The Flash 6×07: “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Part 1” and Arrow 8×06: “Reset” reviews
This week in the Arrowverse, Batwoman and Supergirl were on break, but we still had Arrow and The Flash giving us all the fun and excitement of . . . (checks notes) . . . people facing the grim reality of death.
The Flash 6×07: “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Part 1” review
For many years now, that refrain has been shouted by fans of The Flash. Because for many years, Barry Allen, that sweet, lovable dope, has kept making these boneheaded decisions that screw everything up.
Exiling Nora back to the future. Letting Thawne run away during Crisis on Earth-X. Pretty much anything he did during Season 3. You could even take it as far back as the decision in Season 1 to keep Iris in the dark about his identity.
And unlike Oliver Queen or the Legends, who are supposed to be these incredibly flawed heroes, to the point you can question whether they’ve done more harm than good, Barry has always been portrayed as an intelligent and decent person, an unambiguous True Hero . . . except, for the sake of drama, he has to make all these stupid decisions, so that Team Flash will keep having problems to deal with.
This is a pattern most viewers have become tired of and are quick to call out. So when “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Part 1” ends with Barry willingly becoming a supervillain’s mind-controlled blood zombie? You’d think we’d all be shouting “Dammit, Barry!” at our TV screens again.
And I’m sure some folks out there did. But speaking for myself, this climax produced, not that old frustration, but genuine sympathy for what Barry has been through and why he made the decision he did. That this moment works is entirely down to how expertly crafted the episode leading up to it was.
Much of the credit, of course, must go to Grant Gustin. This episode asks more of him than almost any other in the show’s history, and he rises to the challenge. He shines in the big moments, like when he tries desperately to hold an infant Nora, begging to hold his baby just one time. He shines in little touches, like when Ramsey presents his argument and you see the wheels of realization turning in Barry’s head. And he shines throughout by portraying Barry as growing increasingly, literally feverish, the strain of this struggle tearing apart his sense of reason. Gustin is asked to cover a whole sweep of heightened emotions throughout this episode, and if any of them felt less than sincere, the conclusion might fall apart. But through it all, Gustin brings the core of Barry’s feelings to raw, painful, and deliriously real life.
Credit must also be given to many of the writing choices made this episode. Nora has rarely been mentioned since the season premiere, but confronting Barry with the child he lost, a child he will never see, a child who will never be born unless he survives the coming Crisis, puts his will to live in a different context. It helps us appreciate how the Barry we see now is not the same man, with the same priorities, as the Barry we first met in Season 1.
When asked why sacrificing himself now is so much harder than in the past, Barry answers, “I’ve lived more.” He’s no longer that youthful twenty-something from the start of the series, eager for new adventures, new experiences, to do something great in the world. He’s gotten older; he has a family, a life he’s built for himself, one he hoped to settle in comfortably for years to come. The future for him is no longer some mysterious thing to be rushed into headlong; it’s the continuation of everything he has, everything he hoped to have, all the people he hoped to keep with him always. And it’s all about to be snatched away.
With this new perspective on life, Barry gains a new perspective on his powers, and on the Speed Force from which they came. Barry has always treated being the Flash as a gift, something miraculous that came into his life, into his world, and let him change it all for the better. Yet, over the years, Barry and the people he cares about most have suffered tragedy after tragedy because of that lightning bolt that struck him. Even the death of Barry’s mother, and all the havoc that’s come from Thawne’s manipulations, happened because Barry would one day become the Flash. Now, with the Speed Force asking him to sacrifice everything, Barry begins to see it as the source of his suffering, a callous entity that’s ruined lives and manipulated him to achieve its own ends, just as Thawne once did. Is it any wonder, then, that at last Barry refuses the Speed Force’s call?
It’s a beautifully scripted look into Barry’s struggle, and coupled with Gustin’s performance, might have been enough to sell the episode. But what truly brings this episode to the point of greatness, makes it one of the show’s most remarkable episodes, is the visual design.
The Flash and its Arrowverse brethren are no strangers to stories taking place inside characters’ heads. Often, the conceit has been used rather lazily, being filmed and constructed much like any other adventure on the show, except (since it’s in their mind) achieving appropriate character growth is literally all that’s needed to solve the problem. But in “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Part 1”, we have a truly dreamlike journey through Barry’s mind, with bizarre visuals serving to highlight Barry’s experience.
A hallway full of tombstones, naming everyone who has died over the course of the show. Barry’s arms fading out of existence as he tries to hold his child. The scenery disappearing into blackness as Barry is confronted with accusations. Team Flash gobbling down platefuls of Ramsey’s black blood, then turning to speak in unison. Barry appearing in his childhood bedroom as he descends into a childlike state. More of that black blood seeping from the bedroom’s walls as Barry gives in to Ramsey’s influence.
It is, quite possibly, the most visually rich episode The Flash has ever done, filled with scenes that are creative, arresting, memorable, and illustrate the emotional journey Barry is on. When such exceptional visual flourish is applied to such a well-written and brilliantly acted story, I’d feel downright churlish ragging on the character at that story’s heart for making a dumb decision at the end. Just this once, let’s not all shout “Dammit, Barry!” The guy’s been through a lot.
- I mentioned it before, but I need to mention it again: that black blood dinner is probably the creepiest, most disgusting scene The Flash has ever done, and I love it to bits.
- The stretchy guy battle at the episode’s start was a creative use of powers, though at times the CGI was . . . it reminds me of the old Superman film serial, where Superman would be replaced with a cartoon drawing whenever he needed to fly.
- When Allegra asks if there are maybe other stories they should be focusing on, and Iris shoots her down, I was like, “Your paper’s only got two reporters! How can you stay in business if both of you spend all your time investigating one story?”
- Frost having a panic attack in the middle of Barry’s medical emergency was an interesting character touch. Previously Frost has been Caitlin’s tougher, more cold-blooded side, but when it comes to seeing people she cares about dying, Caitlin is by far the more hardened and experienced of the two.
- So Crisis is only 36 hours away. I’ve gotta wonder if next episode will have Ramsey telling Team Flash, “I understand you want to defeat me and free Barry from my mind control. But how ‘bout you save that until after we stop the multiverse from ending, ‘kay?”
Arrow 8×06: “Reset” review
“Time is a gift.”
That’s how Lyla explains the Monitor bringing Future Team Arrow to the present. It’s Oliver’s reward for his sacrifice, having this time to spend with his children before his death. It’s for this same reason that Laurel was included in the time bending shenanigans this week, so that she’d have the time she needs to say goodbye to Quentin.
It’s also why this season of Arrow exists.
Arrow could have ended with Season 7. Stephen Amell was ready to call it quits, most of the ongoing plotlines were wrapped up, and the season finale was crafted to serve as a heartrending goodbye to these characters, their story, and their world. That could have been the final episode of Arrow; we could have ended Oliver’s journey on him leaving with the Monitor to fulfill his destiny, and not seen him again until Crisis on Infinite Earths. This eighth season didn’t need to happen.
But I think we’re all grateful that it did.
“Time is a gift” is the ethos, not just for this episode, but for this whole final season. The writers, the actors, everyone involved in making Arrow: they’ve gone into this season knowing it’s all they have left, that this is their last chance to be a part of this story. That time can’t be wasted on hyping up some generic crime boss, or injecting pointless relationship drama, or bringing in half-sisters out of nowhere. Each of these ten episodes needs to be something special, needs to be treated like the miraculous gift that it is.
And because of that, this season has done things, achieved things, that Arrow might never have otherwise. We’ve had the return of Moira Queen, Malcolm Merlyn, Tommy Merlyn, Thea Queen, and now our beloved Detective Officer Captain Deputy Mayor Mayor Quentin Lance. We’ve had a whole episode set in a parallel universe, showing what the world might have become if Oliver had never returned from the island. We’ve had Team Arrow meeting their time traveling kids from the future. And now, we’ve had an honest-to-goodness Groundhog Day episode!
In a normal season of Arrow, any one of these events would stand out as the highlight of the season. But in this final season, the goal seems to be to make every episode a highlight. To have every episode do something significant, to say something profound about the characters and the journey they’ve been through. If that requires bending the laws of space-time and throwing the show’s quasi-realism to the wind? So be it!
In “Reset”, that goal is all but stated outright. Lyla says the MacGuffins Oliver’s been retrieving will be important during Crisis, but that’s not the main reason he’s been going on these adventures. The Monitor has been testing him, sending him into situations deliberately designed to reveal his true character. At the same time, he’s being rewarded with the gift of time, to have this last stretch of his life be with the people he cares about most. In this episode, the Monitor goes so far as to create an entire fake reality, complete with a resurrected Quentin Lance, just so Oliver and Laurel can learn not to waste the time they’ve been given by trying to extend it, but to appreciate it fully while it lasts. Only when Laurel takes the time to finally say goodbye to Quentin, and only when Oliver stops rushing out the door, and instead tells his kids how much they mean to him, does the time loop end.
You could see that as a metaphor for Arrow as a whole. When the show strove to keep itself going for as long as possible, season after season, it began to resemble being stuck in a time loop: the same plot beats, the same character beats, the same tragic losses and moments of heroic resolve, repeating themselves over and over. Occasionally you’d get something new, even something spectacular, but as it pursued longevity, Arrow sacrificed much of the vitality it started out with. Even “rebound” seasons like 5 or 7 could not help feeling lessened by how much they retraced the steps of seasons past.
But now the time loop is broken. Arrow will no longer relive the same sort of story it has before. It’s marching towards its end; it knows it’s marching towards its end. And with that knowledge, with that acceptance of its own mortality, the series can at last focus on making each episode, each moment, the best that it can be.
Time is a gift, but it’s only when it slips away from us that we realize how precious it really is.
- Seriously, how good was it to see Quentin Lance back on the show? I’m not sure which I loved more: how quickly he accepted the time loop explanation, or saying that dying protecting Laurel was “Best way I could have gone.”
- When Laurel said goodbye to Quentin . . . damn did Katie Cassidy bring it!
- That big chase/fight scene with Oliver and Quentin against a seemingly endless wave of goons, done mostly in one take? Super awesome. Though my favorite part probably came right before the single take started, when Oliver busted out the most elaborate trick arrow yet.
- When Lyla said, “There is an evil coming that is greater than anything we’ve ever had to face”, I wanted Oliver to respond, “I’d take that more seriously if everyone hadn’t said the same thing about Ricardo Diaz.”
- Of course Oliver’s final mission takes him back to Lian Yu. Like, how could it not?
MVP of the Week: Barry Allen
Even if he makes you wanna go “Dammit!”
Question of the Week: Rank the Groundhog Day episodes: Arrow’s “Reset” vs. The Flash’s “Cause and XS” vs. Legends of Tomorrow’s “Here I Go Again”