The Flash: 320 “I Know Who You Are” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
“I am the future, Flash.”
Who said the comma wasn’t important?
It’s the episode some have been waiting for, some have been dreading, and some have regarded with complete apathy – the one where Savitar finally steps out of the suit and reveals himself. It’s an identity reveal that’s had a build-up like no other; we first saw a glimpse of Savitar all the way back at the end of episode two of this season, so it’s safe to say The Flash had a lot riding on this reveal, without even considering the need to step out from the formula of the evil mentor established in the first two seasons. The longer the mystery, the more satisfying the answer needs to be.
For all the colourful theories that have been floating around the Internet this season – my favourite being that, somehow, Savitar would be Ronnie based on Caitlin’s reaction at the end of last episode, because that would make complete sense – the answer turned out to be the classic Flash Occam’s razor; the most commonly-suggested theory. Perhaps it was around the 266th time that Savitar said he was the future Flash (I guess we can dispense with the comma now), but just about every reasonable theory was pointing to Barry from the future. Just as Harrison Wells turned out to be the Reverse Flash and Jay Garrick turned out to be Zoom despite much more complicated theories, it was an older Grant Gustin with some nasty facial scarring who emerged from the suit at the end of I Know Who You Are.
Well, yes. It’s a predictable twist because most people predicted it. Even I predicted it, and I haven’t come up with an original theory in my life. Here’s the rub, though. Does it matter if the reveal was predictable? For one, it’s become increasingly difficult to craft a reveal that comes as a genuine surprise to the Internet-savvy viewer, as Reddit and social media have turned fandom into one great big hive-mind with the ability to crack any twist, no matter how obscure the answer. And once an answer gains traction, it’s a few seconds before every fan understands the theory. There’s a reason every answer to Westworld’s mysteries could be found with a quick Reddit search after the second episode. Perhaps more importantly, though, a reveal needs to do two things. It needs to surprise in some way, as everyone can acknowledge. But it also needs to make good storytelling sense, so that fans can go back and join the dots with the full information and understand all of the hints were building to something. A good reveal should make people gasp, but it should also make them feel like it’s the only solution that could conceivably have made sense.
The element of surprise isn’t really there, admittedly. It’s worth remembering that the bar for predictability has fallen so drastically that it’s near impossible to craft a twist no-one will guess, but even within that, The Flash ladled on the hints thick. Savitar’s rantings about the future weren’t devious hints that hid the truth in plain sight – they were obvious statements of fact, something the show never tried to undermine or misdirect away from. Yet the Savitar reveal still works, in my view, because it hits that second objective so acutely. People guessed future Barry was Savitar because that just made sense. This year started with Barry damaging reality out of pure selfishness by creating Flashpoint and then ignoring the consequences. He’s let Wally almost die. He broke up with Iris on ridiculous, selfish terms until a magical musical villain gave him a really good hour of couples’ therapy. He allowed Jay Garrick to sacrifice himself after a lesson about not letting others do his own work. Barry has been his own worst enemy this year. This twist just makes that subtext into text, and in doing so creates a manifestation of Barry’s mistakes that he can’t avoid or run away from. Heroes have fought their own dark mirrors for years, but this reveal feels new and interesting because The Flash has built and built to this with Barry’s arc this season. If this year’s ultimate journey is to become a genuine hero again, then how better to fight his own darkest and most selfish urges made flesh?
There’s something a little more complex to Savitar than simply being an incarnation of Barry’s mistakes – specifically, he’s made those mistakes and gone down a dark path because of a lack of support and empathy from those around him that turned him cold and heartless, no longer able to access his conscience because there’s no-one around to coax it out. It’s no surprise, then, what I Know Who You Are sets about doing before it gets to the reveal. Thematically, this is one of the tightest episodes of the season even if some of its individual plotlines don’t quite knock it out of the park, because it’s all about understanding and empathy – a portrayal of people recognising their shared beliefs and fears in order to forge a new path forward. At the centre of this, surprisingly, is a new character in Tracy Brand, the physicist that future Barry pointed present Barry (prepare for a lot more of these nonsense statements now that we have multiple Barrys running about on the regular) in the direction of last week.
It’s tough to jam a new face into such a packed part of the season where every character arc is going full steam ahead, but I Know Who You Are does quite well with Tracy. Her actual arc is the least interesting part of her introduction – it’s all well-told, and her decisions fundamentally make sense, but we’ve seen so many sympathetic but doubtful people learning to believe in themselves to access their potential. It was Barry’s arc for most episodes of season one, so it’s familiar ground. Yet there’s enough about Tracy’s introduction works despite the generic nature of her development. She’s an instantly lively and interesting presence in a season that needs all the chipper can-do heroes it can get, and Anne Dudek does a good job of imbuing her with both warmth and fragility, maintaining her humanity as a new set of eyes into an admittedly insane new situation. Her relationship with HR is also a fun highlight. Tom Cavanagh and Dudek have good chemistry as the two most vivacious presences in the cast as they enjoyably spark off with each other, and Tracy makes a good foil for HR as a legitimate genius who believes she’s a fraud contrasted with the fraud who poses as a genius. HR has always been good for comic relief since his introduction, but the focus on his ability to coax out potential and motivate others as a substitute for his own lack of scientific talent has made him into a better-rounded character over time. Wellses often make their way out the exit after one season, but it wouldn’t be unwelcome if HR had more staying power. Whatever keeps Tom Cavanagh around.
The other side of the coin in this story is Joe and Cecile, by far the most normal and grounded plotline in an episode that dips further into the sci-fi pool than The Flash usually does, which is saying something. This is an arc that takes a long time to gain relevance, however, so for a while, it’s a well-acted sideshow with no clear links to the ongoing arc. It’s always welcome to see Joe get some focus, and his romance with Cecile is a nice way to show how the simple things can still find their place within an increasingly complicated world for Barry, but every time we cut back to the couple in the first half, the episode’s pace slackens a little. Eventually, however, it clicks, and their relationship becomes a linchpin of the episode’s themes. I’d rather it didn’t involve the damsel-in-distress trope to do so, but linking their travails so clearly to Killer Frost’s proves to be a boon for the plotline by showing the relevance it has to the wider episode. It’s a study in how empathy and love can bridge even the most confusing and uncertain gaps in understanding, such as Cecile’s lack of knowledge about the Flashes followed by her willingness to accept the craziness if it allows her to stay with Joe. I Know Who You Are has a lot of the trappings of latter-day dark n’ gritty Flash with its focus on Savitar and fraught atmosphere of arguments, but at its core is the sentimentality that fuelled the show in the first place. The Flash is best when it dispenses with angst and suppressing feelings and simply wears its heart on its sleeve, and the Joe/Cecile story is a great example of how that can work, on top of making that Savitar reveal all the more potent by illustrating just how diminished anyone on this show would be without their friends and family to encourage their better instincts and tamp down their worst ones.
On the other side of the coin, we have Killer Frost and Savitar – two villains who certainly talk a good game, but ultimately boil down to being victims of circumstance. As the villain whose circumstances are actually clear to us, it’s Killer Frost who takes centre stage for most of the episode, and she makes for a compelling foe. The personal stakes and emotional immediacy of the first Killer Frost episode still stands, but where that episode felt like an experiment that was dipping its toes into the waters of the Killer Frost story, I Know Who You Are really commits to the supervillain incarnation of the character. That means, on a superficial level, some great action scenes as Killer Frost skates about the city in one of the CGI-heavy high-speed chases that this show is so great at doing, but it also means that the heroes have to grapple with how far they’re prepared to go to confront someone who poses just as much a threat as any metahuman, given how clear the line between Caitlin and Killer Frost now seems to be. Cisco’s arc is the clearest manifestation of this – a small but effective little story that sells the anguish and moral uncertainty that Caitlin’s villainy brings about, showing how the fact of Killer Frost’s existence is enough of an obstacle for her friends to overcome, let along the physical threat she poses.
The episode spends enough time with Caitlin, thankfully, in order to sketch out the journey that this revitalised version of Killer Frost will be undertaking in the final episodes of the season. It seems that the tensions between Caitlin and Killer Frost are set to play out much more methodically this time around. We get a few glimpses of something pulling her back and making her reticent when she’s about to cross a moral line such as killing Tracy, suggesting there’s something to be coaxed out. Yet any redemption is clearly a little while off, because Caitlin’s fallen in with a bad crowd. While Barry and co are kept afloat by the compassion they show to one another in their lowest moments, all the company Caitlin has is Savitar, certified the world’s worst influence, who encourages her bloodlust and desire to abandon all of her inhibitions, becoming a crude replacement for the companionship Caitlin once had. This all feels like a more thoughtful go at the Zoom story in season two, in many ways. While that story of nature versus nurture was tacked onto a standalone origin story and then forgotten about as Zoom devolved into a generic thug, The Flash has built this struggle between heroes and villains from the ground up this season, allowing the explicit contrasts drawn in I Know Who You Are to draw themselves without need for long-winded exposition or flashbacks to add emotional stakes.
While I Know Who You Are is clumsy in places in its storytelling, its contribution to the season is invaluable – it’s an assurance that, however haphazardly, The Flash has been building up a long-term plan this season that’s just now beginning to bear fruit as the disparate themes the show has played with to coalesce. However late this Savitar reveal has come, it’s set the stage for three final episodes with the potential to bring this season home with style, based on the conflict between Barry and his worst self that has been percolating around the show since the Flashpoint timeline. The potential’s there. The Flash just has to believe in itself now, and run.
Was that last bit too obvious?