[WARNING - This review contains SPOILERS for The Flash season 3, episode 9.]
The events of last week's episode kicked off the Invasion! crossover, an event that then continued on Arrow and concluded on Legends of Tomorrow. The crossover was a nice distraction from the threat of Savitar and Alchemy, but it also made sure to keep developing the Flashpoint fallout that has consumed much of The Flash season 3 -- namely, Cisco's anger and the still unknown consequences of Barry's timeline meddling. Of those two threads, Cisco's beef with Barry was eventually resolved and the two are again pals, but it's still unknown the full extent to which Barry has altered reality.
In tonight's episode, 'The Present' -- written by Lauren Certo, Aaron and Todd Helbing, directed by Rachel Talalay -- Savitar and Alchemy are again the main focus, with Barry traveling to Earth-3 to ask fellow speedster and mentor, Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp) for help. Together, the two speedsters hope to track down not only Savitar, but his servant Alchemy -- revealed to actually be Barry's co-worker, Julian -- and the stone they use to grant meta-powers. Meanwhile, Joe and Iris learn of Wally's secret training with H.R. and they are not pleased, continuing to deny Wally from helping Barry and Jay in the field. Perhaps here is where they finally reckon with that, because it seems almost certain the time will come that every speedster -- especially Wally -- will be needed if they hope to stop the God of Speed.
Being that it's currently the first week of December, it's timely for 'The Present' to include some seasonal cheer. The episode isn't strictly a Christmas episode, but it does use the holiday as a nice background for a few of its emotional beats; the most pertinent being Cisco's grief over the death of his brother. Turns out, Savitar uses that kind of emotional pain to manipulate people into doing his bidding, something he does with Cisco here and has done to Julian in the past. (Plus it's nice to learn Julian isn't blatantly evil, just a bit of a jerk.) Caitlin is eventually able to reach Cisco, freeing him of Savitar's hold by imploring him to think of the living and not the dead, a sentiment echoed throughout the episode by several characters.
In addition to using Cisco's brother Dante as a sort of twisted version of the Ghost of Christmas Past, there's also a get-together at the West home on Christmas Eve which provides the opportunity for Team Flash to gather and celebrate. Though there's a tinge of sadness given the revelations of the episode, the scene is ultimately a happy one, allowing The Flash to end the first half of season 3 on a hopeful note.
The Flash of Two Worlds
Season 3 has been a season of speedster team-ups, so it's only fitting that finally Barry and Jay Garrick get to enjoy a proper one. Needing help against Savitar, Barry travels to Earth-3 to enlist Jay's aide - but not before first dealing with the Earth-3 Trickster, a noticeably more Joker-esque version of the character in what is another great cameo from Mark Hamill.
With the Trickster dispatched, it's time to get down to business and stop Savitar. Lucky for them, Jay has some knowledge of Savitar thanks to what he calls "Speed Force myths, legends, and rumors," sharing that Savitar is believed to be the first meta with speed powers and that before arriving on an Earth, he sends a servant to prepare for his arrival. Jay also reveals that Barry is the first speedster to have seen Savitar, which does beg the question of how anyone knows anything about him (since myths, legends, and rumors must start somewhere).
That weirdness aside, while Jay does offer his services as a speedster - distracting Savitar so that Barry can get the Philosopher's Stone (ha! really?) away from Alchemy - it's the wisdom he has to share with Barry that makes him such an essential part of the show. This time around, Jay urges Barry to "spend more time with his loved ones" while he can (an ominous notion if there ever was one) and later, after learning of a horrific possible future, to focus on the "here and now." It's the advice Barry needs to hear, and especially now that he's seen a glimpse of the future.
Run, Wallace, Run!
Merry Christmas, Wally! You are now officially Kid Flash. As one of the many delightful moments 'The Present' concludes on (also Caitlin turning the rain to snow, Barry gifting Iris the apartment, "I got you a wallet", the eggnog challenge and more), Wally receiving his costume and permission to become Kid Flash is one that's been a longtime coming. Still, the time spent bringing Wally to this point is well-deserved, if only for the brief interval of him and H.R. training.
Speaking of H.R., when he was first introduced it was done in an awfully suspicious manner, but recent episodes have worked hard at getting Team Flash (and us) to trust this Harrison Wells. And it's all capped off by him playing this important role in Wally's promotion to Kid Flash, recognizing Wally's potential and insisting that Joe do the same. But, then Savitar refers to H.R. as "fake Wells" and it's all called into question again. Is he lying? Hoping to sow discord among Team Flash. Or is this season 1 all over again and someone is masquerading as Harrison Wells?
Savitar and the Philosopher's Stone
The bulk of 'The Present' deals with the unveiling of Savitar's plan, or at least as much of it as he felt like divulging. Beginning with an explanation for how Julian became Alchemy - which was presented as a strange Indiana Jones-like adventure, with Julian funding an expedition to recover the Brahmastra or Philosopher's Stone as commanded to by Savitar - and ending with Julian hooked up to the stone in order to enable a link up with Savitar, what was revealed was, shall we say, troubling.
Not only does Savitar have a personal vendetta against Barry (like, who doesn't at this point?), but he comes bearing a prophecy of bad tidings. Savitar's warning is as follows: "One shall betray you. One shall fall. One will suffer a fate far worse than death." We'll note that the camera lingers on Wally, Cisco, and Caitlin for each corresponding beat of the prophecy, but that may be neither here nor there. What is does mean, however, is that whatever it is future-Barry warns of in that message discovered on the Waverider, it's almost certainly tied to Savitar and these ominous predictions. Are these the earliest signs of an impending Crisis?
Along with that, after sending the stone box containing Savitar into the void of the Speed Force, Barry is sent five months into the future and witnesses a grisly scene: Savitar killing Iris. It's the worst possible future for Barry, and understandably, seeing it leaves him rattled. And even though Jay is there to remind him of the future's infinite outcomes, it's obvious that Iris' impending death will weigh heavily on Barry for the rest of season 3. Is it avoidable? We can only hope, otherwise the future of The Flash looks pretty grim.
As mid-season finales go, 'The Present' is a fairly strong one, giving its characters some emotionally heavy material to work through while also setting up the framework for the back half of season 3. And though what's to come doesn't bode well for Team Flash, the episode manages to end on a uplifting note and with a little holiday cheer.
The Flash season 3 will return on January 24th.
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