The Flash may be the very best show on network TV at filling its hours and hours of narrative time. Making enough story for 22 episodes a season isn’t easy, folks, but The Flash often makes it look that way. Though tonight’s episode — the adorably-titled “The Runaway Dinosaur” — didn’t have much to do with the season’s larger Zoom-driven storyline past Barry getting his speed back (something we knew had to happen), it was never boring. Rather than waste an episode with a villain-of-the-week, The Flash instead decided to bring back one of the major themes of Season 1: Barry’s continuing struggle to get past his mother’s death. And, guys? It was heartbreaking, inspiring, and incredibly emotionally complex.
It’s that last quality that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough on television. Because sentimentality is considered a feminine quality and is therefore historically relegated to female-geared genres like the melodrama, it is dismissed as less important than the more emotionally stoic, “masculine” dramas. But The Flash has never been afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, letting its hero cry and break other dudely stereotypes. That, even more than the inclusion of iconic comic book characters or awesomely ridiculous time travel storylines, is what makes this show special. It also happened to be the quality that was on full display tonight…
Directed by Kevin Smith and written by Zach Stenz (Thor, X-Men: First Class), “The Runaway Dinosaur” had some serious storytelling pedigree behind it — and it shows. What could have been a lame episode about Barry talking to people who looked like people he knew but were actually some kind of non-corporeal, god-like entity, was an emotional tour de force with the three elements Smith insists every great episode of The Flash must have: heart, humor, and spectacle.
Smith called this episode “a spiritual sequel to the Season 1 finale,” and it very much was. Most shows have trouble pulling of the hallucination/dream/interdimensional experience trope, and making us care. Because the events that happen in the non-reality zone (in this case, the speedforce) aren’t really happening and therefore can’t have any tangible effects on the plot, the effects need to be emotional and character-driven. Luckily, as we’ve already gone over, The Flash excels at the emotional and character-driven.
While I could have done without Barry’s first few interactions during his This Is Your Life speedforce tour, the conversations he had with his mother were not only incredibly tear-jerking, but a huge moment for his character. Barry’s entire mission in Season 1 was to save his mother. Ultimately, he chose not to. He chose the life he already had. He accepted that you have to take the bad things with the good things — and Barry has so many good things.
With everything that has gone down in Season 2, it’s easy to forget where we started: with Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne leaving a video message claiming: “you’ll never be truly happy, Barry Allen.” In many ways, this entire season has been about Barry being unable to get Thawne’s message out of his head. He has moped and felt bad for himself and made some stupid, self-destructive decisions because, deep down, he doesn’t seem to think that he deserves it. In “The Runaway Dinosaur,” we find out why.
“[How can I be at peace?” Barry asks The Speed Force who wears Nora Allen’s face. “How can someone ever be at peace with letting his mother die? Deciding that his life was more valuable than hers?” Barry may have been decisive in the moment he needed to be, letting his mother die to save his timeline, but he has been living with the guilt from that choice ever since.
For so long, Barry was doing everything he could to save his parents — to save his father from an unjust incarceration and his mother from Thawne’s untimely murder. After a major event, it takes a while to change how you live your life, and it’s taking Barry awhile to understand how to move forward fueled by something other than grief and anger and denial. This episode was that turning point.
“You were right all along. I haven’t accepted it. Not for a second. I don’t think I ever will,” Barry says. It must be hard to accept that, even with superpowers, you can’t always save the ones you love. You can’t always make things right. Maybe this is why Barry isn’t so overeager to get his powers back. He’s used them to save countless people, but he can’t use them to save his mother or to save Eddie or to save Earth-2 Joe West. Death is a constant, even in the world of superheros (unless it’s Arrow).
Even great power has its limits. And it might be immature for Barry to be mad at The Speed Force for not being able to change the laws of the universe so that one person can never have anything bad happen to them, but it is also so incredibly human. When The Speed Force gives Barry his powers back, it tells him: “It won’t make bad things bad happen to you. Even The Flash can’t outrun the tragedies the universe is going to keep sending your way.” Something to remember heading into season finale character murder time.
As much as I liked those emotionally-driven scenes with Speed Force Nora Allen, I’m not sure how I feel about what “The Runaway Dinosaur” had to say about The Speed Force — or fate — in general. It’s always tricky when shows that don’t inherently have a mystical and/or spiritual element decide to take it on later in its run. Barry seemingly believes in fate and some level of predetermination now. For now, I’ll bite, show, just try to keep your metaphysical ramblings on this side of the yellow dotted line. Stay in your narrative lane.
“The Runaway Dinosaur” was also another big episode for Iris. The first half of the episode, which was less successful in its speed force-related drama than the second half, benefitted from some great Iris West action. See, this is what happens when you give Iris West things to do, show. Unlike Tony Woodward’s appearance in the first season, Iris is totally in the know about S.T.A.R. Labs and Barry’s metahuman status. This time, when Zombie Tony Woodward rears his beautiful head, she can come up with a plan to nab the former bully, volunteering as bait like it’s just a regular part of her exercise routine. (But, seriously, how far away is the West-Allen house from S.T.A.R. Labs?)
This was also a big episode for Iris + Barry. The Flash’s Season 2 development (or lack thereof) of this iconic pairing could have been more even and organic, but they had some beautiful moments here. Speed Force Iris appears in the spot where Iris and Barry first kissed (before Barry reset the timeline), obviously because it is an intersection of place, moment, and person that makes Barry feel happy and calm. Later, it is Iris who brings Barry back. And, though they might not kiss while visiting Nora’s grave together (fair enough), the two are obviously ready to see what a romantic relationship would look like. Favorite #WestAllen dialogue in this episode filled with beauty: “We never had anyone who was just right for us.” “Didn’t we?”
Elsewhere: one of the most intriguing parts of last week’s cliffhanger was the particle accelerator/speed force wave that hit Jesse and Wally. Though Wally wakes up with relatively little trouble, Jesse stays in a Barry-like coma until Barry himself is able to shock her back to consciousness. This seems a major clue that Jesse is or will be a speedster herself, no? But does Wally have the same abilities? Joe uses the old mug test to figure it out. Wally fails, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. He could be hiding them, unaware of them, or maybe he hasn’t developed them yet. Whatever the answers to these kid speedster questions, Team Flash may be upping its speedster power sooner rather than later, which is good news, considering.
Team Flash might not have had much time to worry about Zoom this week, but you better believe the supervillain is still plotting down at his temporary lair — a.k.a. the Central City Police Department. At the end of the episode, we see Zoom giving Caitlin a choice: stay here and be at my side as I take this world you love for myself, killing anyone who world try to stop me (i.e. your friends) or return to your friends’ side and die with them when my takeover begins. Caitlin seems justifiably seriously freaked out by the entire dilemma. It doesn’t help that Zoom has recruited a whole host (40, maybe 50?) of metahumans from Earth-2 to join him in his Earth-1 takeover. Still not sure why Zoom and his compatriots want to see Earth-1 burn so badly, but it certainly makes for a troubling cliffhanger.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Did you catch Jason Mewes’ cameo and the references to the Girder’s first appearance on the show?
“We pretty much invented trippy here.” — The Speed Force, master of understatement.
“Joe, I know you love Barry, but you have Iris and you have Wally. Barry’s all I have left.” — Henry Allen, trying to convince Joe that Barry’s death would hit him harder. #unfair
“It’s not a morgue morgue. It’s like a poor man’s morgue. Morgue-ish.” — Cisco
“Thui didn’t tip any of you off that he might be secretly evil?” — Iris, just as aware as we viewers that Team Flash needed her so bad in Season 1.
If you’re an iZombie viewer like myself, then you probably had a moment of “is this a crossover?!” surprise when Greg Finley (a.k.a. a zombie named Drake on iZombie) jerked out of the morgue freezer. Distracting.
“You were given a rare and precious gift, and you rejected it.” — The Speed Force
“History repeats itself. First as tragedy and then as farce.” — Harry, quoting Karl Marx.
Harry choosing to let Henry try to save Jesse while he solved another Team Flash moment was an understated, but hugely important moment for a character who, though he is changing, still often thinks of himself and his daughter as separate from the team.
“Tony just trashed the hell out of Jitters.” — Iris, reporting on the 465th time Jitters has been trashed on this show.
“We use me as bait to lure him back to Star Labs where Cisco and Wells can kill him. Again.” — Iris, having the most badass plan.
“The good news is we lured Tony back to S.T.A.R. Labs.” “The bad news is we lured Tony back to S.T.A.R. Labs.” — Iris and Joe playing good news cop/bad news cop. More father-daughter team-ups, please.
“Plans A through G did not work.” — Cisco
“Run, Barry, run.” — Speed Force Nora Allen
“I’m so glad you’re back… because we’re about to die.” — Cisco, getting to the point.
Wells’ face while Cisco explains what has happened since Barry left might have been Tom Cavanagh’s best acting to date on this show — and he’s had some great scenes prior to this.
“Sorry, I got lost.” “It’s OK. We found you.” — Barry and Iris, summing up the theme/plot of this entire episode/show.
“Forget all that. You’re stuck with me.” — Henry Allen, reneging on all of his random, stupid reasons for leaving Central City and Barry in the first place. Oh, god. Does this mean he is going to die??? Discuss in the comments below.
“Yeah, I never really liked that book.” — Iris, not a dinosaur fan.
“All I know is you’re everything to me. You always have been. And the sound of your voice will always bring me home.” — Barry Allen, to Iris West
“Who’s world is this?” — Zoom, using vague political rhetoric to rally a group of metahumans to conquer a world for no particular reason.