‘The Present’

Things are back to normal in The Flash. Well, as normal as a show involving time travel and alternate universes can be. ‘The Present’, the mid-season finale, moves the major season-long arc forward whilst giving us some Christmas cheer.

The action opens in India as Julian Albert (Tom Felton) discovers the Philosophers Stone. To borrow Cisco’s (Carlos Ramon) pop-culture-savvy explanations, Dr Alchemy is the Nazis from Raiders of the Lost Ark if the ark didn’t melt their faces off. The stone is pivotal to unleashing Savitar upon the Earths and it causes some trouble.

The stone is a MacGuffin and the writers subvert the usual plot structure even if they struggle to thread the stone into the show’s story. It never grows beyond a plot device.

Luckily, the writers craft superb scenes around it. The stone is the focal point of the episode’s standout sequence, as Savitar is about to kill Barry (Grant Gustin) and Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) whilst Cisco has to decide whether or not the stone can bring his brother back.The is-my-dead-sibling-real trope isn’t original but converges all of The Flash‘s season 3 storylines: Wally helps against his family’s wishes; Barry faces the consequences of Flashpoint, and Cisco fights his grief. The fact the scene is engaging even though the outcome is inevitable is all down to the writing and acting. The Flash has a firm grip on its storytelling.

The episode simultaneously sets up new storylines whilst completing others. Barry travels to the future and witnesses an event that builds a solid foundation for future drama. Hopefully, the show won’t follow the sexist and outdated fridging-the-girlfriend trope of superhero lore, but watching the characters avoid destiny will allow the show to nuance the character relationships.

It’s no secret Barry views every failure as a preventable mistake. Barry can’t deal with failure because it clashes with his optimistic outlook, and watching him come to terms with a mistake he had prior knowledge of is a way of pushing Barry to the extreme without feeling contrived. Whilst the show has benefited from Gustin’s acting ability, the immediate aftermath of Barry’s journey uses his on-the-sleeve acting style to clarify Barry’s predicament.New facets keep being introduced and each one brings out another side of the main character. Julian was the first ‘normal’ guy Barry didn’t get along with, suggesting Barry was a darker character than we knew. For his part, the writing hasn’t helped Felton’s performance. All it has required of him is for him to play the snooty British guy. Here, his character is deepened and Felton gives a sympathetic performance.

Don’t worry, not everything is angsty. There are some pressies under The Flash’s Christmas tree. There’s a welcome cheesy cameo from Mark Hamill and Jay Garrick (Henry Wesley Shipp) returns, even if his fight with Savitar looked too much like a video game. Like many of us this week, the characters also have a Christmas party. What differentiates these characters from other shows is how tight a unit they are, and the fact HR (Tom Cavanagh) is wandering around drunk making goofy asides.

‘The Present’ closes some storylines with aplomb and opens new ones to keep us hooked. The winter break is long and the show has given us enough to think about. You’ll just have to return to The Flash, and hopefully, the show will keep up its current streak of awesomeness.

★★★★★