The Flash: 220 “Rupture” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Hoo boy. Last week’s The Flash functioned as something of a chapter break in which the show paused to catch its breath and lay the groundwork for the final four episodes of the season, which created a major expectation for this week’s episode to really zoom (ahem) forward with the stalled season arc plot. And Rupture certainly did that, although its eager willingness to juggle several different stories at this point in the season means that it’s perhaps a little overstuffed, trying to do one too many things at any given time. Nonetheless, this was an intense and dramatically rewarding way to crank up the pace again, and a lot of the minor stumbles along the way are compensated for with an incredible cliffhanger.
Rupture’s main emotional conflict revolved around Barry’s deliberations over Wells’ proposition of setting off the particle accelerator again in order to restore Barry’s speed, and to explore this quandary The Flash opted for one of its staple dramatic conflicts; the clash between Barry’s myriad father figures. The Flash has always been sensitive and smart in its study of fatherhood, and that’s no different here, with an intriguing study of how drastically different perspectives and concerns can stem from the same fatherly concern for Barry’s safety. Rupture doesn’t overegg this conflict by turning it into a truly hostile clash of fathers who are merely trying to score points over each other in a show of machismo – instead, it’s a rewarding discussion between three men who genuinely have Barry’s interests at heart and simply want to help him in the way they deem to be most effective. It’s not a plotline that has any soaring dramatic moments of revelation, even if it dips into the territory of melodrama at points, but it’s handled with the same judicious maturity that The Flash has always brought to its explorations of fatherhood, with the episode refusing to didactically pick which father is ‘right’ at the end. The only real niggle here is the somewhat extraneous presence of Henry, who offers a few bits of sage advice but whose most important contribution rests in a throwaway line that his mother’s maiden name was Garrick, hinting at a major role for Henry in the Zoom storyline, perhaps as the man in the iron mask. He’s a harmless character, but one that The Flash seems uncertain about fully engaging with.
The titular bad guy himself, Rupture, is a relatively slight villain despite his impressively animated powers, and he more or less serves as a way for Rupture to pivot into an exploration of Cisco’s fractured relationship with his brother, Dante. This plotline would perhaps hit higher notes if Dante were a more regular presence on the show and this animosity between brothers was better established (I’d somewhat forgotten everything about Dante since he last appeared), but it works on the basic emotional level that every good Flash plotline does. Their brotherly reunion may lack much emotional nuance, since it’s sketched out in broad strokes with very pronounced changes of attitude towards each other, but Rupture manages to adequately set up their reconciliation with Cisco’s shaken reaction to the death of his brother’s doppelganger and Dante’s more conciliatory attitude in their previous meeting. With the groundwork broadly laid, their reconnection is a nicely affecting moment, aided by Carlos Valdes and Nicholas Gonzalez’ heartfelt performances that imbues a considerable amount of emotional resonance into a relationship that The Flash hasn’t serviced in over a season, illustrating this show’s continuing knack for wringing pathos out of even the most disconnected plotlines.
Another major emotional plotline was Iris’ revelation to Barry of her love for him, and this was perhaps the only real duff note that this episode struck. There’s a lot to like about Iris’ confession – it certainly has the aura of great drama thanks to strong performances, swelling emotional music and direction, but Iris’ plotline at this point is built upon troubled foundations. The Barry/Iris relationship has been handled with patience, and I like how the writers have stuck to their guns with this idea rather than junking it after season one as Arrow did with Oliver & Laurel, but it’s all very strange that The Flash has placed Iris’ newfound love for Barry as the result of ‘fate’ as opposed to naturally growing affection. It’s a fundamentally unconvincing idea that Iris would suddenly rediscover this love for Barry because a completely unrelated alternate universe doppelganger she never met was married to Barry, but the most problematic element of this storyline is that it’s robbing Iris of her agency. Instead of allowing her to choose her own path in life as she appeared to be doing with the newspaper guy (never forget), The Flash has placed Iris in a bottleneck where her choice to love Barry is framed as a surrender to the inevitability that she’ll have to love Barry at some point – instead of making an independent choice, Iris is just kind of going with what outside sources have told her is ‘fate’. There’s something clever and meaningful lurking within this storyline about self-fulfilling prophecies (Iris seeing that she’ll marry Barry is what motivates her to make that choice) and whatnot, but it’s a strangely ham-fisted way to execute a plotline that robs the show’s key female character of a lot of her agency while further pushing her towards being defined solely by her relationships to men.
After last week’s relatively arc-free episode, Rupture gave us plenty of Zoom for our buck, fleshing out the villain further while sowing the seeds of an intriguing endgame arc for Hunter Zolomon. For quite a few episodes now, Zoom’s threat has been somewhat insular in that it’s been specifically focused upon harming Barry, so it was great to see that Rupture really worked to sell the idea of Zoom as the conqueror of cities with far grander designs than the Reverse Flash ever had. Despite all that’s been revealed since then, Rupture manages to capture a bit of the fearsomeness that Zoom exhibited in his first confrontation with Barry in a terrifically chilling, impactful scene in which he effortlessly executes an entire room full of police before revealing the Flash’s hologram deception to the entire city. It’s these kind of visceral displays of Zoom’s power and his sadistic desire to utterly crush the city’s hope that are making him an intriguingly different type of villain in this last stage in the season.
While the last few episodes contained plenty of foreboding references to the way Zoom has enslaved Earth-2, this was the first time we genuinely got to see the fallout of Zoom’s crazed megalomania, and it certainly did a great deal to add credibility to the idea that Zoom could actually bring a city to its knees. While Caitlin’s imprisonment is being dragged out for a little too long, her position as the only person who can really get through to Zoom is ensuring that she still has a valuable and active place within the story arc, and the effects of Caitlin’s impactful words are very intriguing indeed to see. Not everyone liked the dark, twisted back-story given to Zoom a couple of episodes back, but to its credit The Flash is building upon those flashbacks to portray a compellingly volatile descent into madness on the part of Zoom that’s quite obviously informed by that childhood trauma and the way it still exerts a considerable influence on his actions years later. Given more to play with here, Teddy Sears is continuing to convincingly portray the livewire changeability of a character whose actions are becoming more unpredictable as Caitlin’s influence jars with his homicidal instincts. The actual mythology of Zoom remains as tangled and downright convoluted as ever, but Rupture taps into what makes Zoom work as a villain – chilling images of his psychopathic actions and volatile character development – rather than getting bogged down in the more complicated elements of his story.
Rupture starts relatively sedately, but it builds and builds, accruing an impressive level of intensity for a final act that’s genuinely gripping, providing a couple of major surprises along the way. Before we get to Barry’s own accident (which may be a slight understatement), it’s really cool to see that Rupture might just have begun the origin stories of Wally and Jesse as speedsters, seeing as they were both hit by the dark matter wave of the accelerator. I’m assuming that they’re not going to become actual speedsters by next episode as that’d be far too rushed (a slow-burn origin story of them discovering their powers across several episodes is more likely, along the lines of Cisco’s journey), but after interviews that indicated that their transformation into members of the Flash Family would be a long way down the line, it’s pretty exciting to see that The Flash has already got the ball rolling in that regard.
Of course, it’s the final moments that really define Rupture – and for good reason, because this was one of the craziest cliffhangers that The Flash has ever done. It’s a terrifically effective moment that mixes some genuinely disturbing CGI of Barry disintegrating with convincingly raw performances that sell the stunned reactions to the accident in order to create a truly memorable shock moment, one that I don’t think there’s going to be a quick get out of jail free card for. Coupled with the final appearance from Zoom and his stinging final line that underscores Wells’ catastrophic mistake, and there’s a real darkest-hour feel to the end of this episode that’s impressively bleak in the way it refuses to offer even the slightest chance of hope that the team have the upper hand, selling just how impossible a threat Zoom currently seems to be.
With just three episodes left, next week’s episode (directed by Kevin Smith) promises to take Barry inside the Speed Force? With a title like The Runaway Dinosaur, it’s hard to know exactly how this one’s going to go…
Rupture is a particularly strong episode, dialling up the intensity with some impressively visceral scenes from Zoom and an impressive cliffhanger while providing a couple of solidly affecting emotional stories. However, it bungles a moment of revelation for Iris that takes the romantic storyline into questionable territory, dulling the impact of what should have been a hugely significant moment.