In the midst of a very uneven and frustrating season, ‘The Flash’ delivers not just its best episode of the year, but perhaps one of its strongest ever. That’s a very pleasant surprise.
‘Enter Flashtime’ opens with a flash-forward to a sweaty and exhausted Barry using his power to speed Iris up to “flashtime” (as Cisco will coin it later) and warn her that they’re all doomed and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. Uh oh.
We flash back eight minutes. Barry is training relentlessly in the hopes of being able to jump into one of DeVoe’s dimensional breaches the next time the villain appears, but it’s not going too well. Harry and Cisco work at mapping the locations where DeVoe has entered or exited his pocket dimension. Jesse arrives from Earth-2 to visit her dad, hoping to talk to him about why she kicked him off her team back home. She believes that he’s been so cranky because he has unresolved issues about the death of his wife (Jesse’s mother). Harry refuses to talk about it.
The team is interrupted by news that Joe and the CCPD are engaged in a shootout with some robbers in paramilitary gear attempting to heist a top-secret A.R.G.U.S. shipping container. Barry, Cisco and Killer Frost race to the location, and Jesse tags along hoping that a little heroing will distract her from her daddy issues. They make quick work of most of the bad guys, but the lady in charge reveals that the container holds a nuclear bomb, which she detonates before Barry can get the trigger out of her hand. That’s not good.
At the moment the detonation begins, Barry immediately enters flashtime, moving so quickly that the entire world, including the bomb, seem to be frozen. Jesse joins him. Realizing that they can’t possibly evacuate the whole city in time, Barry asks Jesse to go to Earth-3 and get Jay Garrick, hoping that he’ll know what to do. In the meantime, Barry unfreezes Cisco, who tries to open a breach and send the bomb to a dead Earth dimension. Unfortunately, his breach powers don’t work in flashtime. Because Cisco’s body isn’t used to moving at super-speed, he gets dizzy and sick. Barry has to let him go.
Barry runs to S.T.A.R. Labs and unfreezes Harry, who suggests that the only solution is for Barry to open his own portal and drop the bomb into the Speed Force. Just then, Jesse and Jay arrive. Jay thinks Harry’s plan is a terrible idea that may cause the destruction of the Speed Force forever, ending any and all speedsters’ connection to their speed. Instead, Jay thinks they should try to cool the bomb down. As Harry desperately begs Jesse to leave Earth-1 and get to safety, Barry lets him go and the three speedsters return to the storage container. Barry unfreezes Killer Frost, but her powers don’t work in flashtime either. Before returning to normal speed, she asks Barry to save Caitlin, which is the first time she’s ever expressed any concern for her alternate personality. (Of course, saving Caitlin also means saving Killer Frost too.)
Jesse makes the next suggestion, which is that all three speedsters should toss lightning bolts at the bomb, which will somehow cancel out the nuclear reaction. (I’m sure the science of this is ludicrous, but we’ll go with it.) As they start, however, Jay falls to the floor. He’s not accustomed to spending so long in flashtime and his body is too weak to keep up. Apologizing to the others, he drops back to normal speed. This is a big problem because the plan requires three lightning bolts. Barry and Jesse can’t do it by themselves.
Jesse next suggests that Barry should run back in time and stop the lady terrorist from detonating the bomb in the first place, but Barry flat-out refuses, claiming that messing with the past will have too many negative impacts on the world and all his friends. He learned his lesson on that after the Flashpoint fiasco.
As the nuclear explosion increases its rate of expansion, Barry and Jesse realize that they’re getting tired and slowing down. Barry is starting to sweat. He tells Jesse to go back to Earth-2 and save herself, but she instead runs to S.T.A.R. Labs and unfreezes her dad to have a last-minute heart-to-heart. Exhausted, she soon drops the both of them out of flashtime.
Now all alone and out of ideas, Barry feels desperate. He returns to the lab and unfreezes Iris to tell her he loves her and to apologize for failing her. An offhand comment about Iris being his lightning rod gives Iris the idea that Barry needs to enter the Speed Force and retrieve the “quark sphere” that Cisco had concocted to trick the Speed Force into thinking that Barry was in its prison. If he can toss the sphere into the container with the bomb, that should draw a Speed Force super-storm with it powerful enough to negate the nuclear reaction. Barry does exactly that, and a lightning storm indeed follows, bombarding the bomb just in the nick of time.
Completely wiped out, Barry falls to the floor and drops out of flashtime. Everyone else seems to wake up (from their perspective, things are moving normally without interruption), and they’re all relieved to still be alive. Joe arrests the terrorist, who turns out to be a nutbag environmental activist extremist named Veronica Dale, leader of a movement called Eden Corps that hopes to return the planet to a Garden of Eden state. (In comic book continuity, Veronica Dale is a ‘Green Arrow’ villain called Hyrax.)
Everyone returns to the lab, where a depleted Barry tries to get some rest. Jay announces that he’s going to retire from superheroing and train a replacement on his Earth. Jesse also leaves for her home, but only after making up with her father and having a good cry.
Caitlin and Harry make a coffee run to Jitters. Caitlin tells him that, for the first time, she can remember what happened while Killer Frost was in control of their body, and she felt Killer Frost worrying about her. As they collect their coffee, the nervous girl we’ve seen in several previous episodes bumps into them and makes a scene. Neither Harry nor Caitlin catch it, but the girl clearly knows that Caitlin is Killer Frost. After they leave, her bubbly demeanor darkens.
This show’s writing is typically very sloppy. While this one is still filled with dumb, nonsensical “science,” it’s the first episode in ages that feels like the writers put real effort into thinking through the structure and plotting. It’s pretty suspenseful and a lot more interesting than the DeVoe storyline.
If I have to quibble, Barry’s argument that time travel would screw up the world too much seems awfully contrived. How much damage could he do by going back literally a few seconds to knock the detonator out of the terrorist’s hand? And what’s the alternative, let everyone be wiped out in a nuclear explosion? How is that better? I also have to question what message the show is sending by portraying environmental activists as suicidal nutbags.
Fortunately, I can set those issues aside. This episode is pretty great on the whole and a very welcome break from the show’s downward trend this season.