It’s time to discuss the penultimate episode of The Flash and the Arrowverse as a whole: Season 9, Episode 12: “A New World, Part Three”. And in preparation for next week’s series finale, we take a look back at the first season finale The Flash ever did: Season 1, Episode 23: “Fast Enough”.
I’ve got mixed thoughts about “A New World, Part Three”.
On the one hand, I still hate all this cosmic forces mumbo jumbo. On the other hand, Rick Cosnett does such a great job portraying Eddie Thawne here, any scene with them is thoroughly engaging – they really sell the whole storm of emotions Eddie is going through. On the other other hand, maybe it’s from having just re-watched “Fast Enough” for my Arrowverse Classic review, but taking a character who gave their life in a heroic sacrifice, then resurrecting them eight years later just to turn them into a villain … kinda poor taste.
But on the other other other hand, this episode had Nora in it, and they’re always a pleasant addition … by that I mean Future Daughter Nora, not Speed Force Mommy Nora.
The Flash – Season 1, Episode 23: “Fast Enough” review
This, the Season 1 finale, “Fast Enough”, is, for me, the absolute best episode of The Flash.
(It’s possible next week’s series finale will end up topping it, but the way this season’s been going … nah.)
Which is weird, because it isn’t constructed like any other Flash episode.
Over the previous 22 episodes, The Flash had established a clear formula for it stories: some baddie causes trouble, Team Flash struggles and fails to stop them at first, but then after a round of pep talks and science mumbo-jumbo, they get their second wind and stop the villain before they can complete their evil scheme. That’s what the show had been up until then, and what it would continue to be for almost every episode that followed. But not here.
Until its closing minutes, “Fast Enough” has no bad guy who needs to be stopped, no crisis that needs to be averted, not even any superspeed action or other spectacle. We already got to see Barry defeat the Reverse Flash and thwart their doomsday plan (with an assist from Arrow and Firestorm) in the penultimate episode. With that taken care of, this episode is able to dispense with the “how do we win?” question, and instead has its opening scene drop a whole different question on us:
If Barry could prevent their mother’s death, the inciting incident for the entire series, and in doing so prevent everything we’ve seen on The Flash till now from ever happening … should they?
It’s still a far-out, science-fiction dilemma, but it’s one that can’t be solved by reversing a polarity, or running faster than you ever have, or just believing in yourself hard enough to set everything aright. Because there’s nothing that has to be set aright, no looming crisis, no challenge that must be overcome. Nothing except for Barry and the rest of Team Flash to decide what it is they truly want.
The Flash lured in its audience with the promise of superpowered battles, quippy banter, an intricate mystery, and, if we’re good, maybe a talking telepathic gorilla down the line. But, while the show delivered on all that, anyone who tuned in soon learned that wasn’t the main reason to love this series, to come back week after week. The key, the real key to The Flash’s success, was heart.
This was a show where all of the characters cared about each other, supported each other. When one of them was down, the others picked them back up. When one of them failed, the others helped them become better. And when nothing was wrong, they were still there for each other anyway, just for the joy of being together.
That love, that positivity, that camaraderie, that wholehearted embrace of family and friendship: it’s what made The Flash, in its heyday, not only one of the most fun, but one of the most endearing shows on television.
And in “Fast Enough”, the show finally slows down and takes a look at what that means. If Barry goes back to save their mom, get their dad out of prison, fulfill the dream they’ve been chasing since they were ten … then all the relationships we’ve seen built across the season will be gone. The episode is devoted to the characters pondering that, taking stock of all that they’ve come to mean to each other, and wondering if that’s really something they should give up.
A good finale should feel like the culmination of every episode that came before it, and this does that in the best possible way. When Eddie proposed to Iris, when Barry and Caitlin went to karaoke, when Ronnie and Stein found their way home, when Joe West and Henry Allen vied for World’s Best Dad, when Cisco was everyone’s adorable younger brother: all those moments, every bit of laughter and hugs and tears these characters have shared, they all inform the story here, and the choice Barry ultimately makes.
For fifteen years, both Barry and Thawne saw the night Nora Allen died as the night their lives were ruined. They obsessed over fixing what happened to them, of getting back the life they were supposed to have, the life they felt they deserved to have. But while Thawne claims they came to care for Cisco, and for Caitlin, and even for Barry, that never made them rethink their plans to leave them all behind, or their willingness to kill them if it becomes necessary. Getting back what they see as theirs: that’s all that mattered to them.
And so, for all their planning, all their meticulous manipulation, Thawne fails, because they could never understand that Barry, their reverse, their opposite, would come to cherish the new life they’ve been given and the people in it more than anything Thawne could offer them. And in a rare move for The Flash, this difference between the two isn’t belabored or explicitly spelled out. They let the story speak for itself, and sum it up in one short, perfect exchange between villain and hero.
“Why? Why!? You could have had the life you wanted. You could have had everything you ever wanted!”
“I already do.”
- Okay, I de-emphasized it in my review, but there was some action and world-in-peril stakes this episode, right at the very end, including some very impressive black-hole-destroying-the-city effects. Though it’s probably best if we pretend the buildings that got demolished were conveniently empty, and that Team Flash aren’t responsible for killing hundreds of people.
- Eddie Thawne really did follow the same path as Tommy Merlyn, right down to dying in the Season 1 finale as they did something heroic.
- The opening confrontation between Barry and Dr. Wells/Thawne is one of my favorite moments in the series. I love how it establishes a vast history of battles between Flash and Reverse Flash, but all long in the past (from Thawne’s perspective), with the supervillain now looking back with regret on their impetuous youth.
- I’d forgotten they were already planting seeds for Legends of Tomorrow at this point, with an image of the team appearing during Barry’s trip though the space/time continuum, and Kendra being one of the Central Citizens who stares up at the black hole taking shape.
- Caitlin and Ronnie’s wedding is understated, especially compared to the big blowout that happened at Barry and Iris’s, but it’s still an incredibly sweet moment … and super-sad once Season 2 comes out and you realize their marriage didn’t even last a day.
Question of the Week: What’s your favorite season finale?