The Flash – Season 8 Episode 2
“Armageddon Part 2”
The Flash continues the Armageddon event with seemingly inevitable madness for Barry Allen that threatens the entire world.
Heroes falling into darkness is a frustratingly popular trope that writers use. I’ve provided extensive commentary across various articles and podcasts about my hatred of the overuse of evil Superman. My main issue with this idea is that it runs counter to what a hero is supposed to be. They are supposed to be beacons of hope, courage and morality that inspire people through their actions. Of course they are also people and people experience struggles that affect their mental state in different ways so it makes sense that everything they routinely experience would take a toll. Turning a hero evil is rarely interesting and it’s something this show has done more than once with Barry.
This example is a different spin as the focus is on Barry’s mental state. Despero comes from the future heralding inevitable madness for Barry that results in him using his powers to destroy the world. Barry can’t imagine ever reaching a point where he would do that and is determined to prove it but Despero is convinced. He does give Barry time to prove himself but states that the beginning of the downward spiral is only a day away. It’s unclear what the intended audience reaction to Despero’s words are as there’s a sense that we as viewers are meant to side with Barry but there’s plenty of past evidence of his judgement being askew due to his emotional state so it’s not impossible to believe that he’s capable of snapping as Despero predicts. Savitar was a clear example of Barry’s potential to completely snap due to the weight of circumstances so there’s no reason to assume he is above that.
The bulk of this episode explores the possibility of Barry losing his mind and punctuates that possibility with a number of setbacks thrown at him. It starts with him being suspended from the C.C.P.D. because evidence is uncovered suggesting that he was involved in prior criminal activity. Naturally Barry assumes it’s a mistake and begs Kramer to take his word on it but her hands are tied by her responsibilities though she does promise to get to the bottom of it. Soon after that S.T.A.R. Labs is shut down due to an undetected radiation leak. It isn’t a temporary inconvenience that will be resolved either, the entire facility will eventually be demolished. To protect his identity Barry is forced to erase all of the data on the servers including Gideon leaving Team Flash almost bereft of their usual resources.
In essence these two things point to Barry’s life being torn apart and him starting to lose everything that would seem to be fixed. CCPD and S.T.A.R. Labs were constants that allowed him to do good so having them taken from him is a significant blow. Despite these setbacks he’s determined not to lose hope as he still has his powers and his friends so all isn’t lost but there are strong hints that there is more going on than he’s aware. Despero appears throughout the episode at the points where Barry’s mental resolve is tested the most. One reading is that he’s behind them but as time goes on it becomes more evident that he’s a passive observer. Each appearance is effectively him saying “I told you so”. He appears to be waiting to pounce when the inevitable happens and is haunting Barry as things unravel around him. From his point of view he’s watching history play out before his eyes and he’s ready to do what is necessary to protect the future. It’s sinister and effective with an impressive flip in perspective to frame Barry’s arc as the birth of a villain rather than the standard escalating Metahuman threat.
The episode does contain a Metahuman threat in Xotar (Kandyse McClure) who is nothing more than an obstacle allowing for the injection of action into the plot. Her powers involve manipulating people’s minds which supposedly offers an easy answer for any bizarre behaviour on Barry’s part. His first encounter with her ends with him wrecking his loft and attacking his friends but it’s dismissed as an external influence. Later Barry attacks the city and does significant damage as depicted on a news report. This comes after Xotar is defeated with it being definitively stated that any influence she had has now ended so Barry can’t blame her for his actions. The obvious suggestion is that he has snapped and descended into a dissociative state where he does destructive things with no memory of them.
Mental health is something the show has tackled before with a particularly strong example to be found in the previous season. It makes sense to address the well-being of the characters because they routinely deal with unimaginable situations, are constantly faced with death and have the weight of the world on their shoulders so that understandably takes a toll on those involved. Barry dismisses the possibility of him snapping because he has endured everything he has experienced so far but Despero sees it as more of a cumulative effect with the breaking point not yet being reached. He’s convinced it’s imminent and evidence certainly seems to be pointing in that direction.
Barry’s perspective is used really well in the episode with assumptions he -any by extension the viewer- proceeds on being overturned. One glaring example is the apparent death of Joe. This comes as a shock because it wasn’t depicted on screen or addressed in any way during the previous episode. Looking back with that in mind there were hints but they were easily dismissed in the absence of that information. Barry is completely unaware of this and causes upset when he talks about Joe as if he were still among the living. His name is still in the opening credits and the death wasn’t seen on screen so it’s likely this is a deception of some sort but the shock works really well because the audience is linked to Barry as far as the shock goes. Other characters are still processing the loss and are therefore acting differently as a result. Cecile is particularly distressed because the man she loves is dead and she is left raising their daughter. None of this is likely to stick but it does create an interesting confusing and unsettling atmosphere with details making sense in hindsight.
Whether Barry is actually unravelling or is being manipulated to think he is remains to be seen but for now he is very much doubting his own sanity which creates a unique problem for him to solve. In a way he loses the support of Team Flash as they are starting to see him as a threat they will soon have to deal with. Despero seems to be genuinely reactive to something he sees as an inevitability. For now his motivation is an altruistic one and there’s a great scene where he talks about witnessing the destruction of his previous home while being unable to prevent it. He is weighed down by loss and has an opportunity to prevent the destruction of the home he found. It could all be part of an elaborate trick but it would be far more interesting if that wasn’t the case as revealing a deception would remove any complexity from what has been established here.
If this sticks then there will be a seismic shift in the status quo of Team Flash. The loss of S.T.A.R. Labs and all of the associated resources would mean that Team Flash have to rebuild and rethink their operation from the ground up. Barry goes to the S.T.A.R. Labs facility that acts as a monument to Oliver Queen as well as having a table with logo branded chairs for all of the heroes -later to be dubbed the Hall of Justice most likely- to set up the possibility of that being the new headquarters but it’s unlikely that this show would ever make such a drastic change to the familiar setup. I would love to be proven wrong on that but it’s likely this current set of circumstances will act as a temporary setback with Barry proven to be right all alone.
Even if that turns out to be the case, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this episode is a tightly constructed perspective driven plot that offers a compelling exploration of Barry’s declining emotional state and offers some genuine shocks as it progresses. There are some missteps in how other characters are handled such as Chester who randomly opens up about his motivation for being a pacifist. It turns out it came from him burning his friend’s house down as a child when trying to replicate Marvin the Martian’s Ray Gun. It’s a needlessly extreme childhood event to motivate a character trait that doesn’t really need much explanation. Not believing in violence is enough reasoning for being a pacifist rather than a trigger event being needed. It is supposed to prop up his uncertainty around designing a weapon that can hurt Despero at Frost’s request but it isn’t needed and comes completely out of nowhere.
Aside from that it does allow for another example of the strong Chester/Allegra dynamic that has been slowly developing. Adding in the detail of her joining him for weekend Dungeons and Dragons sessions was a really nice touch as it shows her mind being opened to new possibilities thanks to their friendship. There are definite hints that a romantic relationship may grow out of this but equally if they never progress beyond friendship that will be worthwhile.
It’s worth noting that this event is being advertised as as a different sort of crossover but it doesn’t quite qualify as one. There are guest characters in every episode such as Ray Palmer in the previous one. This episode features Alex Danvers from Supergirl in two scenes, both of which she appears on a screen. She doesn’t contribute to the plot in any meaningful way with her presence being around stating that she doesn’t know anything in her first appearance and relaying things she has learned in her second. It’s disappointing that Alex wasn’t in any scenes with the members of Team Flash though it does allow audience expectations of what the remaining three episodes might offer.
Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning’s appearance at the end of the episode suggests he will have a substantial role in the next episode. Calling him in highlights that Barry doesn’t have a lot of support so has to look elsewhere to resolve the situation. Getting outside perspectives is a good idea as there isn’t a lot he feels he can trust in his familiar surroundings. Alex mentioning that Kara and J’Onn are off world intensifies Barry’s isolation as he can’t bring in the usual help. Showing the Oliver Queen memorial is another effective reminder of that. On a personal note this event not amounting to a real crossover as we have seen before isn’t a problem. Not having Alex actually present was disappointing but it was also good to see her and reinforces the wider universe that has been created. If the characterisation for Barry remains as strong as it has been so far and there are some fun cameos of characters from other shows then this event will definitely be worthwhile.
A strong episode that makes great use of Barry’s confined perspective, offers meaningful commentary on the mental toll of being a superhero and provides genuine shocks. Despero is so far shaping up to be an engaging villain because of his altruistic motivation. He fully believes that Barry is dangerous and is soon to bring about the end of the world so takes it upon himself to prevent that. His warnings have weight due to the events of this episode and his explanation of how he came to regard Earth as his home works really well. The unravelling of Barry is depicted strongly with him losing familiar mainstays in his life such as C.C.P.D. and S.T.A.R. Labs. The paradigm shift is unlikely to be permanent but it doesn’t devalue the impact it has for the purposes of this episode. It reduces the effectiveness of Team Flash and Barry doubting his sanity isolates him. As the episode progresses he starts to see how he can be a danger and witnesses the other characters begin to fear him because of how dangerous he can be. Confining most of the episode to Barry’s perspective allows the viewer to experience the doubt along with him which creates an unsettling atmosphere. The reveal of Joe’s death is effectively done and means that some details in conversations make sense in hindsight.
There are some missteps where other characters are concerned such as Chester’s unnecessarily extreme account of what motivated him to be a pacifist. It does allow for another strong showcase of the engaging Chester/Allegra dynamic but the details of what Chester opens up about are bizarre and definitely not required to justify pacifism as a character trait. Alex Danvers’ appearance is disappointingly brief and it’s unfortunate that she doesn’t physically interact with the characters though her inclusion was welcomed and reinforces the wider universe the show inhabits. The Metahuman threat of the episode fails to make any sort of impression other than conveniently offering an explanation for Barry’s altered mental state before the rug pull happens. If the characterisation for Barry remains as strong as it has been so far and there are some fun cameos of characters from other shows then this event will definitely be worthwhile.
- strong use of Barry’s confined perspective
- Barry losing the constants in his life
- Despero having a great deal of depth
- the shock reveal of Joe’s death
- an interesting confusing and unsettling atmosphere
- Xotar failing to make an impression
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