“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