In the midseason finale, Barry goes somewhere he's never been before
After taking a half-break to deliver crossover, alien-fighting goodness last week, The Flash dives back into season 3’s main story line in tonight’s midseason finale, answering many questions we’ve had about the season — somewhat at the expense of delivering great character moments. More importantly, The Flash took us someplace we’ve yet to go so far in the show’s run, which sets up a new and intriguing but potentially infuriating direction for the back half of the season.
“The Present” doesn’t waste too much time getting to those answers. While trying to find information on Savitar, Cisco comes across a research paper about a powerful stone that can create metahumans, a.k.a. Doctor Alchemy’s Philosopher’s Stone. And, it just so happens Julian was said paper’s author. Barry confronts Julian, who explains he blew his inheritance on an expedition trying to find the stone but came up short. We know he’s lying because we found out he was Doctor Alchemy two episodes ago — and because tonight’s episode opens with a flashback scene that shows him finding the stone in India. Julian also drops one bit of information before their conversation ends: Savitar was the first meta with speed.
That last bit of intel is worrisome enough for Barry to jet over to Earth 3 and seek out Jay’s help, which leads to a fun cameo from Mark Hamill as Earth 3’s Trickster. After helping Jay subdue The Trickster, the two Flashes hop back over to Barry’s Earth and Jay reveals he’s heard of Savitar before. According to “speed force myths” (*fights urge to roll eyes*), Savitar was the first speedster and eventually became the God of Motion. If he’s on this Earth, it means he’s come to do battle with Barry because the latter has started to challenge his power.
With all this Savitar and Doctor Alchemy drama going on, it wouldn’t be surprising if you forgot it was Christmastime on The Flash. Thankfully, H.R. Wells is here to bring the Christmas spirit by hanging festive decorations around the lab. However, that doesn’t do much to lighten the mood for Cisco and Caitlin, both of whom can’t help but think about people they’ve lost. The holidays make Caitlin remember the last Christmas she spent with her father and Cisco’s mind obviously turns to Dante, whom he keeps seeing around the lab. If there’s one good thing season 3’s angst has done, it’s strengthen Cisco and Caitlin’s friendship, so I definitely enjoyed them sharing holiday stories with each other.
Following Jay’s advice that he focus on spending time with his loved ones, Barry heads home to see Iris, who’s busy wrapping presents. In addition to completing her Christmas shopping, Iris also found time to do some digging of her own and she learns every scientist on Julian’s expedition died except for him. Yes, leave it to Iris to come through with a useful lead. This was a great example of how the show should be using her; we should be seeing more of Iris using her journalism skills to help Team Flash — and less of her giving pep talks.
Iris’ information convinces Barry there’s a connection between Julian and Doctor Alchemy (and that suspicion is about to be confirmed). Cisco detects the Philosopher Stone’s energy signature atop of Central City building, so Barry and Jay head out into the field. They leave behind Wally, who reveals he’s been training with H.R.
Doctor Alchemy is trying to use the building to restore every meta’s powers from the Flashpoint timeline. Savitar makes his entrance right when Barry and Jay arrive. So, Jay takes on Savitar while Barry goes after the stone. Savitar drags Jay around Central City like a rag doll in a sequence that pushes The Flash‘s CGI budget to the limits; Jay and Savitar look more like video-game characters than flesh-and-blood humans. Savitar is about to kill Jay when Barry throws lighting to knock out Alchemy and places the stone back in its box, causing Savitar to disappear. Barry unmasks Alchemy and discovers it’s Julian.
Naturally, Barry throws Julian in the pipeline, which has the unfortunate effect of reminding us of the questionable ethics of Team Flash running their own prison. Julian vehemently denies being Savitar and seems to truly believe he isn’t. Barry suspects Julian may not know he’s Alchemy because he’s been blacking out. Barry unmasks in front of Julian to get Julian to trust him. It works and Julian comes clean about the blackouts and his trip to India. It turns out he went looking for the stone because he started hearing his dead sister’s voice and she told him where to find it. His blackouts started after the India trip.
Yes, that story means we should be worried about Cisco, who is having a conversation with his dead brother upstairs as he runs tests on the box. Dante urges Cisco to open the box and use the stone to bring him back, and Cisco does, which releases Savitar. (I didn’t buy Cisco would fall for this, but whatever.) With Jay out of commission, it’s up to Barry and Wally to take on Savitar, but they’re no match for him. Thankfully, Caitlin breaks through to Cisco, who locks the stone back up.
Team Flash decides to use Julian’s brainwaves to talk to Savitar, since it’s clear Savitar’s been possessing him and turning him into Alchemy. Savitar starts speaking through Julian and delivers a terrifying prophecy about Team Flash: One of them will betray the team, one will fall, and one will suffer a fate worse than death. Savitar also reveals Future Barry trapped him in time/eternity and now he’s back to take everything from him. (Ugh, yet another revenge plot, except now the slight behind the avenged is in the future, making it even harder to really care about Savitar’s motives since he’s angry about something that has yet to happen for us).
Convinced they have no other option, Team Flash decides they need to destroy the Philosopher’s Stone to destroy Savitar’s connection to the physical world. Unfortunately, it can’t be destroyed, so the next best thing is throwing it into the Speed Force, which Jay defines as “eternity” (more on this in Wall of Weird). So, Jay helps Barry run fast enough to open a portal to the Speed Force; however, the blast of the Philosopher’s Stone entering the Speed Force sends Barry flying through another portal.
Suddenly, Barry finds himself on Infantino Street in Central City. He hears screams, looks, and sees The Flash standing in a park facing Savitar, who has Iris in his clutches. Present Barry watches as the other Barry fails to stop Savitar from killing Iris. Jay pulls Present Barry back to the present before he has a chance to do anything and tells Barry he just traveled five months into the future (a.k.a. the season finale in May — also, shout-out to The Flash taking a book from Arrow‘s season 4 playbook).
Obviously, seeing the future has Barry worried about Iris’ safety and he’s anxious about doing anything to stop it. But, Jay tells him to calm down — the future is ever-changing and just because he saw something happen doesn’t mean it will come to fruition. Instead of focusing on what might never happen, he needs to focus on the present. (This is great advice for the show, too, because it’s spending way too much time on timey-wimey stuff).
Taking Jay’s advice, Barry convinces the rest of Team Flash they need to celebrate Christmas and enjoy their time together. So, Team Flash heads back to Joe’s home to exchange gifts and drink the super-strong eggnog Joe and Cecil made. This entire Christmas scene is loads of fun and rather poignant, as it’s one of the few times this season we’ve seen Team Flash just enjoy each other’s company — even Julian shows up because he didn’t want to be alone on Christmas.
While Cecil is in the other room, Team Flash gives Wally his present, a Kid Flash costume. Earlier in the episode, Joe was pissed when he found out Wally was training with H.R. However, H.R. tells Joe the needs to recognize and encourage Wally’s potential or else Wally will look elsewhere for support. So, that’s how we arrive at this point.
Meanwhile, Barry decides it’s time to gives Iris her Christmas present: he signed a lease on a new apartment and asks her to move in, which creates a nice parallel to “The Man in the Yellow Suit,” which saw Iris agree to move in with Eddie. Iris is worried they’re moving too quickly, but Barry is sure this is what he wants. They seal the deal with a kiss in the middle of their new apartment and that’s where the episode ends. Unlike the season 1 fall finale, there isn’t a juicy stinger at the end.
“The Present” ends the first half of season 3 on an okay note. It gave us some much-needed answers while also sending the show in a new direction. Obviously, Team Flash will probably spend the rest of the season fighting against Savitar’s prophecy, and Barry will be more determined than ever to make sure the future he saw doesn’t come to pass. However, “The Present” was so plot-concerned it didn’t leave much time to focus on the characters themselves. Yes, there were some nice moments, but I don’t think they necessarily cohered, and I think that’s why this episode never entirely clicked for me.
Wall of Weird:
- The episode wasn’t entirely clear on this point: Is Savitar mad because Barry traps him in the Speed Force? Or, is Future Barry responsible for tying him to the Philosopher’s Stone?
- From the moment Joe invited Cecil over for Christmas, I started getting worried the episode would reveal she was Savitar. I’m glad it didn’t.
- Savitar referring to H.R. as “Fake Wells” was great.
- Do we think Barry is the one who suffers a fate worse than death? Remember, the newspaper from the future says he disappears in a crisis.
- Does Alchemy know who had powers in the Flashpoint timeline because Savitar told him?
Episode grade: B
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