The Flash – Season 6 Episode 7
“The Last Temptation of Barry Allen Part One”
The Flash tests Barry in the hours before Crisis hits with an offer that could save his life at the expense of his soul.
First of all, apologies to those who were looking to read my review on last week’s episode. Life got in the way and I decided it was better to just skip it. My brief verdict is that I thought it was a good episode that highlighted Ralph’s value to both the team and the show.
This episode opens by reinforcing Ralph’s value through showing how he takes on a season centric villain. His fight with Ramsey is really well put together with creative use of his stretching powers such as turning himself into a spring or sucker punching him by stretching his hand to a drain behind him. It also shows how versatile Ralph’s powers are and how he is capable of thinking on his feet in a tense situation.
Unfortunately it doesn’t really do much for Ramsey who has lost any opportunity to be sympathetic. Some effort was made to help understand his motivation in prior episodes but now he’s a cartoonish moustache twirling villain driven to cure humanity using his powers with no real clarity on how he plans to achieve that. Still, he serves his purpose for the moment and proves to be formidable enough as a distraction in the build-up to Crisis.
Ramsey’s attack on Ralph serves as a means to an end for the real meat of the episode. Barry is infected by Ramsey when he gives Ralph a blood transfusion and the episode focuses on the internalised struggle between Barry and the infection. Ramsey’s abilities means that he is forever connected to his cells so this means that he learns that Barry is The Flash and finds out about the coming Crisis. A villain learning Barry’s not so secret identity isn’t all that threatening because everyone finds out the face behind the mask but Ramsey being inside his head does add considerable threat value to him because he’s in a position to exploit Barry’s insecurities and manipulate him by promising the solution that seems impossible.
Barry’s dilemma will be familiar to anyone familiar with the Star Wars franchise. Basically he is given the option to join the dark side because that will give him access to abilities that allow him to accomplish what otherwise seems possible. Ramsey hows him what he could accomplish if he accepts the offer. One example is Barry showing up too late to save a woman involved in a car crash. Under normal circumstances he would have to accept her fate and move on but gaining Ramsey’s power would allow him to bring her back to life. It’s a strong example because protecting people is one of Barry’s primary motivations so seeing a situation where he was too late will impact him greatly as will witnessing a way to undo the loss of an innocent. It’s so obviously manipulative as well though it’s understandable that Barry would be too distracted to realise this.
Another method of manipulation is to show Barry baby Nora safe and sound in her crib but prevent him from touching her because he has resigned himself to not being there for her. Seeing his hands phase through the baby is striking because it’s a representation of the happiness he wants for himself but can’t have because of the choices he has made. It basically serves as a reminder of everything he has chosen to give up. It all amounts to a very persuasive argument for joining Ramsey; naturally the catch isn’t something that’s detailed because Ramsey’s sales pitch is all about the benefits to Barry.
Countering this is a representation of the Speed Force taking the form of his mother which allows Grant Gustin to interact with Michelle Harrison once again. How Barry reacts to her presence shows how much his understanding of the world around him has changed. Previously he has been affected by the Speed Force manifesting as his mother but now he is at the point where he has accepted that it’s not actually his mother which makes him better able to handle the situation objectively. He sees the cosmic force rather than his mother which massively changes up how he deals with her/it.
For the purposes of this review I’ll refer to the Speed Force as either “Nora” or “her” as it’s just easier to handle it that way. Nora’s purpose in the episode is to encourage Barry to fight the infection that is Ramsey and reject everything he offers. From Barry’s perspective it seems that Ramsey has the stronger argument because he promises a future where Barry doesn’t have to leave everyone and everything he cares about behind. This only becomes stronger when Nora tells him that Ramsey is telling the truth which makes Barry seriously question why he’s being encouraged to reject this since the alternative means certain death for him. His reaction makes a lot of sense as he has been at the behest of this cosmic force for a number of years and is now starting to question why. In this case he is told that he has to die in order to save the lives of everyone close to him as well as the entire universe even though there’s a clear alternative that allows him to survive.
Barry talks about everything he has gained in his life from his marriage to Iris and the knowledge of a future where they has a child that represents the best of both of them. In short he has so much to lose and doesn’t want to lose it so resents being told by a cosmic force that he has to. Nora talks to him about her being a guide for him along the path that he’s chosen but Barry counters that by reminding her that he didn’t actually choose this path as the lightning strike wasn’t something he did to himself. The Speed Force chose him as a vessel and now expects him to do what it wants him to do which rubs Barry up the wrong way because it means accepting death at a young age when it might not be necessary. His role in the upcoming Crisis is something he is struggling to understand because there is a significant weight of expectation on him and Ramsey’s words are ringing in his ears.
One thing he calls back to is the image of the headstones that name everyone close to him that has died since Barry became The Flash. He directly questions Nora on why he and those close to him have to suffer because of his connection to the Speed Force. Being granted his powers and the responsibility that comes with them was something that was done to him and now he’s being forced to question how he feels about it exactly. Nora tries to tell him that he’s being manipulated into rejecting her by Ramsey but Barry points out that the Speed Force appears to him as his mother and puts him in his old bedroom as comforting imagery which is also manipulation. Barry isn’t ignorant to what Ramsey is doing but is starting to question the benefits of doing what Nora asks of him because the end result of that will be his death. Nora’s final appeal to him is to warn him that accepting Ramsey’s offer will mean that he loses his passion, soul and sense of self which will leave him a shadow of the person he was. In essence it would be a fate worse than death. With both arguments presented to him Barry has to make the choice as represented by both sides of the argument equally covering him.
This episode is a stunning showcase for Grant Gustin who carries it wonderful. The quieter moments where his facial expressions act as the window into his emotional state at that point and are really powerful. Gustin conveys so much in these moments and it’s plain to see that Barry’s mind is seriously considering the options available to him. His performance is equally strong in his various interactions with both Ramsey and Nora. The moment where Barry yells at her is particularly well delivered because it represents how trapped Barry feels by circumstance and the needs of forces that are bigger than he is. At that point he feels the most lost and sees himself as cosmically unimportant. It’s great to witness and brilliantly conveys what it needs to.
Barry’s final decision is left briefly ambiguous but I was never in any doubt about what his choice would be as it was clear throughout that he was more drawn to what Ramsey had to offer because it allows him to be around post Crisis. It’s altogether too seductive for him to pass up even if there are going to consequences to it that he isn’t really considering. Grant Gustin continues to impress in the moments following that decision with his distracted and dismissive attitude that tips Iris off as to what has happened. Grant Gustin plays Ramsey forcing Barry to pretend to be his old self and fails because of how well Iris knows him. It’s an immediate confirmation that Nora was right as he has already lost his sense of self by accepting Ramsey’s offer.
This being the first of two parts means that how well it all works depends on how the next part plays out. It’s entirely possible that the writers are unable to stick the landing and deliver a resolution that works as a resolution to this particular emotional issue for Barry but it was a great first half and worked brilliantly as an opportunity for Barry to actually face what is about to happen with him. He has been around the team so now it’s time for him to consider how he actually feels about his upcoming sacrifice. Setting this episode two days before Crisis begins creates an automatic sense of urgency that adds weight to Barry Allen’s feelings.
The only subplot in this episode involves the newly dubbed Team Citizen consisting of Iris, Kamilla and Allegra following up on the events of the previous episode. What they’re actually doing isn’t as important as how they’re doing it as the real story is that Iris is putting off the article that she has to write detailing detailing Barry’s disappearance during the upcoming Crisis. Allegra stumbles onto it and wonders why Iris has diverted her focus away from that. She makes it known that she’s in on the secret and confirms that she can be trusted by choosing her words carefully around Kamilla which strengthens this dynamic as Iris has a secondary team she can trust outwith Team Flash. Allegra tells Iris about how inspiring her writing was to her way back when she referred to The Flash as The Streak. Her reason for telling Iris that is to show her that her writing is meaningful to people and she has to write that article because otherwise she’ll never forgive herself. Iris has been avoiding it because she doesn’t want to face the reality that is so close but Allegra helps her see the power her words can have in terms of inspiring others which also how comforting they can be for her as well as it’s an opportunity for her to express her feelings in her writing. Seeing her beginning to write the article shows the beginning of that acceptance. Allegra is a great addition to the show and already has a strong dynamic with Iris that is both a challenge to her as well as strongly supportive.
One one episode remains until Crisis begins and it looks like it’ll be focused on Barry rejecting Ramsey’s influence to finalise his readiness for what he has to do. It also looks as if it’ll be the end of the Ramsey plot along with it which feels about right for a villain like that. He was at his most threatening in this episode and the focus on horror imagery within Barry’s mind was an impressive way for him to threaten him but there’s very little mileage left in the character.
A strong episode that provides a stunning acting showcase for Grant Gustin who carries the episode perfectly. Having Barry infected with Ramsey’s cells and being presented with a difficult choice he has to wrestle with throughout was a really nice idea as it forces Barry to consider the sacrifice he is about to make during the upcoming Crisis. With this being two days before Crisis hits the urgency is at its peak and it’s easy to see how self doubt would be creeping in. Ramsey offers him a way to survive through joining him and presents him with scenarios that tempt him such as being able to bring the victim of a car accident back from the dead and getting to live a life with Iris where they raise Nora together. It’s all very tempting and connected to the imagery of everything Barry has lost since becoming The Flash such as all those that have died. Countering that is a representation of The Speed Force once again taking the form of Barry’s mother. She tells him that he has to reject Ramsey’s offer even though he isn’t lying about being able to let Barry live through the Crisis. This causes Barry to question his role and his responsibilities and he points out that he didn’t actually choose the life he now leads because The Speed Force chose him. He doesn’t see it as fair that he has to die because a cosmic force has decided that its necessary. He really doesn’t want to miss the opportunity to spend time with those he loves and raise a child so ultimately he sides with Ramsey because that way he feels that he’s taking some control of his own destiny. Of course there are consequences that he isn’t considering but that’s for the next episode.
The only real subplot in this episode is Iris, Kamilla and Allegra conducting an investigation linked to the events of the previous episode. It’s not actually important what they’re doing as it’s really about Iris avoiding writing the article confirming the loss of The Flash. Allegra reveals to Iris that she knows Barry is The Flash and confirms that she can be trusted when she chooses her words carefully around Kamilla. This gives Iris a secondary team she can trust outside of Team Flash. Allegra talking to Iris about the article was really well done as it highlights the power Iris’ words can have on those that read them based on Allegra’s experience as well as offering the promise of some form of closure on Iris’ part. Seeing her begin to write the article shows the beginnings of that acceptance. One more episode to go and then Crisis. It’s almost here readers!
- the creative use of Ralph’s abilities in the opening sequence
- the exploration of Barry’s choice throughout the episode
- Ramsey using striking examples to give Barry an idea of what he could have
- growth in Barry shown through him being unaffected by The Speed Force appearing to him as his mother
- Grant Gustin’s excellent performance
- Allegra helping Iris realise the power her words have
- Iris beginning the road towards acceptance
- the Team Citizen subplot failing to capture interest
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