, he and The Flash were locked in a seemingly never-ending struggle. However, the end seemed in sight once Thawne uncovered Barry’s secret identity. His plan to wipe Barry from existence by traveling back in time failed, so he decided to kill his mother in the hope of giving young Barry Allen a traumatic tragedy from which he could never recover. We then go through his reasons for creating The Flash, which we’ve heard before. (ASIDE: In the wake of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Wells having to create the Flash to get home brings new meaning to Ultron’s quote “Everyone creates the thing they dread.” END ASIDE) Wells spent the last year training Barry because he needs him to get fast enough to rupture the time barrier, thereby creating a stable wormhole through which Wells can return home. Wells offers Barry a deal: If Barry allows him to return home, Barry will also be able to save his mother and get everything he’s ever wanted.
“I’m giving you a chance to undo all the evil I’ve done. Don’t you want that chance?” says Wells, manipulatively, as he confesses he looks upon Barry with the same pride and love as Joe and Henry do.
The Flash makes sure that Barry understands what’s at stake. Back in the Cortex, Stein, the resident good guy expert on time travel, explains that preventing his mother’s death could change Barry’s entire life: His close relationship with Joe might be gone; he might never meet Caitlin and Cisco. Nothing would be as it was today. The upside: Barry, and everyone else, wouldn’t know the difference because they wouldn’t remember this timeline.
Thankfully, Barry is surrounded by people who care about him and are willing to help him work through this decision. First up is Joe, who, at first, is firm in his belief that Barry should travel back in time to save his mother. “This is why you became the Flash,” says Joe. “To put things right.” Obviously, Joe’s putting on facade for Barry’s benefit because we know how much their relationship means to him. Let’s take a brief trip back to “The Man in the Yellow Suit” when Joe explains how Barry moving in with the Wests injected their home with some much-needed light and love. “I need my Barry Allen,” he said in that episode. So, we know 100 percent of his support isn’t behind this decision.
Conversely, Henry is flat out against the plan because he believes things happen for a reason. From Henry’s perspective, changing his mother’s fate might also undo what’s made the great man he’s watched his son turn into. To Henry, Barry was always a hero and doesn’t need to do something so drastic to prove it. But, this falls on somewhat deaf ears as Barry just keeps interrupting with some version of “I can save mom!”
Later, Iris finds Barry brooding and pondering on the roof of Jitters. What’s great about their conversation is it’s one of the few that has very little to do with their romance, or lack thereof. This is one of their most breezy interactions as they laugh about their clandestine meetings on this roof before she knew he was The Flash and how she used to call him The Streak. Yes, Iris jokes about the “Iris West-Allen” byline, but it feels as though it’s said in passing. For once, it feels like they’re having the same conversation—which is definitely a result of her finding out the truth. Barry asks her what he should do, and she tells him that he spends so much time worrying and caring about other people that it’s time for him to do what’s right for him.
Barry decides to go forward with the deal with Dr. Wells. No surprise, the plan involves using the particle accelerator—and this time, it will work properly. Instead of injecting two particles into the accelerator that are meant to collide with each other, Barry will run around the accelerator at which point they will inject a hydrogen particle to collide with Barry. If he hits it with enough speed—at least Mach 2 by Cisco’s calculations—he will punch a hole through the fabric of reality, connect the present time with an infinite number of times, thereby allowing him to travel into the past, while Wells heads to the future in a time machine built by Cisco and Ronnie with materials Wells has been collecting for almost two decades.
NEXT: The Flash makes time for love
Again, no surprise, this plan is incredibly risky. If Barry doesn’t hit the particle at the right speed, he’ll die. Think fly hitting a windshield—but way worse. Cisco, who has seen way too many movies and is a very intelligent scientist, is against the plan because of all the risks. His reluctance to help is understandable because The Flash has done a good job of showing how much the pseudo-family he’s formed with Caitlin and Barry matters to him. Nonetheless, he acquiesces and ventures down to speak with Dr. Wells about a problem with the proposed time machine.
During his conversation with Wells, Cisco reveals just how traumatizing his memory of the alternate timeline in which Wells murders him is. Wells, who respects Cisco and views him as a son, is surprised to learn of the alternate timeline. What he finds more intriguing, however, is that Cisco remembers it in the first place. This confirms something Wells has suspected all along: Cisco, too, was affected by the explosion. Cisco has been the better part of a year fighting metahumans, so he doesn’t react well to this new and rejects it. Wells urges Cisco to view this as a positive; Wells promises him a great and honorable destiny awaits Cisco—that was given to him out of love by Wells.
But back in the lab, there’s another problem with the plan: Stein’s calculations show that the collision has the potential to create a black hole that will not only destroy Central City, but also the world. But, as always, Wells is several steps ahead and has accounted for this. Once Barry travels through the wormhole, he’ll have a minute and fifty-two seconds to save his mother and return to the present.
If this has your head spinning, imagine how Eddie must feel. Not only is he just a detective from Central City, but he’s also recently been told that he amounts to nothing in the future. He’s feeling sorry for himself, but, Stein’s there to talk some sense into him. Stein casts Eddie’s knowledge of the future as a positive because he knows his future and can change it; he’s a wildcard. Eddie takes this advice to heart and pays Iris a visit, which leads to them getting back together.
Love is also in the air for Ronnie and Caitlin, who pick today of all days to get married. Stein, whose father forced him to become a rabbi before he went to school, officiates the wedding and assures everyone involve that it will be “legit” as the kids say. For some reason, Joe and Barry don’t lend their musical talents to the ceremony, which is okay because Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” suffices for the simple, yet touching, wedding.
With the touch-feely stuff out of the way, it’s time for the action, which involves a lot more of the feels, so prepare yourself. Team Flash shares an emotional goodbye at the door of the pipeline before Barry ventures inside. I’m willing to bet everyone’s rooms got a little bit dusty when Joe said “Goodbye, son.” Barry and Caitlin hug; Cisco bids Barry, “May the speed force be with you”; and Iris kisses Barry on the forehead.
“Well, you hold both of our futures in your hand now, Mr. Allen. And, I know you can do it,” says Wells. And with one more “Run, Barry, run,” Barry takes off, reaches Mach 2, and enters the speed force. We’re shown glimpses of many timelines (more on that later). Once he reaches the optimal speed, the hydrogen particle is inserted, Barry collides with it, a wormhole is created and, by focusing on his mother, he arrives in his childhood bedroom on the night of her death.
Present Barry descends the stairs, but hides behind a door as he watches Future Barry and Reverse Flash duke it out in the living room as his mother cowers in the center of the storm. Future Barry notices Present Barry and warns him not to stop it, forcing Barry to stand by as the Reverse Flash murders his mother while Future Barry whisks Young Barry to safety. It’s an emotionally stirring scene that resonates even more because of Neely’s score and Grant Gustin’s performance. Present Barry may not have been able to save her, but he assures her before she dies that he and his father will be alright.
Back in the present, Wells boards his time machine, modeled after one created by Rip Hunter. Jay Garrick’s helmet comes flying out of the wormhole, which lets him know it’s his time to leave. But, not so fast, because Barry comes hurtling out of the wormhole and collides with the time machine, destroying it. It’s another beautifully rendered fight sequence between the two speedsters, which sees Barry holding his own against his nemesis. Thawne gets the upper-hand and is about to kill Barry, after promising to kill everyone else, too—but he’s thwarted by none other than Eddie, who shoots himself, thereby stopping Eobard Thawne from ever being born. As Thawne shifts back into Matt Letshcer, he starts to fade into existence.
Leave it to The Flash to crush us with the death of a fairly under-developed character. In death, Eddie proves to himself, and to Iris, who spent most of the season fan-girling over The Flash, that he’s a hero. Unfortunately, the wormhole grows too unstable, a black hole forms, and they are forced to allow his body to be sucked into the singularity.
Team Flash ventures outside to find a gigantic black hole above Central City. The direction makes it look like a scene right out of a disaster film as the black hole draws everything into it. It’s like the tornado from the pilot, except it’s upside down and bigger. This is no problem for The Flash. He’s been through the crucible, and he’s come out stronger and more confident than ever. As the speed force energizes his body, he speeds off to save the day. Jumping from flying debris to flying debris, he enters the wormhole to save the day, leaving no doubt in his or our minds that he’s finally fast enough.
NEXT: Let’s talk about the season and the finale
“Fast Enough” might be the perfect cap to an already strong first season. The writers, thanks be to the speed force, managed to find the emotional core in an episode that tossed around more theoretical and/or faux science than cop procedural. But, this was indicative of the great work they’ve been doing all season.
The season finale is a prime example of the love and care the writers put into the show’s central trio: Barry, Joe, and Wells. Each character shines in this moment, and we never lose track of their motivations and where they are emotionally. Even in that moment when Wells promises to kill Barry and Team Flash, we still find ourselves with conflicting emotions because of how skillfully the writers and Tom Cavanagh infused Wells/Eobard Thawne with depth. Furthermore, Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin gave some of their best performances on the show. There were very few moments when either of their characters didn’t make me want to cry.
“Fast Enough” also raises a ton of questions for the second season to answer: Does Eobard Thawne’s death affect and/or undo everything that’s happened so far since he never existed, and thus never traveled back in time? What will be the state of Iris and Barry’s relationship in the wake of Eddie’s death? Obviously, their marriage, if that still happens in this timeline, is further off in the distance than it ever was? How soon will Caitlin and Cisco find out and embrace their metahuman destinies? Tom Cavanagh is returning as a series regular, how will that work? What new ways will Jesse L. Martin find to make us cry next year?
In the aftermath of the finale, I can’t think of another network series whose first season has been so consistently entertaining and that I enjoyed so much. Yes, it wasn’t without its missteps, which we’ll get to in a moment, but overall, The Flash’s freshman season was a rousing success. Central City was bright and fun and provided a nice reprieve from the moodiness and overcast Starling City. It never lost the confidence that was present in its premiere. It embraced its comic book roots wholeheartedly and was never afraid to indulge its cheesy (Cisco’s jokes, some of Barry’s powers) and campy (Wentworth Miller, Dominic Purcell, and Mark Hamill’s performances) impulses. When it did indulge, it tempered it with a healthy dose of self-awareness.
The joy of watching The Flash‘s first season came from its lead character, Barry Allen. The show never lost sight of the fact that Barry Allen loved being superhero and loved what his powers enabled him to do: help people. Oliver Queen casts the Arrow’s mission as a crusade. If Barry Allen were prone to thinking about “the mission,” he’d call it an adventure, and one he’d gladly share with Caitlin, Cisco, and Joe.
Looking ahead, The Flash does has some problems. Joe and Wells were great characters, who worked almost 100 percent of the time (save Joe’s overprotectiveness). The same can’t be said of Cisco, Caitlin, and Iris. Next season, the show has a lot of work to do with these characters. The back half of the season did a fairly good job of fleshing Cisco out, but Caitlin still feels primarily defined by her relationship with Ronnie. Likewise, the introduction of the newspaper made steps toward giving Iris something to do outside of the love triangle, but there can always be more. On a related note, the show needs more female characters. And, lastly, no more one-dimension villains of the week. Many of the one-off metahumans were unremarkable and their episodes don’t watch well upon repeat viewings because you start to notice how little there was behind these characters.
But, overall, I think we can call this season a success. The Flash has definitely set the bar pretty high for DC Comics’ future televisual offerings to meet. May the speed force be with them.
Wall of Weird:
- Here’s what we saw when Barry entered the speed force: A glimpse at the robot fight featured in the DC’s Legends of Tomorrow trailer, Caitlin Snow as Killer Frost, and also past events.
- Wells walking Barry through what he sees inside the speed force was reminiscent of all the times Wells mentored Barry throughout the season. It made rooting for him to fail even harder.
- As the black hole consumes Central City, the show checks in with some other characters including Captain Cold, Captain Singh, Henry, and, making her DC television universe debut, Kendra Saunders, a.k.a. Hawkgirl (Ciara Renée), who will be a Legends series regular.
- Ronnie and Caitlin’s marriage clears the way for Martin Stein to find a new Firestorm companion in Legends.
- Do you think the appearance of Jay Garrick’s helmet means next season will introduce the multiverse and the existence of multiple earths?
- Eobard told Barry he was born 136 years from now. Does that means he’s been time traveling a lot, or does Barry’s speed actually slow down his aging?
- It can’t be stated enough how awesome Grant Gustin was in this episode.
- Superheroics may have been confined to the end of the episode, but The Flash rendered the VFX beautifully.
- Thank you for reading along this season. It’s been so much fun! Season 2 can’t come any sooner.