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After participating in the Invasion! crossover last week, The Flash picks up the plotlines that were already in progress and wraps them up somewhat neatly in this mid-season finale. We get the origin stories for Julian Albert/”Dr.” Alchemy and the vaguely Transformer-ish Savitar. Cisco continues to grapple with his grief over his brother’s death, while Wally is chomping at the bit to play his speedster games. If that wasn’t enough, we even get a cameo from the Earth 3 Flash, who is named Jay Garrick but looks and talks like Barry’s deceased dad. And what episode would be complete without Barry mucking with the timeline somehow? “The Future” is an aptly named title for this episode of The Flash, as it metaphorically and literally looks forward to events to come. For this reason, “The Future” is considerably more energetic than the dull and lethargic episodes of the past. With that said, there are enough stumbles along the way to make one doubt whether The Flash will regain its footing.
Of course, to move forward you must sometimes look back; to that end, the episode opens with a flashback of Julian in India in search of Brahmastra, otherwise known as the Philosopher’s Stone. (Of course, the Brahmastra of legend operates nothing like the Philosopher’s Stone in the series, to say nothing of the fact that both the Brahmastra and the Stone come from two totally different historical periods and cultural traditions.) We get to see Julian indulge in a bit of Indiana Jones cosplay—he’s got the brown fedora and everything—before he gets exposed to the Stone and becomes Alchemy. In something of a twist, however, Julian isn’t conscious of his crimes as Alchemy but rather has mysterious blackouts during which someone (presumably Savitar) controls him. Julian’s characterization throughout this episode is emblematic of a split personality disorder, except that I don’t think that was done intentionally. The character vacillates between expressing enmity for Barry before inexplicably relaying his most intimate secrets to him on multiple occasions. The dramatic shifts don’t really serve the story or Julian, who I thought was one of the more successful parts of a lackluster season. I liked the idea of having a character outside the Team Flash kumbaya circle who calls Barry on his shit and—here’s the important part—is actually justified in doing so. But that aspect of Julian was quickly watered down, as it was revealed that he’s a dick to Barry because he’s a baddie. And because Barry is such A Good Guy he keeps trying to warm that cold Englishman’s heart, which is grating enough until you see that it ultimately works. So at that point, what is Julian but another member of Team Flash with a slightly prickly demeanor?
Barry revealing his secret ID to Julian and Julian opening himself up to Barry are two plot points that don’t make much sense, given what we know about the characters. But those are hardly the only instances of strange and inconsistent plotting. Team Flash and the Wests in particular seem obsessed with “grounding” Wally (i.e., not letting him use his speed powers) for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Sure, you can argue that they’re just concerned for his safety but that doesn’t hold water when you consider that everyone in that group has faced danger on a constant basis. This plotline seems like a holdover from when Wally was first introduced in Season 2 as a cocky, reckless kid with a need for speed. The character has clearly evolved and matured from that point, so it’s weird that they wouldn’t trust him to use his powers responsibly. (And while we’re on the subject, it’s also odd that he was nowhere to be seen during the Invasion! crossover; surely the team could’ve used another speedster to fight the Dominators, right?) If nothing else, this development has allowed the writers to give H.R. something to do. While I’m on record as not being fond of the character, I do like the idea of Wally having a considerably less grim and serious Wells mentor than the one Barry had. To the showrunners credit, they finally realized how silly it was to keep Wally on the sidelines so the team relents and gives him his own Kid Flash costume for Christmas.
Another plot point that is once again dredged up is the death of Cisco’s brother, who has proven himself a remarkably omnipresent part of Season 3 given that he was hardly mentioned before. Savitar creates a hologram (or something; it’s not made especially clear) of Cisco’s brother in order to manipulate Cisco into opening the box containing him. It’s another moment in “The Future” whose logic falls apart if you examine it too closely: if Savitar has speedster powers, how is able to trick Cisco into thinking he’s seeing his dead brother? And if he controls an instrument as powerful as the Philosopher’s Stone, what’s to stop him from wiping out his enemies instantly? To be fair, it’s a point the characters bring up to Savitar directly when he channels himself through Julian’s body (don’t ask) but the point is hand waved away. The apparent upshot of all this is that Future Barry will have imprisoned Savitar in that box sometime in the, well, future. This apparently is what motivates Savitar to take his revenge on Barry by killing Iris, a moment Barry witnesses when he is propelled into the future. This once again brings an existential crisis into Barry’s life regarding his speed powers. Unfortunately, this likely means that we’re in for more of Mopey Barry, which is certainly not my favorite Barry.
All of this may sound like I didn’t like the episode. But that’s far from the truth. Despite some seriously dodgy moments, “The Future” brought back some of the fun that has been missing from recent Flash episodes. We get to see the Flash That Looks Like Barry’s Dad beat up on that Earth’s version of the Trickster (played with hammy glee by Mark Hamill), which reminds the audience that, yes, there are parallel universes in this series and that fact is delightful. We also get to see members of Team Flash, for the most part, be warm and kind to each other again. Perhaps not coincidentally, the fact that it was a Christmas episode helped (even if that bit seems somewhat tacked on). Hopefully the series can sidestep the gloom and doom that has mostly marred this season and take its cues from this episode by remembering the lightness and fun that made it enjoyable.