The Flash -- "Armageddon, Part 4" -- Image Number: FLA804a_0232r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Grant Gustin as Reverse Flash and Tom Cavanagh as The Flash -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

The Flash has been struggling for years now, and I’ve become increasingly hostile to the show in recent years, grasping for any little shining moment amid an increasingly murky collection of ill-conceived storylines. But The Flash is all about the impossible being possible, and yes–after years–The Flash is good. At least for a few episodes. Spoilers follow for The Flash Season 8, Episode 4, “Armageddon, Part 4”

“Armageddon, Part 4”

BARRY FACES OFF WITH EOBARD THAWNE – Barry (Grant Gustin) is shocked when Eobard Thawne (guest star Tom Cavanagh) returns in themost unexpected way, and with a tie to a loved one. Damien Darhk (guest star Neal McDonough) offers advice to Barry but there is a catch. An epic battle begins with Reverse Flash pitted against The Flash, Team Flash, Batwoman (guest star Javicia Leslie), Sentinel (guest star Chyler Leigh) and Ryan Choi (guest star Osric Chau).

I hope the showrunners of The Flash aren’t surprised that I didn’t trust them with this Armageddon storyline. This show has been tough to watch for years thanks to lackluster villains and either an unwillingness or inability by the showrunners to engage with the premises that make this character so much fun to read, watch, and talk about.

I don’t want to dwell on what makes The Flash so frequently hard to watch, though, because I absolutely loved this episode and what the show is doing with this storyline.

Arrowpoint

Flashpoint is a tough story to bring to life outside of comics and animation because of how many moving parts it has. The core story involves The Flash, the Reverse-Flash, Thomas Wayne as Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Shazam, and nothing less than an apocalyptic war. Even with the perfect director and an endless budget, getting all the pieces to work would be nothing short of impossible. The Flash blew its chance with a weak gesture at Flashpoint back in Season 3, and it was one of those moments that remind us of how limited these TV-sized stories can be–as much as I enjoy so many of them.

The Armageddon storyline, then, had to get creative, re-imagining as many elements of that story as it could inside the confines of the Arrowverse. The truth is that you don’t need a lot of those moving parts to make the core idea work. Reverse-Flash is a devious and relentless villain who will do anything to overcome his rival, if only to overcome his rival and nothing else. Armageddon focuses on that element of the two speedsters’ rivalry and finds some genuinely creative beats.

We pick up right where we left off, with Barry staring at a room full of his friends, surrounding Central City’s power couple, Eobard Thawne and Iris West. The people Barry considered his closest friends are horrified to see him, and then things break really bad. To prove he is who he is, Barry dons his outfit: the yellow jumpsuit of the Reverse-Flash.

Gang’s All Here

Barry battles not just Thawne but Batwoman, the new Atom Ryan Choi–guest star Osric Chau in one of his varied CW roles–Alex Danvers as the Sentinel, and the core members of Team Flash. Thawne reappears in his red Flash outfit and they have a quick battle before Barry, running on a fraction of his power, has to make an escape.

He goes to the one person he knows will listen to him long enough to figure out what’s going on: Damien Darhk.

This is what I’m talking about when I mention creative re-imagining of story elements. The Arrowverse technically has a Batman in Warren Christie’s Bruce Wayne, but he’s not actually Batman in any meaningful sense. He’s never worn the suit on-screen, and the actor has really only played Tommy Elliott wearing Bruce’s face. Instead, Darhk plays the role of Barry’s lone ally. Barry tries to pretend he’s evil for a while, but he’s really bad at it. Kudos to Gustin for doing a great job of bad acting–seriously.

A Father’s Love

In this timeline, Reverse-Flash killed Ray Palmer, Sara Lance, and the rest of the Legends of Tomorrow. The very same Legends who rescued Nora Darhk from the demon her father had infected her with, and who helped Darhk see that and ultimately sacrifice himself to save her. When Darhk catches on to how bad Barry isn’t, the speedster drops that crucial piece of information on him. Nora doesn’t have to be dead.

If you’re a Legends fan, this is great payoff for a character who has been dead for years. Darhk stands in for Thomas Wayne with the same motivation, and it lands because Darhk and his daughter Nora were both notable parts of the Arrowverse for years. It wouldn’t mean anything to suddenly introduce a Thomas Wayne character here. Neal McDonough is an absolute blast to watch, too. He does a great job of playing the villain right up until he dives into Barry’s mind to see that he’s telling the truth, at which point he turns on a dime. Just like the Darhk we’re used to, this one loves his daughter and is filled with regret over what happened to her. When Barry shows up and tells him he can fix it, he does without hesitation.

Who are these people?

The episode isn’t perfect, though. The show spends a bunch of time peeking in on intimate conversations between members of Team Flash. Iris and Ryan talk about how Ryan wants to have a child but can’t afford to do that and be Batwoman. Alex Danvers and Allegra talk about why Chester ghosted Allegra, and then Chester and Ryan Choi talk about why Allegra ghosted Chester. Iris agonizes over her wedding vows ahead of her marriage to Eobard.

This is all happening in an alternate timeline, though, that we know is going to be gone very very soon. It doesn’t meaningfully expand these characters other than to hamfistedly make their simmering feelings explicit before the show has really earned them. Barry isn’t there to witness these conversations. They just disappear like tears in rain, using up minutes without adding anything to the show.

I enjoyed a Flash episode!

The Flash — “Armageddon, Part 4” — Image Number: FLA804b_0073r.jpg — Pictured: Neal McDonough as Damien Darhk — Photo: Colin Bentley/The CW — © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Ultimately though, these moments didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the episode or story. This is a proper Flash/Reverse-Flash story where Thawne’s obsession with Barry has led him to take extreme measures to antagonize him–only to turn one of his own allies against him through, yes, the power of love. This all lands thanks to Tom Cavanagh, Neal McDonough, and Grant Gustin and their performances.

It messes with time travel, it brings back the Arrowverse’s best villains, and uses all of that to make an actual TV-sized version of Flashpoint work. It’s smaller, yes, but it felt much better than that ill-advised episode back in Season 3. I just wish I didn’t have to sit through Mirror Monarch, Cicada, Savitar, and some of the very worst moments of the Arrowverse to get here. The hard part will be following this episode with the last episode of this Armageddon crossover.