With Barry presumed dead, there is no one left to defend Central City when Girder - one of Barry's first metahuman enemies - seems to have been resurrected by the second particle accelerator explosion. Iris volunteers to act as bait - an action Joe is naturally and strongly against. Meanwhile, in another time and place, Barry struggles to escape a surreal world populated by beings wearing the faces of his friends and family... a world that turns out to be The Speed Force itself!
The Flash comics of Mark Waid, particularly Terminal Velocity (The story which introduced the idea of The Speed Force as an otherworldly realm/afterlife for speedsters and general revelations about The Speed Force and how it works in the DCTVU), the film Contact (hero makes contact with an otherworldly being who takes the form of loved ones to make the hero more comfortable), The X-Files (Cisco and Iris stumbling around a lab with high-power flashlights ala Mulder and Scully, the "monster of the week" tone of the script regarding zombie Girder, Cisco name-drops the show referring to Barry's medical records as his "X-File".) The 1931 Frankstein (the general behavior of the zombie Girder), Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (the comedic tone of most of the zombie Girder scenes before he gets to STAR Labs, Cisco refers to the movie calling Girder "Abby Normal" and saying everything is going Young Frankenstein), Peter Pan (Barry chasing his speed through The Speed Force is reminsicent of Peter Pan chasing his shadow) and the children's book The Runaway Bunny (The Runaway Dinosaur seems to be a tribute to this book in both plot and title.).
While Harry Wells has his hands in the proper place to do CPR to the unconscious Jesse (a rarity in most depictions of giving CPR on television) he is not using nearly enough force.
Shouldn't Henry look over Wally too, despite Wally seemingly being in better condition than Jesse? (He's sent home purely to increase the drama when zombie Girder shows up at The West House).
At this point, one wonders why Iris and Joe are still keeping Barry's secret identity a secret from Wally. It's particularly painful that Iris is going along with it, given how rightly annoyed she was at being endangered by her ignorance. Seriously! How many times is this now that a super-villain has attacked The West home while Wally was there?
For the first time in what seems like forever, Grant Gustin is allowed to take center stage and do some real acting beyond playing the bold hero. We dare you to not get a little tear-eyed during the scene in which he recites his favorite book as a child from memory.
The actors playing the various aspects of The Speed Force all do a fine job of playing something "other" than their usual roles. There's just enough that is off-putting about their performances to seem slightly inhuman. John Wesley Shipp is particular effective in his sequence, seeming to want to comfort Barry as he cries at his mother's grave but knowing so little about humanity that it cannot even conceive of the idea of a comforting touch, much less the hug Barry sorely seems to need.
Tom Cavanagh's faces as Carlos Valdes tries to explain - badly - just what is going on with the Zombie Girder may be the finest moment of visual comedy in the show's history.
The music for this episode during the Speed Force sequences is phenomenal.
The script, by X-Men: First Class writer Zack Stentz, is particularly strong in its dramatic segments.
Shockingly, given Kevin Smith's reputation as a comedic director, it's the dramatic scenes in The Speed Force which are the most memorable and strongly directed.
The special effects for the sequences in which Cisco and Iris both reach out to Barry in The Speed Force are amazing.
The director of this episode was Kevin Smith. In addition to being a prominent podcaster and screenwriter/director, Smith is an occasional comic book writer, whose critically acclaimed run on Green Arrow brought Oliver Queen back from the dead in 2001.
The name of the Barry's favorite book as a child - The Runaway Dinosaur - seems to be a nod to the classic children's book The Runaway Bunny. Both stories deal with an animal child who wishes to be something else, who is assured by its mother that it will be loved no matter what it becomes and where it goes.
The author of The Runaway Dinosaur is given as Ethan Rhys Helbing. This may be a nod to the on-line RPG Sacred - where Ethan Rhys is the name of a powerful armor set - and to The Flash writers Aaron and Todd Helbing.
The idea of The Speed Force as an otherworldly realm and afterlife of sorts for speedsters was first introduced in The Flash storyline Terminal Velocity. In this story, Wally West became absorbed into The Speed Force but later returned from it, guided by his love for his girlfriend and future wife, Linda Park. Later stories revealed that Barry Allen, rather than dying during Crisis on Infinite Earths, was instead absorbed into The Speed Force.
This episode references several of the ideas Mark Waid introduced during his run on The Flash regarding The Speed Force. Chief among these are the idea of The Speed Force being a place as well as an energy source, that speedsters are given power when The Speed Force "notices" them and the idea that a person's love may allow them to become an anchor for a speedster, so they can find their way home now matter how far or fast they travel, as Iris seems to be with Barry here.
Harry Wells quotes Karl Marx - "History repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce."
Jason Mewes - the actor who played drug-dealer Jay in many of Kevin Smith's movies - has a cameo as the man whose car is destroyed by Girder outside of the Big Belly Burger.
Cisco refers to the zombie Girder as "iZombie" at one point and asks if he is still following Iris. iZombie, of course, is another CW show based on a DC Comics series. It's a double reference joke as actor Greg Finley, who plays Girder, also plays a zombie on iZombie.
The titular dinosaur of The Runaway Dinosaur is an Maiasaur. The name - a combination of Greek and Latin - roughly translates as "good mother reptile". This was in reference to the first fossils of the Maiasaur which proved that they fed their young in the nest - the first evidence that some dinosaurs did care for their young in the same fashion as mother birds.
Harry constructs a simple feedback loop. When Cisco vibes on Barry, his brain waves send Harry the necessary data to pinpoint whatever dimensional pocket or corner of the universe that Barry is stuck in. The loop will then electrically stimulate Cisco's prefrontal cortex while opening a breach, which will give Cisco physical access to Barry and let him be the beacon that guides him home.
It is later determined that other people can see Barry in The Speed Force while Cisco is vibing in the simple feedback loop, if Cisco makes physical contact with them. This is what allows Iris to make contact with Barry.
The stray energy from the second particle accelerator explosion reactivated parts of Girder's brain. Cisco disassembled STAR Labs' MRI to set up two large electromagnets. Caught between the magnetic field the magnets generate, it should disrupt the energy wave that reanimated Girder. Iris likens this to wiping a hard drive clean.
Barry is able to charge the electromagnets using the spin from his running in a circle around Girder, like an electric turbine.
(Barry walks down the steps of his childhood home and into the crime scene where his mother was found dead. He sees Joe West kneeling in the middle of it.)
"Joe": (looking up and standing) Good to see you, Barry. But I'm not Joe.
Barry: You're not?
Barry: And all of this? It's not real?
"Joe": How do you feel being back here?
Barry: I feel awful.
"Joe": We... thought you'd be more comfortable talking to someone who looked familiar. And in a place you know.
Barry: We? Who is 'we' exactly?
"Joe": That's a little hard to explain... Sit, Barry. (motioning to a chair) Sit.
(They both sit down.)
"Joe": How much do you know about The Speed Force?
Barry: It's the source of my power. It's what makes me a speedster.
"Joe": Yes! And no. When the first subatomic particle sprang from The Big Bang to form reality as you know it? We were there. When the last proton decays, stops vibrating and plunges the universe into heat death? We'll be there too.
Barry: I'm talking to The Speed Force?
Barry: Isn't that like saying that you're having a conversation with gravity or light or...
("Joe" just grins. Barry stands, looking confused.)
"Joe": You need a minute? It's okay if you do.It's a lot to take in.
Barry: So you're saying that I'm - I'm talking to the source of my power, which just so happens to look like... my adoptive dad? That's trippy.
"Joe": (chuckles) We pretty much invented trippy here.
Barry: Look, I'm - I'm not sure why you brought me here, but you need to send me back. My friends are in danger from Zoom...
(A black blur moves past the window.)
Barry: Did you see that?
(The blur goes past again.)
"Joe": You're not going back. Not until...
Barry: Until what?
"Joe": Until you catch... that.
(Joe points at the blur.)
"Iris": Do you remember this place? Where we first kissed?
Barry: Yeah, of course, except that wasn't you.
"Iris": We thought you'd find this place and our appearance less upsetting. Yet you seem upset?
Barry: My friends, my city... my whole world is in danger. Zoom is on a rampage with the power that he stole from me and you are keeping me here!
"Iris": You were given a rare and precious gift and you rejected it.
Barry: No, I did not reject it! I gave up my powers to save someone's life! To be a hero! I nearly killed myself to get them back when you brought me here! Wherever here is!
"Iris": That's not what we meant.
Barry: If you would rather have given these powers to somebody else, why did you give them to me?
"Iris": Because you are The Flash, Barry.
Joe: Wells...as a parent, believe me, I have nothing but sympathy for what you're going through. Listen to me closely when I say to you - we have a lot of fires burning at the same time and if we all work together, we just might be able to put them out. Let Henry take care of your daughter. Me and Iris will handle this Girder situation. But you and Cisco are the scientists. You're the only one who can bring Barry back from wherever the hell he is right now!
Harry: (quietly, slowly becoming more determined as he speaks) Ramon? Give those medical records to Henry and meet me in the Breach Room in five minutes. We've got work to do.
(Barry finds himself in a cemetery. He sees a man from behind, looking at the graves.)
Barry: Who are you pretending to be now?
(The man turns around. He looks like Henry Allen.)
Barry: I don't have time for this!
"Henry": Yes you do, Barry. You have all the time in the universe. Literally.
Barry: No, I don't! And how can you stand there in judgement and accuse me of rejecting my gift?! Do you have any idea how much I've done since I was struck by lightning?! How many I've helped with the power that you gave me?! (quietly) What I've sacrificed?
"Henry": Of course we do.
("Henry" begins walking, guiding Barry towards a particular grave.)
"Henry": You've saved countless lives. And now you are the only thing standing in between your world and unspeakable evil. And yet for all of that, you've never been here.
(Barry kneels down to look at the grave. It belongs to Nora Allen - his mother.)
Barry: Why did you bring me here?
"Henry": Your mother's death happened to you, Barry. It made you who you are. But have you accepted it? Really accepted losing her? Maybe that's why you couldn't come here... because that would make it real.
Barry: I know it's real. (sobbing) Every day I know. I had a chance to save her. You saw what I chose.
"Henry": And you're at peace with that decision?
Barry: (sobbing, forcing a laugh) "At peace". How could someone ever be at peace with letting his mother die? Deciding that his life was more valuable than hers?
"Henry": Do you really think your mother would have wanted you to die for her? And out of all the people that The Flash saved as a result of that decision, what about them? Do their lives have value too?
(Barry looks up and sees the black blur again.)
Barry: I don't have to listen to this. I have to get home.
(Barry gets up and goes running after the blur.)
(Barry returns to his childhood home and chuckles. He enters the living room and sees his mother.)
"Nora": Hi, Barry.
Barry: You're not my mother... (exasperated) Why are you doing this to me?
"Nora": We're not doing anything to you, sweetheart. You're just so tired. Sit, Barry. Sit.
(Barry sits down with "Nora.")
Barry: You were right all along. I haven't accepted it. I don't think I ever will.
"Nora": My beautiful boy... you have to find a way.
"Nora": I don't know. But I know this. What you've become? It's wonderful. A miracle even. But it won't make bad things stop happening to you. Even The Flash can't outrun the tragedies the universe is going to keep sending your way. You have to accept that. And then you can truly run free.
Barry: (sobbing) I know. I just miss her. I miss you so much...
"Nora": What if I told you that she's proud of you. And of the man that you've become?
Barry: Who's telling me that? The Speed Force or my mother?
"Nora:" (reading) "Once there was a little dinosaur called a Maiasaur. One day he told his mother, "I wish I were special like the other dinosaurs. If I were a T. Rex, I could chimp with my ferocious teeth!"
Barry: (from memory) "But if you were a T. Rex," said his mother, "how would you hug me with your tiny little arms?" "I wish I were an Apatosaurus," said the little dinosaur, "so with my long neck I could see high above the treetops." "But if you were an Apatosaurus," said his mother, "how could you hear me in the treetops when It old you I love you?" "What makes you so special, little Maiasaur?" said his mother. "Is it your ferocious teeth or long neck or pointy beak? What makes you special, is that out of all the different dinosaurs in the big, wide world, you have the mother who is just right for you. And who will always-"
"Nora:" - love you."
"Nora": Run, Barry. Run.
Cisco: (To Barry) I'm so glad you're back! Because we're about to die!
Barry: Wait, what?
(Zombie Girder pounds against the door. )
Cisco: (speaking rapidly and waving his hands as Harry looks like he wants to interject but is unsure where to start correcting Cisco.) Girder came back to life and he's all Young Frankenstein now and he only recognizes Iris and she lured him to my workshop so we could de-magnetize him but the machine shorted out, so he's about to come through that door and smush us all into chunky salsa and possibly eat our brains
(Harry's jaw drops and he sticks a finger in Cisco' face.)
Cisco: I don't know. Jury's still out on that.
Barry: All right. I've got it. I will lure him to your workshop abn we figure out a way to turn the power back on. Okay?
(Cisco and Harry look at each other.)
Both: Plan H.
Henry: It's been quite a day, huh? Not so much "one damn thing after another" as "every damn thing all at once".
(Barry and Iris walk to Nora Allen's grave. Iris holds an umbrella. Barry kneels down with a backpack and puts some flowers on the grave.)
Barry: Joe offered to take me so many times. I always found an excuse to say no.
(Barry opens the backpack and pulls out a copy of The Runaway Dinosaur, which he places on Nora's grave.)
Barry: My mom and I read this when I was little. Do you know it?
Iris: Yeah. I never really liked that book.
Iris: Because it was about a mother who was always there for her child, no matter what, and that wasn't my mom. Or yours. We never had anyone who was "just right" for us.
(Barry stands and takes the umbrella from Iris.)
Barry: Didn't we? I'm seeing things a lot differently now. I wasted so much time being angry about what I had lost when I had so much. My dad. Joe. And you. The truth is Iris, I don't know what this is between us. Or where we go from here. All I know is you're everything to me and you always have been. And the sound of your voice will always bring me home.
Cisco: A zombie? For real? (unusually flat delivery from Carlos Valdes here)
The whole nonsensical scene with Zombie Girder destroying a Hummer and the requisite Jason Mewes cameo that peppers almost everything Kevin Smith has ever directed. As a Kevin Smith movie scene, it wouldn't be bad. Tonally, however, it feels totally out of place on The Flash.
Joe: I've been meaning to ask you - uh, how are you feeling?
Wally: Tired but fine, I guess.
Joe: So you don't notice anything... different?
Wally: (confused) Uh... no.
Joe: I mean, I want you to know that you can talk to me if you're scared. Or if you have questions about how your body's changing.
(Iris groans in the background.)
Wally: I think you're a little late for the puberty talk, Dad. I've seen the Internet.
Jesse's heart actually stops following her exposure to The Speed Force energy.
Harry Wells knows CPR.
Wally seems to be perfectly fine.
Jesse winds up in a coma similar to the one Barry was in after he was struck by lightning. Her heart-rate, reflexes and breathing are fine, but she still isn't waking up despite this.
STAR Labs has a morgue, where they kept the bodies of dead metahumans and Eobard Thawne conducted experiments on them.
The second time The Speed Force speaks to Barry is as Iris, at the park by the lake where Barry kissed Iris before time-traveling for the first time in 115.
Zombie Girder trashes CC Jitters.
Apparently the TV show iZombie exists in the DCTVU.
Barry has never visited his mother's grave.
Barry refers to the events of 123 and how he could have saved his mother but didn't.
Barry knows the book The Runaway Dinosaur by memory. It was his favorite book as a child.
Barry awakens Jesse by touching her hand. As he does so, a jolt of Speed Force energy seems to go into her.
Henry Allen decides to stay in Central City.
Barry goes to visit his mother's grave for the first time with Iris.
Iris did not like the book The Runaway Dinosaur because it reminded her of how she didn't have a reliable mother who would do anything for her.
As the episode ends, Zoom has assembled an army of Earth Two metahumans in the Central City Police Station and given Caitlin an ultimatum - stay her and side with me or leave and know I'll show you no mercy the next time I find you.
The Speed Force.
The Bottom Line
Harry Wells says it best "History repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce." The whole episode retreads familiar ground, with Barry once again getting a second chance to find closure regarding his mother's death (as in last year's Fast Enough) and Girder's returning in an even more violent form.
The segments involving Girder are very much a farce and a mostly unwelcome distraction from the truly moving drama of Barry coming to peace with his mother's death. Thankfully, the humor coming from the cast themselves is on much firmer footing. Overall, the episode is a strong one though it may have benefited from nixing the return of Girder completely.