Grant Gustin’s performance on The Flash is usually great. Tonight, however, he flexed even harder in an emotional and torturous episode that saw Barry Allen torn between life and death. This may be one of Gustin’s best turns on the show yet. Let’s dive in.
“The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 1,” picks up immediately where last week’s episode left off, with Ramsey tackling Ralph off of a roof. The iffy CGI aside, their alleyway confrontation does a good job of setting the hour’s dark and scary tone, especially when Ramsey uses his Bloodwork powers to throw cars and black goo at Ralph. Ramsey wants to kill Ralph because he and the rest of Team Flash are the only things preventing him from spreading his version of eternal life.
Even though Ralph avoided dying in the alley, he’s still on death’s door because some of Ramsey’s black goo pierced his skin. Frost rushes back to S.T.A.R. Labs, and in the hope that his speed healing can temporarily be transferred to Ralph to save his life, Barry phases through Ralph’s rubbery skin and gives him a blood transfusion. It works, Ralph stabilizes and is transferred to a secure A.R.G.U.S. facility to recover.
Of course, though, there’s a downside to this last-minute save: Some of the goo in Ralph’s bloodstream made its way into Barry. It takes a while but eventually, Barry collapses on the ground of his apartment. The Speed Force, in the form of his mother Nora, appears to him and explains that his speed healing is keeping Ramsey’s attempt to take over his body at bay, but the only way for Barry to truly overcome it is for him to fight back with his mind. Unfortunately, this infection is actually sentient, which means Ramsey is right there in Barry’s mind, too.
Sendhil Ramamurthy goes full charming psychopath as Ramsey tempts Barry with the prospect of everlasting life. Since he’s inside his brain, he has access to everything and knows exactly what Barry is facing in “Crisis.” He tells Barry that his black goo can not only save Barry, but also everyone else from perishing in the forthcoming “Crisis.” This battle of wits inside of Barry’s mind allows the show to dip into the horror genre a bit and deliver some truly unsettling visuals, like Ramsey’s black goo spewing from a lasagna at an imaginary West family feast.
Ramsey throws everything at Barry: from the lingering guilt and pain he feels for everyone he’s lost, to his genuine desire to save people (he shows Barry that he could use the goo to resurrect a woman who died in an accident). By coming at it from all angles, it’s very easy to see why Barry is tempted by what Ramsey is offering. He has so much to lose now. The Speed Force notices Barry is succumbing and feeling doubt about staying the course for “Crisis.” She comes close to getting Barry back on track, but she lets slip that the reason Ramsey is so convincing is that he’s telling the truth; his goo would save Barry and everyone he loves from “Crisis.”
With that one admission, Barry starts to turn on the Speed Force and lets out all of his pent up resentment toward it. “All my pain and all my suffering has been because of you,” says Barry, with Gustin delivering a blistering performance that channels all of the dark emotions Barry is feeling. “When is it your turn to suffer?” As Ramsey stands behind him like the devil on his shoulder, Barry pulls a Reverse Flash and phases through the Speed Force. (And if it wasn’t clear that the show was mirroring what Reverse Flash did to Nora, the episode also flashes back to the night of the murder just so you get it). The Speed Force doesn’t fall right then, though, because Cisco and Caitlin inject Barry with Velocity to help his speed healing, which gives the Speed Force a second wind, but it’s not enough because Barry has already chosen life.
When Barry wakes up, he initially seems like he overcame Ramsey’s infection. But Iris quickly realizes that’s not the case. Team Flash tries to confront Barry, but he’s gone Bloodwork; his eyes and mouth are covered in black goo. Barry speeds out of the Cortex in a black blur and meets up with his blood brother Bloodwork as the episode ends.
Yes, I know Team Flash will rescue Barry from the dark side by the end of the midseason finale’s second part; however, at this point in The Flash’s run, it’s not about the ending but the journey. A successful story doesn’t need to make me worried about Barry’s life. It needs to get me invested in the emotional journey leading to the obvious endpoint. In this case, I think the show has successfully done that. Barry’s been grappling with his impending demise all season long and he’s been through so much, I believe that he would slip and give in to Ramsey’s offer, especially given everything that Ramsey threw at him. Gustin’s pained performance throughout the entire episode, especially in his confrontation with the Speed Force, definitely helps sell this dark turn, too.
Wall of Weird:
- While all of this was going on, The Flash also continued its trend of using every episode to set up the post-“Crisis” world. In an attempt to avoid writing her “Flash Disappears in a Crisis” story, Iris throws herself into investigating the secret organization that turned Allegra’s cousin into an assassin. Eventually, though, she sits down and starts writing.
- Allegra confronts Iris about being the Flash and is annoyed when she finds out that Kamilla knew before her, too.
- Nash uses some device to break apart the rock covering up the door to the Monitor’s hiding place.