The Agents of SHIELD can stand down. Constantine can go to hell. Daredevil got the crap kicked out of it. And Arrow? You just got outshot by your little brother. The Flash finale wasn’t quite perfect, but it showed exactly why it’s the best comic book show currently on TV.

I know I’m frequently guilty of hyperbole, so some of you may be mainlining grains of salt right now. That’s fine. Again, let me stress that “Fast Enough” was definitely not flawless, and suffered from some of the same problems that have plagued the series all season. Also, since it was an episode primarily about time travel, it probably shouldn’t shock you to learn that some of the plotting also didn’t make much sense. Crazy, I know! And yet it still ended up being my favorite hour of superhero TV all year.

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If you were wondering what The Flash finale would be about, since Wells was captured last episode, and all the previews basically showed Barry trying to decide whether to run back in time to save his mom — well, that’s almost entirely it. The crux of the episode is Barry trying to decide whether he should use his power to save his mother’s life. He talks with Joe, his father, Wells, Iris and the others in order to come to a decision. On the one hand, he can save his mom’s life! Not only exonerate his father, but keep him from going to jail at all! He’s been trying to figure out a way to prove his dad’s innocence his entire life, and suddenly he’s discovered he has to power to essentially save his entire family.

Of course, there’s a cost, and it’s one explored in the lengthy but excellent build-up to the episode’s climax. The first problem is that it’s going to allow Eobard Thawne to return to the future, and giving a supervillain what he wants is never optimal. There’s also the problem that if Barry doesn’t reach at least Mach 2 when hitting the particle, he’s dead as hell. And then there’s the teensy problem that Barry will essentially be creating a wormhole which may turn into a singularity which will destroy the entire planet. I think it’s pretty obvious that the biggest flaw of “Fast Enough” is that drama aside, Barry’s attempt to save his mom is obviously a terrible idea. The chance of destroying the entire planet is absolutely not worth the chance of saving his mom’s life, and Barry really shouldn’t be weighing his options at all, especially given all the other issues rewriting the past could — and will — cause.

Unexpectedly, “Fast Enough” manages to outdistance (eh? Get it?) this plot problem by bringing actual, emotional depth to Barry’s myriad scenes where he talks with his family, friends, and archenemy. This has never been The Flash’s strength, as pretty much any scene between Barry and Iris this season (up to Iris realizing the Flash’s identity a couple of weeks ago) has demonstrated. But here, somehow, every Barry scene rings true — as well as the Barry-less scenes, too.

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Honestly, I feel like trying to recap every conversation does them a disservice, because they’re all so good. How about the pure rancor in Wells’ voice when he explains to Barry how he can travel back through time? Or when Barry admits that bringing back his mom would erase his time with Joe and Iris, and they have a tearful goodbye? Or when Dr. Stein gives a strangely authoritative pep talk to Eddie, because he’s a “wild card” in these proceedings? Or when Barry’s actual father, played by John Wesley Shipp, begs Barry not to go back to change the past, even though it would mean he never went to prison, because he’s just so damn proud of Barry in this timeline? (Jesus, all John Wesley Shipp does in this Flash series is schmaltz, and it gets me every time because he’s AMAZING.) Or when Iris, in what may be the first scene where she and Barry actually seem like best friends, tells Barry she’ll support him whatever he decides?

Hell, I was even moved when Eddie, empowered with the knowledge that he’s master of his own fate, decided to woo back Iris, and successfully at that — a welcome decision, because The Flash had definitely not earned a Barry-Iris match-up yet. About the only scene that fell flat for me is when Ronnie Raymond and Caitlin Snow marry outside of STAR Labs, as its quick, perfunctory, and strangely jubilant given the fact that Barry is about to either rewrite all of history or destroy the planet. It seems like the scene is basically meant to serve to show Barry how his decision could substantially alter the lives of his friends, and potentially rob them of the happiness they’ve managed to achieve in their lives. Indeed, Barry looks queasy throughout the entire ceremony.

After a season full of a lot of unearned emotional moments, having these scenes hit one after another is pretty stunning. So despite the fact Barry was endangering the entire planet to save his mom — a profoundly dumb idea — I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen when Barry finally decides to run into the past. What happens is this:

Barry enters the Speed Force — more on that below — and ends up in his house the night of his mother’s murder. He sees his future self fighting the Reverse-Flash, but his future self catches a glimpse of him hiding in another room, and motions for him to stay-put. I had assumed that Future Barry was just telling Present Barry to wait until Future Barry and Future Reverse-Flash had left, but Present Barry knows that Future Barry is telling him he can’t change the timeline. And Barry is forced to listen and wait as the Reverse-Flash kills his mother.

But at least this time, Barry is able to talk with his mom in her finale moments. He reveals his identity, she of course isn’t baffled at the fact a grown-up version of her 10-year-old son wearing a full-body leather suit has broken into her house, Barry gets to tell her he’ll be fine even though she’s gone, and it’s a damned emotional scene, using Grant Gustin’s tendency to play these sort of moments broadly to its full advantage. Here, Barry can cry in joy at reuniting with his mom and sadness at being forced to lose her again and it works pretty much perfectly.

And then Barry runs into the present and punches the Reverse-Flash right in his face. Also his time machine.

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Yes, if Barry can’t save his mom, he sees no reason why Eobard Thawne should get to return to the future as well. Flash battles Reverse-Flash throughout the particle accelerator as the SuperSTARS desperately try to close the wormhole; they succeed, but without Arrow and Firestorm, the Flash still can’t defeat Eobard on his own. So before he delivers the killing blow, the infuriated Reverse-Flash lets Barry know he’s going to kill all of his friends and family for destroying his chance to go home, including Iris. So a hero rises.

It’s Eddie Thawne.

Who shoots himself in the chest.

In retrospect, I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming — it was foreshadowed clearly enough with Dr. Stein’s pep talk — but it never occurred to me that Eddie would commit suicide in order to keep Eobard, his descendent, from ever being born. It’s a desperate move, but it’s also the only way anyone has of stopping Eobard/Wells with the Flash defeated. And Eddie doesn’t hesitate. He gets a final, touching, and incredibly sappy moment with Iris, Eobard is erased from reality, but the wormhole reopens and begins sucking people, buildings and large chunks of Central City into it. But there’s not a destructive natural phenomenon the Flash can’t fix by running really fast, so he sprints up the debris (which is pretty goddamn cool) and starts running count-clockwise, just as he did with the Weather Wizard’s first tornado in The Flash premiere. And that’s where “Fast Enough” ends.

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So let’s just get the questions out of the way. If Eobard never existed, doesn’t that mean he also never went back to the past? Isn’t the timeline going to be rewritten anyways? Does this mean the Flash’s mom is alive? Does this mean the original Harrison Wells is also alive? Will Barry return to a completely different timeline than the one he left? If Eddie only killed himself to erase Eobard, doesn’t that mean if Eobard doesn’t exist Eddie doesn’t need to kill himself, which means Eobard eventually gets born anyways? Paradox!

Here’s the fun part: I don’t care. Okay, I care in the sense that I desperately want Tom Cavanaugh to return in The Flash season 2, either as Wells or Thawne, and I’d be delighted if actor Rick Cosnett comes back, because I love how The Flash refuses to make Eddie anything other than an unequivocally good guy. But all those time travel questions? Whatever. Virtually any time travel story is going to raise these kind of impossibilities, especially in The Flash, where the science isn’t so much fast and loose as it is “decorative.” The Flash has always succeeded for me with its fearless willingness to put the most comic book-y of comic book stories n TV screens — the Reverse-Flash, Grodd, all these time travel shenanigans to name but a few — and as I’ve always said, I’m willing to suspend any amount of disbelief as long as I’m being entertained, and The Flash is usually entertaining as hell.

Where “Fast Enough” improves on most Flash episodes is by adding genuinely poignant drama to its unabashed love of superhero comic plots. The fact that Barry is anguished over the decision whether to not to save his mother, and genuinely mourns the possibility that he might have to destroy his relationship with Joe makes the story about a dude running so fast he goes back in time so much more compelling. I hate to use a speed pun — just kidding, it’s taking all of my willpower not to flood this recap with them — but combining the two helps put The Flash into another gear.

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The other reason The Flash has been such a delight is because of its willingness to directly appeal to comic book fans with easter egg after easter egg, while being restrained enough to keep them from being wholly distracting or baffling for non-nerdy-audiences. In that respect, “Fast Enough” was a master class in how to make a show that can appeal to mass audiences while making nerds absolutely lose their shit. Here is just a brief list, because they’re each too awesome to be relegated to Assorted Musings:

• When he’s seeing scenes of the past, present and future in the Speed Force, he very definitely catches a glimpse of Caitlin as Killer Frost.

• When he sees his future version fighting the Reverse-Flash in the past, the future Flash has his iconic white-background lightning bolt symbol on his chest. I don’t exactly know how such a subtle change makes such a difference, but it looks totally awesome.

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• He also sees the Flash Museum, with the giant golden Flash statue out front. I honestly think the show is going to put all of the Flash’s Silver Age insanity on screen, and I couldn’t be happier.

• Eobard says that Rip Hunter would be impressed with Cisco’s little time machine, Rip Hunter apparently being the inventor of the time machine and and one of the upcoming stars of Legends of Tomorrow.

• Dr. Stein thinks about yelling “Excelsior!” if the wormhole works. The Flash, you are the best.

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• Cisco asks Wells about his Flash suit ring, but then decides he doesn’t want to know. I love being completely secure in knowing that Cisco will have made a working Flash ring by season 3 at the latest.

• And let’s not forget that Cisco’s ability to remember moments in the alternate timeline means he has powers he hasn’t discovered. I love that this isn’t just a nod to Vibe, the superhero he will eventually be, but that it actually explains something I had simply assumed was a bit of sloppy writing.

• And last and absolutely not least, when Eobard is standing in front of the portal to the Speed Force, a certain winged hat flies out. It’s the helmet of the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, the one from the ‘40s. The idea that somewhere in the Flash’s TV multiverse there’s a world where the Flash came into being in the 1940s (and lost his hat) is astounding. You know what’s even more amazing? I honestly think The Flash could figure out how to bring Jay Garrick onto the show and have him not be utterly incomprehensible for new viewers. And that, my friends, is amazing all by itself.

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Maybe Daredevil is getting gritty, realistic superheroes right. Maybe Agents of SHIELD has the weight of the gigantic Marvel Cinematic Universe behind it. Maybe Grant Gustin isn’t as perfect as Barry Allen is as Matt Ryan is as Constantine. And maybe Arrow is better at developing its extended cast. Maybe Gotham… uh… also has some kind of quality that has slipped my mind.

But there is no superhero show on TV that is more fun, more nerd-accommodating and that better encapsulates what makes superhero comics so unique and popular than The Flash. It isn’t perfect, but honestly, but it’s so far ahead of the other comic book TV series it doesn’t have to be.

It’s fast enough already.

Assorted Musings:

• Line of the night: EVERYTHING HARRISON WELLS SAID.

• Second Place Line of the Night: Dr. Stein, after Eddie tells him about the newspaper from the future: “And I have a mug that says World’s Best Boss on it. I doubt my teaching assistants would attest to its authenticity.”

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• Worst Line of the Night: Caitlin: “What’s a singularity?” Oh come on, Flash. You couldn’t give this line to one of the many non-scientists in the room? Caitlin would know what a goddamn singularity is. I know what a singularity is and I’m an idiot.

• Douglas Adams Reference of the Night: Cisco: “So long and thanks for all the fish!” Like all true nerds, Cisco is going to make Hitchhiker’s Guide references whether anybody understands them or not.

• FYI, I grabbed that image of Jay Garrick’s Helmet from Gamma Squad, who have a photo gallery of many of the episode’s easter eggs. Check it out here!

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• You know how we were told we’d get our first look at the Legends of Tomorrow legends in this finale? Well, we get a glimpse of Hawkgirl sans wings, a Captain Cold shot, and that’s pretty much it. Sigh.

• Eddie’s body is sucked into the wormhole, and the show makes sure we see it happening. Well, I can’t imagine that won’t have ramifications down the line!

Guys, it’s been a genuine pleasure recapping these episodes for you; I hope you’ve enjoyed them as much as I have. I’ll see you guys in the fall for the season 2 premiere. Until then, may the Speed Force be with you.


Contact the author at rob@io9.com.

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