The Flash – Season 7 Episode 6
“The One With The Nineties”
The Flash gives Cisco and Chester centre stage as they find themselves thrown back in time to the 90s when trying to find a way to track the forces.
One thing this show has had a difficult relationship with is time travel. Many of the time travel stories told have been problematic at best and borderline unwatchable at worst. That’s not to say they have always got it wrong but there’s now an expectation that time travel will make for a less than satisfying viewing experience. Of course it is a potentially fun concept and throwing characters back to decades with a particular visual identity is an excuse to play around with the iconic imagery associated with a particular time period.
Unfortunately the 90s is less distinct than some others so The Flash burns through the references very quickly. Almost immediately we get Blockbuster and Space Jam then it takes little time for the MTV generation inspired outfits to make their appearance. In terms of referencing that’s about all the episode has to offer but that doesn’t mean the actual time travel device isn’t used well, it just means that the chosen decade wasn’t as full of content as it really needed to be.
This is forgivable when the choice of decade is entirely character driven especially when it gives a character without much in the way of definition a chance for development. Chester has been bumped up to series regular status this season and before this point there was a distinct lack of justification as to why that is. Prior to this episode he was a quippy pop culture referencing tech genius so since the team already has that in Cisco it’s unclear what unique traits he brings to the dynamic that justify his presence beyond referencing different pop culture. This episode uses his trip to 1998 to flesh out his background and deliver greater insight into what defines him as a person. As with a lot of Team Flash he has a fractured parental relationship that was interrupted by the untimely death of a parent. It’s a repeated idea on this show and some might find that frustrating but I’ve always been interested in Team Flash as something of a group of orphans finding a family in each other. It isn’t literally that as most of the team aren’t actually orphans but they are all lacking in something that they get from each other. It’s an inspiring story of connection coming from trauma understood by others with the team dynamic forming the true heart of the show. Defining Chester’s place within that had to happen eventually so this was the episode to do it.
The date Cisco and Chester find themselves thrown back to is the day before his father died and the episode takes the time to establish Chester’s perception of his father. He grew up believing that his father didn’t have time for him and was more focused on his failed inventions rather than being present for his son. He resents the accident that took his life because he felt it was caused by that neglect and took away any chance Chester would have had to confront him about it. As is common in many time travel stories being in the past provides Chester the opportunity to interact with his father, Quincy T. Runk (Milton Barnes) without him having any idea that he’s talking to his son. In that conversation Quincy talks about how everything he does is motivated by doing right by his son. He admits to not having all the answers, experiencing difficulties and not always getting it right but knows that his heart is in the right place. Throwing away a component he knows Chester will need soon is his way of teaching him to be resourceful and see the value in things others discard. It calls back to a moment earlier in the episode where Chester rifles through a dumpster looking for a component he needs. This is a really powerful showcase of what he learned from his father without ever realising it and Brandon McKnight’s performance as Chester reassesses lifelong assumptions is excellent.
Nothing about this conversation is in any way surprising or original but that doesn’t stop it being impactful. An important aspect of adulthood is realising that parents are flawed people who were often working really hard to do what is best for their children. Chester doubled down on believing his father was flawed and left it at that but this experience allows him to understand that his father wanted to build a good life for him. It’s a strong realisation and allows Chester to be the one to ultimately solve the situation when he convinces Deon (Christian Magby) to break the time loop because there are certain things in life that can never be changed. Deon keeps the same day repeating because it represents the loss of the future he wanted for himself but no matter what action he takes he’s unable to alter the outcome. Chester helps him realise that the future is something he has control over and the loop breaks. There is some confusion around this as Deon is supposed to be a force who has control over time but if that’s the case then why does his backstory feature an injury derailing his dreams of sporting success after high school? If the forces are elemental and take physical form then it’s confusing that this backstory would be included unless that force is inhabiting Deon. Regardless of that it was satisfying to see Chester use what he learned to dissuade him from continuing his plan though there will almost certainly be consequences to the revelation that the future is something that can be controlled. Deon himself isn’t worth a great deal as an antagonist as the episode takes too long to introduce him as such meaning the episode relies on exposition to quickly establish his motivation.
Chester deciding to pick up where his father left off and finish what he started reinforces the renewed understanding he now has following this experience. Cisco makes sure to make him aware that what he did was remarkable and Chester repeats that he’s just a guy trying to do the right thing, echoing his father’s words and further defining the growth he has achieved. This episode definitely goes a long way towards making Chester a worthwhile part of Team Flash with his own perspective on family and connection so hopefully this will continue and he will be a fixture with a stronger sense of identity following this. His natural friendship with Cisco is a lot of fun to watch as well so the writers are making great use of the similarities between the characters to form a strong connection between them.
Parental connection and responsibility is explored in a different way through Nora aka the Speed Force. She isn’t literally Barry’s mother though the form she has chosen is that of his mother. There is a parental connection in a sense since the Speed Force is what gives Barry his power and she talks about using her power to help him heal in this episode so a variation of that connection is definitely there. The scenes she shares with Iris are focused around defining that connection and going over the details around the loss Barry has experienced. Iris tells her that he doesn’t talk about his mother much and that losing her defined him in a lot of ways. Nora reacts with guilt as she feels that the form she has taken reminds him of what he lost so must be a form of torture for him but Iris corrects her by suggesting that her presence is a gift. Through her Barry can have a presence resembling his mother in his life which is something he may come to appreciate. Not having Barry around to articulate his own feelings on the matter is a notable disadvantage but using Iris as a mouthpiece to go over the loss and make Nora aware of what her chosen form really represents is really compelling as it sets up a complex connection between Barry and the Speed Force through what it represents to him both as a source of his power and as a reminder of what he has lost. The brief showcase of his reluctance to have Nora stay with them establishes that the road towards accepting her presence will be a rocky one but having her become aware of the context surrounding that lays the groundwork for a really complicated and rewarding connection that can be explored.
The episode has clumsy elements to it such as the brief scene showing that Caitlin and Frost are going to have difficulties reconciling their very different personalities within a single living space. Danielle Panabaker is doing an excellent job playing both roles with it being particularly noticeable how strong her performance is whenever they share a scene. It must be complicated to make these scenes happen and she has made both roles completely distinct. Even at that there is no real weight to that scene beyond the barest suggestion there will be friction along the way. Similarly her bold declaration that she isn’t afraid of Kristen Kramer coming after her is entirely unnatural and clearly exists as a transparent attempt to remind the audience that this plot will become important.
A strong episode that wonderfully justifies Chester’s presence on the team, defines his character in a really powerful way and offers a wonderful exploration of Nora’s presence around what that will mean for Barry. Unfortunately the chosen decade of the 90s doesn’t offer as much iconography to have fun with as the episode probably needed it to but that’s forgivable when the reason for its usage is a character driven one. Chester being given the opportunity to talk to his father and gain an understanding of what motivated him was a great touch that challenged a long held assumption Chester had while giving Brandon McKnight meaty material to make use of. Chester learns an important lesson about his father and about himself through this experience that naturally informs him being able to stop Deon later in the episode. It’s powerful, meaningful and fully justifies Chester’s presence on the show as a distinct character with a lot to offer. Deon as a villain was less than compelling and there are confusing details around his origin but as a development experience for Chester he performed his function well.
Parental connection and responsibility is explored through Nora aka the Speed Force. She resembles Barry’s mother and is a parent in a sense as she is the source of his power so the connection is a strong one. There is guilt on her part because she feels that her appearance with create difficulties once she understands how deeply impacted Barry is by the loss of his mother. Iris helps her see that her physical form is a gift because it lets Barry have that presence in his life even if he won’t realise it immediately. Barry’s reluctance to have her stay with them shows that there is a long road to travel but the basis exists for a complex and interesting connection. There are some clumsily handled elements such as the first suggestion of friction between Frost and Caitlin as they find a way to live together. Danielle Panabaker is excellent in this dual role but the scene itself is forced as is Frost’s bold declaration that she isn’t afraid of Kristen Kramer.
- Chester coming into his own as a character
- the meaningful and powerful conversation between Chester and his father
- Chester learning from the experience and growing as a person because of what he learned
- using what he learned to dissuade the villain
- Nora and Iris going over what her presence means to Barry
- Barry’s reluctance to have her stay with them setting up a complex connection to be explored
- Deon arriving too late to be in any way compelling as a villain
- some clumsy elements
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