The Flash has been a bumpy road. It started almost impeccably with an outstanding first season; unfortunately, that would also prove to be its best season. The following two were very good, but as The Flash moved to the middle of its run, it showed signs of wear. The writers struggled to make their villains compelling when they moved away from speedsters, and shifting team dynamics weakened the once-great ensemble. There were certainly highs, but they didn’t last as long as they did in the show’s heyday, and some of the lows reached beneath sewer level. Now, the series finale is here, and it’s bittersweet. This is a show I loved, and even at its bad points, I was happy that it was still on because the show felt personal to me; the very first thing I wrote for Geeks + Gamers (on an earlier version of the site that no longer exists) was a review of the series premiere. At the same time, any honest assessment of The Flash will admit that it’s been running on fumes for a while, and I’m ready for it to end.
That brings us to “A New World Part 4,” the final chapter in what has to be one of the longest-running superhero TV shows ever made, if not the longest. And in a way, it’s fitting because it epitomizes the series’ entire nine-year run; parts of it are great, parts of it are bad, some things are immensely satisfying, some things are crushingly disappointing, and it’s hard to know exactly how to feel about it. But if nothing else, “A New World Part 4” makes it clear that The Flash is better off ending.
As The Negative Speed Force (NSF from here on) uses Eddie Thrawne to destroy Barry Allen and his lineage forever, The Flash and his allies prepare for the battle of their lives, with time itself hanging in the balance.
“A New World Part 4” hits the ground running, first bringing Barry back to the present and then having NSF pull all of Barry’s old speedster nemeses out of the timeline just before their deaths to help it kill The Flash. You can’t help but get a chill watching this scene, seeing Reverse-Flash interact with Zoom, Savitar, and Godspeed, till Eddie shows up and promises them all the chance to do together what they’ve failed to do apart. Eddie – who now calls himself Cobalt Blue – has assembled a dream team of villains, and they’re going up against Khione, Cecile, XS, Blaine, and Allegra. The good guys are in real trouble now, huh?
Of course they’re not, because the show is more in love with these also-rans than the audience has ever been. All the promise of that opening scene melts away when Team Flash takes down these once unstoppable supervillains like bowling ball pins. Remember how these guys required entire seasons to defeat, and the team had to rally together in what felt like impossible battles just to have a chance at winning? Well, now they can each be handily dispatched by a single member of The Not Ready For Prime Time Players. It starts with XS getting skewered by Savitar as Iris once was (or was going to be), except it’s a fake-out before she does it to him for real; they actually made us think this episode would have stakes before assuring us of the opposite. Cecile uses her whatever-we-need-her-to-do-today powers to knock down Godspeed without breaking a sweat and remind us of how she’s the best ever. Khione defeats Zoom by – I think – absorbing his powers and throwing them back at him or something. They tease a massive battle between Zoom and an army of cops, but it never happens. And, worst of all, Allegra takes out Reverse-Flash with neither muss nor fuss right after he killed Chester almost-kinda-not-really; The Flash’s greatest villain (and The Flash’s greatest villain) is treated like some random punk. All of these appearances are nothing but references to better days meant to tug on the heart’s nostalgia cockles, and the trade-off for that is making these awesome bad guys (and Godspeed) look like Shemps.
But the real battle is between Barry and Eddie, the avatars of the good and evil Speed Forces. As I suspected last week, “A New World Part 4” puts Barry in the position of choosing the greater good or the immediate good, only this time, it’s the hardest decision he’ll ever make. Eddie has been largely defeated, thanks to a last-minute assist by Jay Garrick (whose presence, while brief, works better than all the old villains put together), and he’s now attempting to draw in all the speed he can to become strong enough to destroy Barry. But, as we saw last season with Eobard Thawne, this will overload him and destroy him, which would solve their problem. Everyone, even Jay Garrick, thinks Barry should simply let this happen and bask in the triumph of saving the world again.
But he won’t; Barry Allen doesn’t sacrifice a life, no matter whose it is or what the consequences could be. If saving the world requires death, then it’s not a world worth saving. So Barry once more tries to reason with Eddie, to search for the good he knows remains in a broken man, the hero buried under pain and hate. Barry’s final fight isn’t to save the world but to save one life, the individual, the concept that he’s always championed above all, and let that save the world. And he’s right; Eddie now has a path of his own, a way to let go of the life fate stole from him, and a role in the universe as one of its protectors. This is fantastic and the perfect way to end Barry’s battle against Eddie and NSP. And it’s gratifying to know that, all these years later, Eddie Thawne will get a happy ending, if not the one he wanted.
There are some problems with how this comes about, though, chief among them being Khione’s involvement. The solution would have been much more satisfying if Barry had figured it out himself, and since it’s based on his philosophy, it would have made sense. But this show has become obsessed with Khione, so she has to be the one to tell Barry how to win via another of her annoying lectures about life and nature and plants and whatever other gobbledygook. And some of what she says doesn’t make sense; how is NSP a natural part of the world? It’s artificial, created in the future by Eobard Thawne; it’s grown insanely powerful, but there’s nothing natural about that. It also would have been nice if this were drawn out a bit more; I know it’s the finale, and they have to wrap up a dozen other things (some of which are unnecessary), but I’d have preferred more time be spent on the core message of the show being enacted by the hero and the final villain (and some weird magical hippie). It’s still really good, and I’m glad it’s there, but it needed some finessing, more time, and a lot less Khione.
The rest of “A New World Part 4” is wrap-up stuff. Iris has the baby, Joe proposes to Cecile, Chester discovers he has superpowers, and it’s hard to care about any of that. The birth is the most important, and it’s not bad or anything, but we’ve known Nora exists for the bulk of the show, so her actual birth feels like a checklist item. The best part about it is Eddie sending Barry to the delivery room, a final gift from an old friend. Joe proposing to Cecile means nothing to me, partly because I thought they were already married. And it’s difficult to get too invested in “Will you marry me and spend 80% of your life in another city?” Instead of this, how about giving Joe a moment alone with Barry? Those are some of the best scenes in the show’s history, and the finale eschews them for a goofy proposal. The same goes for Harrison Wells, who makes his big return and spends all of his time talking to Khione before fading into the background of a party. What a waste. Chester has powers, but he’ll never use them because the show is over, so this is just more wasted time. It wouldn’t have been hard to make cuts in this episode to fit in some important things they neglected.
There’s one big thing that happens, and it encapsulates what’s good and bad about a lot of “A New World Part 4.” Dr. Wells tells Khione that it’s time for her to ascend and become a higher being. (How he would know this, I have no idea, but whatever; maybe he saw it in the future.) So she says her goodbyes, and everyone pretends she’s important and their best friend ever after having known her for, like, a week, and she leaves… and Caitlin Snow returns, once more inhabiting the body Khione effectively stole. I’ve been waiting for this all season, and I’m exceedingly happy that Caitlin is back because I love the character and didn’t want The Flash to end with her having died off-screen for no reason. But this is also way too late; we went an entire season without Caitlin for her to show up five minutes before the show ends for good. If they insisted on this dumb storyline, they could have at least thrown those of us who had to suffer through it a bone and wrapped this up earlier so Caitlin could be present through the final arc and play a role in the battle. How much more meaningful would it have been if Reverse-Flash tried to kill her instead of Chester, someone with whom he has a history, someone we actually care about and just got back after we thought she was gone forever? Like the rest of the finale, it’s a mixed bag.
As for the ending, the final stinger of the show, it’s good. Barry sharing his power with others to make more speedster heroes is neat, and it ends things with a nice message, spreading goodness throughout the world and inspiring it in others. I also like that it ends with the promise that the adventures will continue; The Flash will always be a superhero, his friends will back him up, and he and Iris will raise a family that will continue that tradition well into the future. As with the series as a whole, it was a rocky road getting here, and it was the right time to end, but ultimately, it was worth it.