The Flash – Season 9 Episode 9
“It’s My Party and I’ll Die if I Want to”
The Flash celebrates Barry’s birthday with the return of an old friend and an old enemy.
Not ruining Oliver Queen’s death would have been at the top of many people’s wish lists going into this episode. His death in “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and the coverage of the aftermath of it in Arrow was handled wonderfully so having that tarnished by a subpar appearance of the character in The Flash was a major concern especially when considering the baseline quality of the show.
Fortunately, Oliver Queen’s return was far from an insult to the character or what he represents. His appearance is made possible due to the usual narrative nonsense that this show delivers but Oliver wasn’t done a disservice in every way that matters. His appearance had weight and parts of the episode felt like a true event in some ways.
His return was a response to the return of Ramsey Rosso. He crashes Barry’s birthday party with a plan to corrupt Wally and spread his influence throughout the multiverse. How he learned that there’s a new Multiverse when Team Flash didn’t know and how he knows that Wally can project his consciousness into it is never explained but expecting things to be explained in this show is a fool’s errand at this point. Somehow he knows these things and recycles his previous tactics to accomplish his goal.
Ramsey’s target is Wally and he does much the same as he did to Barry when looking to control him. He preys on Wally’s unresolved personal issues by offering him a false resolution. His shtick is that he wants to cure the world but what he’s actually offering is control that manifests as a false euphoria. The individuality is lost in exchange for becoming part of a hive mind carrying out Ramsey’s will and anyone who becomes part of it is freed from the pain they were struggling to deal with.
On the surface, this is an engaging threat as what Ramsey offers is undeniably tempting. Does it matter if the euphoria is fake when emotional pain appears to be gone? The obvious answer from a deterministic point of view is that life is made up of positive and negative experiences that shape the person we are so removing one of those takes away something definitive. Ramsey’s victims lose their agency completely so don’t get to enjoy the benefit of his euphoria in their lives as they knew them.
This is something the show could do more with but doesn’t. In the case of this episode, Ramsey shows up after Wally clumsily reminds Barry that he has baggage holding him back from achieving the enlightenment he’s chasing and preys on that baggage by forcing him to confront it and offering him salvation. The baggage is characterised mostly by loss which becomes a theme that extends to Barry as the episode progresses. Jesse and his mother are the major losses in his life and being unable to truly move on from their passing is part of what holds Wally back.
Strangely that aspect doesn’t get much more than a cursory mention which is unfortunate considering how interesting an exploration of Wally’s memories of living with his drug-addict mother could have been. He is shown to be trapped in that memory as Ramsey offers him the cure but the episode stops short of actually exploring it. Instead, the focus is on turning Wally against Barry by framing him as living Wally’s life.
He lashes out at Barry for having Joe and Iris in his life as well as his own father who loved him while Wally had nothing. This is a fascinating conflict as it could easily be true. Previous seasons depicted a tense mentor/mentee relationship between Barry and Wally because Barry was a bad teacher and Wally was frustrated because of the way Barry treated him. The show did almost nothing with this and repeated the same narrative beats constantly before ignoring them as if they never existed but if this envy had been at the root of Wally’s frustration then it may have made for a more compelling conflict-driven dynamic.
Instead, it’s mentioned here for the first time and resolved almost as quickly as it was raised. It could have worked as something he has never previously expressed with the subsequent acknowledgement that there was some truth to it after Ramsey’s influence was removed. It speaks to the widespread conflict aversion that exists on this show -and in fairness in a lot of genre media- that Ramsey manufactures something that doesn’t exist rather than strengthening something that does. Wally having pent-up resentment for Barry because of the comparatively privileged upbringing he enjoyed is something that makes complete sense and could have made for a striking shift in their dynamic. Of course, it hardly matters since this is likely the last time Wally will appear but nevertheless, it can be added to the long list of missed opportunities.
It isn’t even fully developed within the episode itself. Barry dismissed Wally when he asks for help, Ramsey corrupts him and later Barry apologises for all the times he has failed him. It does follow a defined progression and reach a conclusion but there’s no actual substance to the actual progression. Barry doesn’t really acknowledge that he has failed Wally or do anything to make it right. He gives a short speech, Wally snaps out of it and neither of them reflect on it.
Part of the problem is that Wally shares the episode with other elements diverting time away from him. He does have a significant share of the running time however poorly used that time is but there are bizarre diversions that do little to develop what the episode is getting at. One is the clumsy attempt at comedy with the “Flash Facts” segment that Ramsey generates. It fails as a comedy bit and only serves as a reminder of the survivor’s guilt idea in relation to Barry. It’s unnecessary as there was plenty of coverage of that elsewhere and as comedy, it was painfully awkward.
Another diversion involves Chester and Allegra. Ramsey sends Allegra after Chester as he is unaffected by the substance he put in everyone’s drinks. This comes to nothing because there’s no actual conflict here other than the face of the woman he loves trying to do him harm. There was a prior scene that would have been better used to establish a problem they were facing as a couple in order to fuel the drama created by Ramsey controlling Allegra. Instead of devoting time in a previous episode to Allegra finding it difficult to reciprocate Chester’s declaration of love, Ramsey could have tried to rattle Chester by claiming that Allegra didn’t say it back because she doesn’t love him. This episode brings nothing to the table for them which makes their scenes pointless.
Khione’s inclusion is also pointless but that’s very much the norm for her. Her reduced role is likely because Danielle Panabaker directed this episode but Khione remains a bizarre addition to the show. Her powers are vague and ever-changing and there’s nothing all that interesting about the character in terms of personality. In this episode, she is very much a means to an end in saving Chester and freeing Diggle which may end up being all she has to contribute to the rest of the season.
Ramsey is a character that should be a lot more interesting than the show ever allows him to be. When he was introduced his intentions were noble enough. It’s clear that the idea was for him to be an example of the road to Hell being paved with good intentions. He started out as someone looking to rid humanity of illness following the loss of his mother and his desperation to expedite this grew following his own terminal diagnosis. As is so often the case on this show, the nuance was lost and Ramsey became a cackling maniac. A far more interesting approach would be to have him be the one truly corrupted and operate under the twisted assumption that his goal is a noble one. That is stated in dialogue but there’s no depth to the execution of this idea so it doesn’t actually come across.
Barry’s arc over the episode is something that is handled well thanks to the intervention of Oliver Queen. He appears to Barry after Wally kills him and brings him up to speed on the new Multiverse along with the threat Ramsey represents to it. Barry can return from death to deal with it but he is prevented from doing so because a part of him doesn’t want to live. When pushed he admits that all the losses he has experienced have taken a significant toll on him and he wonders why he’s the one to continue living when so many have lost their lives.
He references the extra time he was randomly given when he was reduced in age three years. From his point of view, he doesn’t deserve to be given an extra three years of life when others lose theirs prematurely. He rightly points out that it’s unfair and it can be inferred that he believes that he should be punished for mistakes he has made rather than others paying the price.
In short, he has survivor’s guilt and has spent a long time not addressing that. Oliver can’t bring him back to life until he is fully committed to living and goes about pushing Barry in that direction with his typical “tough love” approach. He tells Barry that life isn’t fair and is countered by Barry pointing out that when creating Earth Prime he brought back his mother and Tommy. While that’s true, he didn’t bring back his father and he states that doing so would have changed reality too radically so his father’s sacrifice had to remain. He talks about wasting the time his father’s sacrifice gave him by trying to find ways to absolve himself of his own survivor’s guilt instead of accepting that it was something he needs to learn to live with. Barry is in a similar mindset as he is trying to find ways to not feel guilty any more rather than accept that the guilt is part of him. Part of him doesn’t want to return to life because he believes there should be penance for all the times he has cheated death and this experience could qualify.
Oliver’s point is that all of the sacrifices people have made to facilitate Barry’s survival happened because they recognise him as a beacon of hope that people can look to. This is consistent with Oliver making a deal with the Monitor during “Elseworlds” to trade himself for Barry and Kara. He did so because he felt that they represent pure heroism whereas he thought he represented pain and death. He needs Barry to realise his worth so that all those sacrifices haven’t been in vain. The pep talk works and both of them return to life though for Oliver it’s temporary.
What follows is an excellent showcase of Oliver Queen. He fights hand-to-hand with a large group of Ramsey-controlled SWAT officers and hasn’t missed a step. It’s very much an example of playing the hits where Oliver is concerned as he fights, shoots arrows and says “You have failed this city”. It’s fanservice pandering but welcome because it’s an organic part of the episode albeit very typical for a villain fight. It’s expected and great to see Stephen Amell in action as Oliver Queen one last time.
The Ramsey plot is very neatly wrapped up. His plan is stopped and Oliver cures his HLH so he gets to live a very long life in prison for the crimes he has committed. In a way, Oliver gives Ramsey a second chance but he’s too crazed to realise it and won’t get the chance to redeem himself because he will spend the rest of his life in prison. This combined with the lack of reflection on any of the personal issues touched on makes for a frustratingly abrupt conclusion that undermines the value of the threat.
This episode is at its best when taking advantage of the well-cultivated relationships created over years of interactions. Oliver and Diggle’s reunion and goodbye was perfect. Diggle mentions early in the episode that he frequently finds himself consumed by the grief associated with losing Oliver. It comes from a lack of closure. He wasn’t able to say goodbye to the man that he considered a brother so the relationship felt unresolved. He now gets that chance and can also live in the hope that they will one day cross paths again because the world they inhabit is more than weird enough to allow this to happen. They don’t share much screen time but what they have is used effectively.
They may be brief but the episode contains welcome moments of levity. Barry’s birthday party allows the cast to have some no-stakes interactions including karaoke and a debate over who the best police Captain is. Unfortunately, Oliver joining the second attempt at the party is nothing more than the briefest of montages but taking the time to allow the characters to simply enjoy being around one another is always appreciated. The cast have excellent chemistry and the show should take advantage of that more often.
Oliver taking on the mentor role for Barry once again is a nice callback to the early days of their friendship. Their final conversation is a companion to the conversation they have way back in the first episode of this show where Oliver tells him about his potential to be a symbol of hope. He reiterates that the lightning bolt chose him before taking his leave. This may have more weight considering Oliver’s extra knowledge as the current Spectre or it may be reassuring words to help Barry believe in himself, Either way, the idea is that Oliver thinks that Barry is special and has a lot of potential that he hasn’t begun to realise.
Barry asking Oliver if he’s doing enough is something that would have more significance if the final season was geared around Barry doubting his effectiveness as a hero. Self-doubt could come hand in hand with the long list of losses he has experienced as he could be prompted to wonder if he’s doing more harm than good. The season hasn’t been about that but asking the question now only highlights that it would have been the perfect final challenge for Barry to overcome in the final season of his show. As it sits it’s a question he asks Oliver that prompts an impactful response. Notably, he doesn’t answer Barry’s question and opts to turn the question back on him. He encourages Barry to think about everything he’s doing and decide for himself because he needs to believe in himself. He will have to look inward to find the validation he’s looking for as it can’t be found externally. Oliver Queen, you have been missed!
Iris evades capture this week but is afflicted with Ramsey’s blood to a lesser extent than the others because she is benefitting from foetal Nora’s healing factor. She is a prisoner of Ramsey to an extent but the process never completes so he never gains full control of her. Following the attack, she locks herself in the Time Vault but that doesn’t count as she did that to herself.
A good episode that did right by Oliver Queen in all the ways that matter and made good use of dynamics cultivated over several years.
- doing right by Oliver Queen in all the ways that matter
- making excellent use of the well-cultivated character dynamics
- Oliver acting as a mentor for Barry who helps him deal with his survivor’s guilt
- setting up and exploring Barry’s survivor’s guilt by comparing and contrasting it to Oliver’s
- their final scene acting as a companion to their scene together in “Pilot”
- Oliver turning Barry’s question back on him to highlight that the validation he’s looking for has to come from within
- Oliver and Diggle’s perfect reunion and goodbye
- welcome levity in the birthday party scene that makes use of the natural cast chemistry
- the idea that Wally resents Barry for living the life he feels he should have had
- setting up Wally’s resentment of Barry and then doing nothing with it
- Ramsey still lacking nuance as an antagonist
- bizarre diversions that distract from the interesting things the episode has to offer
- Khione still being a baffling addition to the cast
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