Even Barry can’t outrun the worst tragedies the universe throws his way, and learning to accept that is the very key to allowing him to deal with the ones he can keep pace with. Or so Barry learns in the Kevin Smith-directed, Zack Stentz-penned “The Runaway Dinosaur,” an episode that sees Barry actually speaking with the Speed Force as he learns what it will take to retrieve his speed.
And while Barry is stuck in a when and where of the Speed Force’s own creation (a simulacrum of places he knows with people from his own life to make the reality of his situation more palatable), those back on Earth-1 are doing their best to bring Barry home while also contending with the reanimated corpse of Girder.
Before dealing with that metal man, however, there’s the much more pressing matter of Barry’s predicament. He wakes up in this other reality in his childhood bedroom, heading downstairs to find Joe behind some police tape from the night of his mother’s murder. Only, this isn’t Joe. This is the actual Speed Force taking on Joe’s visage. Barry demands that “they,” the mysterious force (or beings behind it), let him return home to save his friends, but the Speed Force has a test he must pass first. There’s a speedster blur running around outside, and he has to catch it.
Barry is in no mood to hunt down a phantom and be visited by the Ghosts of Barry’s Present, yet he initially chases because it’s all he can do. He eventually reaches a familiar outdoor area — the place he and Iris first kissed (before he had to rewind time, of course) — while also running into Iris, too. Or, again, the Speed Force-as-Iris.
Force Iris says they’re doing this to make him less upset, though they’re clearly not getting the job done. They need to test him, however, because he rejected his gift. Barry scoffs at the idea, saying he gave up his powers to save a life, only to practically kill himself to gain those powers once again.
If anything, Barry wants his powers and to leave this place immediately so he can put them to good use once again. And he almost gets that chance when a tornado breaks out on the water nearby. Cisco is vibing via Barry’s costume, using the machine Harry built in the last episode, with his powers amplified to physically reach through the force and become a beacon to Barry.
Cisco reaches out for Barry and asks him to take his hand and come home. Force Iris tells him he could return home right now but he would do so without his powers. So Barry turns down the invitation and chases after the blur once again.
This time, this otherworldly game of cat and mouse brings him to a place he’s actually never been — his mother’s grave, with Henry Allen there as the latest Speed Force representative. Barry’s patience is running thin by this point, but this new location is also clearly putting him on edge.
The Speed Force is making him to face his greatest pain, asking him if he’s ever truly accepted losing his mother, if he’s really at peace with his decision to let her die so others could live. Barry’s incredulous at the idea — how could anyone be at peace with not saving their mother’s life when given the opportunity? Even with all of those other lives saved as a result, could someone actually reconcile that choice?
NEXT: Barry comes face to face with his greatest pain [pagebreak]
But that’s exactly what the Speed Force is asking him to do, putting the idea to him most powerfully by leading Barry back to his home, where his mother waits for him. She’s the Speed Force, and Barry knows it. That doesn’t stop him from being shaken by seeing her again.
The scene finds its greatest power via Grant Gustin’s spectacular performance. The grief he portrays is so honest in the way its conveyed, the desire to feel better mixed with the debilitating worry that you may never be able to find that peace. And the subtle touches to the scene and dialogue only magnify Barry’s suffering — Force Mrs. Allen still calling him sweetheart, Barry’s internal struggle knowing this isn’t his mother and yet so desperately wanting it to be her, the pain with which he admits that he’s never accepted her death and likely never will.
But Speed Mom tells him he has to find a way to do so. Even with his powers, he can’t stop the horrible things the universe will inevitably throw his way. No matter how strong he is, the pain of loss is something he’ll never outrun. But being able to deal with it? To draw strength from working through it and overcoming that suffering? He’ll be all the stronger for it, be the man he wants to be with his powers.
To help Barry, Speed Mom (who claims to be speaking for both the Force and his mother when it tells him his mother is proud of all he’s done) presents Barry with his favorite childhood book, The Runaway Dinosaur. Barry remembers every word of it. He remembers that the dinosaur was so special because it had the exact right mother for it, the mother that would love it always and forever.
In that moment, the Speed Force recognizes Barry is ready to be granted his powers yet again. The Speed Force isn’t asking Barry to move on from his mother’s death — it’s an absolute true sentiment that he may never “get over” her death, but accepting that moment and all of its accompanying feelings is necessary. The Flash has the ideas of loss, grief, and learning to live with it built into its DNA, and the episode’s most heartfelt moments demonstrate the power of acceptance, both of the good and bad. It’s likely Zoom’s inability to accept his dark past, to move on from the anguish that clearly plagues him, will be his downfall as Barry has seemingly dealt with his past as much as he needs to in order to face Zoom. Barry will never stop missing his mom, but he can learn to accept those feelings and grow from his experience rather than be stuck in the past forever.
And just as Barry finds that acceptance, he catches the blur running around this reality — himself in his Flash suit. He’s retrieved his own part of the Speed Force, doing so with great timing, as Cisco has opened a connection to him once again. Only this time, it’s not Cisco who asks Barry to come home. It’s Iris.
Surrounded by the most important women in Barry’s life (well, in the case of his mother, the representation of her via an unknowably powerful universal element), Barry reaches through the force and grabs Iris’ hand, returning to Earth.
Everyone’s happy…for about three seconds. As Cisco and Harry comically explain, Iris led the reanimated corpse of Girder, who came back to life from the new accelerator explosion, back to S.T.A.R. Labs as he was chasing his last love down. (His temporary reign of terror also included a quick Jason Mewes cameo, ensuring Jay is not to far from Silent Bob even in the Berlanti-verse). Now, they’ve got him at the lab, their attempt to power him down with electromagnets failed, and he’s breaking down the door to their room.
NEXT: The Flash returns [pagebreak]
Barry swoops in to help, bringing Iris with him as they let Girder once again chase them through the labs before Barry leads him back to the electromagnet room. After a quick fight, Barry charges up the electromagnetic field with some fast and furious running, knocking the zombified Girder out. (And for those who have not also checked out iZombie — which is only doing yourself a disservice as it’s great — Cisco’s reference of the show was not just a fun namedrop. Greg Finley, the man behind Girder, has also had a recurring role on the Rob Thomas-produced zombie procedural.)
Barry’s return brings with it more than just an easy defeat of a meta. He’s also able to spark Jesse back to life. Harry found her after the shock with her heart not beating, though she quickly regained signs of life only to slip into a coma. Her pattern follows much of Barry’s life after the first accelerator explosion, though she doesn’t spring into any sort of speedster behavior just yet. (Joe, however, is suspicious that Wally may now be a speedster, as he also was knocked out by the blast. Yet when he tests him by dropping a mug of coffee, Wally doesn’t react with blinding speed. He just wonders why Joe would waste a perfectly good cup of joe.
Barry can’t quite explain his help to Jesse. It’s the Speed Force at work, which he and Harry both recognize. What Barry can explain, however, is his newfound sense of peace, as he tells his father he was wrong. Everything wonderful and awful that has happened to them has made them who they are today. He is the Flash because of it all, and he’s learned to accept that.
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Henry has also learned something — that staying away from his son for this long was helping no one, and so now he’s back in town for good. (A proclamation like that in a show willing to kill off its supporting cast sounds like a ticking clock on Henry’s life, though that’s not founded on any evidence, just a feeling…and perhaps a bit too much watching of The Walking Dead. And I’d certainly like Papa Allen to stick around for as long as possible, with the show’s many fathers being one of its strongest aspects)
Barry will need the strength of those he loves around him, though, when the inevitable showdown with Zoom comes. He makes sure he wastes no more time in telling Iris how much he cares about her. He brings her to his mother’s grave, visiting it in the real world for the first time with her. He leaves a copy of The Runaway Dinosaur, a book Iris never much cared for because she, and in her mind Barry, never had mothers who were always there. They never had anyone just right for them.
But they did, as far as Barry is concerned. They’ve had each other, and whatever is happening between them, he has finally accepted how much she has and does mean to him. “The sound of your voice will always bring me home,” he tells her.
It’s that home, and the people he loves, that Barry will soon have to defend as Zoom prepares for Earth-1 domination. Giving Caitlin the choice to leave or stay with him (and thus receive his lack of mercy or protection, respectively), he then addresses a police station full of evil metas.
Zoom has an army to fight the Flash. Barry? Well, he has acceptance and a powerful group of loved ones. It’s a safe bet that latter army can take on whatever chaos Zoom throws their way.