If you had told me that Kevin Smith, the filmmaker who made Clerks, would direct my favorite episode of The Flash this season, I would have laughed in your face. I’m not a fan of his films, plain and simple. But even though Smith’s typical flourishes are present in “The Runaway Dinosaur” — we even get a Jason Mewes cameo — the episode didn’t annoy me the way his work usually does. Instead, I was impressed.
“The Runaway Dinosaur” puts the show’s greatest strength in the spotlight, thanks to Smith’s deft direction and a nimble script by Zack Stentz. This episode feels like it should have happened earlier in the season; perhaps it was a victim of all that Legends of Tomorrow setup. Instead, with only two episodes left, there is still a lot of ground that needs to be covered before the finale. Luckily, that general shortcoming doesn’t distract from the great development that finally does happen.
What makes The Flash such an incredible superhero show is its sincerity, empathy, and cast chemistry. “The Runaway Dinosaur” forgoes action in favor of highlighting these strengths. The episode is split between Barry’s experience in the speed force, where he regains his powers, and the rest of the team having to deal with Tony Woodward/Girder. Wait, isn’t Girder dead? Turns out Harry’s attempt to recreate the particle-accelerator accident inadvertently reanimated Girder, whose body was in the basement/morgue of S.T.A.R. Labs. Zombie Girder has his abilities and very low brain functions, but somehow remembers his obsession with Iris enough for her to be useful bait. He even goes to the places he knows she once frequented, like Jitters.
After Cisco’s original plan to use electromagnets doesn’t pan out, Girder is ultimately taken down when Barry returns with his powers from the speed force. The Girder story is a largely inconsequential side plot, but it garners a few great moments — particularly in how it centers the episode on Iris. I love seeing her interact with the rest of the team. The “you stand behind me!” moment with Cisco is aces. (They have a really fun repartee. Let’s see more of it!) Even though Barry’s experience in the speed force is the highlight of “The Runaway Dinosaur,” these small developments are certainly welcome additions.
However, Henry’s comment that Joe wouldn’t understand how Barry’s loss affects him pissed me off. Henry up and left Central City moments after he got out of prison. Joe raised Barry longer than Henry has. So what if he has two kids? Henry’s presence in recent episodes hasn’t resonated the way the writers intended, and it proves to be of the few sore points in an otherwise stellar episode.
The other problem involves what happens with Jesse and Wally. Last we saw them, they got hit by the blast that disintegrated Barry — which obviously gave them a dose of the speed force, setting them up to get powers. Jesse lands in a coma similar to the one Barry experienced after the particle accelerator explosion in season one, but … Wally seems just fine. Although we don’t see her demonstrate powers after she wakes from the coma at the very end of the episode, it’s obvious she’s being set up as a speedster. On the other hand, Wally doesn’t show any signs of superspeed, not even when Joe tests him by dropping a mug. The sequence produces some cute moments, but this seems like a weird direction for the characters. Will Jesse get powers because of that accidental dosage of Velocity 9 forced on her by Trajectory? I just want to see Wally as another Flash! (He was the best incarnation of the hero in the comics!) At the very least, he shouldn’t be in the dark about Barry being the Flash anymore. He’s resembles Iris in season one in all the wrong ways, given how often he’s sidelined and out of the loop.
Nevertheless, the heart of “The Runaway Dinosaur” is Barry’s journey in the speed force, as he grapples with his current status in life. By virtue of reading The Flash comics since childhood (and knowing the tone of the show), I figured out pretty quickly where Barry’s arc was headed. The speed force often acts as weird afterlife for speedsters — but it is also a sentient being that refers to itself as “we.” It takes on many forms in the episode, and Barry encounters it as Joe, Iris, and Henry. They all seem a little off from their real incarnations, perhaps a bit too stoic. Barry tries to convince the speed force about his love of his abilities and heroism. Barry has sacrificed a lot to be the Flash — that much is apparent. And so he’s given a choice by the speed force after Cisco breaks through: Go with his friend back to the real world without his powers, or stay in the speed force and regain them by catching the super-fast black shadow that’s haunting him. Of course, he chooses the latter. The speed force isn’t a malignant or even neutral force, though. It wants to help Barry. It wants him to deal with the death of his mother, Nora, going so far as to take him to her gravestone — something he hasn’t been able to do in real life, no matter how many times Joe has asked.
Barry hasn’t fully reckoned with Nora’s murder or his decision to not save her in order to keep the timeline intact. “The Runaway Dinosaur” argues that he can’t be a great hero until he deals with this trauma. Soon enough, Barry finds himself back at his childhood home where the speed force has taken the form of Nora.
The episode gets its title from a story that Nora would read Barry as a child. Speed force-Nora assures Barry how proud the real Nora is of him and why he needs to move on. He easily recites the story from memory. It’s one of the most heartfelt scenes in the show’s history. Far too many superhero narratives rely on killing off the mothers of their protagonists — lest they miss out on that oh-so-important angst — but they fail to make these women feel like real people. They’re simply placeholders for pain. The Flash is better than that. We may not get to know Nora beyond who she is in relation to Barry, but this loss has a gravity that other superhero stories utterly lack. Ezra Miller really has his work cut out for him when he plays Barry Allen in the upcoming Justice League films; Grant Gustin embodies the role in a tremendous, full-hearted way. Has there ever been a superhero so in touch with his own emotions? I don’t think so.
Processing his grief allows Barry to capture the shadow that has been haunting the edges of the the speed force. When he catches it, we learn why: It’s actually himself in the Flash costume. He’s finally come into his own. I hope to the heavens we see his powers grow even more.
Of course, no episode that focuses so heavily on Barry’s emotions would be complete without a lot of attention given to Iris, too. Stentz must be a huge Iris fan because he gives her a lot to do. More than she’s done all season, save for the great run of episodes on Earth-2. Candice Patton is a major reason why the story works so well. She plays Iris as brave and funny, and has great chemistry with the rest of the cast. While Barry gets suited up in the speed force — seemingly gaining a new lease on life — the team is hiding out to avoid Girder and figure out another plan. Cisco realizes that Barry isn’t dead, thanks to a vibe. He never gives up hope, not even when their first attempt to lure him out of the speed force doesn’t work. When he tries again, one of the most important people in Barry’s life joins him. Not Joe or Henry, but Iris.
Like in the comics, Iris and Barry’s love for each other is what pulls him back to Earth. “Barry, come home to me,” she says, reaching toward him in the speed force. As season two comes to a close, their relationship has developed in a way I have clamored to see. We don’t get an epic kiss this time, but we see them holding hands and visiting Nora’s grave together.
“The Runaway Dinosaur” ends on an ominous note, as Zoom gives Caitlin an ultimatum. Will she stand by his side, or go home to her friends? Then, we see Zoom talking to a large group of Earth-2 meta-humans he’s brought to Earth-1. Despite this looming threat, there’s an incredible hopefulness to The Flash. With his newfound growth and powers, Barry can surmount any obstacle. It took a long time, but The Flash has hit a new level. I can’t wait to see what the series does next.