“Infantino Street” is the episode season three has been building toward, in which Iris’s death at the hands of Savitar isn’t a distant probability but a reality Barry must face. The episode is interspersed with reminders of her impending doom. It even opens with the text, “Twenty-four hours until Iris West dies” and counts down from there.
If you knew you were going to die, how would you spend your final hours? How Iris feels and any desires she may have aren’t fully considered, which points to one of the season’s larger problems. Instead, the hopeful efforts of Team Flash to save her and Barry’s own internal journey take precedence. Usually, I’d have more of a problem with this sort of dynamic, but the penultimate entry into The Flash’s third season is its best episode in a very long time. Its propulsive, well-paced, and emotionally rich. What I wasn’t expecting was how fun it would be.
The Flash has been understandably dour recently, but this show is at its best when it embraces the inherent wackiness of the Flash and his mythos. That’s why Leonard Snart, a.k.a. Captain Cold, is such a welcome return. This show needs to find a way to bring him back more often. (I don’t care that he died in the first season of Legends of Tomorrow. This is a comic-book show; death rarely sticks anyway.) Cisco and Barry find that the only energy source powerful enough on Earth to charge the speed-force gun meant to entrap Savitar is housed at A.R.G.U.S. But Lyla, making a cameo appearance from Arrow, refuses to give it to Barry despite Iris’s life being on the line. “This is the kind of tech wars are fought over,” Lyla warns. Plus, the fact that Flashpoint wiped Lyla’s daughter out of existence means she isn’t exactly in a trusting mood when it comes to Barry.
Barry can’t just steal the power source, either. There are meta-human power-dampening fields and intense security at A.R.G.U.S. He needs a master thief and there’s none better than Leonard Snart. Barry tracks a version of still-alive Snart down (when he was with the Legends) and persuades him to join his heist. “The Flash a thief? My kind of mission,” Snart purrs. What makes Snart such a wholly captivating villain is Wentworth Miller’s understanding of the show he’s on. He relishes the heightened nature of the character and world he’s a part of. He doesn’t merely say his lines, he devours them. Just listen to how Snart says his four rules, “Make the plan. Execute the plan. Expect the plan to go off the rails. Throw away the plan.” It’s glorious. He also understands that Barry didn’t just need him for his thievery skills. Barry wanted someone who wouldn’t stop him from crossing moral lines the way his friends normally do. With Iris sent to Earth-2 to be protected by Harry with Wally and Joe in tow, Barry can focus on the heist. It actually starts off well, too.
Snart is taken into custody at A.R.G.U.S. by Lyla. But this isn’t Lyla — it’s actually Barry using H.R.’s transmogrifier to alter his appearance. The fake ID Cisco created and eye scan work. But Barry fails the word association, leading for him to go for a more violent route to get into the building. Snart and Barry pass by where Amanda Waller kept her Suicide Squad, landing at the door that holds the mysterious alien technology power source from the Dominators. (That crossover feels like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?) The Montgomery 3000 lock, which has Cisco sweating when Barry mentions it over the com system, may have cost $10 million to build, but it only takes Snart 37 seconds to dismantle. He’s that good. But they have bigger problems when they notice King Shark is guarding the power source. Barry doesn’t hesitate to want to kill King Shark, violating his biggest rule. But Snart stops him, suggesting they use his cold gun to bring the temperature down in the room and knock the somewhat warm-blooded King Shark out into a peaceful sleep. Snart knows all about this because he likes Shark Week. Go figure.
They slowly creepy through the foggy room past the sleeping King Shark. “Reminds me of Jaws. They didn’t show the shark because they couldn’t afford to make it look good,” Snart says, which seems like a meta critique on The Flash’s effects budget. This is what I want to see more of on The Flash — less emo Barry, whether he’s Savitar or any other version. Things go sideways once Barry gets the smaller-than-expected power source, causing the door to lock. Barry narrowly escapes, but Snart is trapped. Being the good guy he is, Barry refuses to leave Snart behind despite time running out on Iris. Snart’s escape is brief but suspenseful. I guess he owes Cisco for that successful hack that saved him from losing a limb to King Shark. The only issue I had with this heist story line is how Lyla catches them: Before they can make it out, she decides to change her mind about giving Barry the power source because … she saw him save Snart instead of just abandoning him. Iris’s life wasn’t enough of a motivation already?
Barry and Snart’s efforts prove to be futile. Savitar slips into S.T.A.R. Labs in an old Flash suit, tricking the idiotic H.R. into revealing where Iris is. Why didn’t H.R. remember hiding Iris was predicated on Barry not knowing, since any new memory would be shared by Savitar? Why does S.T.A.R. Labs have such bad security? Savitar easily beats Wally when he makes his way to Earth-2. Iris offers herself up to save Harry, Joe, and Wally from a worse fate. Her death scene is actually beautifully constructed. Joe’s breakdown is heart-wrenching. The video message Iris records for Barry, in which she says her vows, is also a nice touch as a reminder of what is lost with her death. Despite all their effort, including the speed-force gun (which actually works but is counteracted by the philosopher’s stone), Iris still dies in the same brutal way that has played out all season.
Despite how well done this episode is (including the showdown between Cisco and Caitlin I’m eager to see play out next week), there is a nagging issue I can’t ignore: It is a clear example of why the superhero girlfriend needs to evolve. Since the resurgence in superhero films and shows kicked off by Batman Begins, the superhero girlfriend continues to be written in the same troubling ways that plague her comic-book counterparts. She can be accomplished, but not so much as to diminish the stature of the masked man who saves her on a nightly basis. She can be intelligent, but not smart enough to deduce that the hero who consistently comes to her aid is a good friend in disguise. She’s said to be dynamic, but rarely shown as such. She’s an emblem of goodness and love, but rarely elevated into becoming her own human being. Since she’s more symbol than person, she becomes more valuable when in danger, or actually dead. As a result, the archetype is rarely well-written enough that actresses like Candice Patton can demonstrate their talents.
So much of this season has been about Iris’s death and how such a tragedy would affect everyone around her. But Iris herself hasn’t been an active emotional participant in this story line. Now that she’s dead, what happens next? A part of me doesn’t believe Iris is actually dead. Maybe time travel will bring her back. Although one would hope Barry has learned his lesson with changing timelines like that. Maybe H.R. used his transmogrifier and somehow stepped in place of Iris. No matter what happens in the finale, one thing is certain: Iris needs to become more than a pawn in some supervillain’s plot for The Flash to evolve.