Series 2, Episode 21
The Runaway Dinosaur.
It's actually really difficult to focus on writing today. Possibly I need some coffee, or possibly I needed a Flash episode that was a bit less vague and unfocused than this one. That's not even to say that I didn't enjoy it (although I do think it was one of the worse episodes this series), just that I feel like the writers started with 'Barry gets trapped in the Speed Force and sees people he knows' as a plan and struggled to actually flesh that out into a full episode. But we'll get to that.
This week's episode sees Barry awaken in a dreamlike version of Central City. Told that he's within the Speed Force, he's instructed to catch a strange, shadowy figure running about near him, or else he won't be able to leave and return to his friends. Meanwhile, at STAR Labs, the particle accelerator explosion reanimates Girder as a metal zombie obsessed with finding Iris, while Henry struggles to wake up Jesse, who has fallen into a coma after being caught in the explosion.
I'm disappointed in part because there are the kernels of two really great ideas in the Barry-is-in-the-Speed-Force sections: Trapped in a hallucinatory otherworld created by the Speed Force, and getting closure with his mother. Those are both ideas with miles upon miles of potential, that really interesting things could have been done with, but they are not ideas which go together.
|So I guess John Wesley Shipp is a regular now.|
I say that partly because, hey, if you're a timeless, sapient force of being fast, why on earth do you care if this one dude has come to terms with his mother dying? Clearly you're not an especially moral source of fastness, since we established in this episode that you willingly bestow your powers on people, which means you actively chose to give Eobard Thawne and Hunter Zolomon super-speed. It feels baffling to me that it would care, and it kind of saps both any sense of 'this is a powerful and alien entity' out of the Speed Force, and any tension out of the episode. There's not really any risk to Barry anymore, there isn't any kind of ambiguity in the Speed Force's intentions, it's just essentially playing therapist.
Instead, here's an alternate idea: Barry is taken into the Speed Force, and there he encounters Wells - Thawne!Wells, not regular Wells, whose mind has been 'copied' into the Speed Force, just like all other speedsters, and who's being used as a messenger for the Speed Force - this preserves the Speed Force as something alien and unknowable, since it has to use proxies to communicate with Barry. Once again, though, he's told he has to catch a shadowy figure if he wants to return.
Barry sets out to catch it, but can't - every time he gets close, he hesitates and it speeds away, trailing yellow lightning in its wake. Several more messengers for the Speed Force appear - Eliza Harmon, at first, then Wally (prompting some confusion from Barry), then finally Jay. They inform him, in cryptic bits and pieces, that the Speed Force didn't pull Barry in - the Speed Force doesn't care, he chose to come, because he doesn't want his speed back. When Barry asks for more information, they profess they don't know, because the Speed Force won't tell them. Barry still gets the offer to return with Cisco, and he still rejects it. Jay in particular tells Barry that if he doesn't stop him, every world will be destroyed.
|Joe is undeniably the best Speed Force disguise.|
Eventually, Barry talks to Wells/Thawne again, at his mother's grave. He chases after the figure again (possibly with a callback in the form of Wells doing the 'Run, Barry, run,' cry), and this time catches it, viewing in the Speed Force a vision of his mother reading The Runaway Dinosaur to him as a child. Iris shows up in the Speed Force via the same method as she did before, and Barry goes back with her.
As far as the B-plot goes, involving a zombie Girder chasing down Iris, that was pretty much fine. It fulfilled its purpose - that being to give the rest of the STAR Labs gang something to do and to give Barry an enemy to triumphantly defeat upon his return - and we got some pretty good one-liners out of Cisco and Iris out of it. I admit to having a small conniption of joy when Cisco told Iris to get behind him and she snapped that he should get behind her. After all, we all know who the more capable of the two is.
|Also, some kind of movement on the Barry-Iris romance! Yay.|
All in all, this was definitely one of the worse episodes this series, but I don't want anyone to think that that means it was bad. It was an enjoyable but deeply flawed episode, and the fact that it measures up so poorly against the series is at least partly because the rest of the series has been so good. The biggest problem with it was that it horribly mishandles two brilliant ideas, dealing with them clumsily and without any real direction.
That said, we have two more episodes this series, and they both look like they'll be really good, so those should be fun.