Barry and the team get incepted on The Flash this week, using silly technology to enter someone else’s dreams. Well, technically they’re supposed to be memories, but I still feel like Christopher Nolan deserves a royalty check.
Believing that the only way to stop Cicada is to appeal to his heart (as if that has ever made any difference to a villain before), Barry wants to wake up the man’s niece, Grace, from her coma. Sherloque may have a solution for that. He imports a “Memory Machine” from Earth-221, which has the ability to transmit a user’s brainwaves into the little girl’s long-term memories, where her consciousness is currently hiding. If they can find the real Grace and convince her to come out, she should wake up and help them with her uncle. Sherloque strongly recommends that they go in teams of two. Barry picks Nora, reasoning that two speedsters will get the job done quickly.
The problem with this plan is that the two partners may also be able to share each other’s memories. That doesn’t bother Barry at all, but Nora is hiding a big secret from her parents. She’s terrified that Barry will learn that she’s been working with his archnemesis Eobard Thawne, a.k.a. The Reverse-Flash, and won’t believe that he’s reformed now. As a result, Nora takes a risk by using the Memory Machine on her own, hoping to rescue Grace’s consciousness and be back before anyone even notices what she did.
As you can imagine, that plan falls to crap pretty quickly. Although Nora locates Grace hanging out in a memory of the CCPD station after her parents died, the exit portal almost immediately closes behind her, leaving Nora trapped in the girl’s mind. Searching for another exit, Nora follows Grace to a memory of her happy home life with Uncle Orlin, the man who will become Cicada. Nora is unnerved by this. Orlin seems too chipper, and too perfect a father figure.
Once they notice what Nora has done, Barry and Iris hook themselves up to the machine and go in after her. Sherloque warns them that if the girl’s mind senses an intrusion, it may trigger psychological defense mechanisms to attack them. If they die in the dream, they die for real.
Unfortunately, Barry and Iris wind up not in Grace’s mind, but in Nora’s – in a memory of her trying to run away from home as a little girl. As happened with Nora, their portal also closes behind them. They follow young Nora to the Flash Museum, and Barry geeks out at seeing all the T-shirts and toys and tchotchkes devoted to him. Iris is appalled when she witnesses a future version of herself being really bitchy and yelling at the little girl. Barry tries to console her by telling her that she can still change the timeline, but Iris doesn’t really believe it.
Eventually, Grace’s defense mechanisms kick in and a memory version of Cicada attacks Nora. Meanwhile, Nora’s defense mechanisms do the same and an empty Reverse-Flash suit comes to life and attacks Barry. Caitlin is able to rig up a device to contact both of them and conference them together. She and Sherloque tell them that the exit portals will be hidden in “perception gaps,” false memories where the way a person remembers an event isn’t really how it happened.
Barry realizes that the bitchy Iris was a false memory of how an upset young girl perceived her mother. In fact, Iris was perfectly loving and caring the whole time. This is a great relief to Iris. Once they prove this by watching the real memory, and Barry defeats the Reverse-Flash suit, a portal opens.
Likewise, Nora comes to the conclusion that Grace’s home life with Orlin wasn’t really all smiles and pancakes. The girl remembers that time through rose-colored glasses. Unfortunately, when she confronts Grace with this, the girl resists and accuses her of lying. It turns out that Grace has been listening to everyone while in her coma, and is fully on her uncle’s side in hating meta-humans. She believes that Orlin/Cicada is a hero and refuses to leave. Nora has to escape without her.
Once everyone gets out, Sherloque and Caitlin determine that Grace has a shard of dark matter in her brain that will make a second attempt too dangerous.
When Barry asks why she went into Grace’s memory alone, Nora fears that Sherloque will spill the beans on her big secret, but he covers for her and makes an excuse. He’s biding his time until he has the whole story.
Still comatose, young Grace’s consciousness vows vengeance on the meta-humans who took her away from her uncle, and we’re left with the suggestion that she’ll take over the role of Cicada when she grows up.
When the office across the hall from Ralph’s P.I. agency becomes available, Iris considers leasing it and turning her humble blog into a real newspaper. She hesitates in fear that she’s playing into the timeline where Barry will disappear, but goes forward anyway after the revelation about Nora’s memories convinces her that the future is not really set.
Cicso is back in Central City, but has little involvement with the main plot this week. Instead, Ralph takes him out to a bar under the excuse that he needs help following up on a lead about Cicada. His story turns out to be a ruse to get Cisco out of the lab for a while. Cisco is annoyed by this at first, believing that Ralph is being a selfish jerk, but eventually realizes that Ralph just wants to be his friend. While at the bar, Cisco flirts with a pretty bartender, which somehow leads him to an epiphany in his meta-human cure research.
By episode’s end, Cisco completes the cure. However, he seems to have very mixed feelings when Barry announces that he wants to use it on Cicada. Cisco and Caitlin both swore that they’d never force the cure on anyone who didn’t want it.
As always, you need to take this show’s pseudo-science with a big grain of salt. Much in the same way Inception was kind of a bullshit depiction of how dreams work, this episode bears little resemblance to actual human memory, especially the silliness involving the walking Reverse-Flash suit. The big revelation that all of Nora’s conflicts with her mother were based on misremembering her childhood also feels more like a ret-con than a deep examination of the nature of memory and perception.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that this episode winds up not accomplishing much. Barry and the team fail to gain Grace’s trust or help, which leaves them back at Square One with Cicada. The smaller plot points about Cisco finishing his cure or Iris starting a newspaper could have been incorporated into any episode. And if Nora really believes that Eobard Thawne is reformed, why is she so afraid of telling anyone that she knows him? Playing that as a huge secret seems pretty contrived.
None of this is to say that it’s a bad episode. It’s fine, honestly. But it’s not necessary, and its superfluousness is more evidence that this show would benefit from shorter seasons. The season really ought to be wrapping up soon, not treading water while trying to fill another eleven episodes.