Much of The Flash’s final season has been disappointing at best, but last week’s stellar episode made wading through that swamp worth it. It was so good I wondered if it should have been the finale, closing out the series on a high note instead of rolling the dice with four more episodes. But if “A New World Part 1” is a sign of things to come, they may just deliver a satisfying ending. This is another great entry, an emotional roller coaster that tests Barry’s resolve as it begins the final story of his Arrowverse adventures.
While planning for Nora’s birth, Barry is sucked through a portal and deposited in the year 2000. Not knowing how he got there or who sent him – or how to get back home – Barry seeks help from people he knows while running into an old enemy.
One of the things the better episodes of these later seasons have done is streamline the narratives, focusing on one main plot instead of splitting everyone into several different subplots that may or may not connect. “A New World Part 1” does this more than any other episode by leaving the present behind and focusing solely on Barry’s trip to the past. A tease in the pre-title scene indicates the return of a character who’s long been gone, and some of the supporting cast appear in quick scenes that are likely setting up storylines for the next three episodes – all part of this final “A New World” arc – to explore: Iris reaching the end of her pregnancy, Khione developing new powers (while talking to her house plants, all of which she’s named – I hate this character so much), Joe and Cecile enjoying one of their weekends together, and Chester and Allegra being a couple. But this week is all on Barry, and that’s a good thing.
Barry’s trip down memory lane finds him visiting all the people who can help him at this point. His contemporaries, like Iris, Caitlin, and Cisco, would all be children, so they’re out. Naturally, his first stop is Joe, who is a beat cop at this point. Over the years, the scenes between these two have been some of the best of the series, and in “A New World Part 1,” they’re a bit handicapped because Joe doesn’t know who Barry is. But with some deft writing and performances from Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin, they cut through that; Joe can see the good in Barry, even with this much distance between them. There are suggestions throughout the episode that a guiding cosmic hand is at work, bringing Barry to the people he loves, and this is the first indication of that. Even when Barry leaves in a rush, and Joe stumbles across an accident involving Barry, he’s concerned, sensing that Barry needs his help. The bond between these two is destiny, transcending time and space just like The Flash does.
Destiny, in this case, would insist that Barry run into his parents, but this one is more of a conscious choice, as Barry realizes he’s been brought back to the day his mother is killed and his father is erroneously arrested for her murder. He tracks them down, as anyone would, but there’s not much he can do beyond that. He knows by now that he can’t save his mother, and anything he does may change the past in ways that will devastate the future. But another bout of happenstance (well, not really, but Barry doesn’t know that yet) throws them together, and Barry gets another day with Henry and Nora, all the while knowing that they’re both doomed and there’s nothing he can do about it. Again, there’s great acting from everyone involved, particularly Gustin, who has to balance the cascade of emotions Barry is feeling, the joy at seeing his mom and dad again mixed with the dread that he knows he never will again. Your heart breaks for him every time he sees them.
But it’s not chance, of course, just like it wasn’t chance that the lightning bolt struck Barry nine years ago. Barry was dragged through time and pushed in front of a speeding car where his parents would find him. The latter was the work of The Reverse-Flash, once more arriving to torment his nemesis. But Eobard Thawne isn’t the instigator of Barry’s time jump; he’s just taking advantage of the situation by making Barry live his mother’s final day with her killer. Barry was brought to the past by The Negative Speed Force – and not through an avatar this time. The Negative Speed Force is done using emissaries and is now attacking Barry on its own by possessing other people. This is a setup for the rest of the season, so we don’t know its whole plan yet, but it has something to do with “correcting the imbalance” Barry somehow created. There’s probably more to this, but for now, it looks like he means killing Barry, the avatar for The Speed Force, so neither of these opposing forces has one. It also tells Barry that all the people involved in this trip are necessary to its plan, including a possessed Joe West. Does that include Eobard Thawne? It’s hard to say, although the stinger at the end suggests his ancestor, Eddie Thawne – or Eddie’s doppelganger, or whatever the hell is going on – is part of it.
As for Eobard this week, Barry deals with him in a very character-specific fashion. For much of “A New World Part 1,” Barry is at an impasse with his foe. He can’t stop Eobard, and he can’t make him go away, either. He has to sit there and take his abuse, acknowledging that Thawne is about to destroy his life and there’s nothing he can do about it. Thawne even gets him to admit that he’s won. But in one final act of love, his parents make him understand how to fight Thawne – by using him to get the closure that’s always escaped him. He has what anyone who’s lost a loved one has always asked for: one more day with them. And in that day, they tell him how proud they are of him, how he’s become the man they always wished he would be. Barry will live with their love, whereas Thawne will destroy himself in his hatred, with that night only being the beginning of the hell his life becomes.
I’m doing more recapping and less analysis than I usually do, and that’s because there isn’t a whole lot to analyze yet. “A New World Part 1” is just that: part 1 of a four-part story, and it’s chock full of setup without much resolution. But that’s fine because it sets up the next few weeks well. It also has some callbacks to the show’s past, like having this be the moment Barry sees his past self from season 1 and waves him away from stopping Thawne. It’s a great payoff, and it comes as part of Barry’s growth rather than just as fan service or checking off things the show needs to finish. I also loved seeing Barry run into a laundry van, a nod to the very first episode where he was discovering his powers. (I’m not positive, but since the camera lingered on the company’s name on the side of the van, I imagine this is the same one, or at least one from the same company.) And it was wonderful to hear Victor Garber’s voice, even if he didn’t appear in person. Unless they drop the ball majorly, I think this final run is going to be special.