The Flash recap: Barry's speed thinking creates major problems for Team Flash
So, Barry has now lived long enough to see himself become the villain not once, but twice! The first time was obviously in The Flash's third season when Savitar turned out to be a very bitter Barry Allen speed remnant. Now tonight's episode, "The Speed of Thought," has given us the second instance of this happening — and the way it happens is very The Flash.
I'll admit: The opening moments of "The Speed of Thought" made me a little worried. The episode begins with Barry lamenting the role his emotions have played in his recent conflicts with Ramsey and Eva after a touching memorial service for the Wellses. "Lately, it feels like my heart is my enemies' greatest weapon," a disheartened Barry says to Joe. Hasn't The Flash been down this "are emotions bad?" road before (several times)? Wasn't season 4 mostly about Barry and company embracing the importance of their feelings? Luckily, I was a bit too hasty in my judgment, because it turns out the episode approaches this exhaustively explored theme from a new angle that made things very compelling.
After the aforementioned service, Cisco and Barry get to work on figuring out how to open a portal to the Mirrorverse, because the technology that Cisco brought back from Atlantis didn't solve their problem. During their brainstorming session, something weird happens and Barry starts predicting exactly what Cisco is going to say before he says it. This initially freaks Cisco out, but he quickly discovers what's happening: The Artificial Speed Force gave Barry enhanced cognition, or more plainly, speed thinking, which is a relatively new power in the Flash canon. Basically, Barry has the ability to take in and process information and stimuli faster than a computer and run through various outcomes in a given situation. At first, this skill seems like a blessing because it allows Team Flash to speed through typical time-wasting obstacles, but of course, there's a catch.
It turns out, the more Barry uses his speed-thinking, the quicker his emotions start disappearing. He starts acting purely based on logic, which, as the show has made clear time and time again, is not great Bob! But, it is great for Grant Gustin. Since taking over as showrunner, Eric Wallace has done a good job of giving Gustin material that allows him to stretch his acting muscles and show different sides of himself, from his pained performance in "The Last Temptation of Barry Allen" to his hilarious impressions of the Wellses in last week's episode. Here, Gustin does a great job of carefully tracking Barry's gradual evolution into an emotionless Barry, and the final result is rather unsettling to watch because it feels so far from the Barry we know and love. In many ways, the turn is darker than the Savitar reveal, because that Barry still felt and cared about something.
As I mentioned before, The Flash has explored the importance of feelings many times before; however, this episode isn't frustrating or redundant because the script doesn't forget the show's history. It's not like Barry is purposefully ignoring past lessons and abandoning his emotions. If Barry had been conscious of the cost of using speed-thinking, I don't think he would've used it so much even if he was feeling bad about how often bad guys use his compassion against him. Furthermore, we learn, this is a side effect of the Artificial Speed Force. When Team Flash built the ASF, they purposefully made sure it wouldn't produce an emotional fallout because they wanted to avoid powering it by negative emotions like Thawne did with his Speed Force. Unfortunately, leaving sentiment out results in Barry becoming a machine that allows his teammates to get hurt or inflicts emotional harm on his enemies to distract them because of some cold calculation that ignores the crucial human component.
Eventually, Barry's empathy completely disappears, and his speed-thinking helps him realize that he can't save everyone from the Mirrorverse due to technological constraints I don't completely understand: They either free Iris or Kamilla and Singh. Barry runs a mental simulation of what will happen when he informs the team of this problem and sees that everyone votes to save Kamila and Singh. So, Barry decides to hide this from them and save Iris. Of course, Cisco, Allegra, and Frost figure this out and execute the Babel protocol — a fantastic reference to my favorite JLA storyline, "Tower of Babel" — to subdue him before he ruins their chances of saving anyone.
The ensuing action sequence blew me away. To give herself a fighting chance, Frost takes Velocity X, which leads to her and Barry racing around the city. I firmly believed The Flash couldn't top the visual thrill of the Gorilla Flash moment in "Grodd Friended Me" but I was wrong because Frost's icy-lightning is even better and a reminder that season 6 (and now 7) has done a good job of giving us as many cool, comic booky moments as possible (Also, the Frost vs. Flash fight is another parallel with the third season). Unfortunately, speed and ice powers are no match for Barry, who is absolutely ruthless without his emotions keeping him in check. Again, it's unnerving.
After taking out his team, Barry coldly opens the Mirrorverse portal and tells Iris to walk through. Iris tells Barry to take Kamilla and Singh first because they aren't in great shape, but he ignores her and forces her out of the Mirrorverse. Once back in the real world, she collapses and starts seizing. That shocks Barry back into feeling his emotions and he stares in horror at the damage he caused. (The shot of everyone lying on the floor felt like a direct reference to the "Tower of Babel" cover.) Barry decides to destroy the Artificial Speed Force, and the energy discharge knocks him out.
But it's not all bad news: In its final moments, the episode jumps back to the moment Eobard Thawne killed the real Harrison Wells and stole his identity in season 1's "Tricksters." As the camera lingers on Harrison's grave, green energy beads start forming and the real Harrison materializes. When showrunner Eric Wallace said Tom Cavanagh wasn't going anywhere, resurrecting the real Harrison Wells wasn't on my list of theories (and Gustin assures me there's more going on than just that).
Wall of Weird:
- After Barry reveals to the world that Eva McCulloch isn’t the real Eva, she decides to turn the real world into the Mirrorverse.
- Earlier in the episode, Cecile comforts a grieving Allegra. “The people we love, they’re only gone when we stop carrying them with us. How you choose to carry Nash is up to you.” It’s no “What is grief, if not love persevering?” but the scene gets the sentiment across.
- I liked the detail of Allegra using some of Nash’s tech in Team Flash’s fight with Barry.
- Barry losing his emotions reminded me of what happened whenever vampires flipped their humanity switches on The Vampire Diaries, except with way less scene-chewing.
(Video provided by The CW)