The Flash – Season 5 Episode 19
The Flash focuses on family feuds as Barry’s decision to banish Nora to the future damages his relationship with Iris and Icicle’s return forces Caitlin to spend time with her mother.
Barry sending Nora back to her own time never to return at the end of the previous episode is unquestionably a selfish and emotionally charged decision that he had no right to make on its own. This episode picks up with the immediate fallout of that decision when Iris confronts him about it and takes the opportunity to point out a few home truths that the show has largely been brushing aside for quite a while. Iris’ focus is on the most recent decision as she is furious that Barry made it without giving her so much as a warning. her point is that Nora is her daughter as well so she had a right to be involved in deciding what to do about the information that recently came to light. For good measure she mentions Flashpoint as another boneheaded unilateral decision that had major consequences for everyone so this initially looked like it was going to be the reality check that Barry sorely needs.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and the argument is abruptly ended by Iris storming off. In fairness it was obvious that what she was saying wasn’t registering with Barry in any meaningful way as he goes into it assuming that the decision he made was the right one and accuses her of being blinded by the fact that Nora gave her a second chance so it’s easy to see why Iris stormed off. This is one of the more real disputes that have been featured on this show and the argument itself was really well acted so having it be so short lived and only hit the surface of what the persistent issues were is something of a missed opportunity.
Iris takes it upon herself to try to put things right by heading to the future to tell Nora that she hasn’t been abandoned by those that love her. Ralph is the enabler of Iris’ quest but beyond offering support he doesn’t contribute an awful lot which makes for another missed opportunity as this could have been used to define the Iris/Ralph relationship beyond the superficial fact of them both being on Team Flash. There’s no sense that he’s needed for this plot which makes his presence feel entirely superfluous.
Going to the future gives Iris the chance to see Nora interacting with Thawne and draw her own conclusions on what the nature of that relationship is. As she arrives Nora is begging Thawne to help her access the Negative Speed Force in order to return to 2019 undetected. Iris’ arrival follows a failed attempt to wilfully tap into her negative emotions and ends up being the push she needed to be able to fully embrace them because she sees Iris being there without Barry as proof that her father no longer loves her. This causes her to feel abandoned and she is able to tap into the Negative Speed Force to run back to 2019. Iris’ actions were well intentioned but ended up making the situation worse because she and Barry aren’t aligned on what the next move should be. It’s well known that the stability -or lack thereof- of a parental relationship has profound effects on any children adjacent to that and this is basically a real time example of this playing out. Nora really needed Barry’s forgiveness to shake her out of the self destructive spiral she is currently in and Iris arriving without him acts as confirmation of what she feared.
Thawne’s role in this situation continues to be compelling especially with Iris noticing that he has fatherly feelings for Nora. This is similar to the affection he had for Barry back in season 1. It worked so well back then because he did genuinely care for Barry as well as the rest of the team but never wavered from his plan to manipulate them for his own ends. At no point do his personal feelings alter his plan because he sees it as a finite relationship that he’s invested in but prepared to see it end. It appears that the same thing is happening here. The way he agrees with Iris as she commands Nora to step away from him feels calculated because he knows that the confusion is exactly what is required for Nora to tap into the negative emotions that are beyond her grasp. He makes a point of telling her that she’s a lot like her father so she will feel even more abandoned when she learns that her parents are divided on what to do with her. What he has planned is still unclear but Nora is definitely playing right into his hands and Iris doesn’t know enough about the situation to pose any kind of a threat to him despite her passionate warnings.
Barry and Iris resolve their schism by the end of the episode with Barry admitting he was wrong to send Nora away and that he approached the situation without considering it clearly enough. Thawne’s words about Nora needing the two of them to be united resonate with her and encourage her to work with Barry to find a solution. Barry does agree with her and wants to find a way to give Nora a fair hearing but they have to find her first and her tapping into the Negative Speed Force is likely to be a problem that won’t be easily solved judging by her glowing red eyes and unchecked rage. I doubt Nora will become a full on villain but she will most likely need her parents to bring her back from this. I can’t help but feel that everyone is playing exactly into Thawne’s hands every step of the way so I’ll be interested to see how that pans out.
Family dysfunction is also explored through Caitlin’s relationship with her mother after Icicle returns to create his own frozen family by awakening an alternate personality within Carla and wiping out the Human side in her and Caitlin. It’s a really bizarre plan with absolutely no depth to it at all. Icicle’s last appearance was similarly over the top and having his evil persona fully embraced means that there’s no room for nuance in his actions here. There is merit in the Caitlin/Carla interactions as it employs the classic tactic of putting two people who don’t see eye to eye in a room together and forcing them to work through their issues. Ultimately it appears that there is a personality clash between the two of them that is entertaining enough to watch but doesn’t elevate itself beyond the superficial. Caitlin is angry at her for lying about her father for years and Carla feels that she did the right thing so there is an impasse that can never really be crossed here because the other point of view will never be seen.
The story beats that have them achieve some common ground are predictable and uninteresting but Danielle Panabaker and Susan Walters bounce off each other believably which makes it feel a lot less contrived. I did find Carla’s perspective on being cut out of her daughter’s life compelling enough as it echoes Barry’s wrong-headed emotionally based decision making. She points out that Caitlin went to build a life far away from her and even married a man she had never met so there is definitely blame to be shared out on both sides as with any dispute.
Even though there is no weight to the Icicle character the spectacle of them battling on their own self made ice bridges is impressive. Thomas regaining control at the point Icicle is about to kill Caitlin is incredibly contrived but not as contrived as him sacrificing himself mere moments later to save Caitlin from being killed by a randomly appearing Cicada 2.0. There was a real opportunity here to explore the Snow family dynamic after the return of Thomas to see what that means for them as a collective but Thomas was only brought back to facilitate a cheap tragic sacrifice and have Caitlin deal with losing her father all over again. Almost no time is spent on her mourning this loss after the fact either so it’s a complete waste.
The reconciliation between Carla and Caitlin feels unearned as well. The small touch of Carla talking about some of the made up elements on the periodic table Caitlin and Thomas came up with was a reasonable first step towards rebuilding a relationship but Caitlin going all the way towards finding it within her to go for a drink with her mother feels rushed. Once again this show demonstrates a lack of ability to let relationships develop naturally.
There is some artificial drama created by Sherloque looking to leave because he feels he has outlived his usefulness. This largely exists for him to be thrown into a crisis and realise how integral he is to the current team dynamic. Ralph is the one who tells him that he’s part of the family and encourages him to stay. Combine this with his support of Iris earlier in the episode and Ralph is fast becoming the heart of the show. It’s a complete shift from who he was last season but that’s fine as this works so much better.
An uneven episode that is at its best when exploring the complexities of family dynamics and at its worst when delivering a poorly developed nonsensical supervillain plot. Barry and Iris being divided on Barry’s decision to banish Nora plays out really well for the most part. Their argument at the beginning of the episode is brief but it highlights Barry’s tendency to make boneheaded decisions without consulting those it affects and further reinforces how self righteous he is. Iris taking it upon herself to head to the future to retrieve Nora ends up doing more harm than good because Nora sees that her parents aren’t united and comes to the conclusion that Barry doesn’t love her. Thawne uses this as an opportunity to manipulate Nora into tapping into the Negative Speed Force for reasons that aren’t yet made clear but there are definite parallels to be drawn between Thawne’s relationship with Nora and his relationship with Barry in season 1. Iris and Barry reconcile by the end of the episode and stand united their desire to give Nora a fair hearing which is rendered more complicated by her tapping into the Negative Speed Force.
Family dysfunction also shows through Caitlin’s relationship with her mother following the return of Icicle to create his own family by awakening an alternate persona within Carla. Icicle’s plan is supervillain nonsense with no depth but Caitlin and Carla’s interactions are interesting enough with most of the weaknesses in the plotting overcome with excellent acting on both sides. Carla’s perspective also brings something new to the overall relationship as it highlights wrong-headed decisions that Caitlin made which draws a link between her and Barry. The spectacle of the fight between Killer Frost and Icicle was impressive but the abrupt return of Thomas in a crucial moment before being killed moments later by a randomly appearing Cicada 2.0 was incredibly contrived. There was a real opportunity to explore the Snow family dynamic that now cannot happen. It felt like a cheap emotional manipulation that doesn’t actually work because Caitlin spends almost no time mourning this loss. Caitlin and Carla starting to go down the road towards reconciliation also feels rushed and demonstrates a further inability to let relationships develop naturally. Sherloque threatening to leave only to stay is somewhat cheap though it does help contextualise Ralph as the heart of the show which makes for a departure from how he was introduced but certainly a welcome one.
- a strongly portrayed argument between Iris and Barry
- Thawne manipulating the situation flawlessly
- the strongly acted scenes between Caitlin and Carla
- Icicle’s ridiculous supervillain plot
- a lack of depth to Thomas’ return and subsequent sacrifice
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