After a couple of surprisingly solid episodes, can The Flash keep the streak–pun intended–going? The focus is once again off of the Flash himself, shifted instead to Chester P. Runk, as Team Flash tries to find who or whatever is responsible for the charred corpses appearing around Central City. Spoilers follow for The Flash Season 8, Episode 9, “Phantoms.”
Barry (Grant Gustin) and Team Flash get closer to figuring out the Fire Meta but no closer to finding him meanwhile Iris, (Candice Patton) needing a distraction, follows a story to Coast City.
This episode springs from a pretty weird story choice, but the end result is another solid, watchable episode of The Flash that, again, avoids the show’s worst excesses (XSes) and focuses on characters.
In their effort to track down the source of the black flame, Barry and Chester manage to capture a bit of the flame for analysis back at Star Labs. For some reason, the flame really freaks out Chester, and he begins having nightmares about the flame escaping right before it actually does. With help from Cecile, the team figures out that the entity occupying the flame feeds on grief and has zeroed in on Chester as its target.
There’s the weird choice–why Chester? Well, Brandon McKnight is a good actor and does a great job with this episode. But from a story perspective, it makes no sense. While Chester has experienced the loss of his father, just about everyone on this show has lost someone. Iris lost her mother. Barry lost his father and some of his very best friends, not to mention countless other metas across 8 seasons. Allegra lost her cousin. Frost is about the only person on the team that doesn’t have some major source of grief in their past.
Further, our only insight into Chester’s grief, which stems from the loss of his father who died in a car accident, was that 90s episode of The Flash, when Cisco and Chester got stuck in a time loop with the eventual wielder of the Still Force. And then, it was all warm fuzzies. Chester is a huge fan of his dad. Why is he suddenly feeling this super intense grief over this decades-old loss? It doesn’t make sense in context of either Chester’s development thus far or with the other characters.
Iris is busy
Even with that in mind, the episode is still easy to enjoy. In Central City, part of the team is working on that mystery, with Allegra and Cecile especially standing out as they support Chester. The story is pretty cheesy, admittedly, and the denouement of the episode has Chester literally explaining the process of dealing with grief and accepting support from your loved ones. I mean literally in the most literal sense.
Iris, meanwhile, heads to Coast City with Sue Dearbon, who is always enjoyable to see on the show, trying to track down a meta who can walk through walls. By sticking Iris with Sue, the show is putting her with someone who knows a lot about running from problems that you should deal with. In the background of this season, Iris has been dealing with time skips and other anomalies, and she’s finally starting to look into it with the help of the Still Force. The meta part of Iris’ storyline highlights her capabilities as a journalist and information gatherer instead of having her be a victim or shifting her off to a literal other dimension, though it’s also yet another case of the show seemingly trying to keep Barry and Iris from being in the same room as each other.
Giving the team a mystery to solve and Iris something to actually do both help make this episode feel active even though it doesn’t feel like an integral part of a serial plotline. It feels a bit more relaxed, instead of the show’s tendency to set up major drama to amp up the tension. It’s more of a slow burn. Again, pun definitely intended. If this is what Season 8 of The Flash is going to keep up with, I might actually want to stick around.