The idea that Barry and friends were forced to choose between stopping Cicada in the present or preventing Reverse-Flash’s return in the future was a great little wrinkle. I can’t help but wonder how much better this season might have been if that twist cropped up months ago. If Cicada had been confined to the first half of the season and Reverse-Flash took over in the second half, the series might have gone in a very different and far more compelling direction. But there’s no point wasting too much thought on what might have been.
At least we got a heavy dose of Thawne in the latter half of the episode. His grand escape was easily one of the more memorable scenes of the entire season, as was the moment where Barry and Nora rewound time to undo his super-speed murder. As was the case throughout Season 1, this episode maintained that crucial balance between showcasing Thawne as a sadistic, manipulative madman and reflecting the genuine affection he has for Barry and Nora. That’s the fundamental tragedy of the character. He used to hate his arch-enemy so much, but in spending years trying to manipulate and destroy Barry, Thawne instead came to love him.
It was fascinating to watch this Team Flash vs. Reverse-Flash rematch play out. What initially seemed to be a triumph for our heroes and their ability to fight as one devolved into heartbreak as the true cost of destroying Cicada’s dagger became apparent.This was always one of the big questions hanging over the season – how would the writers choose to wrap up Nora’s time in the past? Would she simply go back and pick up her life where she left off? Instead, it appears that Nora and her entire timeline are just gone. And in the process, Thawne manage to hurt Barry in a way that may just eclipse the murder of the original Nora Allen. Heavy stuff, and a nicely emotional way to end the season.
Nora’s heroic sacrifice wasn’t the only source of bittersweet emotion in the finale. Sherloque made his grand exit, in a scene that hit me harder than expected given how obnoxious the character has been for most of the season. Despite all the missteps, Season 5 ultimately still managed to make this latest incarnation of Harrison Wells feel like part of the family. As much as any other moment in this episode, Sherloque’s exit played to that idea of family and the notion that Barry’s true legacy is the other heroes he’s inspired. The Flash and Arrow have that much in common this week.
Ralph too ended the season in strong form. The fact that he alone figured out Thawne’s true plot speaks to his skills as a detective. It’s hard to tell from that final shot of Ralph returning to his office and flipping through files (including one of a certain future Mrs. Ralph Dibny) is meant to serve as a farewell for the character or if we’ll continue to see him as a recurring member of Team Flash.
Cisco’s story was similarly vague in that regard. It’s tough to tell whether this episode is setting up Carlos Valdes’ exit (as the rumor mill suggests) or if Cisco is simply returning to a more traditional status quo. I hope it’s the latter, as Valdes is simply too important to the overall Team Flash dynamic. But either way, it was nice to see this acknowledgement that Cisco matters above and beyond what he can bring to the table with his powers. This show long ago started making the mistake of trying to give every single supporting character powers. Finally, that trend is beginning to reverse itself.
It was also a nice change to see a Flash finale that actually had a sense of finality to it. The series has always tended to end on a cliffhanger each year, with the finale introducing a major new character or teasing the big plot upheaval to come. That “Crisis on Infinite Earths” tease notwithstanding, this episode was clearly more about taking stock of the team’s successes and failures and celebrating what they still share together. After such a rocky, flawed season, that’s maybe the best way to begin moving forward.