You know, a week ago I would have said that throwing in a bunch of spiritual and metaphysical mumbo-jumbo was about the last thing ‘The Flash’ needed. Pretty much the only thing worse I could imagine would be letting Kevin Smith direct an episode. (Yes, that Kevin Smith.) Oh great, here both of those fears come true in a single episode. Amazingly, it’s not terrible.
First, let’s deal with the plot:
Barry isn’t dead. Big shock, I know. Even his friends who just witnessed him being disintegrated before their eyes don’t fall for that for more than a minute before they immediately get to work searching for where he went.
Joe and Dr. Wells panic when they discover that their children, Wally and Jesse, were both knocked out by the explosion. Wally recovers pretty quickly, but Jesse’s heart stopped. Even after being revived, she remains unconscious for most of the episode. Iris urges Wells to let Barry’s father Henry (who’s a doctor) tend to Jesse. She needs him to put that out of his mind and focus on getting Barry back. (Spoken like someone who doesn’t have a child of her own.)
A charred piece of Barry’s Flash uniform is all that’s left of him after the explosion. Cisco touches it and vibes, confirming that Barry is still alive… somewhere.
Barry wakes up in his bed, actually. Specifically, he wakes up in his childhood bedroom, filled with his old toys and kids’ books. The scene has a decidedly dreamlike tone. Confused, Barry walks downstairs and sees the living room cordoned off with police tape, as it was the day after his mother died. Joe is there investigating the crime scene. Except that it isn’t Joe, and doesn’t pretend to be. The Not-Joe who looks like Joe announces himself as speaking with the voice of the Speed Force itself, which is somehow a sentient entity that has existed since before the universe was formed and will continue to exist after the universe ends. It doesn’t expect Barry to understand. Barry asks why it brought him here, and more importantly how does he get back home? He needs to get back to his friends right now. Not-Joe tells him that the only way to get his speed back or leave is to catch a mysterious shadowy figure running around town.
Back in the real world, Wells quickly deduces that Barry is trapped inside the Speed Force. How the hell would he know this? The previous Dr. Wells (the Eobard Thawne one) knew all about the Speed Force because he was really a speedster from the future, but this one isn’t. What possible knowledge could he have of it?
Anyway, Henry is pissed at Wells for putting his son in danger. As he cares for Jesse, Joe (the real Joe) notices similarities between the girl’s coma and the one Barry was in after the original reactor explosion.
Wells sends Cisco and Iris down to the lab’s morgue (this is the first time we’ve ever heard that the lab has a morgue) to look for some of Eobard Thawne’s old notes. While down there, they discover that the new reactor explosion had another unexpected side effect. It revived meta-human Tony Woodward (a.k.a. Girder, introduced early in Season 1 and killed off shortly afterwards) from the dead as a mindless but very angry zombie. (Cisco jokingly calls him “iZombie,” which is funny because actor Greg Finley was actually on ‘iZombie’ this past season.) Girder’s power was the ability to turn his body into nearly indestructible metal. As he smashes his way out of the lab into the city at night, Cisco worries that they won’t be able to defeat him again without Barry.
When he’s done with Not-Joe in his Speed Force dream, Barry talks to Not-Iris (the same entity taking a new form). Barry begs to be allowed to go home, but she gives him a choice instead. If he leaves right now, he can go back to his friends but will have no powers. If he stays and catches the shadow, he’ll get his speed back.
Wells hooks Cisco up to an elaborate contraption that he describes as a “simple feedback loop,” which magically allows Cisco’s consciousness to enter the Speed Force and contact Barry. He yells for Barry to come back with him, but Barry turns away. He’s made his choice.
Girder steals a Hummer and attacks the Jitters coffee shop. These are things that he did when he was alive as well. Apparently, he’s not completely mindless. Part of his personality is still in there, reliving old patterns. Iris realizes that he must be trying to find her again. She volunteers to act as bait.
Barry next talks to his Not-Father, who brings him to see his mother’s grave. Barry had never actually brought himself to go there before. As such, he never let her go and is still burdened with unresolved issues about her death.
Reasoning that Girder will likely head there first, Joe and Iris go home. They find Wally there. Joe thinks that his son may have been turned into a meta-human and asks him a bunch of strange questions. He also tries to test him by dropping a coffee mug, expecting Wally to zip down and catch it like Barry did. The mug shatters. Wally thinks his father is nuts.
As expected, Girder arrives at Joe’s house. Iris leads him back to S.T.A.R. Labs, where Cisco has built a big electromagnet that he believes will frazzle Girder’s zombie brain and kill him again. Unfortunately, the magnets run out of power too soon and have little effect. As Girder smashes up the place, everybody else runs and lock themselves in the reactor’s control room. Girder pounds on the door. It won’t hold up long.
Barry returns home and this time sees his Not-Mother. She tells him that he needs to accept her death, and reads him his favorite children’s book, called ‘The Runaway Dinosaur’, which has a moral lesson applicable to this situation. As Barry finally comes to terms with the loss of his mother, the shadow figure races into the room and Barry catches it. The shadow then turns into Barry himself, wearing his Flash suit. The shadow was the embodiment of his speed. The two merge into one and Barry is The Flash again.
Cisco vibes again, this time bringing Iris along on the vision. They see Barry, and Iris yells for him to run. He goes to her and suddenly everyone returns to the lab. Barry barely has time to react to the fact that he’s just returned from the dead when Cisco informs him that he needs to deal with the Girder situation ASAP.
Barry lures Girder back to the electromagnets and runs circles around him, using his speed like a turbine to charge the magnets until Girder collapses and dies again.
With that taken care of, Barry touches Jesse and she wakes up from her coma. Cisco asks if he’s magic now.
Barry has a talk with his dad, and Henry decides to stay in town for good. Barry then goes to visit his mom’s grave in the real world. He brings Iris with him and professes his love to her.
The episode ends with an epilogue scene in the Central City police station, which was taken over by Zoom/Jay in last week’s episode. Caitlin is still a prisoner. Jay asks her, “Are you with me or are you against me?” and tells her that she needs to make a choice. She can stay with him and be at his side as he conquers the world, or she can go back to her friends and die with them. As she thinks that over, Jay puts on his Zoom mask and goes out to deliver a rousing speech to his new “friends.” The camera pans to reveal a crowd full of kooky-looking meta-humans chanting that the world is theirs now.
I’m not going to pretend that any of this sentient Speed Force stuff makes logical sense, but it also doesn’t make any less sense than anything else in this show. At least the story is coherent in ways other recent episodes have decidedly not been. The concept feels very comic book-y. The episode also has a pretty strong emotional component in Barry dealing with his mommy issues.
After last week’s very obviously contrived cliffhanger, I didn’t expect to like this episode at all – especially not when you throw in Kevin Smith, a filmmaker I’ve never cared for and whose career has fallen precipitously in recent years. (Note that Smith only directed this episode but did not write it. The script is thankfully free of references to “snoochie boochies.”) I’m as surprised as anyone to find myself enjoying it. Does that mean I forgive the show for so much of its recent abject stupidity? Not hardly. Let’s see what the end of the season brings.