The Flash Recap: Fear Itself

The Flash

The Wrath of Savitar
Season 3 Episode 15
Editor’s Rating *****
Jesse L. Martin as Joe, Grant Gustin as Barry, Tom Felton as Julian. Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW

For better or for worse, it was only a matter of time until The Flash turned its attention back to Savitar. “The Wrath of Savitar” concerns this season’s evil speedster trying to escape, as several big secrets finally come to light.

Despite all his efforts to change the future, Barry witnesses two of Savitar’s warnings come true in this episode: a betrayal, and one member of Team Flash suffering a fate worse than death. There are definitely some interesting threads here, namely how fear can warp even good intentions. There’s also an urgency and tension that has been sorely lacking from the rest of this season. But nevertheless, a relatively good episode is undone by some easily avoidable, frustrating problems. Almost every character makes decisions that are meant to move the plot forward, first and foremost, even when those choices don’t make much sense.

“The Wrath of Savitar” begins with Barry, Jesse, and Wally racing around Central City. It’s not just some afternoon stroll, but a training exercise designed to test max speed. Although Wally’s able to beat his personal best, finally proving he’s fast enough to save Iris in the future, it’s hard to celebrate the moment because Wally is having visions of Savitar he hasn’t told anyone about. Of course, this secret doesn’t stay hidden much longer.

Later, Barry witnesses Wally being thrown around like a rag doll by an invisible force. This leads a deeply afraid Wally to confess the truth: He’s been seeing Savitar. Barry believes it’s all in Wally’s head, but something more sinister seems to be going on. It’s simply hard for Barry to see clearly, given his intense fear about Iris’s impending death. Barry quickly lashes out at Wally in increasingly cruel ways, even benching him from team decisions.

Barry’s anger is a bit much, but his worry that Savitar may be spying on them through Wally is understandable. Savitar hasn’t even escaped yet and the group is already splintering. “Everyone just needs to trust me. I know what I’m doing,” Barry says. The moment he said that, I knew this episode wouldn’t end well. How can he be trusted given he’s making decisions out of fear?

At one point, HR tells Wally an important piece of advice: “No one can do anything that effectively from a place of fear.” It’s something Wally unfortunately doesn’t take to heart. But he isn’t the only one who needs to hear that advice. Nearly every character, especially Barry, say and do things guided by their deep-seated fears. Caitlin reveals a crucial secret she has been hiding lest she become Killer Frost. Wally forces Cisco to vibe so he can see the moment Iris is killed by Savitar. Even more damning is Barry’s treatment of Julian.

Julian is the only link they still have to Savitar. While they don’t have the philosopher’s stone, Cisco still has the frequency it operates on, which means Julian can have Savitar speak through him. Of course, Julian is quick to say no to being Team Flash’s “personal walkie-talkie.” He speaks of the trauma and lack of autonomy he suffered under Savitar’s control. To everyone else, Julian’s health and safety pale against the threat this villain represents. I can’t even begin to parse out how troubling it is that the team doesn’t seem to care that they are forcing Julian to relieve his trauma.

Speaking through Julian, Savitar is egotistical and annoying. He mocks Barry’s efforts to change the future. “I am the future,” he warns. Savitar is supposed to be a frightening villain, but the moment he mentioned Eobard Thawne, I wished the show could just bring back that former villain rather than this retread. The stakes with Thawne were intense and personal, especially compared to the mystery of Savitar’s identity. The suit he wears makes him seem so detached from reality that nothing he does ever hits as profoundly as it should.

After the Savitar talk, Team Flash decides to look up what happened to his other acolytes. One of them warns Barry that Savitar is always ten steps ahead. Given that the acolyte had the stone box that held the philosopher’s stone (which Barry threw into the speed force), he’s obviously right. How could that thing make it’s way out of the speed force? And why was Savitar so cocky about eventually getting out of where he’s trapped?

Meanwhile, Julian worries that he may the team’s very own Judas. He’s wrong. It’s Caitlin who has betrayed them by keeping a piece of the philosopher’s stone. Wait, what?! Apparently, Caitlin kept a small piece in hopes of figuring out a way to reverse her powers and destiny as Killer Frost. What’s even worse is how Julian is the only one who rails at her for making such a selfish decision. After seeing Wally being taken to task by Barry for keeping his visions of Savitar a secret, this sudden reveal feels odd. Why isn’t everyone angrier? What Caitlin did shows an extreme amount of selfishness. She didn’t care that keeping a part of the stone could very well lead to Iris getting killed. She didn’t care that her decision would wreck the lives of Barry and the entire West family. The only thing that mattered was her fear of becoming Killer Frost. It’s a shame the episode doesn’t explore the problems and tension that Caitlin’s decision would open up.

That’s not the only secret to come out, though. When Wally convinces Cisco to show him Iris’s murder, he notices something Barry never mentioned: In the future, she isn’t wearing her engagement ring. Wally quickly puts things together that Barry asked Iris to marry him to change the future. Instead of talking to Barry about this, he lashes out in anger, revealing the truth to everyone. This, of course, causes a rift between Barry and Iris. What woman wants to be engaged because her boyfriend was afraid of what might happen if they didn’t marry?

However, the entire plotline regarding Barry and Iris in this episode is miscalculated, if not outright offensive. After the cute moment of Barry and Iris revealing their engagement, things quickly go downhill. Joe is upset that Barry didn’t ask his permission to marry Iris. What year is it again: 2017 or 1947? That Joe is hurt this underscores his problems seeing Iris as a grown woman. It’s benevolent sexism, but sexism nonetheless. That Iris also brings it up doesn’t seem in character at all, even if she does make a good point: “I don’t want to be someone you’re only trying to save for the rest of eternity.” Again, unfortunately, the episode doesn’t really dwell on or explore these relationship issues. Iris mentioning “eternity” instead sparks a realization for Barry: Savitar must be trapped in the speed force.

Before Barry can act on this knowledge, Wally takes matters into his own hands. He sees a vision of his mother warning him that he isn’t fast enough and never will be. Even though it’s revealed to be Savitar, Wally’s ego and apprehension about his role as a speedster lead him to make some damning decisions. He nabs the piece of the philosopher’s stone and throws it into the speed force. This plays right into Savitar’s plans, giving him exactly what he needs to escape. Wally is sucked into the speed force while Barry, arriving too late, watches on in horror. Moments later, Savitar escapes, leading to an intense fight between him and Barry. While Barry is able to land a few good hits, Savitar ends victorious and Barry winds up being stabbed through his chest. He’s hurt, but curiously, Savitar doesn’t want him dead. (I predict that shard of Savitar that stabbed Barry will prove very useful in the near future.)

“The Wrath of Savitar” ends with everyone in bad shape. Julian is still reeling from having to be used as the team’s personal Ouija board to contact Savitar. Caitlin is burdened by guilt. Iris no longer wears her engagement ring. And Wally is suffering a fate worse than death, trapped in the speed force prison that future-Barry designed for Savitar. One thing I can’t get off my mind is Savitar’s decision to not kill Barry and his warning that he’s the future. “From my perspective you’re the Big Bad,” he says. Savitar ominously tells the team that Barry created him and that they already know one another. Could Savitar actually be a future version of Barry or Wally? That would definitely be a big twist, but it won’t be enough to distract from what The Flash really needs. These characters should feel like real people again, not just pawns for plot development.

The Flash Recap: Fear Itself