Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Quest For Savitar's Identity Dominates "The Once And Future Flash"


The Good: Good performances, Moments of plot, Moments of character
The Bad: Some truly forced character moments, Carlos Valdes telegraphs his performance
The Basics: "The Once And Future Flash" is yet another The Flash time travel episode, this time into a dark future where everyone he cares about is still consumed by the death of Iris!


The Flash has a lot of smart characters who are generally written as unfortunately dense. It seems like the sheer volume of smart characters in The Flash who fail to be imaginative or actually smart is troublingly high. Especially as Cisco has developed his powers to vibe, The Flash has been hampered by characters who are unfathomably lacking in creativity or intelligence. To wit, as the threat of Savitar has grown, it has taken until "The Once And Future Flash" for Barry Allen and the S.T.A.R. Labs team to actually figure out that the way to get ahead of the many adversaries The Flash might face is to actually go to the future and get the knowledge needed to stop his enemies. Fans of The Flash comic book know that Barry Allen makes multiple trips to the future and, in fact, managed to save Iris from the most tragic arc in the books by relocating her to the future before she could be killed by the Reverse Flash. While this was generally seen as a tremendous cop-out by readers, it illustrated that The Flash could think creatively and smartly. The Flash is stuck playing catch-up with its own source material.

"Abra Kadabra" (reviewed here!) led to "The Once And Future Flash" by inspiring Barry Allen to want to go into the future. The prior episode also saw the ultimate return of Killer Frost when Dr. Snow was wounded and "The Once And Future Flash" picks up right after that. "The Once And Future Flash" is also notable in that it is Tom Cavanaugh's The Flash directoral debut.

The snow is falling in Central City when Barry Allen figures out that 2024 is the year he should travel to in order to stop Savitar. Guided by the article in the time vault, Allen deduces that he must have trapped Savitar in the Speed Force before then. Iris, however, is distracted and asks Barry to look after Joe if she is killed by Savitar. At S.T.A.R. Labs, Killer Frost torments her friends before Cisco can rescue Julian and H.R. and they flee to a cell and wait for The Flash. The Flash commits to going to the future, which he does with Wally's help. Once there, though, he is immediately attacked by The Top and Mirror Master.

Barry escapes his enemies and is reunited with Cisco, who fills him in on the years since Iris's death. S.T.A.R. Labs is mothballed and the contemporary version of Barry Allen lives in its depths. Barry confronts himself and the future version tells him that he does not know who Savitar was inside the suit. Cisco asks Barry to stay and help clean up Central City, but Barry wants to leave . . . only to discover he cannot leave. Cisco brings Barry to Julian Albert, who has Killer Frost in a cell. Allen learns that Killer Frost and Savitar started working together in 2017 and he is frustrated when she will not tell her who Savitar is under the helmet. Barry and Cisco visit the wheelchair-bound Wally West, who was wounded in his own fight with Savitar. Cisco chides Barry for wanting to return to the past and Barry must decide whether to leave the decimated Central City or save the people who live there.

Grant Gustin's performance in "The Once And Future Flash" quite good. Gustin plays off himself in a way that makes his future self seem like the same character, just having carried the weight of the tragedy the other has not lived through.

The idea that Barry has gotten more clever in thinking to go to the future - especially such a conservative distance into the future - is undermined by the fact that it takes Barry so long to notice something is wrong with Cisco. Cisco in the future lost his hands to Killer Frost and cannot vibe. It seems strange to see Barry prepare to go back to the past and he not even ask Cisco for help in opening a portal. Sadly, Valdes telegraphs that Ramon is up to something in his performance. Cisco is not simply broken like the others, he's still smart and up to something.

Killer Frost in "The Once And Future Flash" is poorly-characterized at the outset. Dr. Snow appears aware that she can resist being Killer Frost, but simply doesn't want to control her powers. Given that the first person she sees is Julian Albert acting compassionately, it is not clear what actually sets her off. Her whole change into an evil Killer Frost feels forced in "The Once And Future Flash."

What "The Once And Future Flash" does well is create a mood and a sense of setting. The episode has some decent twists, most notably the idea that Killer Frost would work with Savitar and that she would utterly destroy Cisco's hands! The idea that Allen might have to stay in the wrecked future to fix problems that will essentially be undone by his fixing the past was well-covered in the Legends Of Tomorrow episode "Star City 4046" (reviewed here!), but the derivative plot feels surprisingly fresh.

Tom Cavanaugh directs the "The Once And Future Flash" so it looks great. Cavanaugh gets decent performances out of Jesse L. Martin (who plays another version of Joe who doesn't particularly like Barry Allen), Grant Gustin, Danielle Panabaker and Tom Felton. And Carlos Valdes ends the episode well. Cavanaugh does a good job of making this dark future distinctive from the Flashpoint tangent or Earth-2.

But even Cavanaugh is somewhat limited by thee material he is directing. "The Once And Future Flash" is another tease episode and it has some big issues - like why does Team Flash allow Barry to confront The Top without any form of protection?! - that allows the actors to play with alternate versions of their characters before disappearing them from the narrative. The lack of concrete answers is a bit frustrating as viewers of The Flash are ready for some answers, not just new plot threads to come unraveled!

For other works with Tom Cavanaugh, please visit my reviews of:
The Flash - Season 1
The Flash - Season 2

5/10

For other television episode and season reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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