In previous years, the mid-season episode of The Flash marks the reveal of something earth shattering which completely changes the tone of the back half of the season by upping the ante with even higher stakes. This year was no different as “The Present” sets up a horrible vision of the future while getting our villains back on track.
To say that reception of Season 3 of The Flash has been mixed would be a bit of an understatement. Flashpoint caused a lot of problems for Team Flash and painted Barry as the unintentional bad guy of the first eleven episodes. As the bright beacon of hope in this universe, The Flash is something of an immutable symbol of good. Even so, his intention to tamper with the timeline has affected every show in the DCW and it’s caused Barry to seriously reconsider some of the choices he’s made. While all of this has made for a really interesting morality tale, it left some fans feeling abandoned. When you combine that feeling of ennui with a murky set of motivations for Alchemy and Savitar, there was a sense that something major needed to happen before the holiday break. Man, did they deliver.
“The Present” had a lot going on, and it only behooves us to start at the beginning with the return of Mark Hamill as Earth-3’s version of The Trickster. While it was nothing more than a glorified cameo, Mark Hamill delivered a fantastic performance. The look of this Trickster was clearly a reference to The Joker, a character Hamill has voiced for a quarter of a century and it was kind of perfect. The homage to the clown prince of crime was a great easter egg that also gave him an opportunity to revive an old rivalry. Of course I’m talking about his time arching against John Wesley Shipp in the 90’s Flash. Watching Shipp go toe to toe with Hamill was extremely satisfying.
In fact one of my only complaints about this week’s episode was Hamill’s brief appearance. Clearly he has one or two other jobs going on right now (looking at you Episode III), but I would love to see Trickster come back for a few more episodes when time permits. Regardless, it was a great stocking stuffer that brought Jay Garrick back in the fold as Barry needed to consult with a contemporary. Since Henry Allen’s death in Season Two, it’s been a bit of a balancing act for Shipp has he has to play the same character, “but different”. In some cases there’s a lot of overlap as both Jay and Henry are fundamentally good people. Even so, Jay isn’t Barry’s father so there is a level of awkwardness that Shipp delivers in just the right amount. While it’s clear he isn’t quit comfortable being Barry’s mentor, it’s obvious that the bond between these two men has grown into something that becomes the cornerstone of The Flash mythos: lineage.
With Jay in an advisory role, pieces of Savitar and Alchemy’s backstory are finally coming to light. The first big reveal was that “Alchemy” wasn’t really Julian. Since he discovered the philosopher’s stone, Julian has become an unknowing pawn in Savitar’s game against Barry. This was a smart move as it allowed the writers to fake the audience out. Julian has been so anti-metahuman since Season 3 began, to reveal he was really just another bad guy hiding amongst the heroes would have been anticlimactic. What makes Julian works is his moral disdain for the entire concept of costumed super heroes and how they flaunt the law. Now, he finds out that he’s been manipulated by one of these “freaks”, just gives Julian more ammunition for his hatred of the metas. I wonder how long before he backslides into jerk mode with Barry? Time will tell.
Flash Fact: Dr. Alchemy is the byproduct of a split personality. Mentally unbalanced, Alchemy bounces back and forth between hero and villain for years as both sides of his personality fought for dominance. Eventually jailed for his crimes Alchemy‘s namesake was taken up by others.
Savitar definitely benefitted from some direct communication as he possessed Julian to speak to the Team Flash in one of the creepiest moments of the show. The disembodied voice coming out of a groggy Julian served to show how unnerving the concept of Savitar really is. Somehow when we see his LotR inspired armor, it detracts from his menace. Regardless, the reveal that Savitar isn’t a god but someone that Barry has wronged n the future. While this has echoes of Zoom and Reverse Flash, his intimate knowledge of their lives seems to indicate that Savitar isn’t so much a threat from the future but is, in fact, someone from the team. Specifically someone from the Flashpoint timeline who’s desperate to secure their version of events. While a lot of people are betting on Wally, my gut say’s this is a different version of Barry and the ultimate reason why things have gone so badly in this fractured timeline.
His menacing prophecy about betrayal and death seemed to indicate that even though the producers are insisting that Flashpoint is dead and gone, it’s really just bubbling under the surface, ready to explode at the right moment. Speaking of which, we should talk about the major reveal that’s been teased for a few weeks now: the Death of Iris West. In a pretty cool twist, Barry and Jay try to get rid of Savitar by throwing his null prison into the Speed Force. While doing so Barry broke the time barrier and bounced approximately five months into the future. Disoriented, he witnessed Savitar killing Iris despite his future self’s best efforts to save her. Ripped back to the present by Jay, Barry has to wrestle with this knowledge of the future.
Flash Fact: in the comics, Iris is killed by the Reverse Flash during a costume party where he vibrated his hand through her head. This set off a chain of events that would eventually pit Barry against his nemesis until our hero snapped his neck. Despite her apparent death, with the help of some time travel and paradox jumping shenanigans, Iris was brought back to life and lived a happy life with Barry until a Crisis came a knocking…
When you add Savitar’s prophecies, what does it all mean? Will one of Team Flash betray them? Is Caitlin destined to become Killer Frost? Is Iris doomed to die in the future? With Barry’s glimpse of the future, it seems that some of these moments may be carved in stone, but time will tell how it all pans out.
Despite all this dread and apocalyptic foreshadowing, it was a nice to see the team focus on the holidays. Jay’s insistence that the future is not set and that focusing on the moment is good advice for all of us. Taking this to heart, the chance to see a traditional West family Christmas was the highlight of the week. Between Wally getting his official Kid Flash uniform, Hipster Wells decorating S.T.A.R Labs in a metric ton of tinsel, the amazing Grandmother Eggnoff (trademark pending), and Caitlin using her wintery powers to ensure a White Christmas; the mid-season finale ended on a note of hope and joy, a perfect counterpoint to the instability of the future.
So until we return in January to find out where the story goes, have a Happy Holidays and watch some Flash reruns!