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As a TV critic for Entertainment Fuse, I’ve covered two of the CW’s signature superhero shows, Supergirl and The Flash, which has been a somewhat schizophrenic experience to say the least. When Monday evening rolls around I look forward to watching Supergirl—the highest compliment I can pay the show is that I would watch it faithfully even if it wasn’t my job to do so. Lord knows Supergirl hasn’t been perfect, but it has a joy and an energy that makes it a pleasure to watch. By contrast, Tuesday nights are a time that I look upon with dread because I know it means I’m duty bound to watch The Flash. Once upon a time, it too was a show that I eagerly anticipated every week. Unfortunately, that’s changed this season thanks to its unhealthy obsession with doom and gloom. Season 3 of The Flash made the classic mistake of believing that grim and gritty and capital-s Serious Storytelling automatically equates to quality. But this season stands as a testament to the fact that this formulation is flawed.
In my Flash review from last week, I expressed guarded optimism that “Infantino Street” would remember to have fun. The preview trailer for this episode was promising, as it prominently featured a team up between the Flash and Captain Cold in which they try to steal a power source from a giant humanoid shark. And to be fair, this part of the episode delivers. Of course, because it’s an episode of The Flash, there are improbable coincidences and inscrutable motivations from characters acting out of, well, character. The inciting incident for the Flash’s decision to heist the power source needed to fuel the Speed Force Bazooka to trap Savitar is that ARGUS (the black-ops organization from Arrow) won’t give it to him. Or more specifically, one person won’t give it to him: current ARGUS director Lyla Michaels. Lyla informs Barry that she can’t give him access to the power source given how irresponsible he was in creating Flashpoint, which is an exceedingly valid point. Therefore, he decides to suspend his principles once again to work with a member of his Rogues Gallery. Personally, I’m not sure why Barry would go to the trouble to recruit him specifically rather than a master thief in his current timeline. But whatever excuse is necessary to get Wentworth Miller on screen is one I’m happy to accept.
Although his screen time is relatively brief, Miller’s Captain Cold exudes more charisma and panache than any Flash villain this season. (Grodd is the only other one who’s been about as interesting, but “charisma” and “panache” are not two words you’d use to describe his character.) In fact, given how difficult it’s been for The Flash writers to come up with a villain even half as interesting, I’m sure they regret losing him to Legends of Tomorrow. Apparently Captain Cold is dead in present-day continuity but that’s not much of an impediment for the Flash since he’s able to travel back to late-1800s Siberia to locate Cold. Of course, by going back in time Flash breaks his recently established commandment not to interfere with the timeline but Barry’s morality has been surprisingly shaky this season—after all, how many times has he had to be talked out of killing his enemies because it would be expedient to do so? To its credit, however. the show hasn’t yet had Barry cross the line into murder—although it’s had him toe it many, many times—and having an amoral foil like Cold around highlights the Flash’s heroism while also providing a justification for their quasi-friendship.
The only part of this plotline that marred my enjoyment of it came after the Flash and Cold subdue Killer Shark (Barry’s first resort is to kill him until Snart comes up with the more sensible plan to put him to sleep) and retrieve the power source. They are immediately captured by Lyla and her team of ARGUS agents, but she lets them leave with the power source once Barry explains that they need it to help save Iris’s life. In the process, this one moment makes the whole heist scheme seem moot. Also, if it was as simple as telling Lyla exactly why Barry needed the power source, why didn’t he say that in the first place? Or if he did, why did Lyla find it more convincing the second time? This sort of ropy plotting has sadly been indicative of this Flash season, where seemingly permanent changes can be undone thanks to the plot-reversing nature of the protagonist’s powers. But don’t worry, we’ll be discussing the climactic moment of this episode soon enough…
The Captain Cold heist caper is a fun diversion from the drudgery of the overarching Savitar storyline. Regular readers of my reviews will know that I’ve been a Savitar denier from the start; for those not in the know, I saw Savitar as a cipher with murky motivations and a bad Xerox of the series’ previous Big Bad speedsters, specifically Reverse Flash and Zoom. Even when Savitar was revealed to be a Barry time remnant with external facial scars to match his internal psychological scarring, I was less than thrilled. But it was inevitable that the season’s final two episodes would culminate with a resolution to the Savitar-kills-Iris plotline. In fact, the episode is structured around the conceit that Team Flash has 24 hours to save Iris’s life. With that in mind, it’s curious that they’d wait literally until the 11th hour to acquire the power source for the Speed Force Bazooka but they finally got and were therefore armed to defeat Savitar. Or so it appeared.
It’s perversely ironic that this episode is named “Infantino Street.” Flash fans recognize the name Infantino as a reference to Carmine Infantino, one of the key figures of DC’s Silver Age and a seminal Flash artist. Above all else, Infantino’s Flash exuded a sense of square-jawed goodness and Space Age optimism that may seem corny to our modern sensibilities, but helped define Barry Allen and his world since their creation. But this version of the Flash is completely at odds with the TV Flash, particularly this season. We’ve seen a Flash willing to wallow in his own angst and abrogate his principles in order to achieve his own selfish ends. And for all that, he ends up the result he feared most: the “death” of Iris at the episode. I put death in quotes because I have no doubt Barry will once again reverse the timeline to save her. What tells me this will happen is the established precedent(s) of Barry doing so and the showrunners’ willingness to hit the reset button when they’ve written themselves into a corner. While Iris’s death may seem dramatic and permanent for now, I’m not counting on it sticking. And, I fear, we’ll look back at the wasted potential of this season and wonder what it was all for.