The Flash S03E19 “The Once And Future Flash” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- Barry works out that 2024 is the ideal date in the future to travel to.
- Iris makes Barry promise to look after Joe if Savitar kills her.
- Killer Frost escapes STAR Labs.
- Even with Killer Frost on the loose, Barry decides he want to travel to the future now because he can return seconds after he left.
- With a push start from Wally, Barry arrives in 2024. As is always the case in comic book alternate futures it is a time of desaturated colour palettes. It’s also mildly post-apocalyptic (in other words, it looks like Slough on a Sunday morning).
- Barry quickly gets into a fight with Mirror Master and Top. Completely forgetting everything he ever knew about them, he loses and runs off.
- He meets up with Cisco, who reveals Team Flash is no longer:
• Cisco lost his hands and his Vibe powers in a fight with Killer Frost.
• Killer Frost is in a metahuman prison with Julian watching over her.
• Wally had his spine shattered by Savitar and has been confined to a wheelchair for six years in a state of catatonic shock.
• Barry has given up being the Flash and getting haircuts.
• Joe is just generally grumpy about all of this.
• HR is happy as a successful author of crappy sci-fi romances.
- Killer Frost admits she once worked alongside Savitar and knows who he is, but will reveal nothing.
- Barry decides that there’s nothing to gain here and tries to travel back to the present, but can’t.
- He thinks Top and Mirror Master must gave jinxed him but soon learns that it’s Cisco who’s keeping him here.
- Cisco just wants his old friend back. Aw… sniff.
- Barry decides to get the old team back together and pep talks them into submission.
- He goes out to fight Top and Mirror Master again. With the help of his team – and, eventually, his future self – he wins this time.
- Group hugs all round.
- Future Barry reveals that he had help trapping Savitar in the Speed Force from a scientist named Tracy Brand but she only developed the technology required after Iris died.
- Future Barry gives present Barry Brand’s research in the hope she might be able to use it to perfect her technology earlier…
- PARADOX ALERT!!! PARADOX ALERT!!! PARADOX ALERT!!! PARADOX ALERT!!! PARADOX ALERT!!! PARADOX ALERT!!! PARADOX ALERT!!! PARADOX ALERT!!! PARADOX ALERT!!! Somebody shine the Moffat Signal.
- Back in the present, the hunt for Killer Frost is on.
- In a forest somewhere Savitar finds Killer Frost and says he can “cure” her of ever revering to Caitlin. She asks why she should trust him, so he does a striptease… revealing who he really is.
That was all kinds of fun while not actually being much fun at all. The show’s usual flippant quippiness is replaced by the kind of dystopian grimmness we’ve come to associate with nightmare comic book alternate futures in things like “Days Of Future Past”, Heroes’ “Five Years Gone” and Legends Of Tomorrow’s “Star City 2046”. (To be honest, you could probably trace the trope all the way back to Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come.)
The only laughs come from HR, who, interestingly, is the only character who appears to be thriving in the this future (unless Julian also has a massively lucrative sideline in fish bowl art we don’t get to see). And for once his particular line in lunacy grates against all the seriousness elsewhere.
But all this grim doesn’t harm the episode. Quite the opposite. As with “The Runaway Dinosaur” last year, the change in tone makes for a refreshing contrast to the usual frothiness. Not the we object to the frothiness, because The Flash is an expert show at exploding drama bombs within the jollity to great effect. But to have an episode where the overriding feel is more dour is more unusual and makes the emotional impact all the greater.
“The Once And Future Flash” embraces all the tropes of the “alternate dystopian future” sub-genre and runs with them. Everybody – HR aside – is having a miserable time. At least one lead character hasn’t made it (Iris); another is terminally broken (Wally); another is partially broken (Cisco); and the others look like smiling is a sin.
Holding it all together is an absolutely magnificent performance from Carlos Valdes as Cisco. Sure Gustin is good as usual, but Valdes has the more difficult job and he nails it. After all, Barry is always one step from being a shoe-gazing emo kid so actually becoming one is no great leap. Cisco has to go from the team’s joker, optimist and morale officer to the guy with a strained grin and a thousand yard stare. Cisco has always been the true heart of Team Flash, and he’s clearly spent the last few years keeping that heart beating with some increasingly desperate CPR. Notice how there were no geeky cultural references from him until after Barry has re-energised the team – this Cisco is not firing on all cylinders.
Ongoing arc-plot wise the episode adds very little; aside from the tip about Tracy Brand, Barry learns very little (and let’s not think about the potential time paradoxes that opens up). But again, as with “The Runaway Dinosaur”, you get the feeling the emotional impact on Barry will have more of an impact.
Add in a couple of decent-looking supervillain scraps (Killer Frost has never come across more brutal), some stylish camerawork and moody lighting courtesy of director Tom Cavanagh (get back behind the camera soon, Tom), a downright chilling shot of Cisco losing his hands and a cliffhanger that ensures we’ll back for more and you’ve got a very polished episode which suggests that The Flash could afford to get serious a little more often.
- The shot of Cisco’s iced-hands disintegrating was genuinely horrific.
- The way
Barrywhoever-it-is emerges from the Savitar suit – which opens up like the chitinous wing casing of an insect – makes an already exciting scene that little more dramatic.
- Future Barry’s Flash suit is all shiny, new and almost luminescently red. We like it.
- The visual FX used to show Top’s powers are much more effective than in her previous appearance, even if they do owe something to Inception (though not as much as Doctor Strange does).
- Hurrah! Mirror Master is wearing socks with his shoes now. He may still be an evil villain but at least he’s not a hipster now.
- It’s a small thing, but we really liked the, “Huh, what…? Oh, right!!!” moment when Barry travels back to the present, stepping into then coming out of the pipeline in one shot. Very simple, but very effective.
- Why does Barry face Top and Mirror Master for a second time before Cisco has scienced a way to defeat them?
- Plus, he immediately falls foul of Top’s powers again, like he’s already forgotten what she can do. If he did have to face her before Cisco could whip up a gizmo, surely by now he’d know to avoid eye contact?
- At the beginning of the episode, how did killer Frost get out of STAR Labs so quickly that she could avoid “the fastest man alive!”?
- When Wally gives Barry a shove to the future it looks awfully like he’s fondling his bottom. Not one of the show’s greatest special FX sequences.
- Emo Barry’s wig makes him look like the world’s laziest Light from Death Note cosplayer.
- Top looks very much like a woman who has never tried running in heels before.
- The “Bad Chariot” singing moment was… well… embarrassing.
And The Random:
- Future Cisco tells Barry: “So I hacked into the security cameras, and I saw you fighting Top and Mirror Master in your OG suit with the white emblem 2017 edition, of course.” So does this mean a new suit next year? Will there be a 2018 edition?
- “Well, secrets always were our thing, weren’t they?” says Killer Frost, who’s clearly been reading the criticism of the show online while imprisoned.
- Did you notice that future HR seems to have bought out CC Jitters, and renamed it HR Jitters?
- For the record, his book his called “The Streak Vs Mr Reflecto” which strangely reflects (ahem) the plot of the episode. (Okay, that wasn’t for the record, it was so we could crack that terrible joke.)
- Although the abandoned newspaper that Barry picks up is dated 3 February 2024 that doesn’t definitively place the future events in the episode on that date; there’s no reason to assume it’s that day’s newspaper.
- We could be wrong about Savitar being Barry, if Killer Frost’s reaction at the end is anything to go by. If Barry had stepped out of the Savitar suit, surely she would have gone, “Huh???”
Review by Dave Golder