The Flash -- "Fear Me" -- Image Number: FLA705b_0157r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Carlos Valdes as Mecha Vibe and Grant Gustin as The Flash -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved

I’ve been struggling with The Flash for some time. For some reason, the showrunners continually go back to two wells: What if the villain was a speedster, and what if Flash lost his speed? Neither of these wells are particularly fresh at this point. But now, as The Flash gets started with its new season, I find myself hopeful, because The Flash is doing something weird, hard to explain, and ambitious. Now they just have to make good on it. Spoilers follow for The Flash Season 7, Episode 5, “Fear Me.”

“Fear Me”

It sure looks like The Flash is going to adapt parts of the comic’s “Flash War” storyline. It’s going to be very, very different, for sure. There’s no Justice League, and it seems unlikely that the show is going to bring back Reverse-Flash and Zoom and Wally West. In that storyline, though, Zoom tricks the Flashes into breaking the Speed Force, and that awakens the Strength Force and Sage Force, two Cosmic Forces much like the Speed Force.

Because The Flash is a television show with real people working real schedules–during a pandemic no less–it just isn’t possible to say, get Tyler Hoechlin and Melissa Benoist over to have the Kryptonians try to catch the Speedsters. And, of course, it’s hard not to think about what a disappointment the CW’s adaptation of Flashpoint was. Adaptation feels like the wrong word for what the CW did to Flashpoint. Travesty feels better.

But we’re five seasons deeper into The Flash and the show has a filled-out cast of recurring and past characters that it can try to pull in. And while other characters are involved in Flash War, it’s primarily the story of speedsters and the Speed Force, where Flashpoint was more like “What if Barry broke the DC Universe.” That story involved everyone.

Enter the Sage Force

This episode really dives in with some weird stuff. Last week, we met whoever is currently wielding the Strength Force. They haven’t given it that name yet, but Cisco gives her a name: Fuerza, the Spanish word for Strength. In the comics, that name belongs to Alexa Antigone, a Strength Force conduit. In other words, we are in it. This week, Team Flash is trying to track Fuerza down by tracking her residual imprint.

Meanwhile, Cecile sees someone with purple eyes standing in the corner, and they begin taunting her, moving around erratically. The whole sequence is shot like something out of a James Wan horror movie. This being, which Cisco dubs ‘Psych,’ is fear given form, and is terrorizing Central City seemingly unchallenged. Flash slaps cuffs on him, but he shrugs them off. Flash hits him with Speed Lightning, but he shrugs it off seemingly unfazed.

At Star Labs, there’s an indoor storm of multi-colored lightning, and out falls Nora Allen, or more accurately, the Speed Force taking the form of Barry’s mother.

In the end, the team pairs Cecile’s growing powers with an antique from the warehouse: the Thinker’s chair. Cecile learned how to ‘push’ emotions, instead of just feel them, earlier this season, and the Thinker’s chair helps her do it on a city-wide scale, counteracting Psych’s fear field.

Nora wakes up at the end and explains that Fuerza and the scary guy in the mask are “like me.” Like the Speed Force. The show doesn’t say it just yet, but Psych is a Sage Force conduit.

Flash dabbles in Horror

There’s a lot I really enjoyed about this episode. The Flash has leaned too hard on feelings being a superpower, with Harrison Wells straight-up telling Barry to “run toward love.” This week, though, credit where credit’s due: they found a way to use Barry’s courage in a way that actually makes sense. Acknowledging his fear and accepting it is a part of his journey, and he’s able to inspire Cecile to overcome her own fear so that she can help the team. It’s silly, but it’s warm and fuzzy in the right way. The show also uses it to look at the newly-split Caitlin Snow and Killer Frost, finally giving those characters some proper development.

I also enjoyed the horror-style directing the sequences with Psych. While The Flash is hardly a go-to destination for horror, the show has experimented with it more than just about any show in the ArrowverseLegends of Tomorrow is probably the closest competitor, and the Time Idiots are usually so busy sending up genres that they’re more funny than scary. In the first half of season 6, the show had a particularly enjoyable episode in which Bloodwork messed with Barry’s head and had all his friends drooling black sludge. It was horrifying, and I loved it. And let’s not forget Ragdoll.

Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved

Finally, I’m excited, again, by just how ambitious this is. It’s fun when comics go deep on weird lore stuff. It’s easy to explain Zoom, Savitar, Cicada (remember Cicada? Ugh.), but trying to explain the Sage Force and Strength Force–that’s going to take a lot longer, and I’m here for it.