COVID-19 is inescapable. Even in our favorite escape–a good ol’ superhero show–the coronavirus finds a way to muck things up. With The Flash, it comes in the form of a heavily shortened season. We’re a few episodes short of a full stack, putting extra weight on the ones we have. This week, that weight rests on an episode that was never meant to be a penultimate episode. Spoilers follow for The Flash Season 6, Episode 18, “Pay the Piper.”
“Pay the Piper”
I’ll say right out that this episode is a perfectly good episode of The Flash. But its place in the state of the world right now makes it a very weird one. The Flash was meant to go on for a few more episodes, giving us time to see what the new Mirror Master is capable of, to see if Iris can get out of the Mirror World, and to see how Barry gets is speed back.
But now, we’re left with just one episode remaining, and none of that is going to wrap up cleanly.
This is a tough week for Team Flash. Barry now has confirmation that Iris has been missing for weeks, along with Cisco’s girlfriend Kamila and Police Captain Singh. Barry’s speed continues to drain away, too, making each attempt to get Iris back that much tougher. Over and over, the team fights, with discussions ending with Barry slamming the desk, people snapping at each other, and even shoving.
Godspeed You! Writers Room
The white-clad speedster Godspeed interrupts them, though. He’s appeared a few times throughout the season, each time turning out to be a clone who emits electronic screeches when captured. This time, though, Barry is unprepared. Barry only survives thanks to Nash intervening by way of a well-placed pulse-cannon shot.
Godspeed is really an excuse, though, to call back a villain that the Flash has tangled with a few times throughout the years: The Pied Piper. Hartley Rathaway premiered back in season 1 as a villain of the week, only to return after Flashpoint. In that arc, Flash’s timey-wimey tinkering changes countless little things, like Rathaway’s origin, turning him into an ally of Team Flash. We learned shortly after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, though, that Rathaway is once again a villain in this world. We also know he has a real hate on for Barry for some reason.
The nature of Godspeed’s speed powers requires that they approach Rathaway for help, though. The villain wasn’t always a villain, and he’s an expert in sound vibrations. The team looks into why Rathaway hates the Flash so much and finds out that when Barry’s lightning met Rathaway’s technology, the ensuing explosion locked one of Rathaway’s men in a state of endless vibration. Barry feels responsible, but Nash says, “Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who.” Killer Monty Python reference, you guys.
And so the episode becomes about saving Rathaway’s friend–boyfriend, it turns out–and redeeming him through action rather than time manipulation.
The episode starts from that dark place, with all of these characters arguing, but leans into the Team part of Team Flash. Nash talks to Barry about forgiving himself for not seeing the change in Iris. Barry pays it forward by talking to Rathaway. Cecile reassures Cisco that even without his Vibe powers, he can still do everything he needs to to save the team. Across the city, Ralph Dibny stops by Caitlin’s place, where Frost is worrying about seeing her–Caitlin’s–mother, and about approval from an intimidating parent. Dibny, her self-crowned life coach, works hard to convince Frost that she’s as important as Caitlin. Oh, and Frost is reading Uncaged Desire, the book by romance author and Legend of Tomorrow Mick Rory.
What works, what doesn’t
All of this stuff, the heart to heart conversations between each of these characters, works well because the show has taken the time to establish so many of these dynamics. Barry trusts Wells. Frost and Ralph have BFF-level chemistry. Actor Carlos Valdes is a great actor that can bring feeling to any Cisco scene.
What doesn’t work as well is the Godspeed stuff.
There’s something bigger happening with Godspeed, but the show isn’t doing what it needs to to make it work. It does have its moments. Barry drains much of his remaining speed fighting the speedster, and that means we get a classic Flash chase sequence, and that part is a blast.
But even after all these appearances throughout this season and last, there’s nothing to Godspeed. He’s even more faceless than Zoom was in season 2, and his motivations aren’t even foggy. They’re just straight-up unknown. My hope was that the encounter would lead to some eureka moment that would help Barry get his speed back, but we get almost nothing aside from finding out that there are yet more Godspeed clones waiting in the wings.
The other thing the episode doesn’t do is move the plot forward very much at all. We get a few brief scenes in the Mirror World of Iris filming a confessional for Barry–the Arrowverse’s favorite storytelling medium–and then finding Kamila at Star Labs. The two try to work together to get out of their prison, but Iris’ time spent concentrating is starting to twist her the way it twisted Eva. Iris starts to scratch and then claw at her skin. We also see Eva climb out of a light-up coffin like some kind of techno vampire and announce to no one that she’s going to get Joseph Carver. But other than that, this was meant to be a transitional episode from the “where is Iris” arc to the “how do we get Iris back” arc.
We do know that the Mirror World extends beyond Eva’s office, now, but the show is still telling us absolutely nothing about this world other than that it exists and is all flippy-floppy.
The character moments between Barry and Rathaway and the rest of Team Flash are what make this episode largely a good one. If this were a regular season, it would be a fine episode with some great performances and solid dialogue but little plot movement. Now, it’s the penultimate episode of the season with almost zero forward momentum.
We have to forgive the production team; they didn’t ask for a worldwide pandemic to halt production. But with just one episode left, it’s hard to imagine things ending on a satisfying note after a just-fine episode like this one.