Thursday, 25 May 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E23 - 'Finish Line'

Considering that The Flash had been building up to the possibly death of Iris West for most of its third season, the idea that it would actually reach that point, and seemingly go through with it, at the end of the season's penultimate episode had struck me as very unexpected. It had always felt unlikely that the series would actually kill off such a key member of its supporting cast – so, when that moment actually came, I'm sure that most in the audience probably expected the season finale to have some final twist in store. On reflection, the previous episode had even given a pretty clear hint at what that final twist might be – a hint so obvious that I have seen the theory of H. R. Wells taking Iris's place, and sacrificing himself, mentioned many times over the past week.

This, as we learn in the opening moments of the final episode, is exactly what happened. Still feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt at being the one to inadvertently reveal Iris's location to Savitar, Wells had taken it upon himself to use the broken-off piece of Savitar's armour to lead him to the villain's lair – and, working alone, he had even managed to free Iris while the villains were distracted. Of course, they were discovered at the last moment – and, in a last minute attempt to save Iris, Wells used his holographic projector device to, essentially, change places with her. Sure, the fact that the success of H. R.'s plan ultimately hinged on Savitar's decision to send Killer Frost after them, rather than coming himself (and, as a result, actually giving them enough time to make the switch), struck me as a little odd – but, in the end, the entire sequence felt just plausible enough that I was perfectly happy to just go with it.

All of this is revealed to the audience in a quick recap as we see H. R., instead of Iris, dying in Barry's arms – giving us a surprisingly dramatic end to someone who had often come across as little more than a comic-relief character. H. R. Wells may not have been quite as interesting as either of the other variations of the character that Tom Cavanagh, but I still enjoyed his time on the series. And, sure, killing off H. R. Wells, instead of Iris, might feel like the cheap option, considering that Tom Cavanagh popped up again, only moments later, back in the role of Earth-2's Harry Wells – but, it was still played well enough to be effective.

Of course, with Savitar still active, there isn't much time for either grief about H. R.'s death, or relief that Iris is still alive. With Iris not dying when she was supposed to, the odd time-loop that leads to Savitar's own creation seems to have been broken – leaving Savitar at risk of being erased from existence. Fortunately for Savitar, though, the rules of time travel are vague – leaving him with a few hours before the paradox created by Iris's survival catches up to him. And, it seems that Savitar already has a back-up plan, too – one that involves Tracy Brand's speed cannon, and Cisco.

Rather than fighting Savitar directly, though, Barry chooses to take things in another interesting, and unexpected, direction when he attempts to reach out to the villain – offering to help him find a way to avoid being erased. This leads us to some of the strongest scenes in the episode, as both Barry and Iris attempt to draw out whatever humanity Savitar may still have, buried deep inside him, while the rest of the team are left confused and angry by the whole situation. It's really just a shame that, in the end, we really only get a couple of scenes devoted to exploring Savitar's possibly inner conflict – since, much like that similarly brief moment in the previous episode, it provided some great moments for Grant Gustin.

Honestly, at this point in the episode, I actually found myself quite impressed with the direction that the writers had chosen to take. Not only did these scenes do a great job of continuing to humanise Savitar, but they even seemed to offer up the possibility for some sort of redemption for him – which struck me as potentially much more interesting than another flashy final confrontation. With Julian Albert finally reappearing, having spent the past couple of episode working on a cure for Caitlin, it seemed as though the episode might even be working to bring that frustrating story-line to a close.

Unfortunately, though, it didn't last. It's not made entirely clear whether Savitar had simply been decieving Barry and Iris, or whether he came to the conclusion that they couldn't actually help him – but, either way, the result is the same. Savitar makes an abrupt transition back to straight-forward villains – and, it's time for the flashy final confrontation which, on reflection, I probably should have known was inevitable.

Admittedly, while I might have been a little disappointed by this return to such familiar territory, the whole confrontation did provide a visually impressive action sequence, at least. With both Jay Garrick and Gypsy each making a surprise return, we were given the opportunity to enjoy watching three speedsters set up against Savitar, while Cisco and Gypsy took on Killer Frost. The sequence even managed to work in some sort of redemption for Killer Frost, after all, when she chose to turn on Savitar, at the last minute, in order to save Cisco. It was an increasingly chaotic sequence which, while not nearly as interesting as the direction things had seemed to be headed earlier, did at least manage to be fun. It even managed to draw Iris into the action, after setting her up as a passive potential victim for so much of the season, by having it be her that ultimately saved Barry at the last moment, when she turned up just in time to shoot Savitar in the back.

But, of course, this isn't the end, either. After the funeral of H. R. Wells, the focus immediately shifts onto what would have to be the most frustrating part of the entire episode. Moving on to an incredibly rushed final act that is clearly intended to set the scene for the fourth season, we see the Speed Force, itself, begin to wreck havoc on Central City – until Barry comes to the conclusion that he needs to, essentially, sacrifice himself. It's not that this isn't an interesting development, of course – but, rather, its just that the whole thing feels incredibly rushed, and very abrupt.

In the end, though, I think that was my major problem with much of the third season's final episode. It all felt too condensed, and too rushed. First, we had a couple of scenes suggestion some inner turmoil for Savitar, and the possibility of some sort of redemption. Then, that was quickly brushed aside in favour of a quick and chaotic, though entertaining, action sequence. Then, attention is just as quickly turned to Barry willingly entering the Speed Force, in order to prevent it from destroying the city.

Each of those points just seemed to deserve much more time to be properly developed. Considering that the season was twenty-three episodes long and filled with more than its fair share of 'filler' content, the fact that this didn't happen just left me feeling a little frustrated.

Despite that, though, the season did manage to offer up some potentially interesting changes to the usual dynamic for the fourth season. While it is unlikely that Barry will be out of the picture for long, of course, I am still very interested in the idea of Wally West being given the opportunity to take the spot-light for a little while. Also, while the Caitlin/Killer Frost sub-plot never really did anything for me, I am still glad that it seems to have been resolved. With these two, very separate, personalities seeming to have merged into something that isn't quite Caitlin or Killer Frost, it seems that the writers have managed to find a potentially interesting way to bring this frustrating plot-line to an end, after all. Then, of course, there's the matter of exactly when, and how, Barry Allen is going to return – and, how his time in the Speed Force may affected him, when he does.

All of this leaves me feeling cautiously optimistic about what the fourth season may have in store, later this year, even if I was left a little underwhelmed by how this season came to a close.

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