If Barry Allen is supposedly the fastest man alive, how long do you think it will take him to completely undo the lame cliffhanger that ended Season 3 of ‘The Flash’? Oh, just one episode? That’s it? Yeah, that seems about right.
In case you’ve forgotten where we left off, Barry sacrificed himself by voluntarily getting locked into the “Speed Force prison” to save Central City from a nasty electrical storm. This was a terribly contrived threat thrown in at the very last minute of the finale, and Barry’s immediate resignation to his fate was both out of character and pretty dumb. It never even occurred to him to look for some other solution to the problem. The storm popped up and, within moments, Barry was ready to consign himself to eternity trapped outside of time and between dimensions. I doubt that even a single viewer believed he’d really be gone for long.
In show time, six months have now passed. Without Barry around, Wally and Cisco have taken over superhero duties capturing the city’s villainous meta-humans. They’ve gotten pretty good at it, but not good enough for Iris, who’s somehow installed herself as the team’s leader and is in a perpetually cranky mood. Julian has been written out of the show with some brief dialogue explaining that he’s moved back to London.
When an evil flying samurai arrives in town, he quickly hands Wally and Cisco their asses and demands to see The Flash, or else he’ll destroy the city. Cisco believes he’s found a way to stabilize the Speed Force prison and extract Barry without causing another electrical storm, but Iris pooh-poohs the plan and insists that they need to find a way to deal with the samurai on their own. Of course, Cisco goes behind her back and tracks down Caitlin, now tending bar in a seedy dive. She appears to have suppressed her Killer Frost personality and is now fully back to being her old self. (How convenient.) After some cajoling, Cisco convinces her to help him save Barry.
Cisco and Caitlin modify the Speed Force Bazooka from last season and perform some science magic to blast a hole into the Speed Force. Although at first it appears that nothing happened, a bearded but naked Barry eventually bursts out of a portal 300 miles away. He’s identified and brought back to Central City, but appears to have completely lost his marbles. He babbles gibberish and obsessively draws weird symbols all over the walls and windows. He doesn’t seem to recognize his friends – not even Iris, who’s left more depressed and angry than ever, and wonders if it wouldn’t have been better to leave Barry in the Speed Force.
Cisco writes a program to decipher Barry’s symbols, but it comes up with more nonsense. Wally tries to trick the samurai by dressing up in Barry’s uniform, but the villain easily sees through the charade and breaks his leg. Finally, Iris offers herself up as a hostage to the samurai, believing that will trigger Barry snap out of his fugue and save her like he always does.
Indeed, it works. Barry comes to his senses and races off to rescue his lady love, making quick work of the samurai, which is revealed to be a robot. (Cisco dubs it a “samuroid.”) After that, Barry seems to be okey-dokey and faster than ever, though he has no memory of anything that happened to him between leaving for the Speed Force and coming back.
In some wrap-up scenes, the episode reveals that Caitlin may not have Killer Frost completely under control after all, and that the samuroid was sent by a scary Borg-looking dude from the future.
Even though I was certainly no fan of the season-ending cliffhanger, I find it problematic to unwrite it so quickly. How are we supposed to feel invested in the story’s stakes if none of the dangers on the show ever have meaningful consequences?
On the other hand, Season 3 was kind of a mess and I get the sense that the writers are trying to course-correct for that. Maybe that’s a good thing. Overall, the premiere is a solid episode and shows some promise for the new season. How long that will hold together remains to be seen.