The Flash – Season 7 Episode 2
“The Speed of Thought”
The Flash deals with an unexpected side effect of the Artificial Speed Force that ends up causing major problems for Team Flash.
This has always been a show that wears its heart on its sleeve. Barry in particular is a very emotional person; so much so that frequent references are made to his positive feelings being what drives him to do better, to beat the odds and to solve problems. During “Crisis on Infinite Earths” he was identified as the paragon of love so compassion and empathy are much a part of the DNA of this show as super speed is.
Arguably the worst thing that could possibly happen to Barry Allen is that he lose the capacity for empathy and compassion so naturally that had to happen to him at some point. The Artificial Speed Force was brought on line in the previous episode and with it comes the ability to Speed Think. Barry can anticipate what people are about to say and do before it happens, he can predict seemingly unpredictable events and is generally operating on an intellectual level far beyond anyone around him. This is advantageous as it allows him to see solutions that would never be considered before. For someone who frequently makes stupid decisions and fails to learn from mistakes this would seem like the perfect power. It is made clear early on that such an ability can never be permanent which neatly gets around the obvious question of how Barry can ever be challenged again.
It doesn’t take long for problems to emerge. What makes sense on a purely intellectual level doesn’t necessarily make sense on an emotional one which leads to some shaky ethical decisions. The first red flag is when he lets Frost be shot because he knows that he will be able to cure her shortly after. It makes sense in terms of getting the desired outcome for the plan they’re implementing but it’s questionable as he knowingly lets someone be injured when it was possible to prevent it. Barry with his empathy intact would have let the plan fail in favour of preventing injury so immediately this is seen as a bad thing.
Things get worse from there when he runs numbers and decides that Kamilla and Singh are expendable in favour of Iris. The decision isn’t because Iris is his wife; it’s actually because he believes that retrieving her is the logical next step to defeating Eva due to Iris’ presumed greater affinity with her and her plan. By this point Barry is so far gone that he fails to consider the emotional impact of making such a difficult choice. For him it’s all down to the numbers and doesn’t factor in that he’s making decisions with people’s lives. Under normal circumstances he would refuse to accept the choice and demand that they find a way to save all of them. Difficult choices are part of being a hero and this show does often forget that in favour of finding a solution that allows everyone to make it through relatively unscathed but in this case the choice isn’t a difficult one because Barry is robbed of the emotional connection to it.
Cisco, Frost and Allegra become increasingly concerned as the episode progresses and Barry’s less than ideal state is identified as a problem with the Artificial Speed Force. They substituted something designed to amplify negative emotions with something neutral which had the unintended side effect of robbing Barry of traits that make him a hero. Identifying the issue isn’t enough as Barry doesn’t see a problem with what he has become because it has removed a major weakness as far as he’s concerned. Frequent references are made to prior antagonists exploiting his emotions so not having them is a logical way for that never to happen again. Of course it doesn’t consider all the positive things his emotions have allowed for but from a purely pragmatic point of view it makes sense that a passionless Flash would be unstoppable.
This is reflected through their attempts to stop him. With all his mental energy focused on anticipating and solving problems there’s nothing they can do to stop him because he has thought of every possible outcome and found a way to counter the moves before they are even made. Frost shooting up with Velocity X and matching speed with Barry in order to stop him was a really cool sequence that showcased creative uses of Frost’s powers. Dynamic action has rarely been one of this show’s problems and that was a particularly strong example that was also unexpected. Paying off Barry’s prep work to engineer the near simultaneous defeat of his friends was really impressive as well.
Positioning Barry as essentially the main villain for the episode was something that worked really well in general. In some ways it was reminiscent of the episode of Supergirl where she was affected by Red Kryptonite in that the lead was acting disturbingly out of character and became a danger to those around them. Grant Gustin’s passionless performance was really eerie and the other characters were used really well. In particular it was great to see Cisco embodying the role of Barry’s best friend who knows him best and has no problem challenging him when he feels he’s out of line. Cisco starts off questioning his reasoning and naturally transitions to concern along with guilt over failing to consider the consequences of the alteration to the Artificial Speed Force. Such an eventuality could not be predicted but Cisco definitely feels a measure of responsibility. In many ways he carries the episode by leading those around him as Barry becomes increasingly difficult to deal with. It’s the best showcase of Cisco in quite some time that hopefully represents him being better utilised over the course of this season.
Barry bringing Iris back from the Mirrorverse against her will resolves the extended plot around her imprisonment there but is also far from the end of that plot. Iris has been acclimating to the Mirrorverse in a way that suggests she might be gaining the same powers Eva has though that’s unclear. She has a very negative reaction to leaving the Mirrorverse which snaps Barry out of his passionless state long enough to break the Artificial Speed Force. It’s a strong moment that works because it attacks his purely logical thinking in a very clear way. Once he sees that Iris would never make the choice to abandon Kamilla and Singh in order to save herself regardless of the situation it prompts a realisation that there could be so many other things that he was wrong about. Once again Iris is the motivation for him to embrace his true feelings and the way this comes about makes complete sense in context. It’s also a great example of victory mixed with potential tragedy. Iris’ life is at risk, Kamilla and Singh have nobody to help them at a crucial moment and Barry presumably hasn’t got his speed until the Artificial Speed Force has been fixed. I mentioned in my review of the previous episode that complications needed to result from the creation of the Artificial Speed Force and so far those are being delivered.
Propping up Barry’s lack of empathy is the examples of connection and emotion found throughout the episode. The episode opens with a memorial to Nash Wells in a room in STAR Labs containing mementos of those lost over the years. There are some meaningful Easter Eggs in this scene including costumes worn by Ronnie, Jessie and Nora. It serves as a chilling reminder of how much loss there has been for this team over a short period of time and highlights how significant it is to lose Nash because he represents the end of all iterations of Harrison Wells meaning that the team is adrift without a Wells for the first time. It’s a major loss and will take time for all of them to process.
Allegra seems to be the worst affected which doesn’t entirely make sense given how problematic that plot was last season but it does allow for a really strong sentiment from Cecile who talks about the memories of her parents that she keeps with her as her own way of honouring them. This is another one to add to the list of varied Arrowverse approaches to managing grief. For Allegra the loss is raw and she is struggling to process it which provides a natural entry point for Cecile to give the benefit of her experience and suggest a really practical way to honour those lost. Cecile is so often used as comic relief so it’s refreshing to see her take on a more thoughtful role and have her ability act as a catalyst for her to make a meaningful connection with Allegra who is able to heed the advice and honours Nash by using his bags of tricks. Pushing aside the bizarre nature of their relationship as previously depicted this is a really moving account of loss and grief.
One thing that doesn’t work as well is the Eva McCulloch plot. Having her come to realise that she’s a duplicate of the original isn’t going anywhere interesting as it’s retreading familiar ground around questioning her identity and worth without going beneath the surface. Ultimately she ruminates over it for a while, has the truth forced out into the public eye and comes to the conclusion that she can make the world she doesn’t come from her world. Prior to this she was an interesting villain with no real interest in Team Flash unless they got in her way and was motivated to achieve simple understandable goals. There was also the sympathetic angle because her husband was clearly not a good person who treated her terribly so to an extent her actions could be understood. Murder can’t be condoned but her hatred of him and desire for revenge is completely understandable. It’s possible her plot has shifted significantly to make her a more simplistic villain that can be pushed aside quickly in favour for whatever was planned for the current season. It’s possible this step change will lead to something interesting and the idea of her being more of an antagonist for Iris than Team Flash as such still has potential.
The ending of the episode was very interesting. Flashing back to when Thawne killed Harrison Wells and stole his identity before burying him at the side of the road before having Harrison Wells emerge from an energy field creates some immediate intrigue. Whether this is the real original Harrison Wells or a reincarnation of Thawne is unknown at this point but anything that keeps Tom Cavanagh in the show is worth exploring.
A strong episode that wonderfully explores how important Barry’s compassion and empathy are by robbing him of it and uses Cisco brilliantly as an opposition to him. Having Barry lose his capacity for compassion in favour of pragmatism extrapolated to a dangerous level was a really great idea as it robs Barry of something that is as important as his speed when it comes to him being a hero. It starts off relatively small and quickly transitions to him making massively questionable decisions that endanger those close to him. Positioning Barry as an antagonist works really well and allows for really impressive action sequences showcasing creative uses of the available powers. Barry engineering the defeat of his friends before they’ve even decided to attempt bringing him down was an impressive payoff as well. Barry bringing Iris back from the Mirrorverse against her will after logically deciding that Kamilla and Singh are expendable for reasons related to bringing Eva down makes for a compelling development. Having Barry snap out of it after realising he was wrong about Iris’ views on whether she should be rescued over anyone else was earned and shows how impactful Iris is when it comes to Barry’s emotional state. Having this all happen due to the Artificial Speed Force provides necessary complications to bringing that online and contrasting the victory of retrieving Iris with several tragedies was very effective.
Barry’s lack of empathy is propped up by examples of connection and emotion. The memorial to fallen members of Team Flash shown at the beginning of the episode as they mourn the loss of Nash Wells underscores how important these connections are and reinforces how much loss has been endured over the years. Allegra’s grief over Nash’ loss leads to a really powerful piece of advice from Cecile around how best to honour him and is reflected in what Allegra does later in the episode. The Eva plot is less well done as she is heading in a less interesting direction than previously. Perhaps her plot is being quickly resolved in order to move on with the plans for this season though she could still be a compelling villain and having her as a potential antagonist for Iris specifically still has potential. The ending involving the possible return of the original Harrison Wells was immediately intriguing and welcomed if it keeps Tom Cavanagh on the show.
- Grant Gustin’s eery performance
- proving how important Barry’s compassion and empathy is by removing it
- Cisco acting as the natural opposition
- Barry snapping out of being passionless thanks to Iris and what she represents for him
- complications emerging from the Artificial Speed Force
- creative action
- examples of empathy and emotion throughout the episode
- Cecile’s advice on how to honour those lost
- the intriguing Harrison Wells ending
- Eva becoming less interesting following her recent realisation
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