Whatever amount of money CW paid Kevin Smith to direct last night's episode of The Flash, it wasn't enough. The man responsible for Clerks (and everything that's followed in its wake) single-handedly pulled the show out of a narrative tailspin the likes of which haven't been seen on television since the second season of Heroes.
Now it's up to the show's core team to follow through and finish on a high note. Here's how it went down.
When we last left our hero, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), he'd been rendered incorporeal. Thanks to the well-intentioned efforts of Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), a blast in the STAR Labs particle accelerator had smashed him into smithereens. It also injured both Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) and Jesse Wells (Violett Beane), sending the latter into a coma.
But Allen didn't vanish completely. He's still there, as Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) soon finds out with his ever-growing Vibe powers. It's just that he's trapped inside the Speed Force.
Yes, apparently that's a thing that can happen.
Early in the episode, Allen wakes up in his childhood bedroom. Not the room he was given by his adoptive family, but the room in the home he shared with his birth parents. There, amidst the living room crime scene where his mother vanished many years ago, is Joe West (Jesse L. Martin).
But it's not really Joe West. And it's not really his childhood home. It's all an illusion created by the Speed Force itself, which is turning out to be more powerful and more vast than Allen or anyone else first imagined.
"When the first subatomic particle sprang forth from the Big Bang, we were there," says the Speed Force. "And when that expansion slows and plunges the universe into heat death, we'll be there."
"That's a trip," Allen says.
"We pretty much invented trippy," quips the Speed Force.
For the rest of the episode the Speed Force puts Allen through the emotional wringer, appearing in several forms and locations which it believes might put him at ease. First it shows up as Joe West, later as Iris West (Candice Patton) and later as Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp). The Speed Force's invitation that Allen sit down and rest becomes almost a mantra.
Turns out that the Speed Force has captured Allen because it's time for him to stop running from the guilt he's carried through this entire season, the guilt of having sacrificed his own mother to save himself. In the second half of the episode, in a series of beautifully drawn out moments, Allen actually meets with the Speed Force in the form of his mother, Nora Allen (Michelle Harrison).
It sounds terrible written out like this, but what could have been a maudlin scene is played beautifully by Gustin, who does a great job of pacing himself. At times he appears confused and reluctant to accept what he's seeing, and by the end the tears are literally flying off his face. For such a high-concept departure from the series so far, he works the moment perfectly.
As for the vastness of the Speed Force itself, what could have been a pretty heavy-handed plot twist is handled with a kind of grace and poignancy that I frankly didn't think Kevin Smith was capable of. Now, instead of wishing everyone would stop talking about the Speed Force, I'm looking forward to its return.
As for Flash himself, by the end of the episode we're left with a stronger superhero, a confident young man unified in spirit and in purpose who is no longer in doubt of his own powers. But we're also left with an evolved understanding of the Speed Force, something that treads close to the supernatural. The Flash's universe feels bigger and somehow more intimate at the same time.
To cap off his triumph, Smith also brought Allen and Iris West together romantically in the least creepy way possible, and gave the barest hint that Jesse Wells may be a budding speedster linked to Allen himself by the almighty Speed Force.
All in all, a hell of a job. I'm not sure if The Flash had just been saving its most problematic plot points for Smith to knock out of the park, or if he just volunteered to untie this Gordian knot for them on the spot. However it went down, the show is better for it.
In the final moments we cut back to the Central City Police Station, where Zoom (Teddy Sears) is still hunkered down with Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker). But he's not alone. He's gathered up a mob of dozens of pissed off metahumans, and the stage is set for a final, apocalyptic showdown between Barry Allen and more evildoers than he's taken on in both seasons of The Flash put together.
I can't believe I'm saying it, but I'm really looking forward to these last two episodes.