With Wells in captivity, Barry asks him for the truth. Wells says that he, Eobard Thawne hates the future version of Barry and went back in time to kill him as a child, but when the future Flash intervened and took child Barry away, Thawne instead killed Barry’s mother in retribution, but lost his powers as a result. Thawne took the form of Wells so he could be involved in the creation of The Flash and use Barry to go back to his time — if Barry goes fast enough and collides with a particle in the accelerator, he will open a wormhole. He offers this to Barry: if he opens the portal for Wells to go home, Barry will be able to go back and save his mother. Barry consults his friends and family, who all push him to take the dive through time and reward himself. Martin Stein warns that if Barry does not collide with the particle at the right speed he will be destroyed, and stays in the past too long, the wormhole will collapse into a black hole. Meanwhile, the team learns that Wells has slowly been compiling the technology to build a time ship to travel through the wormhole since he can’t retain his speed for long enough.
During the preparations, Ronnie and Caitlin get married, and Ronnie says he wants to stay with her instead of running away again. Eddie and Stein talk about Eddie’s destiny, and Stein tells him that, as a scientist, he can’t explain coincidences — and nothing is as coincidental as Eddie and his descendant existing in the same place at the same time. Eddie realizes he is a wild card, and that his destiny is not necessarily written. As such, he gets back together with Iris, citing how many coincidences it took for the two to meet. Barry makes it into the past, but his future self dissaudes him from intervening in the battle in his home, which forces Barry to sit by while his mother is stabbed again. When the future Flash and Reverse-Flash are clear, Barry goes to his mother and comforts her as she dies, finally able to say goodbye.
Barry returns to the present realizing he already has everything he wants, and destroys the time ship. Reverse-Flash still gets the upper hand in the battle, but before he kills Barry, Eddie shoots himself, making sure that Eobard Thawne is never born. After Eddie dies, the wormhole sparks back to life and transforms into a black hole, which threatens to swallow everything. As the city looks on, Barry races to stop the black hole like the he stopped the tornado in the first episode: by running counter to its spin. As he runs, he is sucked into the black hole.
A lot of shows suffer from cramming far too much into their season finales, saving all the big reveals and revelations to make the finale “bigger.” The Flash has been a fast-moving show, and as such, it was expected that it might take Arrow‘s approach to finales and make a non-stop, pulse-pounding thrillride from minute one oneward.
Instead, “Fast Enough” defies all logic and goes against expectations, and becomes something much more poignant and unpredictable because of that. Key moments are there, like Barry time travelling, a character death, a cliffhanger, etc. But the context is what matters, and the series of events and settings that make up “Fast Enough” skew expectations, so things we might have even expected — using Eddie’s death to defeat Reverse-Flash as the prime example — are hidden by the many directions the episode takes us in.
What’s really astounding about this episode is that it manages to succeed with the oft-criticized Walking Dead-type structure: lots and lots of talking until pretty much everything happens in the last 10 minutes. It’s a cheap way to make an episode memorable if those conversations are redundant or don’t infer the characters, because it amounts to nothing more than a stalling tactic. It works in other cases, where it’s justified by enough background tension for the lead-up.
“Fast Enough” is neither, though. There isn’t a ticking time bomb creating suspense during those conversations; all the talking is filled to the brim with internal revelations and emotional climaxes. This very easily could have failed and amounted to the characters talking about their feelings for 45 minutes before Barry goes back in time. It succeeds, however, because all of these things, every last one of them, are built on the 22 preceding episodes. The things these characters say to each other are things they’ve needed to hear, say, or do, which makes this finale just as much about the characters and their relationships as it is about the time travel and supervillain.
Way back in the pilot, I lauded how this show presented a cast where everyone genuinely likes each other. While Wells became the exception, of course, our entire regular cast is working together in perfect harmony by “Fast Enough,” and that’s where so much of the episode’s emotion is drawn during its first half. In particular, the episode — and this entire season, really — focuses heavily on the influence of Barry’s parental relationships. It was a surprise at the beginning that Joe would be such a standout character, considering CW superhero shows’ penchant for putting anyone over 30 in the “background adult” category. But between Jesse L. Martin, John Wesley Shipp, Tom Cavanaugh, and Michelle Harrison, we’ve seen a slew of parental figures that have influenced Barry positively — even Wells’s ulterior motives still yielded positive advice — and allowed this Flash to be raised by a village. No figure was necessarily sold short, even the dead one, because they each lent a massive aspect to creating this hero.
Among a lot of very emotional scenes, the best is boiled down to two lines and four words: “Goodbye dad” and “Goodbye son.” (Hell, just typing those out makes me well up a bit.) The complicated West/Allen family dynamic has been one of the weirdest and yet most innovative developments of the show — weird mostly early on because of the Iris/Barry sibling relationship, but innovative in what’s developed between Barry and Joe. For all of Barry’s talk about saving his mother and getting his father out of prison — in every episode’s intro, no less — Joe has stood by and been the man who raised him for nearly two decades, and continues to act as a parent to this day. Henry Allen is at no fault for this, and thus there’s no ill-will felt. But it still stands that Joe has had to hear about Barry’s “real” father for years while doing all the work, and still only ever found love and light from it.
“Fast Enough” at times seems like it’s going to be a cruel fate for Joe, in fact, as Barry essentially plans to undo their entire relationship for the sake of his mother. Joe wouldn’t have been out of line to feel shortchanged in this scenario, but he’s so full of love for his son that he’s willing to sacrifice that relationship to get what he believes Barry deserves. To have Barry and Joe finally acknowledge what we already know, but put a love-filled voice to it, is so representative of the unspoken unconditional love we feel in our families, blood relatives or not. Calling Joe his father figure, adoptive father, surrogate father, etc. is selling their relationship short. Joe is Barry’s father, Barry is Joe’s son.
That, of course, ends up being the whole point of all this — Barry already has exactly what he deserves, he just doesn’t realize that’s also what he wants. Barry’s own biological father, in another solid performance from John Wesley Shipp, argues against changing time because he already sees this. But Barry doesn’t fully understand until the episode’s other standout scene, which sees Barry finally reunited with his mother. One of the major strengths of this finale is how it conveys a lot of complexities without necessarily overstating them, which is clear in the pivotal scene in the past. The future Flash, differentiated with a brighter suit and white symbol, sways our Barry away from intervening for unclear reasons; you could argue that since this timeline is unchanged at this point, then maybe this is a paradox where future Flash remembers himself going back in time and seeing his future self stop him. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter right now — the point is that Barry has to sit by while his mom is killed again.
But Barry makes sure she doesn’t die alone, and gives her the the gift of knowing that her family will continue to live happily without her, while Barry gets a proper goodbye. Michelle Harrison is tasked with playing a character that’s been seldom seen but is a massive presence, and thus this scene could have easily felt artificial, given how little we know about Nora Allen. Any actress could phone in (or ham up) this small screentime, but Harrison hits a wonderful middle ground between larger-than-life figure and real person. Though there’s little blood or physical signs of near-death, Harrison sells a woman on her last breath, while carrying a motherly warmth that plays off of Gustin amazingly well. It takes a lot of work to make a scene between characters we’ve barely ever seen interact, (one we don’t really even know) the hour’s most sobering centerpiece. Gustin packs a wallop in probably his best scene of the season — as we’ve come to expect from him at this point — but Harrison might be the MVP just for turning such minimal material into something so appropriately affecting.
What’s interesting about “Fast Enough” is that, while we root for Barry throughout all of this, his motivations are very much out of selfishness rather than selflessness. We can let it slide because he’s been selfless throughout the season, and that’s why everyone in his STAR Labs family generally supports his quest to save his mother, even at the cost of changing time. To be fair, the characters seem a little too comfortable at the concept of erasing and rewriting their entire history; this version of them effectively “dies” and is replaced by a completely different one, depending on how you view these concepts of self. Cisco seems to be the only one that truly grasps the concept — appropriate given his knowledge of time travel pop culture — as he’s the most reluctant to go along with the plan and voices the most objections. But even he can’t really say no to Barry, much like the audience; while Barry is certainly not perfect, he’s the best kind of person in a lot of ways.
Much like what the Big Blue Boy Scout ought to be when he’s executed well, this version of Barry is an inspiration in his goodness, a man who makes mistakes but always has the best intentions at heart. We’ve seen him do some pretty stupid things throughout this first season, but he’s never been someone we can dislike, even as he awkwardly bungles through his love life. It’s a gut reaction to think that people who do good things deserve something good. So while it’s sometimes hard to rationalize why everyone would be so gung-ho about risking the destruction of the solar system for the sake of their buddy’s mom, most of us might do the same in that situation when placed in awe of someone with such great power and an equally big heart.
And yet, Barry ultimately becomes a poignant foil for Eddie. Thanks to some great late-season writing and a continually charming performance from Rick Cosnett, Eddie managed to go from an indistinct character defined by everyone assuming he’d become a future antagonist, to one of the biggest, most likeable heroes of the season. Like Barry, Eddie is a good guy through-and-through, one who perhaps made even fewer mistakes than Barry did this season. Like Barry, he’s been given a lot of crap, most notably the idea that he won’t amount to anything. That, of course, is the opposite of Barry’s situation — Barry knows he is destined to be a hero and an inspiration, while Eddie believes he’s destined to be nothing.
Eddie’s arc in this episode is coming to terms with that idea, but not in the direct terms his descendant tried to push. Stein puts Eddie’s revelation in the appropriate context; a villain from the future told him these things, one who just so happens to be related to him, and whose very existence relies on Eddie staying alive. It doesn’t really matter what Wells told Eddie and what the newspaper — which Stein points out could have very well been fabricated, even if we know it isn’t — the fact that all these coincidences brought Eddie and Wells together is what matters. Once again, The Flash acknowledges some of its past contrivances; we accepted Eddie as a character because of the story possibilities, but the possibility of Eobard Thawne’s ancestor from 1000 years ago happening to be in the same city and workplace and associating with the same people as 2015 Barry Allen is absolutely ridiculous. And yet, it happened, and that insane series of coincidences makes Eddie the universe’s biggest wild card at that point.
That leads to Eddie’s sacrifice. Unlike Barry, whose motivation throughout this episode stems from a justified selfishness until the end, Eddie is ultimately the selfless hero of the story. It’s not as though the show is dismantling Barry as a hero, but it does present that idea that pure selflessness will always result in the hero losing something, but earning something better in return. Barry loses the opportunity to save his mom, but earns the acceptance of his current life. Eddie loses his life, but earns his place as a hero, particularly in Iris’s eyes. There are definitely parallels to the Tommy Merlyn storyline on Arrow, but Eddie’s conclusion stems from a vastly different sort of arc. There are heavily similar plot beats, but the overarching story of Eddie is not of redemption like Tommy’s was. Eddie was a purely good person that simply got dealt a bad hand purely out of coincidence, but found meaning in those coincidences and used them to save the people he loves. It’s a true shocker when Eddie shoots himself — offscreen, no less! — and it’s a wonderful send-off for the character and the actor, even if he deserved way more screentime than he ultimately received.
It’s even crueler, then, that his save is implied to be what causes so much destruction. It isn’t overtly stated, but that the wormhole breaks back open and turns into a black hole just as Eddie creates a massive time paradox is one coincidence too many. Preventing Reverse-Flash from existing reaches farther back than even Barry saving his mom would, not to mention killing himself affects all the machinations of the past (Barry’s mom’s death) present (Reverse-Flash now) and future (Reverse-Flash in his own time.) That’s a whole lot of the timeline that’s getting mucked up by pulling Eobard Thawne out of the equation entirely, so I can’t blame the universe for basically saying “Screw it, I’ll just obliterate everything.” It creates a very nihilist view of Eddie’s sacrifice, the antithesis of the show’s own mantra, but it will likely yield an even grander win for the team come season 2 after The Flash inevitably saves the day. It’s also a brilliant callback to the pilot, with Barry using the exact same method to defeat the first Weather Wizard: running really really fast in a circle. The special effects for creating this entire scenario are downright astounding, and that’s after already seeing some phenomenal action sequences and effects work on the show. But the black hole destroying and sucking in buildings while The Flash runs into it blows all that out of the water. In absolutely no hyperbolic terms, this is grade-A movie level stuff.
We surely haven’t seen the last of Eobard Thawne/Harrison Wells/Reverse-Flash in some form (and Tom Cavanaugh, somehow.) But as the end of this iteration, Cavanaugh packs in the devilishness in this final outing. Based on what little we see of Wells in the cell, it might have been fun if STAR Labs had caught Wells earlier on, and had him play a Hannibal Lector-like role in catching rogue metas. Cavanaugh is even more fun than usual when Wells is on-edge from being trapped in his tiny box, dissing our current time for being too primitive. He also gets loaded with tons of exposition at the beginning of the episode, but the cool, egocentric flair Cavanaugh unleashes makes him so easy to listen to, even when it’s just an info dump.
Hopefully we’ll see Matt Letscher at another point, too, because in his minimal screentime as Thawne’s true form, he does not disappoint on the arrogance front. Letscher nails his last words, where he asks how Barry can get along without him after having so much control over his life. It’s the final twist of the knife from a man who is the essence of hatred, for reasons we don’t even understand yet. We may never understand it, really, but it’s entirely likely given how well and far out things have been planned thus far. The final battle between the two is brief, and aside from Barry’s epic punch through time, it’s a quick nondescript fight. Their penultimate fight remains the best, as was likely the intention, and their physical battle is not at all the crux of the episode.
Every character gets a moment to shine in one way or another throughout this hour. Cisco has a lot of his normal one-liners, but his aforementioned genre-savvyness makes him the most grounded character when it comes to the uncomfortable nature of time travel and trusting Wells. And after waiting and accepting that his ability to see into the alternate timeline would probably never be explained, it turned out to be an obvious clue all along: he’s a meta, and that’s part of his ability. It’s a brilliant little reveal that sets the stage for an intriguing second season arc, especially considering Wells’s hand in that power — that he gave him powers, showed them to him by killing him in the alternate timeline, and explained them to him now — creates a dark cloud over something Cisco could have otherwise been excited about. Carlos Valdes does nice work in that revelatory scene, and he both he and the character have grown substantially over the course of the season.
Iris doesn’t have much to do this week, but it’s hardly a problem; using her sparingly is better than forcing her in where she isn’t needed, and the few scenes she has are all stellar. Candice Patton is appropriately good during Eddie’s death scene, even as Rick Cosnett mostly steals the show. Eddie’s brief reconciliation and hero’s sacrifice ought to appropriately complicate things for Iris next season; no matter how much destiny is involved in Barry and Iris getting together, it will be really hard to live up to what Eddie did. But Iris’s best scene, and where Patton excels most, is reminiscing with Barry. Gustin and Patton work together much better when they’re content with one another rather than racked with angst or anger, and they’re back to early season one’s lovely banter now that the secret’s out. It’s also smart of the show to use a potentially rewritten timeline to address the Iris/Barry sibling situation. Erasing that side-effect of the adoption is yet another temptation for Barry, and it’s good the show acknowledged it. And just like the last few episodes have apologized for much of the early season’s problems, we get one last reference to the awful “The Streak” name and an acknowledgement of its awfulness (even if Iris still seems partial to it.)
Victor Garber continues to be a welcome presence, with Martin Stein surprisingly providing the most levity to a serious affair. I’ve never seen Garber in a role where he gets to participate in so much comic relief, but he nails Stein’s many one-liners (“Let’s not fight on our wedding day.”) He also gets his chance to shine in the main plot, and not just as the exposition machine — it’s technically Stein who changes Eddie’s mind, which indirectly leads to the climactic ending. Stein’s simple “And you believed him?” retort after Eddie unloads all of his future-drama is hilariously straightforward, and this episode really hammers in how fun Stein should be when he joins the Legends of Tomorrow.
Caitlin is mostly the exception, in that she doesn’t participate much in the main storyline outside of helping with turning off some switches towards the end. It’s been mentioned a few other places, and it’s worth reiterating: when discussing the wormhole, why does Caitlin ask what a singularity is? She’s a biologist, sure, but the basics of black holes are fairly common knowledge, and that’s something she’d have picked up on when working on a particle accelerator. It would have been easy to instead have Caitlin reiterate, “A black hole?!” — something that’d be excusable for the sake of the audience without necessarily dumbing down the character. That said, she does get a nice outdoor wedding with a fantastic wedding song. Danielle Panabaker looks great in her very simple, but perfectly fitting wedding dress. Can’t say the same for Ronnie, though, who chose to wear his usual casual windbreaker to his own wedding. That was an odd choice.
And then there’s Caitlin’s brief cameo of Killer Frost, but a glimpse of the ample fanservice this finale provides. That’s probably the most notable of the future set-ups — it’s a total surprise, and the make-up looks pretty darn neat. Among the possible future storylines Barry sees in the Speed Force are Barry in prison, a Flash museum, and a clip from Legends of Tomorrow, all of which are intriguing teases for what’s to come. It’s a ballsy move to throw in things that very well might not happen for a while, but it’s (hopefully) a testament to how heavily the showrunners are planning their expanding universe. We also have a reference to Rip Hunter, plus quick cameos from Captain Singh — which is good, because he’s steadily become a pretty great character — along with Captain Cold and future Hawkgirl Kendra Saunders, the latter appearance the network totally tried to cover up. Oh, and there’s Jay Garrick’s helmet, which makes absolutely no sence in the context of the episode, but does bode well for the show setting up multiple universes. A lot of this stuff could come across as self-indulgent or pandering at points, and the DCwU hasn’t always had a great track record for setting up its spin-offs (remember how obnoxious and forced the particle accelerator news reports got in season two of Arrow?) But the speed at which these things pass by, and that much of it is organic — the Speed Force flashes are an extremely clever tool, for example — makes them stand out far less than other anvils or awkward crossovers. This is already a very dense episode, but these references feel more integral than anvilicious.
Those references also only make up a very tiny portion of the episode, which is otherwise focused squarely on the characters. What’s stunning about “Fast Enough” is that, even as an episode this heavy on the feelings, it’s not a sappy slog of hugging and crying (even though there is a lot of hugging and crying.) None of it is used to underplay the sci-fi and the action we want to see. In fact, much like “The Nuclear Man”‘s approach to the complicated concept of Firestorm, the complexities of the time travel are both grounded and elevated by how profoundly they affect the characters. This is, at its core, a story about Barry finally completing the grieving process. This is a kid who has been constantly running in fear of a single moment in his life, and he gets the rare opportunity to say goodbye and move on. Barry doesn’t have to make a deal with the devil to undo the damage Reverse-Flash did. He can accept what’s happened, and how it’s given him a special life and the opportunity to be a hero. And that gives him the ability to straight-up punch Reverse-Flash in the face.
The high emotion is used to propel the high-concept plot and kick the final battle into overdrive, working hand-in-hand to create such a satisfying episode. That’s an even bigger feat considering the high expectations this season generated, which “Fast Enough” surpasses in a scarlet lightning-spotted blur. The Flash‘s first season is, as a whole, remarkably consistent, and its finale confirms that this is one of the best first seasons of a TV show in a long while. Barry Allen truly hit the ground running, and after 23 episodes, The Flash hasn’t slowed down.
Odds & Ends
- Fabulous use of the opening monologue, which is a darker and more somber version of the usual “My name is Barry Allen.” I’m not a huge fan of the opening monologue on The Flash — it suits Arrow, but Barry just doesn’t seem like the monologuing type — but I love when they play around with it.
- Between Ray Palmer and Martin Stein, there’s increasing evidence that a doctorate in physics also allows you officiate weddings in the DCwU.
- The music during Barry’s scene with Iris on the rooftop is beautiful. Composer Blake Neely is an unsung hero in the DCwU for his awesome scores.
- A little mad that Wells didn’t answer Cisco’s inquiry about the Reverse-Flash suit in the ring.
- “We don’t have cows where I come from.” – The future of The Flash is very similar to the Parks and Recreation finale, where in the future America apparently runs out of beef. I like to think that both shows now exist in the same universe.
- “It does make a kind of sense.” – Cisco, unknowinging encapsulating a lot of the time travel dynamics of the episode.
- “It’s at that moment that I plan on shouting something along the lines of ‘Eureka’ or possibly ‘Excelsior.’ I am uncommitted.”
- “May the Speed Force be with you”
- “Let me ask Dr. Evil. Which used to be a name that made me smile.”
- I went into The Flash as only a casual fan of the character, with few-to-no comics under my belt and most of my experience coming from Justice League, Young Justice, and the few DC Showcase animated films he appeared in. But it’s been an amazing experience getting to know the character better, watching and reviewing the original The Flash TV series and falling in love with this version of Barry Allen. For whatever disappointments and clunkers we’ve gotten from other superhero TV and films this year — even including the parent show — The Flash has definitely been a shining star in this genre, and deserves all the praise it gets. It’s been a joy reviewing it this season and I can’t wait to be back next season.