Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Forces arc comes to a muddled end on The Flash

Grant Gustin
Grant Gustin
Photo: Bettina Strauss (The CW)

The production team throws everything but coherent storytelling at the concluding episode of the Forces saga, a barrage of psychedelic light shows and plot twists that get untwisted almost immediately. It’s an unsatisfying wrap-up to a story arc that never really satisfied in the first place. The fact that it all comes down to another “All You Need Is Love” ode to family is just the sickly sweet icing on an under-baked cake.

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Attempting to recap these shenanigans is a daunting task, but here goes nothing. Following last week’s cliffhanger ending, in which Iris, Bashir, and Alexa all appeared to be murdered by Nora and Dion, we immediately learn that it was all a Psyche-induced illusion. It won’t fool Nora for long, though, so in order to protect the not-dead trio, Barry whisks them to the dead Speed Force of the past, which takes the shape of a dusty, cobwebbed version of the home Iris and Barry grew up in. (How nice to get this reminder of the somewhat problematic origins of their relationship.) Bashir and Alexa don’t want to stay, however, so Psyche uses another illusion to trick Iris into giving up the device that will let them back to the present reality. Well, that was fun while it lasted!

The whole episode is like this. Everything that happens is undone a few seconds later. Nora, who gets increasingly Gothed-up as the episode goes along, threatens to destroy the city unless Barry brings her Force siblings to her. A huge lightning storm engulfs Central City, purple lightning strikes Cecile and puts her in a coma, and the walls of Iron Heights are breached, allowing dozens of meta criminals to escape. Except Nora didn’t do any of this; somehow the other three Forces caused the storm, because they’re the real bad guys. But wait a minute! Nah, actually, Nora is still the real Big Bad. Or is she?

Brandon McKnight, Carlos Valdes
Brandon McKnight, Carlos Valdes
Photo: Bettina Strauss (The CW)

I can’t untangle this mess anymore than Chester and Cisco can, so let’s leave it to Joe West, who has been sulking ever since he turned in his badge last week. He manages to snap out of it in time to deliver another pep talk as Iris and Barry are berating themselves for being bad “parents.” Joe points out that parents can’t solve every problem, and that it takes a family to protect a family. He’s been giving this speech since the early days, when he was urging Team Flash to work as a family, but these lessons never sink in. They always dissipate before the next episode starts, and there’s always another pep talk around the corner.

The frenzied climax of this arc packs in more special effects than the entire season so far, but there’s not much special about them. The big battle of the Forces takes place in a videogame hellscape and plays like a cutscene, but the conflict isn’t resolved until Dion uses the Still Force to give Nora a taste of life in an empty Central City. It doesn’t take long for her to break down and realize she doesn’t want to live alone forever, leading to a union of the Forces just in time to help Barry stop the destruction of Central City. They all go to live in a happy cloud together, and I only wish I was kidding.

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Speaking of family, Frost is back! In perhaps the week’s weirdest development, she engages in flirt-fighting with bartender Mark, a.k.a. escaped meta Chillblaine. Later she shows up at Caitlin’s place to tell her she has a crush and oh, by the way, she’s now out on probation. What? After all that? Her life sentence without the possibility of parole is now over in a matter of days? It all feels completely pointless, and yet perfectly suited to an episode where nothing that happens has any lasting consequences.

Stray observations

  • All the talk of Barry and Iris as parents to the Forces makes them eager to try the real thing, “I love that impulse,” says Barry as Iris heads to the bedroom, and yes, that’s a hint. Another future child of Barry and Iris, Bart Allen, will be zipping into the picture in the second half of the season as the speedster Impulse.
  • Kristen Kramer doesn’t make an appearance in this episode, but having a bunch of metahuman criminals escape from Iron Heights would seem to be a big boost for her cause, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing her soon.
  • The Flash returns in two weeks for what looks to be the Cisco Ramon farewell episode. Unless he changes his mind again.
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