The Flash – Season 2 Episode 21
“The Runaway Dinosaur”
Kevin Smith directs an episode of The Flash…oh and some stuff happens to the characters that populate this show.
The reason I point out that Kevin Smith directed this one is that it seems to be a selling point for this episode from a marketing perspective but other than having a name attached I’m not sure what the big deal is. If you happen to be a Kevin Smith fan through his various podcasts, other films that he has directed or anything else he has been involved in but aren’t watching The Flash then this is definitely one of the worst episodes you could start with considering how much it relies on the stories of previous episodes to start things off. It was also written by X-Men: First Class writer Zack Stentz so in theory it has a lot of clout behind it in terms of talent.
Outside of the celebrity endorsement that comes with Kevin Smith’s involvement there is still the question over whether this is a good episode of The Flash. The short answer is yes with a few buts which seems to be the norm for this season.
As I predicted last week Barry has been sucked into the Speed Force after the reckless attempt to regain his powers goes horribly wrong. Having the Speed force represented as a conscious entity with an agenda –albeit mysterious- is an interesting idea that expands the mythology of the show in a way that resembles the comics. The budget limitations of network television make it difficult for the Speed Force to be visually unique or even interesting but it does manage to add layers to the concept while allowing Barry to be introspective in different ways.
The Speed Force scenes embody a common science fiction trope where an unimaginable concept presents itself in a way that’s easy for the character –and the viewer- to understand. It reminded me of any time Captain Sisco would speak to the Prophets in Star Trek: Deep Space 9. This case is similar as the Speed Force chooses to put Barry in environments that he recognises and takes the form of people that he cares about in order to draw out the emotions he associates with them. I liked Barry’s confusion as he has always thought of it as a force like gravity rather than having sentience.
Taking the form of Joe, Iris, Henry and his mother, Nora keeps the focus on Barry’s abandonment issues and his unique notion of family that has come with his upbringing. Family is the major theme of these scenes which makes sense as Barry is still haunted by many of the confused feelings he has about these things.
It seems that the Speed Force has personal growth for Barry in mind and makes reference to the gift that was given to him being thrown away. It is now confirmed that Barry’s powers weren’t given to him by accident. It has been suggested before that he was “chosen” and now we know that he definitely was. I often find the idea of destiny to be a fairly lazy one since it normally substitutes for actual character development. When destiny is involved someone tends to become a hero because fate says so rather than any personal choices that are made.
The whole “chosen one” idea works here because the Speed Force decided to give Barry powers for its own reasons that aren’t made clear and Barry has been making choices over what to do with those powers ever since. He didn’t ever think he had a destiny to live up to or rebel against other than what he knows about his future from the newspaper headline made available to him through Eobard Thawne. Barry’s destiny is essentially unwritten as far as he’s concerned so all of the choices he makes have unknown outcomes and there isn’t that assurance that everything will work out for the best.
It is his choices that have brought him to where he is now and the Speed Force uses this opportunity to question them as well as call Barry out on his unresolved issues. The biggest question is over how he has chosen to use his powers. The fact that Barry giving up his powers is seen as a mistake by the Speed Force is interesting as it suggests that he was chosen for reasons that aren’t made clear. There is a strong implication that the idea is for Barry to use his powers to help others so giving them up for the sake of one life loses sight of the bigger picture. One of the objectives is to combat the evil that they refer to but it makes me wonder why Thawne or Zoom were also “chosen”. Maybe the Speed Force also has a darker side that we don’t see here.
I mentioned that the previous episode reminded me of the season 1 finale “Fast Enough” and this one seemed like almost a sequel to it. The feelings Barry has over the loss of his mother are still lingering in a big way so this gives him the opportunity to directly address those. The fact that he chose not to save her was directly addressed and the reasons for him making that choice were questioned but not in an accusing way. It was more a challenge around him being unable to put it behind him. The lesson that Barry needs to learn to be a more effective hero is that he will never be fast enough to save everyone and accepting the loss of his mother as being something that is in his past is a big part of that.
The scene between Barry and the Speed Force taking on the form of Nora was the strongest in the episode and Grant Gustin delivered an excellent performance. It was clear that he objectively knew that the entity he was talking too wasn’t really his mother but it was also difficult to ignore how like the memory of his mother she was. Talking to her and hearing her say how proud she is allows Barry to put this behind him and regain his powers as represented by a shadowy figure speeding around that is beyond his reach. It’s a fairly dull representation of everything he needs to achieve but it gets the point across and definitively shows that Barry is ready to move forward.
I was particularly impressed by the use of the children’s book “The Runaway Dinosaur” to show the bond Barry had with his mother. He remembers every word in that book because it’s all he has left of her in a lot of ways. It was a really moving scene where he quoted it from memory while resolving his emotional journey.
It is revealed that he has never visited Nora’s grave which shows that he has never been able to let go. It’s a new development but it’s interesting that Barry has been living in constant denial ever since losing his mother and that he is finally able to accept it so that he can begin to heal. Barry standing at the grave and leaving the book there was a powerful gesture on his part.
I’m hoping that the situation with Nora has been resolved now as it might become contrived if the show keeps returning to it every time Barry is struggling with some kind of internal crisis. Now that he has apparently put it behind him that should pretty much be the end of it as far as I’m concerned.
When he returns to the “real world” it feels like he is a more mature hero who has a better sense of purpose and may be more focused. It’s unclear at this point if his speed has been enhanced but I’m sure that will be explained. I’m just hopeful for some forward momentum after all of the heel dragging of the recent episodes.
Outside of Barry’s existential adventure the rest of Team Flash have to deal with the reanimated corpse of Girder. It feels like exactly what it is, an obstacle for the team to overcome while Barry is unavailable. He’s not a huge threat but big enough when there’s no Flash around to oppose him.
He’s also mindless which means that the episode doesn’t spend any time developing the already thin character that existed. Considering Girder’s death somewhat redeemed him it felt unnecessary to bring him back for this episode. The conceit of someone or something being after Iris could have been achieved some other way. This whole plot felt really underwhelming in general and made the pacing seem uneven as there wasn’t a lot of story to carry it.
I was impressed by the use of Iris in this episode as she had agency within the story that she normally doesn’t have. She was proactive in figuring out a plan to deal with this and completely willing to put herself in harm’s way in order to put an end to this threat. I also liked that she was braver than Cisco when going down to the dark scary morgue.
The Iris/Barry relationship hasn’t been handled all that well in terms of their romantic connection. Their brother/sister like relationship has always been done well though and this becomes instrumental in this episode. Iris is the one who ultimately guides Barry back to the “real world”. Barry’s statement that her voice will always bring him back was a really nice touch that worked on a character level rather than a narrative one. It came at a point in the story where Barry was ready to return anyway so it would have had more weight had Iris helped him solidify his decision to returned.
Wally and Jesse’s situation was handled very differently to how I expected. I was wondering if they would end up in a coma until sometime during season 3 but that wasn’t the case. Wally suffered no ill effects other than being tired apparently. Joe testing him to see if he showed any signs of developing powers was a fun scene but I wonder if he is just suffering from a delayed reaction.
Jesse is a different story as she ends up in a coma until Barry touches her to wake her up. All signs seemed to be pointing to her waking up at some point with powers but whether that has happened has yet to be revealed.
The approach taken to the situation from the point of view of the parents on the show worked really well. Joe, Harry and Henry were all worried about their children in different ways with Harry being the least rational considering Jesse’s current condition. Joe and Henry were handling things fairly well despite the fact that Barry was lost in some unknown place. They were filled with fatherly concern of course but they were much more on task than Harry was. Not that he was useless but he definitely needed more coaxing.
Everyone was playing to their strengths as well with Harry and Cisco working on the dual problems of defeating Zombie Girder –I loved Cisco’s reference to iZombie, especially with Greg Finley playing a zombie in that show as well as this one- as well as bringing Barry back. Joe and Iris were also helping with that while Henry attended to Jesse due to his medical background so this was a good episode for getting the whole team working together on the various problems. Caitlin was largely absent but that’s understandable considering her situation.
I can’t help but think that Henry telling Barry he isn’t going anywhere means that he will die at the end of the season. John Wesley Shipp’s appearances have been sporadic throughout this season so I wonder if they’re setting him up for a dramatic death in the season finale. I hope not but wouldn’t be surprised.
Zoom was fairly quiet this week which is fortunate for Team Flash but there’s at least a valid reason for that as we see his army of metahumans at the end of the episode. I liked his ultimatum to Caitlin as it shows that he really does care about her and I wonder if she will stay with him to try and stop him –or at least slow him down- through proximity. She didn’t make a decision in this episode so it was clearly supposed to be left as deliberately ambiguous. It does look like we’re headed for a couple of action packed episodes.
A solid episode that develops the mythology of the show where the Speed Force is concerned. Barry being introspective about his decisions and the things that he is unable to put behind him was really well handled. The zombie Girder was really weak as an antagonist and just seemed to have been brought in to give Team Flash something to distract them. It was good that all of the characters were playing to their strengths and Iris actually had agency for once but it was underwhelming otherwise. Both cliffhangers relating to Caitlin’s choice and Zoom’s metahuman army set things up nicely for the final episodes of the season.
- development of the mythology of the Speed Force
- Barry’s soul searching and finding a way come to terms with his past
- Iris having some rare agency within the story
- an excellent performance from Grant Gustin
- the effective dual cliffhanger
- the reanimated Girder feeling like a pointless addition
- uneven pacing