The Flash has had a bit of a tone problem for a while now, one that’s kind of astounding to see drag out for as long as it has. This is a show that took Barry Allen, an inherently optimistic character motivated by tragedy to be a source of inspiration in the world, and made him angry and dour. It’s taken Grant Gustin — a man with one of the most adorably dorky faces on television, surrounded by a host of equally affable and charming actors — and made him all mopey for the better part of two seasons. This isn’t to say darkness is a bad direction to explore, but it’s just not the show’s color, you know? The Flash delights and charms based on how much fun it is having, so choosing to strike out away from that fun is a genuinely puzzling choice.
This brings us to “The Flash Reborn,” an episode that seeks to reset The Flash’s tone by resetting its protagonist. Taking place six months after the season-three finale, things have settled into a new normal: Barry is still gone after walking into the Speed Force prison and Team Kid Flash/Team Vibe (the jury’s still out) is trying to carry on the work of keeping Central City safe without its most experienced superhero.
Kid Flash and Vibe have worked out a pretty great, if unpolished, team dynamic supported by Joe West and the Central City Police Department, as we see in the episode’s fun, vibrant opening chase featuring Peek-A-Boo on the loose. Iris has taken on a leadership role, running the show and providing logistical backup from S.T.A.R. Labs. Iris is a capable leader, but she’s also thrown herself into the role out of an inability to confront the loss of Barry. Cisco, too, has refused to let go of the idea that his best friend will return. It’s the big strain on the team: They’re carrying on, but they haven’t moved on, and Joe West is starting to realize that it’s necessary for the group to finally heal.
But first, we gotta deal with a flying samurai. A flying robot samurai, which is technically not revealed until the end of this episode, but that’s a revelation so low on stakes and high in goofiness I’m gonna just spoil it right here: “The Flash Reborn” is mostly about the gang trying to beat a robot samurai they dub Samuroid (which is, of course, a DC Comics thing) who threatens to destroy Central City unless it faces the real Flash. When Wally suits up only to get his rear handed to him by the robot samurai, Cisco starts to agree with the robot. Maybe they really do need to bring Barry back.
But Cisco is gonna need some help, and this is how we catch up to Caitlin Snow. She’s seemingly cured of her Killer Frost problem, but still in exile, bartending and hanging out with shady characters who don’t seem like they’re totally into the Team Flash saving-the-world thing. But we’ll get to that, because first Caitlin is going to help Cisco bring Barry back. Turns out she was just waiting for them to ask?
The means by which Barry Allen returns to the world is glorious comic-book nonsense, as Cisco, Caitlin, Joe, and Wally go to the site where they first tested Barry’s powers (for luck) to use the Speed Force Bazooka to fire a Quark Sphere that will mimic Barry’s signature and trick the Speed Force into thinking he’s still within it. The plan makes zero sense. I don’t think it was ever supposed to. It also goes awry: Barry does come back, but he’s found by state police miles outside the city, and his brain is a mess. He’s speaking nonsense, writing symbols that no one can translate, and he doesn’t really seem to be … present.
The team surmises that this is due to one of two things: He’s either suffering from an extremely loose and not entirely accurate version of schizophasia and he might recover, or his time in the Speed Force has totally destroyed his brain and there’s little left of Barry to save. Unfortunately, there’s no time to figure out which is right, because the Samuroid wants to face the real Flash and he’s not waiting.
For reasons I can’t quite understand, Team Flash is unable to beat Samuroid and sincerely believe he’ll make good on his promise to destroy Central City. And so, Iris, taking her father’s advice to have some faith to go along with her strength to an extreme, tells the Samuroid to take her hostage because “the real Flash will come for her.”
And he does! Barry pushes through his brain mush word salad to take Cisco’s bright new costume and pursue the Samuroid through a wind farm for another really fun action scene. He saves Iris, reveals the Samuroid to be a robot, and confirms to Iris that yes, he’s back. And he’s not just back, he’s lighter and happier, and not interested in dwelling on dark things anymore! It’s weird to have the show just talk about itself through Barry Allen, but I’m all for explicitly stating that we should have a bit more fun, you know? Let’s have some fun this year.
• Killer Frost ain’t gone yet: Although Caitlin Snow has been welcomed back aboard Team Flash, she hasn’t been cured of her Killer Frost problem. It’s not really clear how, but it looks like Killer Frost and Caitlin are two distinct personas that fight for control, with Killer Frost taking over when Caitlin gets angry. Kinda like the Hulk!
• And she’s got some friends: That shady dude at the bar I mentioned earlier? Turns out he’s connected to someone named Amunet, a character whom Caitlin has been involved with in some capacity over the last six months. Amunet is almost certainly Amunet Black, a.k.a. Blacksmith, who will be played by Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica fame.
• Meet the Big Bad: The episode’s stinger introduces the Big Bad without really giving us any context, other than the fact that he built the Samuroid and has more of them. Rest assured: This is the Thinker, the confirmed Big Bad for this season. He’s got a plan of some kind and he needed Barry back in action for it. (He also, weirdly, looks a lot like Metron of the New Gods, which would be a weird place for The Flash to go, but I’ve got a feeling about those symbols Barry was writing before he recovered …)
• And finally: THIS HOUSE IS BITCHIN is my favorite dumb joke this show has thrown our way in a while.