The Flash Season 7 Finale “Heart of the Matter Part 1 & 2”
Directors: Eric Dean Seaton & Marcus Stokes
Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes, Danielle Nicolet, Kayla Compton, Brandon McKnight, Jesse L. Martin, Jessia Parker Kennedy, Jordan Fisher, Michelle Harrison, Carmen Moore, Karan Oberoi, John Wesley Shipp
Runtime: 84 minutes
One of the many running jokes fans had about The Flash‘s early seasons poked fun at the fact that, despite always referring to himself as such in the opening narration, Barry Allen was rarely the actual “fastest man alive”. The first season revolved around his conflict with Eobard Thawne/the Reverse-Flash (Tom Cavanagh), whose speed and skill dwarfed Barry’s own until the closing episodes. The second and third seasons went further, introducing a bunch of other speedsters, both heroes and villains alike, most of whom were said to be faster and more powerful than Barry at certain points. Although most of these characters, from Jesse Quick and Wally West to Zoom and Savitar were themselves popular, having so many of them around at the same time led to the meme becoming an actual serious complaint with the show, as its star, Barry, was having his uniqueness and importance diminished. In a rare instance of Flash really listening to criticism the show made a conspicuous effort to lower the number of speedsters. Although Thawne continues to make occasional, always welcome, appearances, none of the Big Bads for Seasons 4, 5, or 6 had speed-based powers and most of the supporting speedster heroes have had their roles reduced to occasional guest appearances, or been written out of the show altogether. But while this has led to Barry himself seeming more special again the later seasons have also seen a significant reduction in quality. I don’t know if it can be reliably stated that the show is always better off with more speedsters (the Speed Force was just the villain in what is probably the worst story arc the show’s ever done, after all) but Season 7’s two-part finale benefits from a high number of speedsters with the return of a couple of fan-favorites and introductions of two significant new players, which make for a surprisingly entertaining end to what’s been a very weak season overall.
The end of Season 7 Episode 16 saw Barry’s future children, Nora/XS (Jessica Parker Kennedy) and Bart/Impulse (Jordan Fisher) arriving in the present and “Heart of the Matter Part 1” focuses on them and what their arrival means for Barry and his current family. Jessica Parker Kennedy was a series regular during Season 5, in which she played a version of Nora from a previous timeline who was tragically erased from existence, and has briefly appeared in dream sequences in the last two episodes but this is Bart and Fisher’s first appearance. The first half of the finale opens in 2049 with the speedy siblings chasing down Godspeed. Nora knocks him down by using her Speed Force lightning as a whip but the villain soon gets back up. Bart then phases through Godspeed to stun him but Nora reprimands him because she feels this was a dangerous strategy. During their argument, Godspeed recovers again and phases away before running to the Flash Museum where he uses the cosmic treadmill to travel to the past, with Bart and Nora following him despite knowing their parents would disapprove. In the present, they work with Barry, Iris (temporarily cured of her time sickness), and the rest of Team Flash to stop the Godspeed war that’s wreaking havoc on the city but Barry’s concern for his kids and Bart’s own issues hamper their effectiveness as a team. Barry and company learn that Godspeed became Bart’s archenemy in the future, essentially his equivalent of what Thawne is to Barry, after he murdered older Flash Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp), who served as a mentor and uncle figure to Bart. Meanwhile, Cecile attempts to figure out what’s going on with August Heart (Karan Oberoi), the original Godspeed and creator of the clones, who was found in the present with no memory of his past.
Jordan Fisher is very well cast as Bart and is a welcome addition to The Flash‘s ensemble, even if the series is still always in danger of taking on more characters than it can handle. He brings plenty of the hyperactive humor fans of the comic character to expect but he and the writers are also smart enough not to turn Bart into a one-dimensional caricature of a brash kid. His fear over history repeating itself, especially when present-day Jay is kidnapped, and his willingness to listen to Nora on occasion show maturity and endear him more to the audience than if he was a complete hot-headed goofball. Nora also works better in the big sister role than she did when she was the center of attention. Kennedy is a good actor but Season 5’s Nora arc could never really overcome the awkwardness of her pretending to be Grant Gustin and Candice Patton’s kid despite actually being older than both of them, especially as the writing portrayed her more as a bubbly but angsty girl rather than a mature young woman. Her appearance here finds a greater balance between youthful energy and maturity and the scene in which she snaps at Barry that he can’t tell her what to do because she’s thirty before admitting that she’ll actually only be thirty in four years got a good laugh out of me. I’m still not convinced that The Flash’s insistence on exploring Barry and Iris as parents is really a good idea overall given past results, but doing so with their actual children involved certainly works better than when the Forces (including the Speed Force, who looks like Barry’s dead mom) were awkwardly calling them Mom and Dad (have I mentioned the Forces arc was bad?)
As the title implies, a significant part of the finale revolves around August and finally getting some answers about the whole Godspeed conflict. When the Allen speedsters are losing a battle with a faction of Godspeeds, with Bart being severely injured, Cisco returns in his Mecha-Vibe armor and helps them escape, taking Jay to safety along with them. Barry’s next idea is to go into August’s mind for answers, which the latter agrees to even know that the experiment might revert him to his villainous self. In the mental space, Barry confronts a projection of the maniacal, Godspeed August who explains his hope to take Barry’s natural speed to replace his artificial speed (which is responsible for current August’s memory issues), believing this will make him the God of Speed. It’s nothing new in terms of villainous motivations for The Flash and is especially similar to Savitar’s story, which is certainly disappointing given how long the show has been building up the Godspeed mythology. But Oberoi does give a fun, sneering villain performance and it’s a big relief that August remains nasty when he gets his memories back. I don’t know if I believe that all the instances of villains being pep-talked into redemption throughout this season were leading to this meta swerve where August tells Cecile that he really is a bad guy at heart, and even if they were, the tedium of those pep-talks certainly wasn’t worth the payoff but it’s a refreshing change of pace in the moment.
Speed Force Nora (Michelle Harrison) shows up to give all of the speedsters a power boost to fight the Godspeed armies, as well as bringing Bart out of a coma and giving Iris the temporary speed powers she had in a Season 4 episode again. The image of the show’s entire expansive Flash Family going into battle together is a treat but the action itself isn’t great. Despite everyone being speedsters the show tries to give them unique abilities to show off and while I understand the desire for visual variety this leads to some head-scratching moments like Jay throwing his lightning-charged helmet around as a projectile and Speed Force Nora taking out a contingent of Godspeeds simply by snapping her fingers (why doesn’t she do this to all of them?) The show is wise to scale things down considerably for the final battle, even if the other speedsters sitting it out doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But it’s hard to care about that when Barry’s final showdown with August instead features arguably the show’s best character.
Yes, Thawne makes a welcome reappearance when Speed Force Nora temporarily frees him from some kind of imprisonment to help Barry take on August. The unexpected alliance is supposed to highlight how dangerous a threat Godspeed is but the rest of the storyline hasn’t built him up successfully enough for this to really work and the show continues to barely even attempt to justify how Thawne can still be around after all the times he’s supposed to have been erased from existence. Furthermore, Tom Cavanagh’s return to the show, like Carlos Valdes’, would be a heck of a lot more impactful if they had left more than a handful of episodes ago. But his performance as Thawne is, as always, sublime, and seeing him and Barry fight side by side is a development crazy enough to be fun. That same sense of illogical excitement pervades the actual fight, in which Barry, Thawne, and August don’t chase each other around, as usual, instead of constructing swords out of their Speed Force lightning (lightning sabers, if you will) and going at each other in a melee battle straight out of the Star Wars prequels. It’s an absolutely preposterous moment, both for how blatantly it tries to appeal to the audience’s presumed love of Star Wars and because the show has never even hinted at this being an ability Barry or any other speedster could have. But as pure spectacle, it’s much more entertaining than most of the show’s action scenes of late. The choreography is strong and whether it’s Oberoi, or more likely a stunt double, in the Godspeed suit they move particularly well. Thawne eventually manages to stab August, taking him out of the fight but leaving him alive. In a predictable move, he then turns on Barry, attempting to strike him with a super-speed punch before Barry calmly steps out of the way. When Thawne demands to know how he was outmaneuvered so easily Barry smugly says “I got faster. Didn’t you?” Thawne vows to do so before zooming away.
While the main storyline has plenty of flaws they’re nothing compared to the subplots’. Upon returning to Central City Joe and Kristen Kramer (Carmen Moore) get caught in the middle of a Godspeed battle. One of the clones is about to attack them when Kramer somehow super-speeds herself and Joe to safety. When the conflict is over she comes to talk to Joe, explaining that tests have confirmed that she is a metahuman, with the ability to mimic other nearby metas’ powers. This causes her to rethink her anti-meta stance and she plans on taking leave from CCPD, parting on good terms with Joe. I’ve been less critical of the Kramer storyline than some other viewers, mainly because Moore gives solid performances and it’s given Jesse L. Martin more substantial stuff to do as Joe than he’s had in years but its ending definitely underlines its problems. First off, it’s almost entirely unrelated to everything else going on in the show. Yes, the rest of the cast was involved with Kramer’s side of things when she was having Frost prosecuted but since that trial ended she and Joe have been dealing with the conspiracy against her in almost complete isolation. Furthermore, it seems like this storyline, which has touched on issues of prejudice, especially from law enforcement, seems to be The Flash‘s attempt at responding to real world institutional racism and police brutality, and it utterly fails at doing so in a meaningful or responsible way. By having Kramer’s reconsideration of her actions come after discovering that she herself is a meta the show unintentionally suggests that people can only reject prejudice and embrace empathy if they have something in common with oppressed people. Even worse is Joe’s parting statement that Kramer is a good cop, an attempt to give her absolution for her prejudiced actions that she hasn’t earned and minimizing the damage her anti-meta vendetta did when she was using the power of the law to enact it. If this is going to be the result when The Flash tries to include social commentary it would be best if they left that to superhero shows which have proven they can handle it, like Legends of Tomorrow and Batwoman.
Even more random is Allegra Garcia’s storyline. In “P.O.W.” she found her cousin, reformed supervillain Ultraviolet, dead after a battle with some escaped Black Hole operatives that Allegra didn’t join her in because she was busy helping Team Flash. Allegra is understandably devastated but doesn’t tell anyone on the team, which predictably impacts her effectiveness until Chester notices what’s wrong and helps her through it. A nice little friendship has been forming between these two new members of Team Flash and Kayla Compton gives a perfectly fine performance as Allegra but the complete isolation of this storyline makes it a bizarre inclusion given how drastically different its extreme emotions are from the relatively optimistic vibe everywhere else.
That feel-good energy is supposed to culminate in the season’s typically sappy ending, in which Barry and Iris renew their wedding vows with everyone in attendance. As usual with the Barry/Iris relationship this isn’t anywhere near as touching as the creators think it is, mainly because all their attempts to introduce marital discord into the narrative have been so half-hearted, making the vow renewal feel entirely unnecessary. Even more stilted is when Bart starts serenading his parents. I’m by no means a music expert and Jordan Fisher sounded fine but this was one of the cheesiest and most awkward moments in a show and season full of them. Musical moments (and even a whole episode) on The Flash have been fun in the past but they were always more motivated by plot (like when Barry was forced into karaoke by drunk Caitlin, or when he and Supergirl were trapped in a musical dimension). Here everything just stops because the show wants us to hear Fisher sing.
The uncomfortable vow renewal is more characteristic of this season overall than the rest of the episode, unfortunately. Over this year The Flash has constantly shoved saccharine, often downright weird (not in a good way) stories at the viewer and while the Godspeed arc was a step up to at least being dumb fun Season 7’s final scene is a reminder that the show’s fundamental problems are still very much present.
- Season 8 starts with a five episode event featuring various characters from other Arrowverse series in place of the traditional crossover, which still isn’t possible due to COVID-restrictions on productions. This feels like a conscious effort to win some good will back from fans after this season.
- Another weird thing about the vow renewal is that it makes this feel almost more like a series finale. I understand the desire to have a more conclusive ending after COVID abruptly stopped Season 6 but this was an overcorrection.
The Flash Season 7 Finale
A speedster-heavy two-part finale isn't enough to salvage The Flash's worst season.