The Flash – Season 3 Episode 20
“I Know Who You Are”
The Flash finally reveals the identity of Savitar as Team Flash tries to recruit the physicist that will eventually help them trap him.
Barry’s trip to the future was pretty much pointless but one thing he did learn was that he eventually traps Savitar with the help of a physicist named Tracy Brand (Anne Dudek). In the present day she’s a grad student who failed her dissertation because of her outlandish and unsubstantiated theories.
It’s a standard time travel thing for someone the characters know to be great to be less than impressive at the beginning. The standard arc is that they can help her reach her full potential because they know what she’s capable of. Unfortunately that’s about as far as this episode is willing to go with that and the result is fairly uninteresting.
Not that Tracy is a bad character, she’s actually pretty engaging and Anne Dudek delivers a good performance but it feels very late in the game to be introducing a new character. It’s especially frustrating when she holds the potential to be the key to stopping Savitar given that we’ve never heard from her before. Dramatically it adds nothing and it just feels like narratively the show is spinning its wheels until it can get to the point that Savitar needs to be stopped.
A better way of doing this would have been revealing that a member of Team Flash is inspired by Iris’ death to come up with a way of stopping Savitar and works tirelessly to do it. Cisco or Julian are the obvious choice since they could have the scientific know-how though maybe Jesse would be suitable as it would give her something meaningful to do. Harry would be another option as he has demonstrated an ability to dream up whatever solution the plot needs. For this to work this character would need to be dead in the future that Barry went to and have taken that secret with them to the grave. Barry could also go find Eobard Thawne to ask for advice, it’s far from ideal but he has done it before.
This would give Barry’s trip to the future meaning as he is then faced with the choice of letting Iris die so that Savitar could be stopped or letting her live and facing the prospect of never being able to beat him. Barry has to choose between the woman he loves and countless innocents. It’s a typical yet effective internal conflict that could be the emotional grounding for the final episodes. This could also present a source of frustration as the character in question doesn’t have any idea what they might come up with as they need the motivation caused by Iris’ death to lead them down that path to discovering the answer.
Instead we have a character we have never heard of and have to invest in her quickly because she apparently has the potential to figure out a way to stop Savitar. It might be better if this was a character we had met before and had some background on but it’s a bit of a stretch to expect the audience to accept this new character so close to the finale.
The problem is that introducing this character takes up so much of the episode and there are definitely better things to be spending time on. It turns into a bit of a romance opportunity for H.R. who persistently flirts with her in order to get her on side. For whatever reason Tracy is fairly receptive to this despite her tendency to run off. It doesn’t take long before H.R. delivers another infuriating speech about believing in yourself making the whole plot feel like a retread of things this show persistently does badly. Is H.R. still hiding his face using that technology or are we supposed to forget about that?
In general it felt like the bulk of this episode was made up of pep talks. There is some manufactured drama when Cecile tells Joe she loves him and he feels guilty because he isn’t honest with her about a large chunk of his life. This goes on for a while before Barry gives him permission to let her in on the secret that everyone already knows anyway which leads to Joe breaking up with her for some strange reason. After she has been placed in mortal danger he tells her the truth, confesses his love for her and the whole plot is essentially resolved. It’s especially infuriating when the adults in the show are going through adolescent romantic stories.
Cisco also needs a pep talk after he hesitates to use his powers on Caitlin. It’s very reasonable to be concerned as they have a brother/sister bond and Carlos Valdes plays the reluctance really well. Julian picking up on it is all well and good but having two “believe in yourself” pep talks in the same episode is laying it on a bit think. It all feels meaningless as the sentiments being exchanged are really bland and obvious. There’s no dramatic weight to any of it and the character growth feels unearned.
The most interesting conflict going on at the moment is between Cisco and Caitlin. They are practically family as has been very clearly established since the show began so the fact that they are on opposite sides means a lot. As I said, Cisco’s reluctance is perfectly reasonable and him getting to the point where he is willing to use his powers against her is a really strong arc despite the pointless pep talks. He has to get to the point where he realises that in order to save her he will have to hurt her. It’s difficult for him but he ultimately shows that he’s willing to do it. Their fight may have been a bland coloured beam vs. colour beam struggle but there was a lot to be emotionally invested in so it worked.
Caitlin as a villain in general is a step up from what we usually get. She is the best developed villain the show has had since Reverse Flash in season 1 because she has been here since the beginning. I still don’t understand the multiple personality angle but as a threat to the team she is definitely among the best. The running thread for her throughout the episode is that she goes by Killer Frost but hasn’t actually killed anyone and is stopped before she can cross that line. Clearly redemption will be built into her arc which will be a tougher sell if she actually manages to kill anyone.
Her presence allowed for a really cool action sequence where she copies X-Men’s Iceman by travelling around on an ice bridge that forms as she goes. It’s a really cool visual and she generally delivers a different sort of threat for Team Flash. I also found it amusing that Barry runs in front of her attacks on two separate occasions.
I found the reveal of Savitar’s identity to be really underwhelming. Future Barry was always a possibility and it does make the idea that Barry is his own worst enemy a literal battle as well as a symbolic one. Barry is faced with everything he could become and has to deal with that. It has the potential to be really interesting and could be a really intense personal story for him. I suspect it will result in Barry appealing to his own better nature and Savitar realising the error of his ways as it’s the most obvious way for this to go.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work on a story level. Savitar knows exactly what is going to happen because he has lived it and can anticipate every move they make. It makes a kind of sense as enemies from the future are able to do that but Savitar is aware of the future so why doesn’t he try to change it? He says to Caitlin that he knows where Tracy would be and that Team Flash would be there but he does nothing to alter the events as they play out. The same happens in the hostage situation later on.
A major issue is the reason for Barry becoming Savitar in the first place. Barry realises the truth when Joe muses what might become of them without love in their lives. Savitar is supposed to be what Barry can become when he has no love in his life which doesn’t work because he can easily prevent that by not killing Iris in the first place. It is established that he created himself which is fair enough as Iris’ death is what takes him down that path but it’s unclear why that is. Why would Barry kill the most important person to him to send him down that dark path? We might get to see flashbacks to how Barry became Savitar to clear this up and that definitely should happen.
Another thing to consider is the events of last week. Barry goes into a future where he has no idea who Savitar is. If Savitar knows how things play out then he would have known when Barry learns the truth. Future Caitlin even said that Barry was going to be surprised when he found out. The key word is when and not if so that suggests the truth being revealed to him was predetermined. If that’s the case then why didn’t Future Barry know that truth?
It’s entirely possible that he was lying which would suggest that he was already going down that path but that didn’t come across at all. All that had happened is that he cut himself off from Team Flash and refused to engage with them. The intervention of his past self reunited him with the team and injected some hope into his life. In a better show that was actually consistent with the rules of time travel that should be enough to prevent Savitar from being created in the first place. Are we supposed to accept that the future Barry went into was yet another alternate possible future? If that’s the case then what timeline does Savitar belong to exactly? it’s all so confusingly inconsistent and I don’t think answers will be forthcoming.
Barry now has an easy way to defeat Savitar by sacrificing himself. If he kills himself or takes Jay’s place in the Speed Force the the problem is essentially solved. His reasons for not doing this will need to be addressed as it’s one of the more glaring issues that this brings.
What needs to happen next to make this reveal work is for the audience to be shown what takes Barry Allen from the man he is now to someone capable of killing the woman he loves. It could be interesting to see a series of flashbacks showing exactly what led him here. With so little time left in the season I doubt this will happen but I might be surprised.
Another underwhelming outing that puts too much focus on a character we’ve never seen before as well as needless relationship drama. Tracy is far from a bad character as she comes across very well but it is very late in the season to be introducing an important new character especially when her role could be filled by a member of Team Flash. A lot of her screen time is spent building a flirtatious relationship with H.R. which both works and doesn’t. The relationship drama between Joe and Cecile is really dull as it creates a problem where none really exists and has the adults in the show acting in a juvenile way. Outside of this the majority of the episode was filled with frustrating pep talks that too often default to the “believe in yourself” platitude that doesn’t really move anything on. Cisco’s concern over his potential to hurt Caitlin is powerful enough and him reaching the point where he understands that he has to do it in order to save her is strong stuff and adds weight to their conflict.
Caitlin is one of the strongest villains the show has had because of her connection to the team. I still don’t buy the multiple personality thing but the fact that she has a personal connection to them gives the conflict weight. Keeping her from going too far and killing suggests there’s a redemptive arc going to happen. Her presence also allows for some really cool action. The reveal of Savitar was really underwhelming and makes little sense when stacked up against everything that has been previously established. The detail of why I think it doesn’t work is above but it’s possible that it could be emotionally relevant as Barry literally becomes his own worst enemy. The show has to do a lot of work to justify this which may come.