Between Russian Doll and the Happy Death Day sequel, Groundhog Day narratives are having quite a moment lately. Even The Flash gets in the game this week with a time-loop story that may be one of the better episodes of the season.
I’m beginning to wonder if Carlos Valdes and Grant Gustin are having a behind-the-scenes personal conflict. Although Cisco returns to the show this week and is present in the majority of the episode, Barry takes a leave and barely interacts with him.
After completing his meta-human cure, Cisco sadly announces that it won’t be usable for 29 days, due to the formula needing time to settle or something. (The pseudoscience explanation for this doesn’t make a lot of sense, but we’ll go with it.) Sherloque suggests that Barry can speed up the process by bringing the compound into the Speed Force, which should shorten the reaction time down to just an hour. Nora frets about the city being Flash-less again, but Barry reassures her that the trio of her, Killer Frost, and Cisco can handle anything that comes up. How much could really go wrong in an hour, anyway?
As soon as Barry leaves, Iris heads out to work on writing a new article, and Cisco prepares for his first date with the cute bartender named Kamilla (Victoria Park). Still eager to be Cisco’s wing-man, Ralph offers him a lot of dubious advice about how to impress the girl based on information gleaned from cyber-stalking her social media profile.
When Iris gets to her office, she’s kidnapped by Cicada, who learned her identity and tracked her down. He brings her to the building roof and uses her as bait to lure the rest of Team Flash to them. Once Iris’ personal alarm goes off, Nora and Killer Frost rush to the scene, but it’s a trap. Cicada chucks his magic dagger like a boomerang and watches it circle around to stab Killer Frost in the back. She drops to the ground, dead. Distraught, Nora races away, running so fast that she reverses time, returning precisely to 8:07 PM, just after her father left.
Knowing what will happen, Nora convinces her mother to stay at the lab. Unfortunately, when he doesn’t find anyone in Iris’ office, Cicada pokes his head across the hall to Ralph’s office and grabs him instead. Nora runs to rescue him, only for the earlier scene to largely repeat, this time leading to Ralph’s death. Nora races through time again, unable to go back any further than 8:07 PM. She tries again, keeping both her mom and Ralph at the lab, but Sherloque finds her behavior suspicious and goes to Iris’ office himself to see what Nora is keeping her from. Of course, he then gets kidnapped. Cisco dies when trying to rescue him.
Nora keeps trying, again and again, getting more desperate with each attempt. No matter what she does, somebody inevitably dies. When she locks the entire team in the lab, Cicada finds a clue leading to Cecille. Seemingly nothing can break this loop.
All the while, Cisco obliviously goes on his date with Kamilla. In each repetition of the cycle, he follows a different piece of Ralph’s advice, all disastrously. First, he pretends to be a slick-haired business bro, then a cocky athlete, then a social media influencer douchebag. Each time, he invariably disappoints the girl and ruins the date. However, when his vibe powers give him a profound sense of déjà vu, he suspects that something strange is going on.
We in the viewing audience only see five iterations of the loop, but eventually the team figure out what’s going on and confront Nora, who confesses that she’s been through it 52 times. She’s exhausted and feels defeated. She doesn’t know how to fix the problem.
With their combined brain power, the team concoct a new plan to not just turn back time, but to slow it down and use Cicada’s weapon against him. During the next confrontation, Iris lures Cicada onto the roof. Nora then leverages her own power with Ralph’s, Killer Frost’s, and Cisco’s to slow time, reverse it, and shove Cicada into the path of his own dagger. I rewound and rewatched this scene a few times, and am still not entirely clear on exactly what happens, but the point is that Cicada gets stabbed in the other side of his chest (the side not already wounded) and flies away in defeat.
Victorious, the team return to the lab just in time for Barry to exit the Speed Force with the fully-completed cure. When Nora explains what happened, Barry lectures her on the consequences of time travel, warning that every time she messes with the timeline, she can’t stop subtle changes from happening. (Has he forgotten that Nora being in the present day at all is already a massive timeline violation?)
Cisco manages to save his date with Kamilla by simply being himself, which is of course what he should have done all along.
Troubled by what Barry told her, Nora runs back to 2049 and expresses her doubts to Eobard Thawne, who angrily demands that she stick to their plan if she wants to save her father.
In a lot of ways, this episode reminds me of last season’s Enter Flashtime, which was a standout in a very uneven year. That’s a good thing. Despite some of the details not quite making sense, the episode is largely well plotted and structured, much more so than the typical entry.
However, it bothers me that a lot of Nora’s problems could have been avoided had she just been honest with her friends and told them what was happening right away. I don’t understand her rationale for keeping them in the dark so long.
I’m not sure whether this will ultimately rank as one of the show’s best episodes, but it’s very engaging and entertaining, and it’s a decided highlight of Season 5 so far.