The Flash: 322 “Infantino Street” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Ever since the mid-season finale, The Flash has been ominously awaiting this moment. We’ve visited and revisited the fateful events at Infantino Street where Iris is killed by Savitar, and Barry’s entire character arc for these last twelve episodes has been about coming to terms with the idea of fate and his role in changing what seems to be the inevitable. There couldn’t be higher expectations for the moment to actually arrive. Here’s the thing. Iris West dying is a big deal – big enough to become the core subject of the starting monologue that recaps the key motivations of Barry’s character every week. But despite the totemic significance her impending death has built up, to the point where it’s become the sole point of tension to which every plotline is coalescing around, no-one really believed she’d die. She’s Iris West, and Barry Allen without Iris West is… not really Barry Allen at all. Surely she’d make it out of that confrontation somehow, then?
In Infantino Street, everything unfolds as we’ve seen, give or take a malfunctioning speed gun. Savitar kills Iris; a sentence I thought I wouldn’t actually ever need to type. There’s no heroic final reversal of fate where everything is tied up neatly, as it would initially seem. That’s quite the reversal of expectations – a gambit wherein the surprise comes from the fact that there are no surprises. It’s an effective and emotionally powerful final act to a very strong episode that seems energised by the ticking clock at its core, though it’s not without its complications. In short, this is one of those episodes we may look back at very differently when the whole picture is complete. As a self-contained episode, however, this was terrific.
Iris’ foreshadowed death has produced some good drama since that initial hop to the future, but as a far-away event of which the circumstances have always been hazy by necessity, it’s been somewhat hard to engage with the enormous significance that we’ve been told it will have, even with the trip to 2024 showing the tangible aftermath of it all. Infantino Street doesn’t have that problem, as it’s fully conversant with the emotional immediacy of the event from the very start, wherein a montage neatly and succinctly recaps the emotional toll that Iris’ impending death is having on its characters, both those who know her intimately, and those, like Tracy, who don’t know her at all. It expresses an idea that The Flash has been leaning on a lot lately, which is that Iris’ death is more than just an event that will impact on Barry – it’s something that will pull apart the whole fabric of the team through stamping out their hope. While Barry has remained at the centre of the story, season three has been more of an ensemble piece than ever, and it stands to reason that the season’s defining event is something that tests the strength and resolve of the entire team in the face of adversity as opposed to just the title character.
Infantino Street splits itself early on between a sombre character drama and a heist thriller that’s much more in the classic Flash playbook, and the two sides of the episode balance each other out admirably well. The character drama follows through on the promises of that opening montage, and puts Barry’s grief and anxieties to the side to instead explore the team’s reactions to Iris’ fate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s Joe, who’s underlined here as the character with the most to lose from Iris’ death, whose relationship with Iris is explored in the most depth. Their father-daughter relationship is often shunted to the side in favour of exploring how Barry relates to Joe, so their scenes together are a breath of fresh air that really encapsulates the history and emotional depth of their mutually dependent relationship that had to survive an absent mother, a secret kid and a traumatised adoptee.
Their scene on Earth-2 was one of the best slices of character interaction we’ve seen in some time because it tackles those familial issues without speechifying or resorting to cheap platitudes. Instead, it simply lets the actors do their job at conveying the intimacy and easy warmth that the characters exude when they’re together and away from the chaos as a father and daughter who are enjoying each other’s company. It’s only at the edges where Iris’ fate becomes prominent – the unspoken fact that their conversation feels like the sort of confessional chat that happens between two people who don’t expect to see each other again, adding a quiet but creeping sense of dread to their seemingly relaxed conversation. Iris and Joe’s scenes together are the best argument for the interpretation that it really was Iris who was stabbed by Savitar at the end, yet, as the scene finally defines Iris outside of her relationship with Barry and allows her some closure with her father, setting the stage for Joe to be devastated all over again at his daughter’s death. This does, however, bring to mind a frustrating flaw here – Iris doesn’t really get much control in her ‘final moments’. Her scenes with Joe give her character substance, and her wedding vows to Barry are a poignant final message, but when it comes to the threat of Savitar, she becomes a prop who’s moved across the board as the plot deems necessary. This is something that will be especially frustrating if this was her final appearance, as it never really grants her the agency in her demise that she arguably should have been given as one of the show’s very few heroic female characters at the moment.
Interestingly, the other character who takes a prominent role in the fight to save Iris is HR, someone who barely got to know Iris before the ‘doomed’ tag was slapped on her head and still doesn’t have much of a personal connection to her. If Iris’ scenes with Joe feel like an unspoken farewell to her character whose finality is thrown into relief by her apparent death at the end of the episode, then HR’s are the ones that introduce an element of uncertainty into the mix. Infantino Street is certainly building to something with HR’s character as he seems to undergo a total crisis of faith, put in the unfortunate position of being the one who leaked the secret of Iris’ location to Savitar, which compounds the familiar anxieties about his lack of tangible role in Team Flash besides stick waving and coffee drinking. It’s a good humanisation of his character, and Tom Cavanagh is excellent at amplifying HR’s manic demeanour in those pivotal scenes to expose it as a shield against the vulnerabilities that lie beneath the polished persona he’s created. It builds on past developments, both on his own and with Tracy, and makes a good case as to why he would be so invested in saving a woman he doesn’t know very well by showing how vital the acceptance and fellowship shown by STAR Labs is to him. Quite easily, this could just be a supporting character’s turning point that will build to a moment of heroism in the finale. It could be something only slightly important, and it would work just fine that way.
But more on the ‘could be’ later.
The other half of Infantino Street is a heist thriller featuring Captain Cold, King Shark, ARGUS and Dominator tech. It’s a fast-paced continuity fest that could easily form the backbone of its own episode, but it complements the heavier drama elsewhere throughout, as they’re clearly dealing with the same themes of personal responsibility and the essence of heroism under very different circumstances.
The entire break-in scenario is Barry’s character arc this year in microcosm, testing just how far he’ll bend his own morality to accomplish a valuable goal. In an example of somewhat clumsy but thematically strong storytelling, he has to actively earn the power device by setting himself back in order to do the right thing, holding onto his values when the justification is there to break them entirely. The plotline also offers up the most exciting aspect of Infantino Street: the return of Captain Cold as The Flash’s resident reluctant ally. Just as seeing how The Flash will contrive a way to bring back Tom Cavanagh after his character is killed off or retired each season is fun, it’s becoming its own weird pleasure to see just how the DC shows will bend over backwards to bring back Leonard Snart in spite of his inconvenient death in Legends of Tomorrow’s first season. This season alone has managed to bring him back as a hologram and Speed Force projection, and we can now add ‘plucked from the timeline’ to the list (coupled with 2014 Snart’s sojourn with the Legion of Doom in season two, it’s becoming clear that no-one is allowing the guy to live in a straight line) of implausible but satisfying returns.
Any dumb excuse for Snart’s return is contingent on being worth the contrivance, and that’s very much the case with Infantino Street. It’s fun, as it’s always been, to see Wentworth Miller return with his languorous, purposely unnatural delivery and infinite self-awareness present and correct, and he makes for a great scene partner with Grant Gustin as he teases and provokes the mission-focused Barry. Yet Snart’s presence here works for new reasons, too. This is evidently the reformed Snart who learned the value of teamwork and selflessness from his travels aboard the Waverider, and that creates some major differences with the kinds of stories that The Flash has done with the more classical version of the character in the past.
Here, Snart’s not the untrustworthy ally whose betrayal is inevitable or the homicidal wildcard with only his interests at stake – he’s a genuine partner for Barry whose ultimate goal is to inspire his partner and impart the lessons he’s learned from the Waverider. It’s a complete reversal from their first meeting when Barry was a fresh-faced hero and Snart a typical thief with unusual power, but it works because Snart’s unique and incisive perspective on Barry’s morality struggles feels valuable – the kind of thing that defines Barry’s character arc more sharply than a dozen platitudinous speeches from characters we know will be kind and supportive to him. A lot of the character development that Snart displays here didn’t take place on The Flash, meaning there’s quite the change from their last proper meeting, but that just shows the benefits of an open universe of characters who can be revisited at any time in very different forms. Now, here’s hoping that the writers think up a few more ways to bring Snart back from the dead in the future.
But it’s Iris’ death at Infantino Street, ultimately, that’s going to define this episode in people’s minds. The final act is an impressive exercise in making the unfolding of the inevitable feel gripping and unpredictably tense as the dominoes of Team Flash’s watertight plan come crashing down slowly, then all at once. There’s a sense that events want to happen here, with The Flash articulating the ideas of the immutability of fate that it’s struggled to articulate throughout this arc, with the defences that have been put up clearly shown to be little more than pesky little barriers in the way of what has to occur. It’s that gradual stripping away of hope that gives the final act its drive, and the result is a shockingly bleak denouement where the worst comes to pass and there’s nothing anyone can do. That’s dark. Not dark in the way The Flash has sometimes been dark, which is to say portraying morally conflicted characters in difficult situations. Dark in the sense that this is a show trying to say that the quest it’s spent twelve episodes on has been a pointless failure, and the best case scenario is the heroes managing to not entirely fall apart emotionally. Unquestionably, that’s an emotionally powerful path for the show to take, because it goes bigger and bolder with the bleakness of it all than The Flash has ever done. That final juxtaposition of Iris’ wedding vows and the familiar sight of Barry weeping helplessly over her body is a devastating reminder of just how enormous this loss is.
But. There’s always a but when we’re talking about deaths in comic book stories, and especially so for this one. The darkness that Infantino Street reaches in its final moments is searingly effective for a conclusion of an episode, but basically unsustainable in the long run. The Flash would become a clip show of actors we like crying if Iris is really dead, and it would be virtually impossible for the show ever to return to the cheerful heroics it seems to have been on a path back to all year. Coupled with the importance of Iris to the mythology, and the questionable nature of a story that builds for 12 episodes to the worst case scenario in a show that just doesn’t do that kind of thing, and we have reasonable doubt. If Iris is somehow going to make it to the season finale alive, there’s only one realistic solution (okay, time travel aside, but if The Flash pulls that trigger, it will have contradicted everything this season has tried to do and might as well give up and go home): she didn’t actually die at Infantino Street. But someone died there, even if it wasn’t Iris. Who, then?
Back to the ‘it could’ part from all the way back up there. HR’s character arc could just be a standalone character study, or it could be something much, much bigger. Bearing in mind The Flash always telegraphs its twists, and rarely tries to double-bluff, and HR’s feeling of uselessness in the team, a need to take responsibility and repent for his mistake of letting Iris be captured, and a telling shot of Savitar’s talon begin to feel suspicious. That’s sufficient motivation for him to take Iris’ place. And with the re-introduction of the body-changing tech which is used by Barry to break into ARGUS, there’s the means to do that, too. All that’s needed to complete the picture is a gap of time where we don’t see Iris or HR, and yep, we have that too (we neither see where Iris goes before Infantino Street, nor see HR at the confrontation). That’s a pretty compelling set of evidence against the fact that Iris just died.
Next week will tell, of course, and it’s not worth judging the Iris death as a total fake-out based on the way in which a twist seems to be building to reverse it. HR’s death would still bring significant consequences, and it would work well as a heroic and selfless sacrifice for the character in the main cast who’s… least known for those characteristics. The key will be in how long the gambit is kept up for, and how lasting the consequences of it all will be, and that’s not something I can foresee in the here and now. What I do feel is that The Flash, for has earned some trust back. Whether Iris is dead or not, the stage is set for a compelling final showdown with Barry and his allies’ heroism and hope at stake. There’s a good chance that The Flash might just pull off a fitting conclusion to its most ambitious season yet. Will it do so?
Time will tell. It’s always time.
Infantino Street is a thrilling penultimate episode that brings everything rushing to an unexpectedly early conclusion with a blend of fun action and involving, insightful character drama that summarises Iris’ vital importance to the series.