[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for The Flash Season 2, Episode 21.]
You don't have to tell fans of The CW's superhero programming that not every week is integral to the season's plot: massive leaps forward are sprinkled throughout to keep fans locked in (and wondering if the next bombshell is just around the corner) and monsters of the week help fill in the gaps. Although this week's episode of The Flash quite literally brings a villain back to life to torment the cast, make no mistake: it's a giant dose of mythology-building... even if we, or the show, don't quite know what to do with it just yet.
In "The Runaway Dinosaur", directed by Kevin Smith and written by Zack Stentz, Barry (Grant Gustin) wakes up into a dream courtesy of the Speed Force, and must find peace and acceptance with the tragedies in his life, if he hopes to become the superhero he was. Meanwhile, Cisco (Carlos Vadles) and Harry (Tom Cavanagh) try to track him down - with help from Iris (Candice Patton) as a metahuman villain returns from the grave as 'Girder 2.0' (Greg Finley).
We've Been Waiting For You, Barry
With several mysteries to answer, and a villain still very much alive so close to the finale, you wouldn't expect the writers to ask, and answer entirely new questions about the core mythology of the show. Nevertheless, "The Runaway Dinosaur" is undoubtedly an episode that will be looked back upon when assembling the deeper story behind the show as a whole. Just... don't ask us to explain what it all means.
It was clear that Barry's death in "Rupture" wasn't what it seemed, and comic fans (or those who read our breakdown of Barry's new communion with the Speed Force) knew that a surreal, dreamlike experience was on the way. To that end, Barry did end up walking through pivotal memories and exchanging words with loved ones, pondering the most important questions about the meaning of his life. But the writers still had a secret up their sleeve: the faces Barry met weren't memories, or even mental projections, but the cosmic being or beings that make up the Speed Force, having existed before the universe, and existing long after it is dead.
We wish that years spent reading Flash comics could have informed the story, or offer some clarification to viewers about what to expect, but this is a new chapter for the TV show. The Speed Force has remained intentionally vague in the comics (definitely no embodiment speaking directly to Barry), but the show's version seems to be not just another plane of existence, but one beyond time - possibly an afterlife for any being, judging by Barry's scenes with his deceased mother.
Whatever the case, the overall purpose of Barry's sojourn is to finally accept his mother's death as past, and beyond his control. By doing it (with her help), Barry finds peace. And with peace, comes his power, returned to him as if he never lost it. And when he gets back home, he seems poised to finally start living the life he had missed: with his friends, father, and the woman he's loved his entire life.
There's just one little problem: Zoom, having brought his gang of criminal metahumans to terrorize this planet as he did his own. Sorry, Barry.
As much as we'd like to say that Barry's journey inward takes up almost all of the show, that isn't the case. Instead of pondering their lives without Barry, Cisco, Iris, Joe and Harry are terrorized by a zombie in the form of a reanimated Tony Woodward a.k.a. Girder. The villain is about as exciting as a shuffling Frankenstein could be, so thankfully, it's here where director Kevin Smith's knack for comedy shines. Whether it's Joe's awkward test of Wally's reaction time, or the clumsy antics of Harry and Cisco, the tone never strays into serious or even tense - allowing Barry to carry all of the load (a wise choice).
As is typically the case when a high profile or movie director lends their talents to a single episode, viewers probably expected... something special. Aside from the cameo from Smith's collaborator Jason Mewes, it's hard to spot his hand at the controls. That's a good thing, as Smith clearly channels his affection for the character, the show and the genre into letting the story speak for itself. Competently shot and paced, he seems to have added his sensibilities where they fit, but never overshadowing the emotion or hero.
As a result, it may not be the most comedic, most heartwrenching, or most shocking episode of The Flash, as some might call it. But it's a mixture of them all, with allusions to something far grander. Since "enigmatic" isn't a descriptor the show would have warranted already, we'd call that something special.
The Flash continues with "Invincible" next Tuesday @8pm on The CW. Watch a preview below: