Holidays can be a time for gentle reflection on the year past. Our ups and downs, our triumphs, our heartaches. But don’t forget, it can also be a time for disemboweling our enemies.
‘Tis the season, now, for the winter finale of The Flash. If you take a moment to think back to last year, with The Man in the Yellow Suit, we had some pretty seismic revelations and plot developments: Barry confronted the Reverse Flash for the first time, and we learned that Dr. Wells was in fact the man who killed Barry’s mother. The Flash was in a fundamentally different place when we returned in January.
Running to Stand Still opens in such a way that would make us think we’re in for something similar to the previous year; Zoom is seen chasing Harry through STAR Labs, with a cliffhanger before cutting to the title card. It’s a clever bit of misdirect, actually - this sequence harkens back to previous episode Enter Zoom, which opened with an in media res style flashforward. We’re lead to expect something similar here, with a speedster showdown much like last Christmas, but it’s a deliberate ruse; the Zoom plot takes something of a back seat from here, relegated to the episode’s closing scenes - it’s indicative of what’s to come, but not a concern for the present.
Right now, it’s about the Rogues - specifically the Weather Wizard, Captain Cold, and the Trickster, as played by Liam McIntyre, Wentworth Miller, and Mark Hamill. (You may have heard of Hamill; he was in a small, indie movie that came out recently, which you can read my review of here.) The plot deliberately offers something smaller scale, and more intimate, than the spectacle of last Christmas - and that works particularly well here. You don’t always need to see the man who murdered Barry’s mother for a good story - Mark Hamill chewing the scenery is often just as effective.
Weather Wizard and Trickster are, I think, uniquely suited to the Christmas special, in a way most of the Rogues aren’t, necessarily - Weather Wizard’s powers immediately present you with the possibility of a “white Christmas”, and the Trickster allows a level of seasonal whimsy you wouldn’t get elsewhere. After all, which of the other Rogues would dress up as Santa, and hide bombs in Christmas presents? Not Leonard Snart, that’s for sure; for his short appearances, Snart was a welcome source of humour, puncturing the atmosphere with more than a few sarcastic comments and eye rolls. That’s one of the great things about keeping a recurring cast of villains - The Flash has been able to develop Weather Wizard, Trickster, and Captain Cold across the past few seasons, and the show really benefits from having a group of villains that we, the audience, have come to know.
Of course, the emotional stakes this year were significant nonetheless - we got further traction on the Wally West plot arc which was introduced a few weeks ago. Iris finally decides here that she can’t keep this secret anymore, and ultimately tells her dad the truth - the fact that he has a son he didn’t know about.
Candice Patton and Grant Gustin both do great work with their scenes here; Iris confiding in Barry, Barry being supportive, and so on and so forth. It’s nice to see the two of them being able to interact with one another free of the love triangle from last season; Iris, as a character, has really come into her own over the course of this season, which has been great to see. I’m looking forward to seeing her develop further when we return to the show in January.
Real plaudits, however, deserve to go to Jesse L Martin, who gave a really astounding performance as Joe finds out he has a son. It’s a really nuanced, emotive performance - his initial reaction conveys a lot, even where the dialogue is more closed off, and he develops it further as Joe opens up to Barry later in the episode. Andrew Kreisberg did a great job writing this episode, giving Jesse L Martin (who’s one of the best actors on the program) a lot of interesting material to work with; there’s real depth to his performance, giving us a very successful installment in this storyline.
A moment I particularly liked, actually, came towards the end, where Joe gave Barry his watch - something he’d previously discussed with Iris - and said he’d “always planned to give this watch to my son”. It was a really nice, poignant exchange, with a great performance from both the actors: it reinforces the bond between Joe and Barry, and the fact that, even though Joe now knows he has a biological son, it doesn’t diminish his relationship with Barry. That was something I really liked, in any case.
Another impressive emotional sequence - immediately following the watch exchange, actually - was Barry talking to E2 Harrison Wells, to forgive the Harrison Wells who killed his mother. It builds on a more subtle arc they’ve been developing throughout the past few weeks; the idea that Barry might, in fact, be dealing with depression, and his fears that he wouldn’t ever be happy. But here Barry lets go - he’s not going to carry the weight of his mother’s death anymore.
It’s a really significant character moment, which was paralleled in a very clever way through the character of Patty, who was shown to be dealing with similar problems; she felt responsible for the death of her father at the hands of Weather Wizard, and was dealing with similar depression type feelings. It’s really impressive to me that The Flash, primarily an action-adventure programme, is putting so much thought and care into more subtle character development moments like this, because it is really, genuinely very effective.
The sad thing is, though, that it just makes the aspects that don’t work stand out more. They finally brought Jay and Caitlin together as a couple in this episode, with kisses under the mistletoe and a few jokes about different traditions on Earth 1 and Earth 2. A few good jokes came from Cisco mocking the pair of them and puncturing the romantic atmosphere, but the fact remains - this relationship has been quite poorly handled, and you get the impression that they were only brought together because the writers didn’t know what to do with Caitlin as a character. It’s a bit of a shame, but hopefully they’ll be able to make something of it soon.
In any case, though, this was a really excellent episode - one of the strongest of the season so far. Even though it didn’t have a dramatic showdown between Barry and the series villain, akin to last year, we got something with just as much significance, just as much depth of emotion, and we have just as much to look forward to next season.