[Regular recapper Carla Day is off tonight, so I’m dusting off my old speedster suit to fill in]
“Guys, Christmastime is here!” and along with it, The Flash’s midseason finale, “The Present.” It’s been a scattered season so far, with more of a focus on Villains of the Week, which for its part has actually worked out pretty well. But then there was the whole Alchemy subplot, which was ultimately a half-baked way to bring Julian into the STAR labs fold and introduce the weirdness of Savitar. And while “The Present” did address some of what Savitar is with exposition on the Philsopher’s Stone and a fleeting mention of Hindu mythology, Savitar’s motivations and desire to create more speedsters (like the cocoon Wally found himself in a few weeks back) were ignored. Like all of the other speedster foes, where future Barry has trapped them or pissed them off or essentially defeated them, Savitar has come to attack Barry’s younger self. But Savitar being the third speedster to do this, as well as being the least-developed and least-personally connected to Barry, means that he’s also the least interesting so far.
Yes, “The Present” did introduce the idea that Savitar could kill Iris in the near future, but the show very quickly backtracked on the stakes of that moment by having Jay explain that this is just one of many possibilities of the future, even essentially quoting Rip Hunter from Legends of Tomorrow about the future being malleable. But Savitar is also a villain who doesn’t seem that hard to defeat; as long as you keep closing him up in his box, he’s powerless. If Caitlin and Cisco can figure out within minutes how to channel Savitar through Julian’s brain, surely they can do a little thinking on how to block Savitar from sending out his signals to get others to open the box. Ah well, too late now!
There was a lot packed into “The Present” which felt out of place, and it speaks to the show’s pacing problems this season. Flashpoint lasting one episode was a major mistake, and while something like Barry hopping over to Earth-3 to help Jay out and running into their version of Trickster (Mark Hamill has never looked more terrifying) was a fun nod, the episode just didn’t have room to accommodate that, Jay hanging around, Cisco’s visions of Dante, Wally’s training with HR, Joe’s new relationship, and Barry and Julian’s mutual discover of the others’ powers with the time they deserved. That last point is particularly frustrating, because even though Julian was only being used by Alchemy, that reveal was telegraphed through the entire season. Doing “the guest star is the masked man!” is beneath this show. And while everyone seemed to be friends by the end of “The Present,” Julian is far more interesting as an quippy antagonist to Barry, unless he’s going to get a job as STAR Labs’ historian (like Nate from Legends).
“The Present” may have also felt anticlimactic after the epic nature of DC’s Heroes vs Aliens crossover week, but I would argue that regardless of crossover timing, Savitar just hasn’t felt like he had much time to develop before the show was forced to make its grand fall finish. The Flash hasn’t fully committed to any one story this year, perhaps to avoid last year’s mistake of too much Zoom too soon, where in the back half the season the villain fell flat as he was over-explained to fill time. What initially made Zoom so terrifying was that he was a mystery. The exposition about Savitar in “The Present” also felt unnecessary though, and further weakened him as a foe. Did we really need to see Julian as Indiana Jones in the Kingdom of the Speedster Stone? Frankly, Alchemy as a villain who was empowering people to become metas was a far more compelling story that could have had some real longevity to it … except that it was one that was too closely tied to Flashpoint, which essentially was ended with the crossovers (where Cisco essentially forgave Barry because it turns out, hey, we all screw with the timeline on a regular basis!)
It was up to Joe and HR to keep things festive in “The Present,” and they served as a reminder than even when The Flash delivers a mediocre episode, its still a fun show. Wally was overdue for his introduction as Kid Flash, and that capped off a nice moment at the West household that was full of merriment and cheer (even to the point where Caitlin thought, what the hell, I’ll go ahead and use my uncontrollable powers to give us some snow!) But Barry’s final scene with Iris felt like desperation mixed with romance — he’s rushing to create a future with them that won’t lead to her death, despite Savitar’s prophesies. But even though Barry went through Flashpoint and seemed to understand he can’t go back to the past, if Iris was killed he absolutely would. In the meantime, are we about to start seeing him peeking into the future to see what has or hasn’t changed?
When The Flash returns in 2017, I will forgive it for treading water this fall if it means that it settles in with tighter storylines in the spring. Its 22-episode structure has never been ideal, and it’s a show that would be much better served by a lower episode count. Like Barry, The Flash is still figuring out to the rules and how to make things work, something it had a lot of confidence in to start. But as its world becomes more complicated, its narrative mechanics must as well. Though it’s always handled its supernatural elements with as much care and logic and stakes as it can be afforded, compounding multiple Earths and multiple speedster foes (and even multiple Wells!) has made it feel adrift this season. But the future isn’t set — it can still be changed for the better.
Rating: ★★★ Good (because I’m in the Christmas spirit and feeling generous)
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Where are Savitar’s speedster minions?
— Flash, you making Tom Felton talk about the Philosopher’s Stone is shameless.
— Jay: “I’m the senior partner.” Barry: “More like senior citizen.”
— The West family seems to really not have a problem with watching each other make out.
— So of course Julian knows Barry is the Flash now because who doesn’t?
— “One shall betray you, one shall fall, one will suffer a fate worse than death” – Savitar’s prophesy of the future.
— When the villain “Plunder” shows up, that will be a clue that Savitar is near …
— “I don’t know guys, but being mind-punked by a speed god that we piss off in the future really kills your Christmas spirit” – Cisco
— Does Iris still work at the paper? How can she and Barry afford that apartment? (Since he hasn’t had a job for awhile).
— “Caitlo” and “BA” – HR’s nicknames for the team.
— “We’re gonna have a little nog-off, Grandma Esther vs Grandma Millie … may the best grandma win.” – Joe
— “Our grandmothers were alcoholics.” – Joe
— Are we going to address the fact that Wally is apparently faster than Barry?
— “Run, Wallace, run!” – HR
— I’m glad Joe at least referenced the aliens, since that feels like it should be a big deal.