The Flash Season-Finale Recap: Panic in Central City

Grant Gustin as The Flash. Photo: The CW
The Flash

The Flash

Finish Line Season 3 Episode 23
Editor's Rating 3 stars

For a certain generation, Wally West is the Flash. I remember being giddy with excitement as a kid as I read Mark Waid and Greg LaRocque’s Born to Run origin story for Wally. It fleshes him out in fascinating ways so he isn’t trapped in the shadow of his predecessor and mentor, Barry Allen. I credit Wally West for sparking my obsession with comics. This show’s version of Wally, actor Keiynan Lonsdale, has a fun, warm presence that does the character justice even as his character veered in directions I didn’t always agree with.

Nestled near the very end of this season finale, Barry decides to pass his mantle to Wally so that he becomes the sole Flash for Central City. (This happens for reasons I’ll explain later.) Wally taking on Barry’s position should hit with force, but instead it is crafted as an afterthought. The mishandling of Wally, who has receded into the background since escaping from the Speed Force prison, exemplifies issues I’ve had with this entire season. “Finish Line” doesn’t wholly work. It’s haphazardly paced and structured, although there are enough strong emotional beats, suspenseful action scenes, and good acting to make it a compelling finale. Most importantly, it sets up a fourth season that should allow the series to get back to its core ethos: heartwarming narratives, zany villains, and a dash of pathos. But first, The Flash has to deal with Savitar.

Let’s get the most important development out of the way: Iris West isn’t dead. As I suspected, H.R. took her place and used the transmogrifier to disguise himself. Before he dies in Barry’s arms, H.R. reveals the ruse. Meanwhile on the rooftop, Iris reveals herself to Joe, who thought he just witnessed his daughter’s murder. I’m not exactly mourning H.R.’s passing, but I appreciate his last-minute heroics by switching places with Iris, so the moving funeral he receives feels earned. His death also leads to the return of the far superior Harry, who makes Earth-1 his home once again by the end of the episode.

Still, H.R.’s death has some troubling fallout. The grief and emotional resonance that should have been for Iris is redistributed. The episode should primarily focus on what Iris’s survival means to her and her family. Instead, it becomes about the loss of H.R. and Tracy’s grief. Tracy was just introduced a few weeks ago, yet her emotional landscape is treated as more important than anything happening with Iris. Seriously? My eyes glazed over when she and H.R. declared their love for each other before he died. Didn’t they just meet?

With Iris alive, Savitar becomes a time paradox. Whatever Plan B he’s got in mind has only a small window of time before he’s erased out of existence. Savitar kidnaps Cisco to recalibrate the Speed Force bazooka into an “interdimensional time splicer,” which would duplicate Savitar throughout time and stop the time paradox from destroying him. Cisco reluctantly agrees when Savitar threatens Caitlin’s life and mentions Julian has returned to S.T.A.R. Labs with a cure he created with her mother’s help. Whenever The Flash leans too heavily on its fake science, I find myself connecting with Joe. Throughout the first half of the finale Joe remarks more than once, “I don’t understand,” whenever the geniuses of Team Flash tried to explain time travel. I don’t always understand this stuff either, Joe, but let’s just roll with it.

Superheroes of Barry’s caliber usually rely on a few options to save the day. They punch harder, run faster, and turn to violence as a solution. “There is strength in anger,” Barry tells Iris. But he’s aware that sometimes anger can become all-consuming, like it has for Savitar. Barry’s strength as a hero, which is what helps The Flash stand out from the crowded market of superhero adaptations, has always been his heart. He cares deeply and profoundly. At times, this leads to selfish actions like Flashpoint. But it also encourages Barry to approach Savitar not as a foe to be outrun, but a man to be reasoned with.

Barry tries to reason with Savitar by discussing his favorite memory as a child. Savitar may have spent eons honing his hate, but deep down he’s still Barry Allen. Barry discusses being 6 years old on a family trip that went haywire. They never ended up at the location they planned to reach, but they found themselves in a small town eating ice cream and watching fireworks. Sometimes the simplest memories are the most effective in reminding us who we are. Savitar noticeably softens hearing Barry talk about this brief, accidental trip to the town of Masonville. This leads him to agree to Barry’s proposition of returning to S.T.A.R. Labs so the team can help him with his time paradox dilemma. This is Barry’s heartfelt way of saving Cisco, Caitlin, and himself. (Brief aside: The idea of time remnants is now outright horrific to me.)

Bringing Savitar to S.T.A.R. Labs is a huge risk, so everyone else is livid that Barry thought it was a good idea. It’s only Iris who shows Savitar any kindness. In her presence without that hulking suit to obscure him, he wilts. “I tried to kill you,” Savitar reminds her. Yet she still shows grace and care toward him. That Candice Patton sells this character turn proves this show needs to utilize her more. It’s a shame the entire season was predicated on Iris’s death, yet she isn’t granted any interiority of her own.

Savitar’s sudden vulnerability isn’t enough to stop him from trying to pull off his plan. Thankfully, Cisco tinkered with the Speed Force bazooka, making it into a skeleton key that releases Jay Garrick from his prison. This leads to a brief showdown with Gypsy, Garrick, Cisco, Wally, and Barry facing off with Caitlin and Savitar. It splinters from there to focus on the good speedsters trying to stop Savitar. There are some nice touches, like Barry phasing through Savitar’s suit to take it over and Caitlin saving Cisco’s life. I also liked that Iris shoots the fallen Savitar before he can try to hurt Barry while his back is turned. But Iris killing Savitar just before he is wiped from existence isn’t enough to fix the fact that her character has gotten little consideration this season beyond being a victim.

What’s more fascinating than this final showdown is what happens afterward: I am thrilled that Caitlin turned down the cure. She’s no longer Killer Frost or Caitlin, but someone else entirely. She needs to figure out her new identity. Given that Caitlin’s embrace of her meta-human abilities is one of the most fun aspects of the season, I’m glad her character is being developed in this direction.

With no one in the Speed Force prison, reality is being ripped apart. Lightning crackles through the sky. Glass shatters. S.T.A.R. Labs is thrown into havoc. When the Speed Force appears to Barry as his mother, he realizes his only choice. Barry won’t find himself in a hellish landscape, but whatever the equivalent of heaven is for speedsters. “It’s time to rest,” the Speed Force tells him. Wally takes on his mantle, Barry says a few tearful good-byes, and he walks into the Speed Force, saving Central City from being torn apart. Of course, all of this happened because of Barry’s own mistake by creating Flashpoint. That Barry realizes this and willingly sacrifices his own life shows his growth. This also sets up an intriguing direction for The Flash’s fourth season. How will everyone cope without Barry around? Will Iris ever catch a break? This finale may have been uneven, but for the first time in a while, I’m eager to see what The Flash does next.

Other Thoughts

• I loved Cisco’s many insults to Savitar including his bitter remark “[that] thin-crust pizza you call a face.” But when he referred to him as Two-Face, it made me wonder if Batman comics exist in Earth-1.

• The fact that Julian expresses his love to Caitlin as if it would turn her away from Killer Frost will never not be funny to me. If Cisco can’t convince her, why do you think you can?

• I’m totally fine with weird time travel and fake science, but it needs a better through line. It often feels like there is no internal logic to how The Flash approaches time travel.

The Flash Season-Finale Recap: Panic in Central City