There’s always a lot of pressure riding on a show’s mid-season finale (although in a twenty-three-episode season, it’s not really midway at episode nine, but I digress). In this case, “The Flash” had to deliver on more of Savitar and Alchemy’s arc, wrap up Cisco’s grief in regards to Dante, Wally’s rise to becoming Kid Flash, and open the door for new conflicts and storylines that will play out over the rest of the season. While Savitar has been largely underwhelming, “The Present” is the first time he legitimately felt more threatening. It now makes defeating him more of a personal vendetta for Barry after he’s privy to a possibly dark future. All in all, it’s a strong episode that delivers an entertaining hour with wonderful emotional beats and also drives the plot and character development forward.

FLA309a_0171bThe episode begins by giving us backstory about Julian. Four years prior to coming to Central City, Julian, dressed to the nines in Indiana Jones-like attire, opens an artifact containing the philosopher’s stone (an excuse on the writer’s part for Tom Felton to say those exact words, and you can’t convince me otherwise). Upon opening the ancient box, a light shines out with what we can presume is Savitar’s essence, and that’s where Julian’s Alchemy story begins. Later, it’s discovered that Savitar, by way of the stone, uses Julian and others as vessels to speak through.

I know your fears and I know your weaknesses. I know you better than you know yourselves. I know your destinies. One shall betray you. One shall fall. One will suffer a fate far worse than death. This is the knowledge I have for you. About your everlasting damnation.

There is plenty going on in this episode and after a bit of a slow start, it picks up and manages to balance all the characters and the plot. It’s the first time since “Shade” that the stakes have felt higher. I was a bit surprised that Julian as Alchemy was revealed to Barry so soon and that Savitar basically gave us the reason behind why he’s after Barry. At some point in the future, Barry traps Savitar in “eternity.” It seems like plain and simple revenge at first, but I can’t help but think the writers have more in store. Savitar’s backstory pretty much made him out to be like the first of the speedsters, a la Apocalypse being the first mutant in X-Men, and I hope that this is further explored. Does it also have something to do with Future Barry’s message about a war?

FLA309a_0343bFeeling overwhelmed by all this new information about Savitar, Barry pays a visit to Earth-3 to see Jay Garrick. Jay reveals that, yes, he knows who Savitar is. He’s heard of him because he’s kind of a speed force myth. Jay is surprised (and a bit jealous?) that Savitar has revealed himself to Barry and never to him. The younger speedster brings Jay back to Earth-1 (Earth Prime?) and they battle Savitar. They quickly discover that locking the philosopher’s stone in the magic box makes him vanish, but only after apprehending Julian. For his part, Barry’s former supervisor doesn’t realize he’s Alchemy. He only admits this after Barry reveals himself as The Flash to Julian (honestly, what is the point of a secret identity, Barry?).

Things come to a head when Cisco, who’s been seeing Dante all over the lab, is drawn to the stone because Dante’s ghost convinces him that it’s the only way to bring him back to life. Savitar springs up and starts kicking Barry’s ass. Wally, who has been training with H.R. and still faces a reluctant and overprotective Joe, gets his Kid Flash on and attacks Savitar. Thankfully, Caitlin helps Cisco snap out of his trance and the stone is shoved back into the box. Deciding to toss the stone into the speed force and be rid of it, he and Jay join forces to get this done. After the philosopher’s stone is supposedly no more, Barry ends up five months in the future (a first for him). There, he stands paralyzed as he watches Savitar kill Iris while his future self isn’t fast enough to stop it. This possible future hasn’t come to pass and yet, it was so gut-wrenching and heartbreaking to watch. The slow motion hit home the severity and devastation of the moment. Blake Neely’s “I Will Wait For You” score slowed down as Barry is running is especially effective and Grant Gustin and Candice Patton’s performances are emotionally powerful.

This is why speedsters don’t travel to the future. Nobody should know this much about their own. Just as there are infinite Earths in the multiverse, there are infinite possibilities to the future. It’s always bending, always changing. Every decision you make created another alternative. The future isn’t written yet and it might not even be what you saw. You need to focus on the here and now. You need to live your life.

westallen the flash“The Flash” adores its themes of prophecy and destiny. Savitar, through Julian, declares that he is the future and his revelations to the team are grim: “One shall betray you, one shall fall, and one will suffer a fate far worse than death.” Merry Christmas to you too, Savitar! There’s a lot to contemplate with what he says, though, including his reference to “the fake Wells.” The prophecy will come at a time when everyone is least expecting it, I assume, but it could be anyone. Right now, it’s the possibility of Iris’ future death that will surely weigh on Barry and he, along with the rest of the team, will work to try and prevent it in the second half of the season. Having been shown Iris’ death, will it actually happen? I don’t think so. The show has driven home how important she is to Barry and killing her would be one of the worst mistakes the show could ever make.

In fact, “The Flash” doesn’t need to continue killing people off for shock value. Mostly, because TV deaths are no longer shocking and I don’t want Iris to die simply to serve Barry’s man pain. That one scene was sad enough as it is. Also, this show has already ended two seasons with death and, as much as I’m enjoying this season, I’d like it to be a little lighter. Killing Iris would drive Barry over the brink and we don’t need the show to get that dark, because it most certainly would if her death were to actually come to pass. Iris is Barry’s heart, and by extension, the show’s; therefore, the writers wouldn’t want to do something that would change the tone of the show so drastically. The scene also reaffirms Iris’ connection to the speed force via Barry. The first time he ever time traveled to the past, and now to the future, are both tied to her. It’s something to think about. It’s also a sign of maturity when Barry, instead of pushing Iris away after this vision of the future (like so many superheroes have done), instead brings her closer. With all that said, this seems like a great storyline that will be central to Iris, the Wests, and Barry moving forward.

I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future. All I know is right here, right now, I want to spend every moment I can with you. You’re the first thing I want to see when I wake up.

FLA309a_0225bI like the fact that “The Flash” is really discussing the consequences of time travel this season. They could have easily benched everything after Flashpoint, but they’ve made it a point not to. It’s nice to see not only what altering the past can do to the timeline, but also how it may affect the future. Now it begs the question: If you knew about your own future, would you try to change it? Or does trying to change it actually set you on the course to this future becoming reality? Jay tells Barry to live in the present, but this is Barry we’re talking about. This is going to bother him until he can figure out how to stop it from happening.

Ultimately, the episode had everything that makes “The Flash” a good show. It had a lot of heart, there was some humor, they let Iris do some research, Team Flash worked together, and the plot moved forward. Savitar actually feels a bit more menacing and I liked the fact that the show didn’t wait very long before having him interact with the team in a way that doesn’t just involve him beating up speedsters. While the Alchemy reveal doesn’t come as a surprise, “The Flash” still likes its use of misdirection. The show has never been subtle and its twists never shocking (the superhero genre on the whole isn’t built on this, really), but that’s not why I watch. It’s the characters and their journeys that drive the show and “The Present” really drives this home and sets up a lot of intriguing plots for the second half of season three.

“The Flash” is back on January 24! See you in 2017!

Random Thoughts: 

  • This episode was so full of unadulterated fluff, angst… and even more fluff and angst. I (mostly) loved every minute of it.
  • Caitlin made it snow for Cisco for the carolers.
  • H.R. is a hilarious drunk. And he’s also really into Cecile. He seems to call upon Joe West’s ire without realizing it.
  • Grandma Esther is a legend on this show. It’s also a callback to Grandma Esther’s eggnog reference from the season one Christmas episode. Now, thanks to Cecile, we’ve also got Grandma Millie’s eggnog recipe. (Drunk) H.R. approves.
  • Will there be a grandma cook-off next?
  • Nick Gonzalez as Dante really sold it this episode, even though he didn’t have too many lines. His body language spoke volumes in regards to the changes in who we’ve known Dante to be vs. this version of him.
  • That future scene reminded me a bit of “Back to the Future” when Marty comes back to 1985 early and watches himself minutes before disappearing.
  • Wally asks why they can’t just lock up the philosopher’s stone and bury the box. “Uh uh, ‘Jumanji,'” says Cisco. Good point, Cisco.
  • I really love how Barry and Iris’ theme has evolved. Blake Neely truly does nail it. In the final scene, you can hear the “Best Friends Since Childhood” score before it seamlessly flows into a new variation of “I Will Wait For You.” It’s simply beautiful and so very romantic. (note: I have an addiction to TV and movie scores).
  • Tom Felton was dressed like Indiana Jones. Then Cisco makes an Indiana Jones reference. Not subtle, show.
  • I’m so happy they’re giving Carlos Valdes more emotional stuff to work with. It really showcases his talent which I think people should appreciate more aside from him just being the comedic relief.
  • Is it just me or did it look like they’re setting up a possible Caitlin and Julian romance?
  • Wally got his Kid Flash costume!! I’m so happy for him!
  • The death scene I was not expecting. Why would they do this to my heart?
  • I wonder if Savitar is human.
  • I like that it’s easy to differentiate John Wesley Shipp as Jay. I don’t even see Henry anymore. Maybe it’s the suit.
  • Always good to see Mark Hamill as the Trickster, even if his appearance was brief.
  • The fake Wells? Is Wells really another man whose face is actually the one he pretended to have earlier in the season? Does this sentence even make sense?
  • Cisco said “mind-punk’d.” I don’t know why I find this funny, but I do.

"The Present" had everything that makes "The Flash" a good show. It had a lot of heart, there was some humor, they let Iris do some research, Team Flash worked together, and the plot moved forward.


About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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