The Flash: 222 “Invincible” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
The season’s endgames are always a perilous time for important characters on superhero shows, and, sure enough, another casualty was claimed on this week’s quite literally gut-punching The Flash. The penultimate episode of the season, Invincible, might not have lived up to that memorably shocking ending in terms of huge twists or major character development, and indeed, it stumbled in places trying to reconcile a story the show wasn’t really able to tell. Nonetheless, this was a solid lead-in for the season finale that gave us a welcome blast of fun and humour before effectively upping the stakes big time for the final battle with Zoom next week, ensuring that The Flash is continuing to keep the pace in its season two endgame.
The big, heavily advertised premise here, teased at the end of last week and in the trailer since, was the ‘metapocalypse’: the invasion of Zoom’s meta-human minions to lay waste to Central City. It’s an irresistible premise that gives Barry an enormous obstacle to surmount while providing the opportunity for plenty of visually impressive action sequences, and it’s perfectly understandable that it was used as the marketing hook in the promos. Unfortunately, this story might have seen The Flash bite off more than it can chew budget wise. After a fantastic, exciting opening scene involving an attack on the police by the metahumans, they mainly receded to the background after that, only seen here and there as Black Siren and Zoom took precedence, and that couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a let-down. The reasons for this are justifiably budgetary, as the special effects on a gang of meta-humans would have been exorbitant for a famously shoestring-budgeted channel, but the clear reasoning doesn’t alleviate the fact that Invincible really wants us to believe that the streets of Central City are swarming with hundreds of superpowered bad guys when we see one or two at a time after that opening scene. The purported ‘metapocalypse’ becomes an informed event, talked about a lot but rarely shown, which means the scale of this supposedly epic battle feels a lot narrower than it should do. Perhaps the writers got caught up in the premise and merely couldn’t deliver the story on the scale they wanted, or perhaps they intended to merely tease the apocalypse as an exciting hint with full knowledge that it didn’t fit the story. Either way, Invincible’s desire to include something it can’t actually portray in any real depth is disappointing, and ultimately unconvincing.
That’s certainly a problem, but Invincible is a slightly more personal tale than those promos would have suggested, and the stories at the core are generally pretty good, and handled at the satisfyingly brisk pace that the episode runs at, even if they’re not the most delicate character work The Flash has ever handled. Barry’s character arc was interesting to see here, mainly because of how refreshing, almost jarring it was to see a bright and optimistic Barry smiling and joking around as he went about his battle against the metahumans. This hasn’t really been something I’ve talked about in these reviews because there’s never been one singular episode that’s particularly highlighted this problem, but it’s safe to say that Barry’s been a bit too moody at points this season, dragged down in angst and self-recriminations to the point where the show’s brand of optimism and lightness has fallen into the hands of the ever-terrific Cisco/Wells double-act instead of the character who started off as a breath of fresh air in a sea of brooding superheroes.
Invincible remedies that, at least for a time, and it does so by making Barry’s sudden burst of confidence factor nicely into the events that occurred last week. His overconfidence was an intriguing place for The Flash to take Barry this week, and it’s not the direction I expected after his epiphany last episode, but it works well here, capitalising effectively upon certain aspects of last week’s episode such as the omniscient benevolence of the Speed Force while providing the surprisingly bittersweet insinuation that Barry somewhat misinterpreted the lessons he learned last week. For some, that might devalue the very satisfying breakthrough he made by diminishing the impact of what he learned, but there’s a lot of dramatic value in exploring the flawed aspects of Barry’s character as a way to underline the reasons for Barry’s myriad failures this season, especially in light of such a catastrophic consequence as the events of the final scene. It’s especially noteworthy how well Invincible builds up the sense that Barry’s confidence is hopelessly fragile; a house of cards waiting to fall, and this sense is methodically and compellingly built up with an intriguing spin on the usual pep talks which flip the usual contents of these scenes on their head as Barry’s friends and family try and tamp down Barry’s swelling self-belief, to no avail. As with many other parts here, a lot will rest upon the resolution the finale provides. While the slight misinterpretation of his journey last week makes sense for Invincible to highlight the flawed and mistaken attitudes that have weighed Barry down in his fight against Zoom and thus prevented his victory, there’s arguably a necessity for a cathartic resolution in the finale where he really does take these lessons to heart, reconciling his optimistic confidence with the humility he lost next week. If The Flash can do that, it’ll have really validated this choice here, and I sincerely hope it does.
Running in parallel to Barry’s story was that of Wally, who took to the streets this time to help the Flash out against the metahumans. Some have noted the similarities between Wally’s arc and Roy Harper’s arc from Arrow, and there’s merit to that comparison which underlines how The Flash has become slightly derivative in its storytelling. But despite the slight lack of originality, it’s just refreshing to have a solid, stable direction for a character who’s either been an irritating drama factory or completely extraneous due to his out-of-the-loop status. Invincible makes some good, solid strides to consolidating Wally’s status as a secondary hero to Barry, giving him a few great hero moments such as his rescue of Barry after his fight with Black Siren while justifying and adding nuance to his motivations for helping Barry in a way that adds definition to his character, enhancing the previously vaguely sketched characteristics of a slight inadequacy and fervent desire to prove himself and thus fleshing out his character a bit better. The episode also finishes off with a couple of really promising developments – firstly, there’s the fact that Barry warns Joe off stopping Wally, which is a nicely supportive moment that allows Wally to continue on his satisfyingly paced trajectory towards his inevitable picking up of the Kid Flash mantle (or something along those lines). And then, finally, there’s the fact that Wally learns the Flash’s identity when Zoom shows up at the Allen household, a moment that’s given only brief attention here but should finally allow an actual integration of Wally into the show’s central stories, instead of letting his arc play out in the margins with brief trips into the episode’s A-plots.
Despite all the heavy lifting going on with the metapocalypse and Barry and Wally’s brushes with death, Invincible thankfully remembered to have some fun before the storm. A lot of this fun came from a special one-off villain: Black Siren, the Earth-2 doppelganger of Laurel from Arrow. Black Siren didn’t play a crucial role here, but I really enjoyed her portrayal here – for one, Katie Cassidy seemed to be revelling in the chance to play a shamelessly evil character, and it certainly showed, but it was also great to see a version of Laurel who got her dues in terms of her powers. Black Siren’s beefed-up Canary Cry had some genuinely impressive effects, instantly marking her out as an imposing and fearsome threat who even managed to kick seven shades out of the Flash as well as toppling a couple of large buildings in the process. Though inessential, this was a fun and way to bring Katie Cassidy back to the Arrowverse for what could be one last ride, and it also allowed for the brief returns of Killer Frost and Reverb as Cisco and Caitlin disguised themselves as their doppelgangers to act as a distraction in a really enjoyable scene that deftly balanced the high stakes of the attempt to take out every metahuman in Central City with amusing comedy without any sense of tonal imbalance.
The fun didn’t last for long, however, and it’s the final, shocking scene that many will remember Invincible for. And… sadly, this was the death of Henry Allen, finally orphaning Barry (at the very least, he and Oliver have one more thing in common now). Henry’s death could be a huge moment for the show, and in many ways it’s hard to really respond to this on an analytical level given the really mixed feelings I ended this episode with – there’s a lot of criticisms I have about the death that might be invalidated with next week’s developments. What’s definite is that the actual death scene is appropriately horrifying, twisting the knife with the juxtaposition with the peaceful party scene and finally underlining the emotional stakes with some very apt, heartfelt final dialogue for Henry. It’s a fascinating way to take the old, hopelessly clichéd ‘we’re not so different’ shtick that had a bit more weight given the genuine similarities between Hunter and Barry and take it to its logical, insane extreme as Zoom forces this fact into reality to confirm his own delusions. And, in the moment, it’s a real, genuine shock, a gasp-worthy twist ending that massively escalates the stakes, adding a drive and purpose that should culminate in an emotionally charged battle/race with Zoom next week. So, taking purely what Invincible shows us, this was a really effective cliffhanger.
However, there’s implications here which are less than encouraging, and I can only hope that these stay implications going into next week and then Season 3. My primary concern, and from the looks of it the concern of many others is that this could drag Barry back all the way down into the mire of anger and broodiness that can often weigh down a show that works best at its peppiest. Anger and vengeance is a given next week, and that should work in the context of the final battle versus Zoom, but it’s concerning that The Flash has given Barry a reason to lose his optimism on a long term basis – Season 3 provides the ideal place for a big shift in Barry’s character and the chance to dump some of the weighty baggage of before, and the idea of dragging through a whole load of angst into the new season as Barry struggles to cope really doesn’t bode well. Time will tell to see exactly how Barry reacts next week, and if the inevitably huge cliffhanger will exacerbate, improve or simply push aside his feelings, but it’s certainly concerning to say the least, even if most of these concerns are theoretical and don’t affect the fact that Invincible did an excellent job of selling this death on its own terms. And it’s worth noting that, for all these concerns, the prevailing fan theory that Earth-2 Henry is the man in the Iron Mask and the real Jay Garrick would quash a lot of these concerns by allowing the impact of Henry’s death to remain while keeping a mentor figure for Barry around. With that reveal coming next week, it’s suddenly become an ideal fix for the quandary The Flash has been stuck in, and I’m interested to see if The Flash really will go in that direction now.
Next week, then, it’s the season finale. With Cisco’s apocalyptic vision seeing Earth-2 literally split in two, the final round of Flash versus Zoom promises to be an explosive one, and it’ll be intriguing to see just how the timeline/multiverse/whatever other sci-fi element The Flash has in store for us is affected by a showdown between two insanely powerful speedsters…
Invincible is a solid penultimate episode, mixing a fun guest spot from Katie Cassidy with effective character work, topping it off with a hugely shocking cliffhanger to provide a curveball leading into the finale. It’s unfortunately weighed down by the underwhelming fizzing of the metapocalypse idea, and there’s questions over how the Henry twist will reverberate into the future.