At long, long last, The Flash revealed the identity of Savitar, the masked villain who has terrorized Team Flash since Flashpoint. For a fair portion of this season, fans have been disappointed with how The Flash has handled that Flashpoint storyline and the reveal (or lack thereof) regarding Savitar. For one, Flashpoint lasted one solitary episode in a season that has 22 hours to burn. After that the show settled, briefly, into a pattern that helped define Season 1’s fun: villains of the week, created by Alchemy as a way to kind of punish Barry by restoring their Flashpoint powers.
But even that was dragged down but a really dour Cisco and a team that felt very broken, especially after the fairly early reveal that Alchemy could be a friend (Julien) who was blindly controlled by the ultimate foe: Savitar. The faceless “god of speed” didn’t seem like a masked villain at first — he just seemed like an agent of evil, but not a particularly scary one (he’s no Zoom!) Barry then sees him killing Iris in the future, something he can’t seem to stop, yet even that didn’t raise the stakes. We know Iris isn’t going to die, so getting stuck on that scene and going through Team Flash’s flailing for months of episodes became very tedious, very fast. Once Barry tried to suddenly pull Savitar’s head off, it because clear that he wasn’t just a Speed Force Decepticon, he was another masked villain. Of course!
The masked villain thing can work, and we’ve seen it work on Arrow and The Flash over and over again. But here’s why Savitar’s reveal didn’t work at all. In Season 1, Barry fought Reverse Flash — an evil version of the The Flash. In Season 2, Barry fought Zoom — an evil version of The Flash. In Season 3, Barry is fighting Savitar — literally just Evil Flash a.k.a. a future Barry. It’s somehow even more repetitive than if Harrison Wells had stepped out of that suit. Evil Barry would have been a fun convention for an episode or two of alternate reality storylines, but the fact that we have spent so much time and energy on this Savitar storyline for it to just be another Evil Flash reveal was incredibly underwhelming.
There’s still a lingering question, though, about who Savitar is, i.e. which Barry? Is this a Flashpoint remnant Barry, or emo 2024 Barry, or another Barry we don’t yet know? And regardless, why did he give Kid Flash his powers via that cocoon, and why would he kill Iris? We know he’s been driven insane by the Speed Force, but it seems like an excessively contrived opportunity to continue to punish Present Day Barry. Punishing Barry is not fun to watch. Sad Barry is not fun to watch. Overly upset and introspective Barry is not fun to watch. Thus, Barry being his greatest enemy this season has really not been particularly fun to watch, now or with the reveal of Savitar. Grant Gustin is an exceptionally likable and charismatic guy on screen. Give him some joy back!
Having Savitar revealed as Ronnie Raymond, Eddie Thawne, or Wally West would have each brought unique stakes to the plot, something that could have played out over time if there had been an earlier sense of who Savitar was. Would any of them really have made sense? Not particularly, but how much sense does it make that Savitar is Future Barry right now anyway? It’ll all be explained away with Speed Force mumbo jump, and that’s fine. But on Arrow, Prometheus, post-reveal, has worked to try and show Oliver who he “really” is — not a vigilante, but just a killer who thrives on death. That’s dark, and it’s something Oliver is choosing whether or not to believe, and (regardless) how to move on from it. But it makes for great, deep character drama. Savitar has been goading Barry throughout this season, but without knowing who he was, his threats felt just like hollow villain speak. What is Barry supposed to learn from this encounter? Now, we only have three or so episode for The Flash to work out this massive personal conundrum.
The Flash had laid out the groundwork for Savitar’s reveal throughout the season (and even during the crossover event, when a future Barry sends a message warning the team not to trust him). But it was all telegraphed far too obviously during “I Know Who You Are” for the actual reveal to carry much weight, especially since we’ve seen the show do this at least twice before. (Also, while I know that we have to recognize Barry for there to be a visual impact, and time on this show makes anything possible, seeing 27-year-old Gustin as Future Barry with a little static on him was also underwhelming).
We’ve been promised that next year the Big Bad won’t be a speedster villain, but I’m not sure that that will solve all of The Flash’s problems. Many fans have asked for shorter seasons, as episode bloat has severely plagued the back halves of Seasons 2 and 3. There’s no way the CW will be cutting episodes, so The Flash needs to finds a way to split its season up within itself. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. showed a way to do that this year, with three mini-arcs (Ghost Rider, Life Model Decoys, and Agents of Hydra) that are just now starting to all come back together to finish out the season. That would have been an easy narrative framework for The Flash this year, with three mini-arcs devoted to Flashpoint, Alchemy, and Savitar. Then, Barry’s time in Flashpoint and the fallout from his decision to stop someone he loves from being killed (something that is repeated, again, this season) would have felt like it had more resonance. Barry messed up, hardcore, and he needs to win back the trust of his team (and learn to stop messing around with stuff he doesn’t understand) to help make it right. But him being endlessly punished is not the way to do it.
In any case, what we have is that Savitar is Future Barry. What’s interesting is that the promo for next week’s episode teases a lighter shift in tone. Instead of falling apart completely — which I deeply feared if this was who Savitar might be — Team Flash decides to wipe Barry’s mind, and hilarity ensues. Ok? And look, maybe these final episodes will turn me around on this and convince me that Savitar as Future Flash works. But for now, it feels like it’s time to move on from masked villains who turn out to be corrupted versions of people you thought were friends. If there’s one thing The Flash of all people should know, it’s not to repeat history.