For the fastest man alive, Barry Allen is always just a little too slow. His problem every season when it comes to confronting the big bad is that his super-speed just isn’t super enough to catch up to threat, and so he must push himself to go faster than ever. But the question after watching tonight’s episode is: how could Barry possibly ever be too slow for anything?
“Enter Flashtime” is both the closest thing to a bottle episode we’re likely to get from this show and a riff on “real-time” that takes the concept to its absurd conclusion, given that most of the hour takes place in a matter of milliseconds. It’s a laudable effort at breaking the usual format, but an awfully gimmicky one that further muddles the already suspect Speed Force mythology. The seeds were planted back during Barry’s trial, when he pulled Iris into what we’re apparently now calling Flashtime, during which they moved so fast they were able to carry on an entire conversation while the rest of the courtroom appeared frozen in time.
In tonight’s episode, an eco-terrorist detonates a nuclear bomb in the custody of ARGUS, and Barry and company must figure out a way to stop the blast before it levels Central City. Their options are limited, since the trigger has already been pulled. (Jesse suggests going back in time to stop that from happening, which Barry immediately shoots down because he finally learned the lesson that time cannot be tampered with...but seriously, how much damage could they do by going back two or three seconds?) So, for roughly 40 minutes of airtime, Barry and special guest visitor Jesse Quick sort through possible ways of saving the city. Given that this process involves many involved conversations, calculations, and several trips across the city—as well as across dimensions when Jesse brings Jay Garrick into the mix—all in a span of time that can’t even be registered by normal humans, we can only conclude that the Flash is as fast as he wants to be, whenever he wants to be.
That’s kind of a problem from an ongoing dramatic standpoint, isn’t it? How can the Flash ever be late for anything again? Even this episode begins (after a brief flash-forward establishing the crisis) with Barry once again training to overcome his speed deficiency. In this case, he can’t catch up to a breach before it closes. From what we’ve seen of Flashtime, however, it appears he has time to make a sandwich and run to the store if he’s out of mustard before leisurely making his way over to the closing breach.
As usual, the Speed Force is whatever the writers need it to be, but judged simply on its own merits and not its future ramifications, “Enter Flashtime” is a fairly successful one-off. As the speedsters sort through the problem, they come up with a number of solutions that appear solid at first but fall apart when applied. Cisco can’t breach the bomb to a dead Earth because he doesn’t have enough time to vibe under the conditions. Killer Frost can’t freeze the bomb because when non-speedsters are brought into Flashtime, they quickly become exhausted. Throwing the thing into the Speed Force may work, according to Harry, but Jay insists that will put an end to all speedsters throughout space and time. Combining their forces to produce a big bolt of lightning would work, except that Jay runs out of gas before they can pull it off.
It’s Iris who comes up with the solution, which involves Barry racing back into the Speed Force to remove the quark sphere they’d placed there, thus tricking it into chasing Barry and shooting lightning at him. I wasn’t crazy about whole “fooling the Speed Force” thing the first time around, and I haven’t warmed up to the idea now. When an underlying mythology is this murky, it can be bent to serve any need the story requires.
- On The Flash, the word “algorithm” is magic. Whenever the writers need to explain some piece of impossible tech or any other scientific breakthrough by Cisco or Harry, they need only have one of them utter the word “algorithm.” It explains all. We need no further information.
- You know who would have been helpful in this scenario? Wally. Yet he’s only mentioned once in passing, and Jesse doesn’t show the slightest interest in where he is or what he’s up to. I realize he’s on another show now, but shouldn’t the characters have at least considered rounding him up for this mission? I guess he wasn’t so redundant in Central City after all.
- Jesse and Harry make up, and it’s a surprisingly touching moment when he uses the reverse thought inhibitor to allow her to share his memories of her mother.
- Jay Garrick has been underutilized on the show since his introduction, and it looks like that’s going to continue given his plans to retire. It’s a shame, because John Wesley Shipp is always a warm, welcome presence.
- Jitters Girl is back again. I’ve seen some speculation in the comments that she’s the future daughter of Barry and Iris, but I’m more intrigued by the fact that Jitters now offers a Killer Frost beverage.
- “That’s what she said. Literally, that’s what she said.”