Where in the world is Barry Allen?
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
It appears that The Flash Season 2 is taking the exact opposite approach as Season 1 as it nears the big finale. Last year, the show got the big showdown between Barry Allen and the Reverse-Flash out of the way early so that the finale could focus on Barry’s trip through time and his emotional reunion with his mother. This year, Barry’s latest family reunion played out before his final battle with Zoom. As much as the show is in danger of returning to that well too many times, there’s no denying that “The Runaway DInosaur” was an emotionally stirring addition to Season 2.
The big selling point with this episode was the fact that Kevin Smith made the trip to Vancouver to direct a pivotal chapter in Barry’s life. Anyone who listens to Fat Man on Batman or Smith’s various other podcasts knows that the director has become fanatically devoted to the show over the past six months or so. He even uploaded a YouTube video of himself having an emotional breakdown while watching the Season 1 finale. Clearly he respects the material, but I wasn’t entirely sure how well that would translate as he made the jump from hardcore fan to active participant in the show. Smith isn’t very notable as a visual storyteller. His strengths are mainly in the writing and editing departments. Last time he directed something he didn’t also write, the result was Cop Out, and the less said about that the better.
Fortunately, Smith has been very adamant about not wanting to rock the boat (as he discussed in our interview with him). In terms of look and style this episode of played out pretty much like any other. Aside from the brief Jason Mewes cameo, Smith’s hand wasn’t really evident. He did exactly what’s required of directors in this writer-driven medium. He framed the action, coaxed the best possible performances from his actors and generally ensured that this episode felt of a piece with the rest of the show.
It certainly helped that Smith had a very strong script from the other major Hollywood addition this week, X-Men: First Class writer Zack Stentz. “The Runaway Dinosaur” played very much like a spiritual sequel to “Fast Enough” as it explored Barry’s guilt over his mother’s death and his connection to the Speed Force. This was the first time the show has really delved into the source of Barry’s powers and the idea that it’s far more than comic book super-science fueling his speed. In the wake of his disintegration and apparent death last week, Barry found himself in a metaphysical realm where a collective consciousness took the forms of his loved ones to both guide and test him. Sort of like hanging out in the House of Black and White, except less getting whacked in the face and referring to oneself in the third person. A man is the fastest one alive.
It was very interesting to watch Barry interact with his Speed Force brethren and face the consequences of essentially throwing away the great gift they bestowed upon him. In a season of consistently strong performances, this episode easily ranks among Grant Gustin’s best. He was given the chance to cycle through a number of emotions as Barry butted heads with his “captors” and eventually was forced to confront the lingering trauma of his mother’s death.
Again, the show is in danger of finding diminishing returns from revisiting that pivotal moment where Nora Allen died. We already got one emotional gut-punch of a scene earlier this year when Barry spoke to his mother on the phone in “Welcome to Earth-2.” But the appeal hasn’t run out yet. Moreover, the Barry/Nora scene here worked because Barry was initially on guard and unsure of whether he was speaking to his mother or simply another manifestation of the larger Speed Force. In the end, it didn’t really matter. Whether he was truly speaking with the spirit of Nora, Barry had his big moment and found the strength to accept her death. More so than regaining his powers, this episode was pivotal for Barry because it allowed him to finally accept the fact that he’ll never be fast enough to save everyone he loves. There was a clear sense that he emerged from the Speed Force a more confident and mature hero than when he entered it.
Barry’s actual return packed a lot of emotional weight as well. There was his mother with the always necessary “Run, Barry, run.” But also the idea that Iris, not Henry or Joe, was the one to serve as his tether back to the real world. It’s felt like the writers are moving a little too quickly in trying to bring Barry and Iris back together romantically, but all the same, Barry telling Iris “I’ll always come back when you call,” is easily one of the strongest moments the two characters have shared.
While all of this was unfolding, the Star Labs crew kept busy with trying to save Jesse and deal with the revived Girder. Girder was never one of the more compelling villains from Season 1, and his return here definitely felt like a means of creating conflict and basically keeping the characters busy until Barry returned. This subplot was good for comedy more than anything else. There was a very B-movie horror vibe to the initial scene were Girder attacked Iris and Cisco in the morgue. Cisco was his usual hilarious self throughout the conflict, particularly when he greeted Barry with “I’m so glad you’re back, cause we’re about to die.” Though that was quickly rivaled by Cisco and Wells’ bumbling attempts to to catch Barry up to speed on the Girder situation. Between that and the efforts to explain the complicated Wells/Thawne back-story to Henry, it’s nice to see the show so willing to poke fun at itself.
There was also a surprising amount of humor concerning Wally’s role in the story. Like many viewers, I have serious concerns about the apparent efforts to turn Wally and Jesse into speedsters. Does the show actually need more speedsters at the moment? We’ll see where Jesse’s character arc takes her, but it seems with Wally, at least, the writers were happy to subvert expectations. The scene where Joe made a fool of himself trying to talk to Wally about speed powers he clearly doesn’t possess was just one more welcome jolt of humor.
And just to ensure that viewers know the stakes leading into the final two episodes, this one ended with a glimpse of the massive supervillain army Zoom has assembled. Hopefully Barry received a turbo boost as a result of his tie in the Speed Force, because he’s going to have his hands full over the next two weeks. I just hope the writers have a few more Zoom-related wrinkles to throw our way. As much as the villain has improved since the disappointing reveal that he was basically a Speed Force vampire, I still want more out of his master plan than simple death and conquest. A lot of it may come down to the reveal of the man in the iron helmet.
Finally, is anyone else assuming that Henry’s decision to remain in Central City will turn out to be his death warrant? Maybe that’s how the Season 2 finale will reach the emotional heights of Season 1.