The Flash – Season 7 Episode 3
The Flash deals with Central City once again under siege as Eva accelerates her plan to take over the city by replacing everyone with mirror duplicates.
It’s both worth and not worth noting that this should have been the sixth season finale. What makes it worth noting is that it feels like a season finale in ways that don’t flatter the episode. It’s not worth noting because it isn’t the season 6 finale, it’s actually the third episode of season 7 so it should be judged at face value based on what is presented to the viewer.
One of the major disappointments in this season so far is the clear intent to rush the Eva McCulloch plot to a close. I have no idea what was originally planned but if it was anything like this then a lot of good faith done in the latter half of the previous season would have been undone. Season 6 ended with an at large villain with her own goals and motivations that didn’t involve taking down Team Flash, Barry’s speed being all but gone and Iris still stuck in the Mirror Dimension. Three episodes into this season and Eva has been relegated to a disillusioned duplicate of the original, the fully operational Artificial Speed Force and Iris freed from the Mirror Dimension with no apparent consequences to carry her through. With every step forward in this show there is a step back and that’s a shame given the marked improvement over the latter half of the previous season.
This episode wastes no time in establishing that Eva’s invasion plan is in full swing with reports coming from all over the city of loved ones behaving uncharacteristically. She is aggressively abducting people and replacing them with her own creations so that she can remove the damaging Human presence to be replaced with a better alternative that will treat the world properly. She sees Humanity as a disease that has ruined the world and thinks she can do it better. As villain motivations go it’s serviceable and taps into the topical issue of environmentalism but it isn’t explored in any detail and there’s a failure to show exactly how Eva plans to treat the planet with more respect considering her uniformly violent approach to taking over.
There are a lot of problems with how the episode showcases this plan. Last season three characters were replaced with duplicates and it was shown to be a nefarious process where the duplicates infiltrated the lives of the original and used their position to carry out Eva’s bidding. Iris and Kamilla’s affiliation with Team Flash afforded them lots of resources with Captain Singh having considerable influence basically allowing them to proceed unchallenged towards their goal of freeing Eva. The main showcase was Iris with lots of work put in to show how unsettlingly similar she was to the original while also being not quite right. Using this as the basis for a slow invasion where people slowly pick up on idiosyncrasies that set the duplicates apart from the original might have been a great plot to pursue over a number of episodes. There was an opportunity to have a period of time where people were being replaced with no way to tell and Team Flash having to deal with not knowing who to trust. Essentially it could have been John Carpenter’s The Thing on a larger scale. Instead it’s relegated to a few lines within this episode with known duplicates attacking or replacing various characters. There’s a brief moment of hopelessness when Joe discovers Cecile has been replaced but it’s fixed so quickly that it’s hardly an issue at all.
Establishing stakes is important and unfortunately the Arrowverse often defaults to the city under siege in some way for finales -or not finales in this case- which works to a point but after a while the audience becomes somewhat numb to it because it’s very much the norm. In this case it’s hard to feel the urgency or jeopardy associated with the situation as the episode fails to properly show how widespread the problem is and spends so much time focusing on other things. The characters don’t seem to be in a rush to solve the problem so it’s difficult to invest in it. We get the requisite fight sequences in the city where Team Flash take on insurmountable odds but it’s all so flat and uninteresting.
The episode isn’t without merit. After a story that explores what could happen if the heart of Team Flash is lost the focus shifts to what makes that heart so important. As the episode begins Barry has lost hope, blames himself for his emotionless actions in the previous episode and has no desire to interface with the Artificial Speed Force ever again. This makes sense as he lost what has come to define him when interfacing with it before so a reluctance is to be expected. When combining this with the total lack of his powers it would appear that The Flash is no more but that would end the show so a solution has to be found from somewhere.
As luck would have it Harrison Wells quite literally appears with the solution and talks about Barry embracing his role as the Paragon of Love and running towards love in order to regain his powers as well as save the city. It’s a fairly vague instruction but a spark from Iris calling back to a couple of key moments in their history -including one that didn’t happen for her- tells Barry that the Speed Force isn’t completely gone because a part of it resides within Iris following her brief tenure as a Speedster. There’s an attempt to explain it by talking about the colour of Nora’s lightning and a few other things but ultimately it doesn’t really matter as it’s all designed to rally Team Flash into rallying behind the notion of love conquering all. This is very much in keeping with the ethos of the show as it has always promoted the idea of promoting positive feelings with love and unity being a powerful factor in achieving victory. Villains tend to lose because they don’t embrace those things and Team Flash are at their best when united behind a single cause. It’s a positive message and on brand for the show so it isn’t something that can be criticised heavily since it’s a conceit you have to accept in order to watch the show.
The spark inspires Barry to come up with the plan of using the remnant of the Speed Force contained within Iris to infuse the Artificial Speed Force with “Organic Speed” which basically means the foundation of the Artificial Speed Force is love and positive emotion. Iris providing the spark, Barry running while thinking about memories filled with love while Team Flash cheer them on makes for a really cheesy yet surprisingly satisfying moment. Getting The Flash back up to full strength by embracing everything that makes Barry a Hero feels like an ideal solution to this problem and allows him to literally be fuelled by what defines him rather than becoming part of a cosmic force against his will. It’s an interesting shift and despite the saccharine nature of the moment it really does work as it highlights what makes the show engaging when at its best.
Defeating Eva with empathy is another good decision that reinforces this idea. Barry appeals to her better nature and tells her that “the foundation for a better world is compassion not violence”. He reminds her of her desire to help people and points out that she won’t be helping anyone by starting her reign on a violent note. Her creations were birthed from hate as shown by them continuing to attack people even when Eva has seen the error of her ways but Barry and Iris supporting her allows her to gain the necessary strength to put a stop to her misguided crusade. Once again it’s a very positive message and it’s refreshing to see a villain come around to a different way of thinking rather than having to be stopped in the traditional sense. It’s a very neat resolution but it’s one that works within the context of the framework that has been established. There’s no getting away from the ending being abrupt and underdeveloped but the elements at play in terms of stopping Eva were very well used. Bringing in some of Eva’s nuance to make that possible was a nice touch but unfortunately there’s so much potential that goes unexplored.
One glaring omission is defining the mirror duplicates themselves. It has never been established if they are truly alive. Evidence pointed towards that absolutely being the case especially considering Fake Iris’ final moment being about what she had learned and her general desire to have a life to live. Was Eva creating sentient beings that were being used for her own ends or were they simply mimicking the original? If that’s the case then that means the Eva that was reasoned with isn’t a sentient being with her own agency. It’s very odd to set up something with so much promise and abandoning it in favour of a simplistic conclusion that pushes it all aside. Of course Eva is still out there and in charge of her own dimension so this could come back later but the story being told heavily demanded this question be at least given attention even if it can’t reasonably be answered at this point. Instead by the end of the episode everything is more or less reset to the status quo as tends to happen often in this show. Time will tell if there will be any consequences of these events that inform future events but the very definitive statement that Iris’ powers disappeared along with Eva would seem to suggest otherwise.
Iris’ role in this episode was another missed opportunity as everything was pointing to Eva being an antagonist for her specifically. They spent a lot of time together, Eva haunted her in the first episode of this season and Iris expressed clear determination to make sure Eva wouldn’t get away with trapping her in the Mirror Dimension. There is a moment where Iris shows her mastery of the Mirror Dimension and blocks Eva’s attack using her powers but beyond that there’s no real connection between them other than the part played in reasoning with her. It’s another consequence of rushing to a conclusion and abandons a lot of the strong work done in setting this connection up.
The new -or should that be old?- Harrison Wells is confusingly deployed. He appears from nowhere imbued with the knowledge and memories of every Wells in the Multiverse and explains it by saying that Nash put most of the energy into the Artificial Speed Force but used a sliver of it to reanimate him in some form of cosmic balancing act. Wells basically serves as the fountain of knowledge for Team Flash when it is needed the most, he already has a dynamic with the characters despite there being no reason to cultivate one and his scenes are filled with so much nonsense exposition that it’s impossible to understand how he can exist. As far as the episode is concerned he exists because he exists and we should just leave it at that. Tom Cavanagh’s performance in this role is odd as well. It’s as if he wanted to play something a blank slate version of Wells since this one is all of them and none of them at the same time. It works on a conceptual level but in practice it leaves a lot to be desired. His inclusion is bizarre and his last minute time travel ability comes out of nowhere. It’s unclear if this is the end of Tom Cavanagh in this role or if there will be some sort of cosmic danger that requires him to align with Team Flash until it is dealt with but this version leaves a lot to be desired.
Following the unexpected and necessary departure of Hartley Sawyer from the cast the writers had to figure out what to do about Ralph. It was said he and Sue were in hiding after Sue had been framed for murder but that is neatly wrapped up in this episode after Ralph gets himself badly burned beyond recognition in pursuit of information that will clear her name. This is solved and he ends the episode in a Daft Punk style helmet to hide the fact that the original actor is no longer around. The creativity has to be applauded though the execution was unintentionally hilarious. Something certainly had to be done and it has to be judged on what appeared on screen so all I can say is the resolution was quick, clumsy and made use of ludicrous imagery that can’t help but be entertaining by itself. The actors exhibit true professionalism being able to perform these moments without being overcome by laughter. It is unfortunate that Sue may never return because she was so connected to Ralph. It’s unfair that an engaging character such as her be cast aside because of the misdeeds of another actor.
The ending of the episode sets up the likely plot for the rest of the season. Reactivating the Artificial Speed Force sends energy out in different directions in the form of different coloured lightning suggesting that a number of new Speedsters are about to be created. Speedster villains are historically problematic in this show so it’s not something that fills me with optimism but strides forward have been made in general so it’s possible the direction for the remainder of the season will be a positive one.
An underwhelming conclusion to the Eva McCulloch plot that rushes to the finish while abandoning the more interesting elements in favour of an all to neat resolution. Eva’s master plan being replacing everyone she can with a duplicate in order to invade and carry out her plan of taking better care of the planet is dealt with very quickly and never becomes the urgent problem it needs to be. There was greater potential to be found in this idea that the episode doesn’t have time for so it pushes aside anything that could be interesting about this and relegates it to a couple of short meaningless moments of manufactured tension. Eva completely loses most of her nuance after having it eroded over the previous two episodes in a clear desire to resolve this plot as quickly as possible. Having the focus of Team Flash around what makes the heart of the team so important was a strong decision. Restoring the Artificial Speed Force using everything that makes Barry a Hero with his positive memories, relationship with Iris and the support of the team all pitching in to bring him back to full strength made for a cheesy moment that worked really well. He is now fuelled by everything that defines him which feels appropriate. Defeating Eva with empathy was another strong decision that set her apart from other antagonists. She realises the error of her ways and resolves to make the best of the Mirror Dimension. It feeds into the theme of love found elsewhere though doesn’t alter the fact that the conclusion is rushed and underdeveloped. Similarly, Iris’ role in the episode was underdone as almost any suggestion of Eva being an antagonist specifically suited to her is abandoned.
The new -or old- Harrison Wells is a confusing addition. He appears from nowhere imbued with required knowledge as well as the memories of every Wells in the Multiverse. So much of his inclusion is spent on nonsense explanations that fail to properly clear up why he exists. Tom Cavanagh’s performance in the role is very odd as well and the general execution of this character within the story is more confusing than anything else. It’s unclear if this is the end of Tom Cavanagh in the role or if there will be an excuse to bring him back. Ralph makes a conspicuous exit after some hilarious workarounds to give him a presence. All that can be said is that it’s quick, clumsy and made use of ludicrous imagery. It’s a pity if his departure also means the end of Sue. The ending of the episode sets up potentially new Speedster villains, something the show has struggled with in the past but the marked improvements over the previous season suggest that it’s possible to deliver something positive.
- leaning into what makes the heart of the team so important
- the restoration of Barry’s speed being tied to everything that makes him a hero
- the restoration moment being cheesy but in a really charming way
- using empathy to defeat Eva
- a creative resolution of the Ralph Dibny situation
- abandoning interesting elements in favour of a quick resolution
- undermining Eva’s complexity to make her a simpler antagonist
- Eva’s plan failing to create proper tension or raise the stakes
- the new -or old- Harrison Wells being confusingly deployed
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