Well, at least Iris (Candice Patton) didn't die and the sudden reappearance of the transmogrifier last week was a clear indication of what the show had planned, and then hastily showed in flashback so we could relax (or live in a state of fear that she was going to die anyway in the worst possible "Psych!" moment ever; I couldn't fully put it past the show to not do that).
So, The Flash side-stepped the potential fridging of Iris by having granting H.R. (Tom Cavanagh) a prove-my-worth sort of sacrifice, even if, despite all of Cisco (Carlos Valdes) unnecessary meanness to him over the season, the moment wasn't completely necessary. H.R. always helped in his own way, but I acknowledge that he wanted to make up for giving away Iris's location, so it's enough of a narrative justification for moving onto another Wells; Harry (Tom Cavanagh) is our constant now, I guess.
But sacrifice was the name of the game in the episode, if not the season. Of course, sacrifice is something that runs throughout any number of superhero narratives, so it's not not unique to The Flash, nor is it particularly new to Flash. Season 1 had sacrifices to stop time-traveling villains from coming into existence, and it mostly worked. Season 2 had sacrifices regarding the very nature of reality and time, and that worked out until Barry (Grant Gustin) decided it didn't and then Season 3 was the result of deciding Flashpoint maybe wasn't the best possible timeline.
When we learned that Savitar (Grant Gustin) was a Barry from the future, I wrote that it made an elegant bit of sense (thematically, anyway; I'm not sure the timey-wimey of it all clicked into my brain, but it also barely matters, so I'm not dwelling on it) since Barry had been the season's big bad all along because of creating and then undoing Flashpoint. Barry apologized all season for the various things Flashpoint did to a lot of people across the Arrowverse, but apologizing just wasn't enough, either.
Hence the constant threat of Iris's death for the bulk of the season, and how this ended up being positioned as one last bill come due for his few blissful months in Flashpoint. One last repercussion for refusing to live with a sacrifice, with a loss. And Barry, praise be, was finally allowed to realize that he can't keep running from being responsible and was granted the opportunity to make good on that realization by willingly going into the Speed Force Prison instead of, you know, half-hoping Jay (John Wesley Shipp) would agree to go back to being locked up in whatever his hell was until this Savitar thing played out in the future.
This is, I hope, a huge moment for both Barry and the show. All season, I've wanted nothing more than for there to be no more room for Barry to not have to take responsibility, to push the sacrifice off by running faster or someone else nobly volunteering to shoulder it. This is the cycle for the show and for Barry, and it's gotten too worn out. It's time for a change.
Hopefully, Speed Force Prison will be that change. Barry's not going to stay trapped there very long — this season couldn't even stay in Flashpoint for more than an episode, after all, so Barry's getting out Speed Force Prison in the Season 4 premiere — but however long he spends there will have to change him in some way for any of this season to have really meant anything. I worry that Barry will come back grimmer and more tortured due to his time in the Speed Force Prison since the show's been sliding down that slippery slope so much (Iris shooting Savitar was grimly in keeping with that descent), but I'm cautiously optimistic that he won't, either.
And I feel that way because in "Finish Line," Barry faced Savitar, initially, with words, empathy, and faith that the Barry Allen that believes in goodness was still somewhere within Savitar. It may have been anticipated by Savitar to a certain extent — he was counting on Barry being Barry! — but if Barry can hang onto that part of himself he was searching for in Savitar, then whatever the Speed Force is about to put him through shouldn't turn him into dour sourpuss. The Arrowverse on Earth-1 already has an Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), and it doesn't need another.
A certain degree of hope, optimism, and nobility has generally been a defining characteristic of the Flash — along with servings of humor and fun — but Flash seems to have decided that it has to have Barry earn those traits as opposed to making them innate features of Barry and, by extension, of the show. There wasn't really a need for that, and there's certainly not a need for it in a post-Speed Force Prison Barry. That hope and belief in others can be a defining trait, not self-doubt. He can come out stronger and with more faith in himself than ever before, not with a dimmer sense of himself and even more insecurity.
Obviously, such a shift would benefit Flash, at least in my mind. The show likes to have to fun — Memory-loss Barry Allen! Breaking into A.R.G.U.S. with Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller)! — but then it tries to reconcile this zaniness with "Well, but also DEATH!" The stakes don't always need to be that high, and since you can't get much higher than either wiping out of the multiverse or a time remnant trying to become the cause of the Big Bang by killing one of the show's only female characters (or however that was supposed to work out), it's probably time to scale down and focus on something less serious.
And what better way to do that than a confident, self-assured, and hopeful for his future Barry Allen emerge after Team Flash stages a jail break?
The Flash returns for Season 4 in the fall on The CW.
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