The Flash recap: Barry and Iris face their trauma
Trauma is at the center of several superhero stories these days (and I can't possibly guess why...). Over on Black Lightning, Jefferson Pierce and his family are grappling with the psychological ramifications of the Markovian invasion, and Batwoman's Alice remains a case study on how not to deal with trauma. Meanwhile, in the rival Marvel Cinematic Universe, WandaVision just finished delving into Wanda's response to the tragedies she's endured, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's series premiere sent Bucky to therapy. Well, now it's time for The Flash to throw its hat in the ring with "Central City Strong," which dives into how Barry and Iris are coping after the events "Reflections and Lies," a.k.a. "Graphic Novel #2."
Spoiler alert: Neither Barry nor Iris is coping quite as well as they think they are. For his part, Barry still feels guilty for letting Mirror-Iris trick him, so he's doing the most to make it up to Iris: a trip to Maui, a candlelit dinner, and crepes from Paris. That last one reminded me of one of my favorite Clickhole articles, "The Problem With 'The Flash': Why Doesn't Flash Run To Italy For Pasta Every Meal?" It was a valid question when that article was published in 2015, and it's even more so now it's clear Barry is willing to travel internationally for great food! But I digress. As if that wasn't enough, Barry is also putting a lot of effort into rebuilding Central City after Mirror Monarch's rampage with Team Flash. As the Flash, he even issues a mea culpa to the city on live television. "I let this city down...but I will make it up to you."
Meanwhile, Iris is also struggling. Despite Barry's grand gestures and her insisting she's fine, Iris definitely isn't, mostly because she's refusing to face what she went through. The first draft of her Mirroverse story is terrible, according to Allegra who edits it, because she refuses to engage with how traumatic her three months in the Mirrorverse were. Later, she attends a support group for people who got trapped there during Eva's attack, but she runs off before completing her interview because she gets overwhelmed.
Needless to say, no one is thrilled when Abra Kadabra returns and more murderous than before. After killing a Central City Strong volunteer, David Dastmalchian's futuristic fake wizard transforms a random shed into a weird obelisk. It's not long before Team Flash captures him and hands him over to A.R.G.U.S. (shoutout to Cisco for mocking this terrible government agency). But spoiler alert again: Abra Kadabra wanted to be captured because it gave him access to the technology he needed to build an anti-matter bomb, which he plans on using to destroy Central City. I was under the impression that we all decided to stop using the tired "Villain Gets Captured on Purpose" trope a few years ago, but apparently, I was wrong...
Anyway, Barry starts beating himself up because he fell for Kadabra's trick, you know, after being bamboozled by Mirror-Iris, Eva, and Ramsey — all people who took advantage of his heart. Thankfully, Iris shows up at S.T.A.R. Labs and gives him a necessary pep talk. "You don't have to do anything. You got me. I'm never going to leave," she says. "Something terrible happened to you, not because of you. That kind of trauma doesn't go away in a day or week. You have to face it." Of course, Iris is smart enough to realize she needs to take that advice, too, and face everything she's been avoiding. I really enjoyed the couple's heart-to-heart because it's been so long since we've gotten a sweet Barry and Iris scene like this.
Iris' pep talk also helps Barry realize why Kadabra wants to destroy Central City: He lost someone he cared for and he blames the Flash for it. That's when Cisco discovers that Kadabra had a Martian Memory Restorer (TM) — which, as the name suggests, restores pre-Crisis memories — on him when he got caught. It turns out Kadabra actually took Barry's advice the last time they came face to face in season 3 and followed his inner light and hope by creating a family; however, he lost them in Crisis and he believes it's Barry's fault because he didn't vanish like he's supposed to. In other words: Kadabra wants to make everyone feel the pain he's feeling, and he's a foil for Barry and Iris in terms of how one should deal with trauma.
Instead of using his fists to beat Kadabra, Barry uses his words and urges him to consider not only how his family would feel if he destroyed the city but also whether or not this would even restore the timeline (it wouldn't), which convinces him to give up. I really enjoyed their exchange for two reasons: First, not every villain needs to be defeated with a big fight (even though Chester's line "The Flash doesn't need a big fist. He has a big heart" ruined the moment by pointing out the obvious). Second, the conversation drew on the Arrowverse's history, specifically how Barry was still grieving Oliver's death in the Crisis. Anyway, Barry tells Kadabra that the only way for him to heal is to face his trauma.
But the episode doesn't end there because a poorly rendered hulking beast shows up out of nowhere. The monster absorbs all of the energy in Kadabra's anti-matter bomb, kills Kadabra, and bear hugs Barry until he passes out before jumping off to parts unknown. Normally, I have an idea of what comic book lore the show is drawing on, but I have no idea what's going on here.
In the aftermath of the episode's big happenings, Iris takes her own advice, returns to the support group, and opens up about what happened to her in the Mirrorverse. Iris' speech was another great showcase for Candice Patton, who conveys all of Iris' complex and difficult emotions. It's nice that the show gave Iris the space to express how she felt about everything she endured. That being said, I'm not entirely sure if the "You Gotta Be" needledrop completely worked. Nevertheless, I hope the show doesn't just abandon this story after this episode because no one is recovered after opening up once.
As if the big monster that attacked Barry wasn't enough of a dangling thread, the episode ended on another shocking cliffhanger: Caitlin and Frost split and are now separate people, which comes as a huge shock to Cisco. (Shoutout to Caitlin's literal splitting headache.)
Before we wrap-up, I gotta say that Carlos Valdes and Brandon McKnight deserve massive kudos for bringing the humor in tonight's episode. Their light, cheery, and exciting energy was the perfect balance to the hour's heavier storylines, plus they just had some great moments; from the duo planning their Star Wars marathon to Cisco's joke about the Green Arrow & the Canaries backdoor pilot, and his Fortnite freakout, both men made me laugh out loud multiple times.
Wall of Weird:
- Seriously, what's going on with the big CGI monster? I'm guessing it has something to do with all of the colorful lightning in the sky, but I don't know what.
- Praise Beebo that Iris promoted Allegra from intern to staff writer.
- Also, Iris saying she needs to reach people on a bigger level makes me super worried the Central City Citizen is pivoting to video. Iris, don't do it! No matter how much the Citizen is struggling financially, there's always another way!
After the success of Arrow, Barry Allen (a.k.a. the Flash) gets his own CW treatment in this comic-themed spin-off.