Warning: Spoilers ahead for tonight's episode of The Flash, titled "Infantino Street."
That was a hell of a thing, wasn't it?
Tonight's penultimate episode of The Flash season 3 was a heartbreaking one: from the word go, it seemed clear that Team Flash's mission to stop Savitar was doomed to fail, with a framing device using a tragic song and a video message meant to be delivered to Barry post-mortem from Iris.
As the episode closed, with a shot that had been used in nearly every promotional teaser for the episode, it seemed as if Iris had died -- and we will have to wait until next week to see how that all plays out. For now, it seems as though the heroes' entire raison d'etre in the second half of the season has been for nothing, and their next step is just to punish Savitar for what he's done.
Once they do, though -- we're hoping and assuming that comes next episode, and that the season 3 cliffhanger teased by showrunners doesn't turn out to be Savitar still on the loose -- what's next for Team Flash?
How does a show that's built around one relationship that's more important than pretty much any other recover from the loss of one half of that couple?
(And is there still a way to take it back?)
Well, we've got a few ideas...
In tonight's episode, Captain Cold said something potentially very important: he said that Barry had to make sure not to lose himself trying to beat Savitar, and to be the hero.
The trailer for next week's finale similarly asks whether a hero can survive when hope is lost -- and the whole premise for Savitar in the last few episodes is that the only way he could come to pass was it Barry became so hopeless and despondent that he fell from grace.
There are a few things to unpack there: first of all, there's the odd paradox that if Barry could somehow prevent himself from ever becoming Emo Barry from 2024, it's possible Savitar would never come to be, the time remnant would never be created, and he wouldn't go back in time to kill Iris. By simply embracing hope and finding his inner strength, Barry could stop Savitar from ever coming to pass.
As crushing as the loss of Iris will be to Barry and Team Flash, one has to assume that having seen the future, and what comes from him failing to stand by Wally and Joe, Barry is too much of a hero to consciously choose to allow that to happen.
Could that save Iris's life? It's hard to say: certainly by now, between this show and Legends of Tomorrow, we've seen a wide variety of different time-travel scenarios. This might be the first time anyone had pulled a Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure-style maneuver, where simply willing something to happen in the future caused it to happen in the past, but the logic holds up -- and it would be an interesting way to "reset" the season at the end of the finale. Where the season started with a huge mistake -- Barry creating Flashpoint by actively traveling to the past to change it -- ending it on a note where he managed to change the future by doing the right thing, and was in turn rewarded by the cosmos, would be a nice parallel.
Even if it didn't save Iris, though (somehow), there would be something really satisfying about Barry, having surrendered to despair at the end of season 2 and spent most of this season wallowing in self-pity and desperation, defeating his greatest enemy by simply standing firm and saying that he's had enough. There could also be a really interesting commentary on the nature of heroism to come out of the fact that it was Leonard Snart, of all people, who gave Barry the final push in the right direction.
What's interesting about this is the idea that an examination of hope versus cynicism seems to be at the heart of so much of what's going on in DC's comics right now; it permeates Geoff Johns's comments about the forthcoming Doomsday Clock miniseries and helped rebuild the backbone of the DC Universe following last May's DC Universe: Rebirth. Having a conversation like this around The Flash -- a hero who, more than almost any other, has become synonymous with hope and optimism -- would make a lot of sense right now.
THE TRIAL OF THE FLASH
What could season 4 look like after this?
Let’s take a deeper look into a classic Flash storyline for some potential clues in what we could see should Iris West die at the hands of Savitar.
The Trial of the Flash’ is a storyline penned by Cary Bates with art by Carmine Infantino. The storyline unofficially began in The Flash #275, when Reverse Flash murdered Iris, who was Barry’s wife at the time in the comics. Flash forward nearly fifty issues and the story officially kicks off in The Flash #323.
We see Barry seemingly over the death of his wife and he has a new fiancee, Fiona Webb. Naturally, Reverse-Flash, who was responsible for Iris's death in the comics, wants Barry to live in a world of pain...so he attempts to kill Fiona but is stopped short as Barry snaps his neck, killing him before he could attack.
In the issues that followed, we follow The Flash as he’s charged with murder and nearly kicked out of the Justice League. ‘The Trial of the Flash’ storyline ends in The Flash #350, with the Flash acquitted of all charges, thanks in part to the villain Abra Kadabra’s brainwashing of the jury and Barry travels to the 30th century, where he finds Iris's soul and manages to reunite it with her body, reviving her.
The pair would go on to have a "happy ending" in the future, until Crisis on Infinite Earths, when Barry was pulled out of time and ultimately ended up sacrificing himself to stop the Anti-Monitor.
CHANGE OF FACE
A long-running fan theory is that Iris would die, yes -- but that it would turn out to be someone other than Iris.
The logic lies in the possibility that someone could have used one of those facial transmogrifier devices from Earth-2 to impersonate Barry's love, sacrificing themselves to save her and defeat Savitar.
Popular candidates have included Joe West, who would be dying for his daughter; H.R. Wells, who would give himself a purpose and make up for his past sins; or Killer Frost, who could have reclaimed her humanity at a key moment.
In 'Shade', the sixth episode of this season, H.R. employed face-disguising technology, so he could go out in public without being recognized as Earth One's evil Wells from the first season. While the technology hasn't been explored within the show since then, it provides a sort of Chekhov's Gun that could have a hand in stopping Savitar.
What if someone else on Team Flash were to disguise themselves as Iris on the night of her death, thus essentially cheating Savitar's prophecy? This would allow Iris' death scene to still play out directly as the audience has seen several times, without Iris actually having to die.
This theory is echoed by set photos taken a few weeks ago, which showed members of Team Flash gathered to film a somber funeral scene. Present for the occasion was Patton, possibly hinting that Iris isn't the one in the coffin.
Of course, this theory creates several big questions as well. Which member of Team Flash would be willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause?
The biggest speculation after those initial photos were released was that either H.R. or Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) would be biting the dust, regardless of whether or not the face-changing tech came into play. Signs point more to it being H.R. than Caitlin, as the several Harrison Wells doppelgangers established throughout the series could replace H.R. in Season 4, without leaving a hole in the show's cast.
Additionally, Panabaker hinted to us earlier this month that her role as Killer Frost could stretch into Season 4.
It's also worth considering how Team Flash would be able to pull this plan off without Savitar noticing, as the mysterious villain's real identity proves that he will continue to be one step ahead of the team. He proved that in tonight's episode, literally knowing what Barry was going to say before he said it.
Given that audiences saw each of those people either responding to Iris's death, or in the moments leading up to it, it would require some storytelling sleight of hand to make that work...but we certainly wouldn't count out the possibility.
TRAPPED IN THE SPEED FORCE
Producers have said that season3 will end on a cliffhanger, and we know from social media posts that Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp) will make an appearance in the finale.
To get Jay, though, someone would have to take his place in the Speed Force, right?
That was the premise of a whole episode: For Savitar to escape, he had to kidnap Wally, and for Wally to escape, Jay had to sacrifice himself to the Speed Force's limbo.
So who takes Jay's place, to get him out?
Ideally, the choice would be Savitar, right? Exile him there before he could rise to power?
But the only sure-fire way to prevent Savitar's rise at this point might be for Barry to sacrifice himself to it, placing himself there and putting a "pause" on Savitar until such time as Team Flash can find a way to stop him.
It could work, in theory: When Barry's memories were lost last week, Savitar lost his, as well. If Barry were to do something to remove himself from the board, it stands to reason that might remove (or at least de-power) Savitar as well.
And if Savitar is nothing but a time remnant, what happens to him when he's got no speed? Well, Eobard Thawne answered that question in the Legends of Tomorrow finale this season...!
We also know that the Speed Force's limbo is a cruel one, forcing someone to relive their most painful moment in a never-ending loop. We've already seen Barry's most painful moment -- and it came as a result of Savitar. If Barry were to believe that subjecting himself to an eternity of watching Iris's death could somehow undo it, it's hard to imagine he wouldn't give it a shot.
MORE THE FLASH
The season finale of The Flash airs next Tuesday, May 23, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
With nothing left to lose, Barry (Grant Gustin) takes on Savitar (also Grant Gustin) in an epic conclusion to season three.
David McWhirter directed the episode written by Aaron Helbing & Todd Helbing. It will air on May 23 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
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