The Flash: 123 “Fast Enough” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
‘One day I’ll find the man who killed my mother, and get justice for my father. That day is today.’
Barry Allen’s true goal, as viewers have been breathlessly reminded at the start of every episode, has always been to bring his mother’s murderer to justice, free his father from jail and finally put the traumatic event of his mother’s death behind him. That goal seemed pretty difficult to accomplish at one point – yet with an assist from superhero pals the Arrow and Firestorm, Barry managed to finally capture Harrison Wells, aka the Reverse Flash at the end of last episode. What happened next?
Fast Enough wasn’t really a traditional, definitive falling action finale (like Game of Thrones and Better Call Saul, where the finale quietly shifts the show’s focus after a penultimate episode’s game-changing event), given that the episode didn’t even truly wrap up the Reverse Flash crisis – but compared to the bombastic, action-packed finales of The Flash’s superhero TV cousins, Fast Enough was a far more contemplative and character-based finale than expected. However, despite the relative lack of action, it was almost perfect as a capper to The Flash’s terrific first season, with almost every element of the season’s ongoing arc given a satisfying and often heartbreaking payoff.
This satisfying nature partially stemmed from the excellent character work that Fast Enough spent a great deal of time on. Barry’s conversations with Joe, Henry and Iris about the chance to save his mother were not only superb emotional moments in their own right and were sweetened by season-best performances from the entirety of the show’s ensemble, but managed to provide a fitting conclusion to the numerous relationships and conflicts between characters that have emerged this season. Though Fast Enough ends on an inconclusive note, these conversations and character moments add a genuine sense of conclusiveness and finality to proceedings by delivering moments that are the clear, natural endpoint to everything that’s happened over the past 23 episodes.
Therefore, moments such as Barry calling Joe ‘dad’ are enhanced when taken into the context of a season of a whole – and considering that these emotional moments are great on their own, Fast Enough’s character work with Barry is as strong as it’s been all season. Fast Enough also employs the show’s three separate father figures in distinctive and intriguing ways, with Wells reaffirming his strangely acquired affection for Barry – father figures can often be fairly dull and uninspired characters, yet Fast Enough manages to make the most of the pile-up of paternal figures for Barry by portraying the dynamics between Barry and Joe, Henry and Wells in extremely different yet equally compelling ways (in particular, Wells’ fatherly affection for Barry is one of the most twisted father figure/son figure relationships I’ve seen on TV).
Even the characters who aren’t quite as important to proceedings add a great deal to the episode – Cisco barely factored into the central moral dilemma about Barry’s chance to save his mother, yet his chat with Wells was a really intriguing way to tee up a huge story arc for Cisco’s character in season two. The revelation that Cisco is a meta-human was exciting enough, yet the way the revelation is written and directed really heightened the drama of this massive status quo shift for Cisco. Viewers have been accustomed to Cisco’s consistently chirpy, excitable façade regarding meta-humans for a while now, so Cisco’s partly angry, partly baffled reaction to the revelation when you might expect him to be excited is incredibly jarring; displaying efficiently and subtly that Cisco’s journey is going to be a pretty tough one next year. Cisco’s discovery is more set-up for season two than anything, but it’s a very well done moment nonetheless that delivers a complete shake-up for the character.
Caitlin and Ronnie’s wedding was perhaps a little random and out of the blue given the impending catastrophe, but even a seemingly unnecessary moment like the wedding had an important purpose of showing how much Barry could have wiped out by changing time, displaying how every character in the episode, some more obvious than others, plays an important role in shaping Barry’s final decision and the climax of Fast Enough. Likewise, Dr Stein, a guest character who had only had an incidental impact on the season’s arc before now, plays a pivotal role in pushing Eddie towards his final decision in a great scene. Some characters had more screen-time than others, but Fast Enough did a great job of ensuring that despite the fact that only a handful of characters had a pivotal role in the final battle between Barry and Wells, no character was wasted.
After two-thirds of the episode was dedicated to laying the table for the conclusion, Fast Enough tied all the character work together with a stunning final act. Barry’s reunion with his mother is a moment that The Flash has been building up to ever since time travel was introduced, and it more than delivers, with a terrifically emotional performance from Grant Gustin, who caps off a strong first year of performances by meeting the hefty challenge set by the episode’s numerous emotional scenes; and Gustin’s performance reaches its peak with Barry’s tearful reunion with his mother. It’s a brief scene that lasts perhaps a minute, yet Gustin and co-star Michelle Harrison give it their all, making the scene a gut-wrenching, yet inevitable conclusion to Barry’s quest to save his mother, and lending it a far stronger impact than the scene’s length would suggest.
Despite the inherently bleak idea of Barry being forced to hear and see his mother die, the scene was surprisingly heart-warming too. Barry’s assurance that he and Henry are fine in the future essentially sums up what Barry has learned this season; despite the trauma and tragedies that have coloured his life, Barry’s life and the lives of those around him has ended up in a good place. Asides from diving headlong into the alternate timelines of the comics arc Flashpoint, it’s the only real conclusion The Flash could have delivered – yet, like the rest of the episode, it’s a satisfying payoff to Barry’s journey and character arc for this first season and lays the groundwork for a changed Barry in season two, now finally freed of the ghost of his mother. Barry not saving his mother might have been predictable, but it’s hard to care given just how good the scene between Barry and his dying mother was.
And then there was Eddie. The past few episodes haven’t been kind to Eddie, and it wouldn’t have been shocking if Eddie had quietly exited the scene after his break-up with Iris last episode. Yet, Fast Enough delivers a fantastically written, bittersweet wrap up to Eddie’s story. After the strong character building of previous episodes, this viewer was rooting for the character after Eddie’s choice to take back control of his life and ignore Wells’ warnings, so for Eddie to sacrifice his rebuilt life to defeat Wells was a supremely cruel gut-punch from The Flash’s writers. However, it’s a strangely triumphant moment, too, as Eddie ends up being the single most important character in events after Wells told him that he was irrelevant to history – in that sense, Eddie’s death is a final victory over Wells and his taunts. Equal parts tragedy and triumph, Eddie’s exit is a superlative conclusion for the character, seeing the character almost usurp Barry in the hero stakes. Eddie could always come back (after all, he’s currently floating inside a black hole), but it’s hard to see how The Flash could bring back Eddie without ruining the emotional punch of Eddie’s send off here.
Unlike Eddie, it’s almost certainly not the end for Eobard Wells (after 23 weeks, I finally know what to call him), but Fast Enough managed to bring the villain’s story to a (probably temporary) stop nicely. Fittingly, like in their previous fights, Barry never defeats Wells, avoiding Arrow’s recent finale issues of a deus ex machina final showdown where the final victory felt barely earned – just like with Grodd two episodes back, having villains that Barry simply can’t defeat helps humanise the hero, so having Eddie be the one to defeat Wells via sacrifice was a way to dispatch Wells that felt truer to the rest of the season than a simple ‘Barry overpowers Wells’ ending would have been. It’s quite frankly hard to imagine The Flash without Tom Cavanagh, so this reviewer can only hope that somehow either Thawne-as-Wells or the real Harrison Wells will crop up in season 2 – pretty much anything to keep Cavanagh on the show, as he’s been a consistent highlight of this first season. Thawne’s piercing final question to Barry applies just as much to the show itself: ‘What will you do without me’?
Unfortunately, after Wells was dispatched, things went a little bit Interstellar, as the universe threw a hissy fit following Wells’ erasure from time and opened up a singularity, which began to eat up pretty much all of Central City. Charging up his speed, Barry decided to attempt the same trick he tried with the tornado in the pilot by running in the opposite direction to its motion – sprinting off into the stunningly realised chaos, Barry sprints up a collapsing building, and enters the singularity.
All I can say about this cliffhanger is that October feels like a very, very long time away now – and when Barry emerges from the singularity, things are probably going to look very different indeed…
Emotionally charged, filled with fantastic performances and packing a heart-thumping final act, Fast Enough was pretty much the perfect conclusion to a debut season that’s impressed from beginning to end.