The Flash Season 8 Episode 2 “Armageddon, Part 2”
Director: Menhaj Huda
Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Danielle Nicolet, Kayla Compton, Brandon McKnight, Jesse L. Martin, Brandon Routh, Carmen Moore, Rachel Drance
Runtime: 42 minutes
I really should have been mad at this episode and the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did is an encouraging sign that Season 8 of The Flash might be heading in the right direction for reasons other than just fan service. After the disaster that was Season 7 my interest in the new episodes has almost solely been based on my excitement at seeing the returning Arrowverse heroes but this episode barely features any of them. Despite being heavily promoted as appearing in this second part of Armageddon Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning (Cress Williams) doesn’t make his appearance until the episode’s closing seconds and while Supergirl‘s Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) makes a brief cameo via some video calls to Team Flash her and Jeff’s combined screen time can’t amount to much more than 3 minutes. “Armageddon Part 2” also makes a story decision that I said would be a catastrophic mistake just last week. But despite all this I came away very impressed with the story the show is telling and the style and form it uses to tell it, which resulted in one of the strongest episodes of Flash in years.
We pick back up right where last week left off, with Barry talking to Despero. The latter body slams the former into the ground despite his offer of a reprieve but explains that he was only measuring the amount of strength it would take to kill Barry should he need to and that the temporary truce stands. Despero tells Barry all he knows about his supposed imminent fall from grace, which really isn’t much at all. At some point in the future an unknown tragedy drives Barry to madness, in turn leading him to turn on the world. Team Flash, always the somewhat naïve optimists, surmise that if Barry doesn’t go crazy before Despero’s one week deadline is up everything will be fine. Barry himself even believes this due to his increased confidence that was highlighted last week but it soon becomes hard for him to continue doing so as multiple bombshells are dropped on him in quick succession. First, Kramer stops him from investigating a new crime scene to tell him that he’s under suspicion of federal crimes after evidence surfaced suggesting that he acted as a mole in the police department for Joseph Carver’s Black Hole organization. Then the city shuts down STAR Labs when dangerous amounts of radiation start emanating from the building, forcing Barry and company to hide Team Flash’s main facilities (and shut down their version of the Gideon AI) and leaving them to work out of Chester’s garage. While these are significant issues they’re not devastating enough to believably be reasons for Barry to go bad. Fortunately, the creators realize this. These initial blows just serve to put Barry off-balance before a more significant problem arises. While investigating a bank guard who seemed to temporarily lose his mind, the team is put on the trail of Xotar (Kandyse McClure), a psychic metahuman on a crime spree. When Barry confronts her she uses her powers on him and he awakens in his apartment where the team tells him he attacked them, though he has no memory of doing this.
Naturally, everyone is worried that Xotar controlling Barry will lead to Despero’s future and the alien himself continues to watch Barry closely, leading Barry to confront him again, demanding to know why Despero is so concerned about Earth in the first place. Despero explains that his planet Kalanor was ruled by a tyrant until he led a successful rebellion. But the tyrant eventually returned to power and banished Despero to Earth. He became unexpectedly fond of his new world and is now determined to prevent it from receiving a similar fate to his first one. Tony Curran continues to give a strong performance and after the one-dimensional megalomania of Godspeed and all the forced redemptions last year, it’s nice to have a Flash villain that is both genuinely nuanced and sympathetic as well as intimidating.
In the next confrontation with Xotar, she reveals telekinetic abilities, trapping Barry. But he’s able to vibrate his molecules despite not being able to run, and releases a more powerful burst of lightning than ever before, incapacitating Xotar. With the telepathic threat neutralized, the team believes their problems are solved and Barry suggests having Joe make them some food. Everyone reacts with a mixture of confusion and anger until Chester and Caitlin remind Barry that Joe died six months ago. In horrified disbelief he races over to Joe’s house, tearing up the place and frantically asking Iris where he is before she and an outraged Cecile, who acts like Barry’s been in denial for a while, reiterate that Joe is gone. Making matters worse the news displays footage of a crazed Flash attacking the city, with Barry again having no memory of doing so. Believing Barry to already be too far gone, Despero attacks but Chester shows up with a device that reflects the alien’s energy blast back at him. Barry flees to the STAR Labs hangar that was turned into the Arrowverse’s version of the Hall of Justice at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths, where he’s greeted by Jefferson, who asks what’s going on. Barry gives the one-word reply “Injustice,” and while it’s a bit of a cheesy moment the reference should excite DC fans, even if it remains unclear whether Armageddon is moving towards an adaptation of the Injustice video game and comics story or if it was just some kind of conveniently titled code between the members of the CW’s Justice League.
In my review of “Part 1,” I said killing Joe offscreen would be a horrible mistake. But I was satisfied with the twist in this episode firstly because it is extremely unlikely that this death will be permanent and because of the emotional charge, it gives to the crossover. Again, Jesse L. Martin is listed as a series regular on Flash once again this year. While that doesn’t necessarily mean he has to be playing Joe (or not the same Joe we’ve come to know) given the Arrowverse’s love of doppelgängers, there is more evidence that he will be than suggesting he won’t. Clips of Joe are still featured in the opening title sequence but more than anything I just don’t buy that the show would write the character off like this. Flash is a sappy show that aims for heartwarming emotions more than sad ones and if Cisco’s exit last year is anything to go by if and when the time comes for more original cast members to leave they’ll likely only do so after a lot of buildup, fanfare, and tear-stained goodbyes, not as part of a devastating twist. There’s also the fact that we’re less than halfway through Armageddon to consider. The creators aren’t going give us real answers about the mystery at the event’s core this early and there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that the current status quo will be completely upended by the time these first five episodes are over. Last week during Chester and Cecile’s awkward exchange, which we can now surmise was about Joe, Barry was present, reacting to everything with a kind of grim acceptance. It’s only after defeating Xotar that he’s back to thinking Joe is alive. My theory is that at some point after the end of Season 7 the team somehow wound up living in an altered timeline where Joe is dead and that one of his experiences in the past two episodes, whether it was a confrontation with Despero, Xotar, or something else, has given Barry back his memories of the regular timeline. As for who or what caused the changes, the easy answer is that the Reverse-Flash is manipulating things either to cause Despero to go after Barry or for some other unknown end. I hope the writers came up with something a bit more creative and less predictable than this but with Barry dealing with such deeply personal problems Thawne is the most likely suspect.
Despite its likely impermanence the Joe twist also results in some strong filmmaking throughout the episode. Director Menhaj Huda uses the camera to add to the anxiety and uncertainty in several interesting ways, with a zoom lens employed as Barry reacts to first being told Joe is dead and heavy use of canted angles late in the episode emphasizing the insanity of the situation. The setting also plays a role in creating these emotions. The CW’s unnamed Justice League hasn’t been able to come back together since Crisis because of COVID restrictions and all the changes to the franchise that have come since then, like the end of Supergirl and Ruby Rose’s Kate Kane being written out of Batwoman make it unlikely the full team will ever completely reunite. Overall, this is a disappointment for fans but it plays into Armageddon‘s story nicely. When Barry arrives at the Hall of Justice the other Leaguer’s chairs sit empty, and Oliver Queen’s Green Arrow costume remains in its memorial case, a visual reminder of all Barry’s lost before now. This all serves to add to his isolation and increasing heartbreak and it makes Jefferson’s arrival all the more cathartic a relief. Grant Gustin is as great as ever at bringing out extreme emotions from Barry and he takes advantage of the strength of the material he’s given, which is much stronger than any he’s gotten recently, and turns in an especially impressive performance.
Weaknesses like stilted dialogue and random subplots are still present and the misleading advertising of the event isn’t doing it any favors but Armageddon‘s main story is shaping up quite nicely, so much so that I’m much more invested than I have been in The Flash since… well since the last big crossover, Crisis. I just hope the central mystery and narrative arc continue to deliver and that it dives more fully into the extended Arrowverse as it goes on.
- Cecile talking about how Barry’s denial has been frequent isn’t consistent with how he behaved during the hint of the Joe situation last week. This could be more set up for whatever timeline shenanigans seem to be in play or just poor continuity.
- Alex says that no one’s ever seen a Kalanorian and that Despero wields the “Flame of Py’tar”, a mysterious power source from his home planet. I’m not that familiar with Despero’s comic counterpart so I’m not sure what the significance of this is.
- Alex also mentions that Supergirl and Martian Manhunter are off-world, to explain why they wouldn’t come to Barry’s aid. You could still always call Superman, Barry, but we’ll pretend you can’t because Tyler Hoechlin couldn’t make it.
- Their roles are much smaller than they were last week but this episode still isn’t free of Chester and Allegra silliness. Their subplot revolves around Chester’s desire to help with the Despero situation contrasting with his pacifism, which he developed after a surprisingly dark childhood experience where one of his inventions almost killed his friend and the friend’s parents. Allegra works around this by telling Chester to build things with the goal of protecting Barry, not to hurt anyone but that reflected blast sure looks like it hurt Despero. This whole thing was pretty ridiculous, as it’s always been the case on the show that the STAR Labs team’s function is to help Barry combat villains , so if Chester being a pacifist was actually a well thought out part of his character he wouldn’t be put in the position Cisco left vacant, which is most responsible for weapons duty. Hopefully this can just be dropped and forgotten about and the show can find a more logical way to encourage non-violence.
- Between a speedster struggling with his mental state and the big lightning burst does anyone else get the feeling this is turning into The Flash‘s version of DC’s Heroes in Crisis?
The Flash Season 8 Episode 2
Black Lightning's back in the devastating and well-made second part of The Flash: Armageddon.