The Flash – Finish Line Review
"Gasping toward the finish line"
As a critic, I try my best to be fair minded. Putting together 22 episodes a season, each of which is nearly an hour long once you take commercials into account, is a momentous undertaking. Given that the showrunners for The Flash have produced what amounts to six Titanics, it’s unreasonable to expect the season to hang together perfectly. There are bound to be at least a few cracks in plotting or characterization, for narrative blind alleys and misdirections. What ultimately makes a season successful, in my view, is when the showrunners have a clear direction for where things are heading with their storylines but at the same time are flexible enough to make adjustments when needed.
I wanted to make clear upfront that I’m a reasonable reviewer so that when I decimate “Finish Line”—and by extension, Season 3 of The Flash—you’ll understand that I’m not doing it out of malice. No, it’s out of frustration that all the elements for a successful show—a winsome cast, cool characters, interesting and colorful settings— are being wasted on a dour and confusing plot involving Flashpoints, time paradoxes, and time remnants. Within this context, the season finale’s title of “Finish Line” has a cruel irony to it, suggesting a series that reached the end of its run exhausted and gasping for air.
There is one thing I’ll give “Finish Line”: it isn’t boring. That may sound like I’m damning it with faint praise, but within the context of this season it’s a compliment. The showrunners seemed determined to make “Finish Line” seem important by cramming in plenty of game changing moments. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean these moments are good, particularly from a narrative standpoint. Let’s review some of the key moments in order:
Iris Dies...Or Does She?
Picking up where the previous episode, “Infantino Street,” left off, the Flash is too late to stop Savitar from killing Iris and is left cradling her dead body in his arms. In my review from last week, I asserted confidently that Iris’s death would be reversed through some manipulation of the timeline. The show proved me right on one level, in that Iris didn’t actually die, but the way it “undid” it was something of a twist. It turns out that HR was able to find Savitar’s lair (without telling Team Flash or asking for backup), locate Iris and sneak her away (how he’s able to do that isn’t explained) before using his matter rearranger doohickey to make himself look like Iris and Iris look like HR. “Iris” then somehow convinces Savitar to let “HR” go, which strains credulity. So in conclusion, when Savitar stabbed Iris, he actually stabbed HR.
It was at that moment that I realized something: I actually liked HR! Sure, I found him annoying—very annoying, in fact—at first, but over time the showrunners toned down his Poochie-ness (to use a Simpsons reference) and he evolved into a warm, kindhearted member of Team Flash. And I resented seeing him thrown away cheaply. HR’s death seemed to reinforce the notion that Barry’s happiness is paramount and everyone else can go screw themselves. It left a bad taste in my mouth and cheapened the saving of Iris.
Savitar Turns Good...Or Does He?
After HR’s noble sacrifice, the time paradox that created Savitar no longer exists, which means that Savitar soon won’t either. Savitar captures Cisco in order to fix the Speed Force Bazooka he absconded with in order splice himself throughout time so that he can exist in every moment of existence. While that’s going on, Barry muses that “there is strength in anger…[but] I don’t think hate will get it done this time.” It’s a weird moment because it strongly infers that the Flash, who is supposed to be this paragon of goodness, draws his strength from hate. Also, it’s especially weird that it never occurred to Barry to reach out to Savitar emotionally, given that he’s essentially a broken Barry.
The notion of loving and forgiving your enemy has a nice, MLK-like resonance that would’ve offered the sort of satisfying resolution to Savitar’s storyline that I wouldn’t have thought possible. There’s even a tender moment in which Iris empathizes with Dark Barry that would’ve been lovely if it didn’t come not minutes prior to him shish kabobing HR. The juxtaposition of the two moments is discordant, strains the willful suspension of disbelief...and is also immediately undone when Savitar takes an inexplicable heel turn by blowing up STAR Labs just when it’d appeared that Team Flash was reaching him.
A Fight To The Finish...Or Is It?
Savitar’s reverse-heel turn allows the showrunners to lead into a climactic (but in actuality, fairly rote) final battle with Savitar and Killer Frost. In addition to the core Team Flash, ancillary members like Gypsy, Jay Garrick, and Harrison Wells show up to make the fight seem suitably epic. During the fight, Killer Frost has the opportunity to kill Vibe but doesn’t take it, suggesting that she might still have potential for good even while wielding the powers of a homicidal ice goddess. If nothing else, Caitlin/Killer Frost comes out the best out of this whole affair as her character is given the agency she’s long been denied by rejecting the antidote that would make her lose her powers. As for Savitar, he’s finally defeated once Barry “vibrates” him out of the mechanized suit he’d been wearing before being shot in the back by Iris after he tries to attack her Barry. This allows the showrunners to say that it was Iris who saved Barry, and not the other way around, but instead it comes across as an ignominious end for the supposed God of Speed and makes the sacrifices made in trying to stop him seem moot.
I mean, a bullet to the back and that’s it? Really?
Barry Goes Into The Light
After Savitar is defeated/killed/lost to the timestream, and HR is given a touching funeral tribute, Team Flash kicks up its collective feet and relaxes. But that feeling is fleeting, as the episode offers an extended epilogue in which the Speed Force generates storms that threaten to destroy Central City unless someone takes Savitar’s place being imprisoned in it. And that person, naturally enough, is Barry. As if the finale hadn’t been incomprehensible enough, we get a strangely sedate Barry willingly going into the Speed Force mere moments after making wedding plans with Iris. If one were to be charitable, it could be said that Barry is nobly sacrificing himself—he even evokes his culpability for Flashpoint for about the millionth-and-one time—but in the context of the actual scene, it comes across as Barry selfishly leaving his fiancee behind to go live in the Speed Force with his mom. I’m sure the showrunners get into the reasons and repercussions of Barry’s decision in Season 4, but as of this moment it feels like another in a series of wrong turns that made this season less than it could’ve been.