The Flash: 3.09 The Present
There's nothing quite like a good Christmas ghost story and the mid-season finale had characters visited by ghosts of their past as the threat of Savitar hung over the festive period. After last week's epic alien-fighting, superhero team up crossover episode, anything The Flash did was going to feel like a let down, so the show chose the best thing it could, giving audiences plenty of character-driven drama and progression of the story arc in one.
Plus we got a mini-superhero team up this week as Barry headed over to Earth 3 to recruit Jay Garrick, helping to take down the delightfully over the top Trickster in the process. I rather love Mark Hammill's annual forays into The Flash and this was the closest we got to the original nineties TV series with John Wesley Shipp in the role. The Trickster might be a hokey version of the Joker, but he is very, very fun.
Talking of Shipp, I love that, like Tom Cavanagh, the show has found a credible way to keep him on the show after Zoom killed Henry Allen last season. Garrick is a great father figure in the absence of his actual father, both in the way he motivates but also shares his own vast knowledge of being a speedster. We even got to see him action, going up against Savitar and, like Barry, failing miserably. It was only the closing of the mystery box that prevented Shipp from being written out of the show once more.
Yes, the box and the device Alchemy has been using to create metahumans; calling it the Philosopher's Stone is a fun link to Tom Felton's time on the Harry Potter franchise. I admit I was disappointed when we learned a couple of weeks ago that Felton's Julian Albert was the masked high priest, seemingly undoing a lot of the good work to humanise him with Barry and the audience. But The Present redeemed that obvious twist, making him both a villain and victim in one. I'm not sure if The Flash is going with a second personality or repressed memory, but it gave added depth to Julian and also made Alchemy and Savitar far more interesting bad guys than just having another speedster supervillain in play.
It turns out Barry Allen has got the attention of the very first metahuman and speedster Savitar and he recruited Julian to find the Philosopher's stone and bring him to life on this world. Haunted by the ghost of his dead sister, Julian travelled to India, uncovered the stone, massacred his colleagues and fled to the US after waking with no memory of what he had done. Felton really knocked it out of the park this week, demonstrating vulnerability as he found himself imprisoned by Barry with no memory of his actions and then learned the horrible truth about his identity. Barry choosing to unmask himself was a brave move too; though Savitar obviously knew the identities of everyone in Star Labs, so a mask wasn't going to do anything.
Cisco too was visited by a ghost of [Christmas] past as he came face to face with his dead brother Dante. Through him we saw just how powerful Savitar is as Dante convinced Cisco to open the box and release the speedster. It was nice to see Caitlin back to her old self, talking Cisco down and convincing her friend to close the box and trap Savitar once again.
"I know your destinies. One shall betray you, One shall fall, One will suffer a fate far worse than death. This is the knowledge I have for you about your everlasting damnation."
That scene as the team performed some sort of twisted seance to speak to Savitar through Julian was riveting and that revelation the first of a number of shocking twists to keep the audience eagerly anticipating the rest of the season next year. Felton was brilliantly creepy and there was something very unsettling about the villain's ability to know every aspect of their lives. The reveal that he was harmed by a future Barry Allen was an intriguing move too; though we have had this (of sorts) with the Reverse Flash in season one so I hope this doesn't become a replay of that story. The trip to throw the Philosopher's Stone into the speed force led to the final revelation, Savitar killing Iris in front of the Flash, watched by Barry as he found himself flung forward by five months. That's nicely timed for the season finale then.
It was a bittersweet ending for the first part of season three in a run of episodes that have been much stronger than last year. Just when I think the show has faltered with the twist of the new guy being the villain or the reveal of another speedster baddie comes along, episode like The Present do something interesting with the concept. It was nice to have a festive episode too, stronger in that sense than last year's with HR decorating Star Labs in tinsel and lights to the Christmas eve get together at Joe's. After having his first attempt to take on a villain, the team finally gave Wally a present of the speed suit and the mantle of Kid Flash. Julian started to become part of the group and Barry presented Iris with their own apartment - even if their happiness might not last long.
The Present certainly did a good job of leaving fans eagerly anticipating the rest of season three. I am looking forward to see how the battle of minds between Julian and Alchemy will rage and how Savitar will make his inevitable return. I don't think the show will actually kill Iris, but it certainly leaves a lot to ponder on as we try to figure out how Barry will change Iris's fate. And what is it? A fall? That leaves one person to betray them and another to suffer a fate worse than death. It's likely Caitlin will fall foul of one of those destinies. I'm certainly eager to see what The Flash brings when it returns in 2017...