The Flash – Season 7 Episode 9
The Flash has Barry and Iris divided on a radical plan to deal with the threat of the Forces as Cisco considers his future.
It’s quite common on this show for Barry to have an idea that many would consider to be either stupid or ill advised. He will quite often make plans without considering the widespread implications of them and act impulsively because he believes it to be the right thing to do. It can’t be said to be poor writing as such as it’s a consistent character trait for Barry so it actually amounts to a well developed flaw. One of the major issues is that he never seems to learn from this pattern of behaviour and continually makes similar mistakes.
In this particular instance he ticks a couple of items off the Barry Allen checklist. He makes an assumption about the threat being faced and he uses time travel. It doesn’t matter how many direct examples of botched time travel Barry will personally experience and how many times he will decide it’s too risky to use it again he will always come back to using time travel in an attempt to solve a problem. In this case he wants to unmake the forces by travelling back to the moment they were created and prevent that from happening. He fails to consider that these are living beings that he is looking to erase from existence and stubbornly insists that this is the only solution.
Barry’s attitude is rooted in guilt. He blames himself for Alexa’s death because he was the one who encouraged her to put herself forward for the test. In his mind stopping Fuerza and the others from being created in the same process that restored his speed will undo her death and make everything right again. Iris immediately disagrees with him and refuses to be part of such an awful plan. She believes that Nora can be reasoned with by appealing to whatever Humanity that may be within her rather than writing her off as a villain that needs to be stopped. Much of her screen time in this episode is in pursuit of that goal. It suits her character to want to see the best in others even after they’ve committed unspeakable acts and oppose Barry’s ethically questionable plan. She sees it as an overreaction and goes her own way in terms of trying to deal with the situation. Barry dismisses these concerns and trusts that Iris will come around to his way of thinking when she sees the end result. It is made clear that he isn’t seeing things clearly and them not being in sync is an important part of this episode.
Cisco is initially reluctant because of the time travel aspect. He references Flashpoint and how damaging that was as a clear example of why this is a bad idea but Barry insists that he can pull this off without altering the timeline if he insists the help of Timeless Wells. There is a real risk of this version of Wells being a crutch the show can lean on to get around potential plot holes. Any possible consequence can theoretically be dismissed because Timeless Wells’ vaguely defined abilities allow them to get around that. Somehow his very presence prevents the timeline being broken beyond repair but there’s no real explanation for why that is other than the very nature of who and what he is getting around problems that would exist without his involvement. It’s undeniably lazy though on a positive note it does prevent the episode being bogged down in meaningless technobabble and allows more time to focus on how the characters feel rather than what they are doing which is definitely more valuable content. It doesn’t excuse the reckless hand waving afforded by Timeless Wells’ presence but the bulk of the attention is in the right place.
Barry follows an arc that ends with him realising that his plan is ill advised and that his reasoning is misguided. His thinking is challenged in a variety of ways. Deon’s random arrival directly questions what Barry is planning to do and makes a strong case for it being the wrong course of action through showcasing that he isn’t just a manifestation of the Still Force. Deon is a person who lives a life and thinks that he deserves the chance to exist. At that point Barry is fixated on the notion of the Still Force not being an actual person but being faced with Deon who has a very tangible fear of death starts the process of him questioning what he intends to do.
This is reflected in a solo conversation he has with Joe where the Forces are likened to children that Barry played a part in bringing into the world. Joe uses his experience with Wally as an example that illustrates the point that parents often make mistakes that impact their children such as being too hands on causing Wally to recoil and being too distant causing him to feel abandoned. The main takeaway is that Joe never stopped trying and neither should Barry because he has a part to play in shaping the people the Forces turn out to be just as a parent plays a major role in the development of their children. It is an interesting connection though I personally don’t feel that it works as well as the writers need it to. Some of that has to do with the abrupt introduction of the idea in this episode rather than seeding it earlier. To me the birth of the forces feels more like an unpredicted and unintended consequence of restoring Barry’s speed that is now the responsibility of Team Flash to deal with.
It also doesn’t quite make sense that birthing the Forces is attributed to Team Flash because they are surely elemental forces that have always existed in some form with Team Flash tethering them to this reality in some way. Nora wasn’t created by what they did, she was restored so the same must apply to the other Forces. There is an unfortunate lack of consistent explanation around the rules at play here which is a problem common to this show in general that doesn’t seem to be going away.
However it all works, it’s likely that the parental connection is here to stay and it isn’t without merit because of how it frames Barry and Iris’ thinking around how to deal with these forces. There has been a focus on appealing to the better natures of villains rather than simply defeating them over the recent seasons. The original Cicada was ultimately reasoned with which shifted the plot accordingly and the same happened with Eva so there is a move towards Barry being an inspirational hero who works to make people better. Emotionally driven conclusions tend to be more satisfying so this shift is a positive one so far. The previous episode portraying Alexa as a victim of circumstance and this one having Deon put another Human face on the forces were both really effective ways of deepening the conflict.
Cisco and Chester raising their concerns to Barry once they come to realise that they are actually talking about ending lives in carrying out Barry’s plan doesn’t immediately work because Barry is committed to carrying out what he thinks is right at that point. Wells resolves to support him but wants him to be completely sure that he’s doing the right thing. This is the point where Barry is experiencing the most doubt but feels that it’s necessary to push it aside in order to solve the problem.
He changes his mind when the Forces are seconds away from being wiped out and it’s a really powerful moment. Witnessing the act of creation, seeing how strikingly beautiful it is and understanding the role he played in making that happen all add up to him realising that destroying them would be wrong. Joe’s words come back to him as he bears witness and he understands that the Forces have a right to life so doesn’t follow through on his plan.
Barry confirms that realisation in a conversation with Iris and commits to the idea that they are the parents of these Forces and have to behave accordingly in order to help them be positive influences on the world around them. Neither of them are aware of how to do that but being on the same page results in a positive outcome where Alexa is concerned as the energy contained within them us used to restore her. In theory this means that they have Fuerza on side which provides them a powerful ally against Nora who is bent on ending the other Forces.
A chunk of Iris’ screen time is spent interacting with Psyche who forces her to confront her fear of not measuring up to the influence of the real Nora in Barry’s life as well as her own anxieties around being a good mother. This acts as a callback to their daughter Nora’s hostility towards her while also likely foreshadowing anxieties she will come to have about acting as the right kind of example for the Forces. It also establishes that Psyche won’t be easily swayed and shows that he has fully formed resentments against his own parents that he is currently unable to push aside. The inspirational path certainly won’t be an easy one.
It was recently announced that Carlos Valdes will be leaving the show at the end of this season and this episode starts to set that in in motion with a shared realisation between him and Kamilla that they need to leave Central City in pursuit of the next stage in their lives. For Kamilla this means indulging in success her photography has achieved and for Cisco it’s less clear but he seems fully convinced of the need to make changes in his life. After such a long time on the show the presence of Cisco will undoubtedly be missed but hopefully he will be given an exit worthy of such an important character.
An engaging episode with a clear and compelling character arc for Barry to follow as well as fascinating expansion of the Forces in unexpected ways. Barry following a plan that is poorly thought out and ill advised is a consistent flaw for him by this point though the frustration lies in how he constantly fails to learn from those tendencies after being proven wrong. The time travel problem is solved by the presence of Timeless Wells who could end up being a crutch the show leans on to push aside particular concerns. Barry’s fixation of unmaking the Forces comes from guilt over his role in Alexa’s death and he convinces himself that the right thing to do is to wipe them out of existence. His thinking is challenged in various ways such as Deon putting a Human face on the Forces and Joe suggesting that they are essentially Barry’s children which comes with its own responsibilities. It’s an interesting connection but it doesn’t work as well as the writers need it to largely due to how abruptly the idea is introduced and how poorly defined the Forces are as a general concept. Cisco and Chester raising their concerns to Barry feeds into that idea with Timeless Wells following Barry’s lead but wanting him to be absolutely sure he’s doing the right thing. Ultimately he realises how misguided he is and changes his mind which ties into the movement towards encouraging antagonists to be their best selves rather than defeating them.
The parental connection isn’t without merit as it provides an opportunity for Barry and Iris to consider their approach. Having them come back in sync proves effective when they are able to revive Alexa which in theory gives them an ally against Nora. Much of Iris’ screen time is spent dealing with Psyche in order to establish anxieties for her that will become important and set up Psyche as someone who won’t easily be reasoned with. Cisco and Kamilla mutually deciding that they are to leave Central City sets up Cisco’s exit from the show albeit without providing much in the way of reasoning for him to do so. Hopefully he will be given an exit worthy of such an important character.
- a strong arc for Barry to follow
- having his thinking challenged in a few ways
- establishing that the Forces have life and identity that is worth preserving
- Joe’s strong example establishing a parental connection between Barry, Iris and the Forces
- Barry’s realisation making for a very powerful moment
- Barry and Iris being on the same page allowing Alexa to be revived
- foreshadowing important anxieties for Iris
- Timeless Wells being used as a crutch to explain away narrative problems
- the parental connection not being as strong as it needs to be
- a lack of clarity around the origin of the Forces and inconsistencies around how they are defined
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