I wish the future got here sooner on “The Flash”

“Borrowing Problems from the Future.” The Flash Season 3, Episode 10. Directed by Millicent Shelton. Written by Grainne Godfree and David Kob.

I enjoy when the DC television shows approach similar themes in the same week.

It’s coincidental, not intentional: Supergirl in its own universe, The Flash in its own universe, and Lucifer on a completely different network have little need to approach the topic of choice at the same time, especially how well-worn that topic is.

Whereas Supergirl looked at the choice to fight or retreat, to change or stay stagnant, and while Lucifer is now questioning whether he had any choice or whether God intervene in his meeting Chloe, The Flash is about fighting the future.

Too bad the episode takes its sweet time getting there. 

The episode loves to remind us that the hiatus happened, as within the season this episode takes place one month since the previous. Some things have remained the same: Julian (Tom Felton) is still cold, so it’s appropriate Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) sees him about her manifesting ice powers. A lot has also changed: Barry (Grant Gustin) and Iris (Candice Patton) are still settling into their new apartment, Wally (Keiynan Londsale)  has only a minor debut to the public as the new Flash, and HR (Tom Cavanagh) has converted STAR Labs into a museum. (How STAR Labs affords such a conversion, as well as a new employee in Olga [Lindsay Maxwell], is not clear to me. Then again, the show can’t explain how Barry can own STAR Labs and pay its property taxes, utilities, or, as Ray asked one season, toilets in the Pipeline prison.)

Change, for these characters, is paralleled by the constant talk about the future. The last episode was Barry trying to move into the future after his parents’ deaths, which is why he secured the loft for himself and Iris. Now aware that, in one potential future timeline, Savitar will kill Iris, he struggles to change that future. Tapping into Cisco’s universe-viewing powers, he finds a list of future headlines (Caitlin going full Killer Frost, a potential visit from residents of Gorilla City, the freaking Music Meister landing a book deal), the new arc for this season’s remainder is changing those headlines just enough to show the future can change and to avoid the domino effect (illustrated by HR, literally) that still permits Iris to be killed.

The first headline Barry changes is the one that claims he will capture the high-tech thief Plunder (Stephen Huszar). After wrestling whether to let Plunder escape, Barry finds an alternative solution: let Wally capture Plunder. This is the climax to the episode; I did not see this solution coming, and I should have, as the build-up to this episode focus on how Barry is concerned whether Wally can handle the superheroics and super-speed. It’s convenient, so while initially troublesome, on re-watch this detail likely stands out less obviously.

And Wally’s capture of Plunder allows Barry to steal the thief’s gun (“You plundered Plunder,” says Iris–as a much-needed reminder that the character is funny and is a good writer, when we get to hear what she has written). This gun is the same one Barry saw in Cisco’s vibe-vision, aimed at Savitar…or maybe someone else? That moment, really, is rather frustrating: Barry sees HR in that vision, realizes he did not see HR there before, hence realizes already that, yes, the future can be changed–which makes the thwarting of Plunder lose some surprise if they already know the future is mutable.

But this complaint is also trivial. Jay told Barry in the previous episode the future is mutable. And of course Barry had to see HR there to, first, make that annoying hipster character relevant (likely his narrative arc in this season, a journey from charlatan to legitimate hero), and, second, to motivate Barry to try to change the future.

Most of my attention in this review is the second half of the episode, as the first half is rather dull. There is a confusing fight sequence (Plunder has magic bullets? Oh, no, they’re heat-seeking bullets–which could have been clearer if I paid attention to what the STAR team was shouting to Barry…assuming they did). The episode also is fixated on so much exposition to remind us that a month has passed, Central City lacks knowledge about Wally’s superheroic exploits because he’s too new at this to risk a more obvious public appearance, Caitlin’s power-suppressing gauntlets are low on power (carry a USB external battery like the rest of us), and Julian is lost after discovering his Alchemy alter-ego. The first half is dull set-up; the second half is a more impressive payoff: Wally gets acclaim for stopping Plunder, Caitlin gets a new solar-power necklace that suppresses her abilities, and Julian joins the STAR team.

While this dull opening/more interesting ending set-up is serviceable for this episode, it is frustrating if this is the layout to this season. The Flash started with a brief focus on Flashpoint, the adaptation of that comics arc so far has piddled to instead have Barry upset how his time traveling harmed others’ lives, now he is again trying to fight fate, albeit no longer in the past but in the future. Maybe this season’s conclusion will make the previous episodes look like an organic development. But with Iris now the target of being killed off, this gives me a bad vibe similar to the meandering “Who’s in the Grave?” arc from last year’s Arrow.

Random Observations

  • We’re really keeping Iris’s death a secret from Joe (Jesse Martin), huh? No one learns on this show, after two and a half seasons, that the secrets can create a plot, but they are insulting the characters’ intelligence and development.
  • So, Barry’s vibing showed him the future can be changed, because now HR is there…but then he needed to know that in order to get the gun from Plunder…The fact that this is not the most confusing time travel issue I have to deal with is really saying something, since Legends of Tomorrow broke my brain with Ray somehow remembering he made the Atom suit and the Steel formula, even as he no longer has the suit and Nate lost his steel powers because of George Lucas quitting film school. Just…What?
  • The turtle HR gave to Barry–did he say it was McSnurtle? That’d be the second time the name is used on The Flash, the first being Iris’s stuffed animal.  
  • I have to imagine HR is making up half of these alternate-Earth customs just to mess with the team.
  • So, how does the team now explain to new employee Olga why Barry has to run off to do superhero things? And don’t say, “Well, she’s foreign, she doesn’t know”–that joke is not funny.
  • “I swear on both my parents’ lives–” I’m gonna stop you there, Barr: they’re dead, in part because of their closeness to you. Pick a better example.
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