[Editor’s Note: This Review May Contain Spoilers]
Director: Danielle Panabaker
Writers: Judaliera Neira and Kelly Wheeler
Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Carlos Valdes, Danielle Panabaker, Jessica Parker-Kennedy, Tom Cavanaugh, Jesse L. Martin, Danielle Nicolet, Hartley Sawyer, Kathryn Gallagher, Kindall Charters, Everick Golding, Robert Picardo
With Nora locked up in the pipeline, Barry and Team Flash decide the only way to know their next course of action is to read her journal, which recounts both how she discovered she was a speedster and, most importantly, how she met – and how long she’d been working with – Eobard Thawne.
Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to do two things. First, I’d like to apologize for the lateness of this review; the airing of this episode on the CW didn’t happen until last night (a Saturday) and Netflix failed to deliver on Thursday. Second, I want to congratulate Danielle Panabaker for delivering an awesome first foray into directing. You did an amazing job. Now let’s get down to business.
The strengths in this installment’s plotline are issues of trust, family, and legacy, all the very core of this season and foundation of what makes this series great. Picking up immediately from her incarceration works in that it has Nora has become the parallel to Thawne’s 2049 predicament: abandoned, distrusted, and at her lowest point.
Grant offers a side of Barry that is similar to Nora’s contention towards present-day Iris for the actions of her future self (more on her later). Grant gets across to the audience the sense that he has severed the connection he’s built with Nora completely. This week he offers a full range of emotions from Barry we rarely see; while not on the level of the emotion conveyed in “The Runaway Dinosaur,” those feelings are still relevant of a confused and betrayed parent. He thinks he’s approaching this as a scientist and a cop, as cut and dry as he can, because he truthfully does not know what to think prior to reading the journal. Even afterwards changes nothing. Long story short: Barry is allowing his history with Thawne – his mother’s murder, his father’s incarceration, his own painful childhood analyzed by psychiatrists, his later betrayal at Thawne’s guidance, the loss of Ronnie and Eddie – to only perceive Nora as a potential threat to Team Flash. His flat rejection of his daughter works better with showing the contradiction in that final video of him professing his love to her as an infant before he vanishes forever (Was that Oliver I heard yelling in the background?!) You feel the pain and restrained aguish in his final words to Nora, and that full unleashing of his outrage to Thawne himself.
The writers successfully deliver a punch to the gut through Barry exiling his daughter in her own time and telling her not to come back. That is behavior that is the antithesis of who fans have come to know Barry as. It delivers powerful questions in the viewer’s minds: After forgiving strangers like Harry Wells of Earth-2 and H.R. Wells of Earth-18 – strangers who have worn the same face as the one used by the man who murdered his mother – and even Caitlin and Ralph, how could he be so hypocritical to not allow Nora, his own daughter, that second chance? Further, after how he had caused the death of Cisco’s brother in the wake of his creation of Flashpoint, how could he not offer that same level of forgiveness it took Cisco months to reach? If Team Flash is all about forgiveness and second chances, Barry’s callous reaction runs counter to what he has been preaching all these years.
Candice also delivers this week in both her present-day self and Iris West-Allen in 2049. There is a clear distinction in her performance, and it’s one that was hinted at in “Memorabilia” but never fully explored. The writers convey Future Iris as a career woman that has an overbearing relationship with her daughter. Although she had made amends with her younger self, you get a sense of how, without that much-needed information about Barry and The Flash, those walls kept each other apart. The confrontation also cements how Nora perceives her mother. Candice offers no tears or emotion. This version of Iris has had 25 years to prepare herself, even though she thought Nora would stay permanently tagged and docile without her knowledge. The fact that she does not offer any regret by pointing out that everyone in Nora’s life knew and kept quiet under her wishes reinforces Nora’s justified animosity and helps the fans better understand why she initially kept Iris at arm’s length when she first arrived. Smart direction on Danielle’s part to keep Candice calm and collected in spite of being exposed. The writers are smart to have present-day Iris inspired by her future decisions to give Nora the floor, and, based on the trailer for the next episode, she’s not done with this or with Barry’s rash decision. Her telling Nora to not making her regret opening the cell shows that there is still some reluctance, and that’s very realistic. She is as stunned as the rest of the team by this revelation, but is trying extremely hard nevertheless to not alienate her daughter like her husband is.
The counterpoint that is offered to Nora’s lowest point is, through her journal, showing the audience her highest point prior to coming to the present. The flash-forward sequences in 2049 work in both the aesthetic quality of this time period and a sense of nostalgia for longtime Flash fans. Nora being late, her being struck by lightning, the laundry truck scene, and the original Harrison Wells in her ear as she fights Godspeed all harken back to that groundbreaking pilot. They felt natural and got some laughs and never felt forced. Making Nora’s fangirl following via actual DC Direct Flash statues on her desk were a great way of conveying her admiration of this man she never knew was her father. Even having them beside a picture of her with her dad had a cool sense of irony. This is where the legacy factor comes into play; she’s working in her dad’s old -and very white-looking – crime lab, chasing after an unsolved case Barry left behind, and is a regular visitor of The Flash Museum, formerly S.T.A.R. Labs. You get the sense that the truth was staring at her right in the fact this entire time, and, much like her dad, it takes a bolt of lightning to put everything into focus. What also works is that you get a sense of Nora’s actual life outside of her job and Flash fandom. As described, you get a tense relationship between Iris and Nora, and in that phone call, you get that stressed-out emotion in Candice’s voice. Jessica’s performance this week is spot-on and has as much range as her on-screen dad Grant. You feel the excitement in her geek-out over her powers, her embitterment towards 2049 Iris’s deception and motives, and her utter shock at her father’s final words to her after her being completely honest with him.
The joy and fun of discovering her abilities alongside a fellow geek was brilliantly delivered and it made sense seeing her fail to stop a robbery. Nora is fresh out of the gate and therefore she doesn’t have a grasp on how to control her powers on a level of functionality. What works also is that she’s technically faster than Barry; in the pilot he didn’t start sparking lightning until he pushed himself to stop the first Weather Wizard. So she’s effectively behind the wheel of an Indy 500 race car without any training. It was necessary to have a soundboard in Lia, played by Kathryn Gallagher (Peter Gallagher’s daughter), because there had to be someone to be a Cisco Ramon to Nora’s Barry Allen. Although not a romantic interest, the chemistry between them was strong enough to justify the shock value of her death and provide a motivation for her to man up and go after her killer. (Speaking of, the design of Godspeed was spot-on and you got that sense of menace from his voice, provided by Gotham‘s BD Wong.)
As noted before, it was good nostalgia to see Tom Cavanaugh quarterbacking a speedster, especially from his makeshift cortex in his cell. We get to see more of The Reverse-Flash’s 2049 situation and confirmation it is Death Row he’s stationed. The Big Belly Burger choice as his last meal was a nice touch. It makes that countdown on the wall more relevant and more fantastic that his connection to Nora has been able to span months in the course of hours despite the power dampeners. While the circumstances of his arrest are unclear, Iron Heights has not changed in its treatment of metahuman prisoners since the days of Warden Wolfe. The writers are smart to show how Thawne deduces Nora is a speedster via the friction damage on her clothes and Tom gives a cool euphoric expression as he notes the windburn. What is also smart is his reluctance to help the daughter of his greatest nemesis learn. This is an Eobard Thawne that has apparently become resigned to his fate with no desire to get involved with anything Flash-related. He has to be dragged into it by some sense of obligation and need to repent for his sins, albeit still unwilling at first.
Keeping his voice clear without the rasp he’s adopted for his portrayal of Thawne as of late works in Tom’s updated phasing soliloquy. You get across his restrained bewilderment at how little Nora really knows about her legacy and who The Flash actually was. In his confrontation with Barry, while there is the established snark still offered, having him plead Barry to show leniency on Nora was brilliant on the writers’ part. There is a sense that Thawne genuinely wants to do one decent thing on this Earth before he’s put to death. There is no grand plan and no expectation of any accolades; the writers have crafted a Reverse-Flash that realizes his own mortality and sees Nora as his one chance at redemption. Tutoring Nora has put him back in touch with the pride he felt in training Barry in season one, but for different reasons. His only flaw in his decisions, of course, was cautioning Nora against telling her father he was involved. As to how this will play out from here is anyone’s guess.
Two major complaints, and they have to do with the villain of the week, and the aesthetic of Jessica’s performance as a speedster. Godspeed is a recently created villain in the DC Rebirth line of books and had an origin and backstory that had more depth and connection to Barry Allen. August Ames, in the comics, was a cop who went rogue after acquiring his abilities and committed vigilante justice on who he believed killed his brother. Barry, of course, proves after the fact that he killed the wrong man, and this was the very case that Barry was working on the night he was struck by lightning. While looking brilliantly designed, I feel the villain was underused and could have been reserved for a season six bad guy; we even had a speed force storm two years ago so that could have been a catalyst for his creation like in the comics. Second, I wish that Grant would give Jessica lessons on how to run. Her throwing her hands up the way she is doesn’t look natural. At best it looks like how Kelly Rippa runs in front of a green screen on her contest promo segments. The VFX department also should have had Nora’s ponytail blowing behind her instead of resting against her chest; I can understand why her hair is now short so it’s one less headache to worry about. She could have had a hoodie, which would’ve helped with concealing her identity as well. A squad of cops saw her when she slowed down and apologized for messing up a simple robbery. That should’ve been a loose end covered.
The bulk of good storytelling, spot-on performance by all involved, and especially the breakout directorial debut of Danielle delivered this week in all the right ways. It’s just the downside of making Godspeed a throwaway villain that get points taken off, as well as Nora’s exposure to the cops swept under the rug. Regardless, this episode was worth its weight in gold and even having Robert Picardo’s character being familiar enough of Nora and the West-Allen family was clever. Either Nora can go up from here or go lower, and based on the trailer it might be the latter. Looking forward to seeing Iris’s play to get her daughter back. Again, great job, Danielle and company!