The Flash’s final arc has been a bit lackadaisical in getting to the point. After a good first episode that set up a brewing conflict with The Negative Speed Force, it spent a week dawdling with Barry’s friends while he was almost entirely absent, resulting in all the main players being back where they started, except for Iris, who was in labor. “A New World Part 3” works overtime not only to tie everything together but to make the final threat feel as epic as it should, to make the stakes both grand and personal for Barry. And despite a few minor hiccups, it succeeds with flying colors.
With Barry once again thrown through time by The Negative Speed Force, Team Flash attempts to use Cecile’s growing powers to help him. In the future, Eddie walks into The Flash Museum looking for Barry and finds Nora instead. The Negative Speed Force tempts a new avatar.
“A New World Part 3” begins by doing what we’ve all been waiting for since this storyline began: defining the stakes. We had a nebulous idea of The Negative Speed Force (heretofore denoted as NSF) trying to eliminate Barry as The Speed Force’s avatar while the other Negative Forces attacked The Speed Force. But what that means, aside from Barry dying and there being no Flash, wasn’t established. But we know now because The Speed Force tells them that if The NSF succeeds, the timeline will be destroyed. Time itself is at stake, at least as the good guys know it, and that is consistent with the NSF trying to supplant its opposite Force; if it wins, the timeline will change with the NSF and the other Negative Forces having always been in control. The world will lose its past, present, and future. This makes Barry’s trips through time more relevant; he has finally come to terms with his past and is embracing his present to build a future for his family, and the villain wants to destroy all of that. It’s exciting, and it feels like Barry could lose everything, as could everyone around him.
This makes Eddie Thawne, as he’s presented in “A New World Part 3,” the perfect foil for Barry. Resurrected by the NSF to be its new avatar, Eddie is thrown into a world where his past, present, and future don’t matter. His past is defined by his sacrifice; he killed himself, giving up not only his life but the promise of happiness with Iris, to save Barry from Reverse-Flash. But it didn’t work, or at least not for long; Eobard Thawne returned time and again to torment Barry and threaten the world. His future has been robbed from him by the man he gave his life to save, someone he considered a friend. And his present is hell on Earth, a constant reminder of the futility of his actions and everything he’ll never have. He is what Eobard Thawne once accused him of being: a nothing, the only member of his infamous bloodline no one remembers. A man this broken is the perfect target for the NSF, someone desperate for hope or, absent that, at least meaning, an assurance that he helped. But everywhere he goes, Eddie rolls snake eyes.
This is the great challenge of “A New World Part 3,” one I thought was too great to overcome until the end. Eddie Thawne is a good man; this is someone who readily gave his own life to protect a friend. That was the genius of season 1: Barry’s rival for Iris’ love was not some smug jerk but a decent, caring, selfless guy who turned out to be as much of a hero as The Flash. How could that man ever choose to side with a demonic force that would hurt his friend, erase an entire family, and endanger the world? The answer is a mix of pain, loss, confusion, and torment, along with the promise that it could all go away with a simple “Yes.” Eddie fights like hell, does all he can to silence the NSF’s voice in his head and do what the old Eddie would have done. But the old Eddie is dead, and he died for nothing as far as this Eddie is concerned. Faced with Barry, the guy he saved who’s now living the life that was supposed to be his; faced with Iris, who tells him she would never have chosen him, that all his hopes and dreams were fantasies; and, finally, presented with a lifeline that he can change it all, Eddie Thawne shakes hands with the Devil.
This is terrific storytelling. “A New World Part 3” runs Eddie through the gamut in a single episode and makes a righteous man’s turn to darkness not only feel possible but inevitable. And it does this while never undermining the good man Eddie was. While possessing Nora, the NSF tells Barry that its avatar must be a good person who is corrupted. This is a great wrinkle that makes sense if you think back; all of its avatars, even someone as loathsome as Eobard Thawne, began as men who wanted to do good. In the past few episodes, it has possessed Joe West, Blaine, and now Nora, all good people; Blaine even tells the others that while he was possessed, he could only think of how much he cared for Barry. That is why it went to the trouble of bringing Eddie back from the dead; it needed a good man to renounce his own decency and choose power. Eddie ultimately succumbs to temptation, but he’s taken apart piece by piece first. Rick Cosnett is incredible in this episode, perhaps the best he’s ever been, and I always liked him. He conveys the destruction of a man exquisitely, showing every aspect of Eddie corrupted by fear and pain. To convince us that Eddie Thawne could choose evil is a monumental task, but here we are, and I buy it.
We won’t know until next week’s finale, but I suspect “A New World Part 3” is setting up a difficult decision for Barry when it comes to Eddie as well. The quintessential theme of this series has always been the greater good vs. the immediate good, and Barry, despite some wavering in his darker moments, is firmly on the side of the immediate good. He will not sacrifice a life; he will not do a relatively small evil to prevent a bigger one. We’re reminded of that here when he’s faced with a possessed Nora and holds back, refusing to hurt his daughter to stop The NSF. I’m betting the finale will present him with a similar dilemma with Eddie, especially now that the stakes are so high. Will he kill the friend who sacrificed himself to save Barry’s life to prevent the destruction of time itself? If he were ever to choose the greater good, it would be now, with Iris, Nora, his friends, and all of existence on the chopping block. But he’s also someone who doesn’t compromise his values. I’m more excited than ever to see how this plays out, and after a mostly bad season, that’s pretty amazing.
Everything else feels like small potatoes, but some aspects of “A New World Part 3” don’t work as well as the main story. Cecile’s trip to the future is a bit tedious. I get it, and it fits with her character arc this season, but I don’t like how Chester simply reassures her that abandoning her family for almost a year is fine because she’s always right, so it must be. Is there any accountability for her choices? There’s not even a mention of the fact that there were wars going on in the future; it’s just that Cecile is perfect, and everyone has to deal with it. I was also miffed that she kicked The NSF out of Nora in two seconds with no hassle, just like Khione did last week. I know they’re trying to make these characters look cool, and I appreciate that they’re getting this out of their system before the finale (at least, I hope they are), but the result is the final villain looking much less formidable. And this is a nitpick, but none of the actors look or feel any older when we see their future selves. At least Iris’ hair is streaked with a lot of gray, but Chester and Allegra look twenty minutes older, not twenty years older. And the alternate Nora, the one who is Eddie’s daughter, looks awful with that blonde hair. Again, I get it; they’re trying to show that this would be Eddie’s child. But the hair isn’t natural at all, and a blond-haired man and a black woman wouldn’t have a blonde-haired child; she’d maybe have somewhat lighter hair than Barry’s daughter, but not blonde. The way to solve this would be to have her say she bleached her hair because she wanted to look like her dad, which would have twisted the knife in Eddie even more. But, again, these are nitpicks; I love this episode, awful stylistic choices be damned.