In the penultimate installment of its first season The Flash suddenly seemed to skip ahead of the script. In an episode that wasn’t initially focused on a direct conflict between Barry Allen and Eobard Thawne, the plot wrapped up early, leaving just enough time for the climactic battle between the pair to occur. It had seemed like this fight wouldn’t arrive until the finale. Naturally, it’s the big blowout battle that the season had to be building towards so to have it pop up and be resolved in the final moments of the next to last episode left things hanging. Just what would the finale, titled “Fast Enough”, deal with now that a big battle between Barry and Eobard was off the table?
The answer becomes apparent fairly quickly after Barry visits Thawne in his cell. Eobard presents Barry with the opportunity to save his mother, and just like that, the finale takes off. Most impressive though is that while “Fast Enough” is an episode that’s extremely engrossing and propulsive, the majority of it deals not with traditional action or fisticuffs but with emotional payoffs to plots that have been building throughout the first season. Rather than reeling viewers in with breakneck fights and stunning displays of CGI enhanced superheroics the episode pulls back, focusing instead on the characters who lend The Flash its heart.
It’s a decision that seems counterintuitive when thought about in the abstract, a choice that could potentially leave the finale feeling flat and uneventful after all that’s transpired on the show and due to its general go for broke nature, but it avoids these pitfalls as the central question of the episode is whether or not Barry should change his past and in doing so alter his presence.
The first fifteen minutes or so are heavily weighted with teary conversations between Barry and the other cast members as they hash out whether or not he should go back in time to save his mother, but the episode truly takes off once it starts demonstrating exactly what Barry will lose if he should happen to alter history. The centerpiece being Barry’s relationship with the West’s. Should Barry save his mother he’ll never move in with Joe and Iris and the bond that’s grown between the three of them will be shattered. It’s a huge piece of emotional stakes that drives the core of the episode and the performances from Gustin, Martin, and Patton sell the heck out of just what will be lost should Barry take Wells up on his offer.
Barry’s decision isn’t one that carries traditional weight of the world stakes, even if there are some pretty disastrous potential side-effects to his jaunt back in time. (So to make the hour feel important, it needs to be built around the emotional stakes of Barry’s choice.) The question of what’s most important to Barry, the life he has or the life he hopes he would have had. That’s a tough thing to dramatize since it’s a more ambiguous, ethereal, concept rather than something Barry can punch at super speed, so building the episode around subtler, emotional payoffs rather than a bunch of bigger, flashier moments is absolutely the right choice and allows the climax of the plot to feel as momentous as anything the series has managed to date.
And it is a momentous climax. Thawne’s plan works, sending Barry back in time to that fateful night, and in that moment Barry is unable to change things. He catches a glimpse of his future self, who waves him off, and then he shuts the door, allowing Thawne to plunge the knife into his mother and seal her fate. It’s not an easy decision to make, but it’s not hard to understand why Barry makes it after all that the episode has shown. How important these people are to Barry, it’s something he can’t give up. And while Barry doesn’t get to have everything, he at least has the chance to say a proper goodbye to his mother, comforting her as she passes from the world.
It’s a scene that’s a huge payoff and feels like a worthy conclusion to the season. But, then, “Fast Enough” goes and builds to an even more earth shattering finish. Barry returns to stop Eobard from escaping, Eddie kills himself to prevent Eobard’s birth in the first place, and the wormhole that had been closed reopens, threatening to engulf not only Central City but the entirety of the Earth. It’s a rapid fire series of major events born aloft by both the pure excitement and the emotional resolution that came from Barry to reaffirm his life, the people that are in it, and his belief in what he fights for.
It all culminates in a huge cliffhanger as Barry flings himself up towards the wormhole in an attempt to close it in the same way that he shut down the tornado conjured by Clyde Mardon in the pilot. It’s left open as to how Barry will succeed or what consequences Barry’s success will have, but the episode teases more than a few tantalizing possibilities for the future which make the cliffhanger and the wait for the next season all the more unbearable. (Hints which include the original incarnation of The Flash’s helmet flinging itself out of the wormhole, multiple teases towards the next DCU TV spinoff Legends of Tomorrow, and other possibilities such as a villainous alter ego for Caitlin and Cisco’s journey towards becoming the hero known as Vibe.)
It’s intensely fun, geeky material and it’s held together by the emotional core of the episode that’s just as involving and exciting. Seeing Barry race off towards an unknown future, attempting an impossible task is enjoyable, but it doesn’t mean anything without the characters and their relationships and “Fast Enough” shows just how strong those characters have become over the course of the show’s first season. It’s a finale that’s a crystalized, perfected version of The Flash and a clear map towards the future of the show even as just what that means remains wonderfully unknown.