If you free yourself from the burden of past tragedies at the expense of losing all your memories, would you take the opportunity? After Cisco botches an operation meant to stop Barry from making any new memories, which was a dramatically bad idea in the first place, Team Flash must reckon with the fallout in “Cause and Effect.”
Barry’s inability to remember anything has a dramatic effect on everyone in his orbit. Savitar is also memory-free. Wally no longer has his powers. Julian and Cisco have to scramble for a solution when Cecile needs Barry to testify against arsonist Heat Monger. But this sudden change also aids The Flash in a way I didn’t expect: Amnesiac Barry is light on his feet, sweet-natured, and rather befuddled in an endearing way. Watching him trip into one bad situation after another while remaining essentially hopeful brought to mind how he was at the beginning of the series. “Cause and Effect” is an imperfect episode, but it feels like it belongs to the show we watched in the first season, which at this point means it’s a noticeable improvement.
The episode begins mere moments after Savitar reveals his identity to Barry. For those curious about how Savitar came to exist, we do get an explanation. Apparently, Savitar is a time remnant created by future Barry. He survived the task that he was made for, but couldn’t adjust to life since his friends and family wanted nothing to do with him. He isn’t the “real” Barry after all, but a duplicate. Without a place in the world, he went mad and traveled back in time to dub himself the first speedster, gathering acolytes and becoming the unhinged villain standing before Barry. Savitar’s suit being able to operate remotely is a nice touch in their showdown, but I’m more interested in the series getting a better handle on the particulars of time travel. As Joe says when he gets the breakdown, “That doesn’t make sense.” Wally also makes a good point by asking, “If Savitar is a version of Barry from the future and he remembers everything Barry does, how are we ever going to come up with a plan to stop him?” Cisco’s bright solution is to stop Barry from forming new memories, putting an end to Savitar’s advantage. Of course that doesn’t work, since it’s a terrible idea.
The thrust of “Cause and Effect” is simply to fix Barry’s memories since the cost is apparently too great for him to remain this way. Without his memory and Wally’s power, Central City is vulnerable. I actually think Wally would be fine living without his powers and Barry without his memory since it means that Iris would be safe. Savitar without memory means no more murderous plans. So I don’t buy that they wouldn’t even consider keeping Barry the way he is a bit longer. Plus, this version of Barry is hilarious and unburdened by tragedy, leading to hijinks and fun details. I especially loved that he prefers to go by the name Bart (a nice nod for comics fans). It’s a definite oversight in an episode that is arguably more about Iris. Sort of.
“Cause and Effect” highlights how important Iris is to Barry, something this season has mostly just left to dialogue rather than having it shown. While I loved seeing so much of Iris and the fortification of her relationship with Barry, there are aspects of how this is constructed that bother me. Candice Patton is a great actress in this role, but Iris is more a symbol than an actual character. The way Barry and Iris interact put a smile on my face, but I find it troublesome that Iris’s reaction to learning that Savitar is a future, unhinged version of Barry is so subdued. (She has a cursory bit of dialogue about it before asking Barry how he’s feeling.) As much as I love witnessing Barry and Iris fall in love all over again, I also want to understand more about who she is on her own. How is her career going? Is she taking on high-profile work to make her mark on the world in case Barry can’t save her? Does Iris have any friends of her own, or does her entire life revolve around Barry? We still don’t know.
On the bright side, I’m just happy Iris has so much screen time. In many ways, this episode is more about Iris’s reaction to Barry’s memory loss more than anything else. While everyone scrambles to get him back to normal, Iris enjoys his state. She’s enamored by how sweet and light he’s become. Part of the reason why he remains that way is because Iris carefully edits the story of his life. She obscures how his parents died when Barry noticed a picture of them. She doesn’t mention of Savitar. Barry even has to find out about his powers on his own, which he realizes when he kisses Iris and gets so excited his hand starts vibrating. This is poignant for it demonstrates that the stories we tell ourselves are as much a part of our identity as the memories we cherish. And that isn’t lost on Joe.
“You don’t want his memory restored do you?” Joe asks Iris. It’s only Joe who can get Iris to reconsider her desire for Barry to remain a blank slate that she can tweak or give the truth to as she sees fits. This amnesia may make Barry the man she thinks he deserves to be — unfettered by his responsibilities and past horrors — but memory makes the man. Lacking 28 years of memories, both wonderful and heartbreaking, may grant Barry freedom, but it holds him back from his duties as the Flash.
Iris may be reluctant for Barry to regain his memories, but an unlikely ally proves to be interested in returning things back to normal: Caitlin. Caitlin becoming Killer Frost is undoubtedly the best thing to happen to The Flash in a long time. That she just waltzes into S.T.A.R. Labs proves that they need to fix their security. (Have they not changed the security codes since she went evil?) Caitlin wants Barry fixed since it means Savitar will return to his old self as well. It still isn’t clear what Savitar is giving Caitlin in return for her loyalty, but that she’s willing to help Team Flash must mean it is very important. I’m guessing she’ll get Ronnie back. That Caitlin creates the technology necessary to fix Barry isn’t surprising. What matters most is how affected she is in the presence of Cisco. He starts discussing their past together, weaving in stories about Ronnie and their time working at S.T.A.R. Labs before the Flash was a part of their lives. Caitlin has her back turned to him, but she’s obviously emotionally invested. Her face softens. The brutal one-liners cease for a moment. “I think about all the memories I cherish most and you’re in every single one of them, Caitlin,” Cisco says. Just as Iris is Barry’s emotional center, Caitlin represents that for Cisco. The friendship between them should be what eventually brings her back from being a super-villain.
Still, I’m hoping the show finds a way to integrate Killer Frost and Caitlin instead of finding an outright cure. The Killer Frost version is too good to give up. But I’m worried Julian will become more important to this story line than he needs to be. When he declares his love for Caitlin as she’s leaving, I couldn’t muster up any interest. Who cares about Julian’s love? They barely know each other anyway. Nevertheless, Cisco and Julian’s efforts are enough to melt her iciness a bit. For a brief moment in the elevator, her eyes turn brown, suggesting that the key to helping Caitlin isn’t a magical cure but love.
The Flash would never be bold enough to have Barry without his memory for longer than one episode. It’s Caitlin’s ingenuity as a scientist that handles the physical issue blocking Barry’s memories, but of course, it’s Iris recounting the first night Barry came to live with her and Joe that truly brings him back. I’ve been hard on The Flash recently, as it’s become more dour and unevenly written. But “Cause and Effect” proves that the series can retain its former glory when it remembers to lighten up. That King Shark is briefly teased at the very end hopefully means this sense of frivolity with a dash of pathos will continue.