You can’t always know when you’re setting yourself up to get dunked on, but sometimes it feels like you should be able to see the shot coming from a mile away. So how did The Flash end up with another Still Force episode that feels like it does nothing to move the plot forward? Spoilers follow for The Flash Season 8, Episode 15, “Into the Still Force.”
“Into the Still Force”
The Flash (Grant Gustin) gets an assist from XS (guest star Jessica Parker Kennedy). Meanwhile, CCPD enlists Chester (Brandon McKnight) for help when a mysterious device is found at a crime scene.
The writers of The Flash have come up against one of the weird problems that can occur when writing about travel through time, space, and dimension. You can move forward and backward, but writing about being stuck is really tough. When you intentionally set your characters in a world where nothing moves forward or backward, and just loops, it’s difficult to make it feel meaningful–like anything is moving the plot forward.
This week, Barry gets himself stuck in the Still Force once he realizes that Iris is missing.
I’ve liked this season of The Flash more than many of the previous ones, but I have to ask: do the people making the show realize that this is the second time in three seasons that they’ve had a plot involving Iris getting stuck in another dimension and spending time off-camera, alone, away from the team? If there’s not some kind of beef going on between the showrunners/writers and actress Candice Patton, then they’re just unknowingly stuck in their own timeloop.
It’s hard not to jump to conclusions about what’s going on behind the scenes as Patton’s Season 9 status remains unknown. Regardless, though, the optics of constantly shuffling your main female character off to another dimension so that she can’t take part in the other parts of the story aren’t great. In fact, looking back, for an episode all about finding Iris, I’m pretty sure Patton isn’t in this episode at all.
Barry ends up stuck in the Still Force when Deon traps him there for some as-yet-unknown reason, and it’s his daughter Nora who comes to save him. Much of the episode is spent wandering through looping images of other characters and events, all given such a deep green hue that the Wachowskis would tell the show’s editors to chill out with the green color grading.
The pair eventually makes it out of the Still Force by focusing on the fact that they know they escape from the Still Force, which is kind of like that scene in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure where the characters get a pair of keys by deciding that their future selves will come back and hide the keys somewhere for them to find. I actually like that kind of logic, but the show doesn’t give it enough attention to make it make sense–it just ends up feeling silly when it’s meant to look clever.
Overall, though, going back to the original point, this episode feels stuck. It could be dropped from the season entirely and not take away from the plot in any real way that I can tell.
“Stuck in time” episodes can work
As a point of comparison, let’s look at another show, the late, great Legends of Tomorrow. In one episode, Zari gets stuck in a time loop and makes it out by the end. A time loop and the Still Force are slightly different, but they’re similar enough for this. In that episode, it seems like the writers asked themselves over and over, “how do we make this matter?” Throughout the episode, we learn little details about the characters that add humor to the show and depth to the characters themselves, and then go on to become major plot points later. Mick Rory secretly writing sci-fi romance novels, for example, is equal parts funny and sweet, and the show uses this part of him multiple times to work through plot points or tell us things about his character.
In The Flash, though, the question the writers asked seems more like “how do we fill the episode quota for this season?” We don’t learn anything meaningful about Barry, Nora, Iris, or Deon. There’s a little bit of foreshadowing about Allegra’s rivalry with the reporter Taylor, and Chester has some worries about how some people might be using the advanced technology he’s been posting plans for online. Caitlin and Mark are still trying to figure out how to resurrect Frost. But at the end of the episode, one of the characters in the “A” plot have grown or learned anything new or changed in any meaningful way. They go into a place, they come back out of a place.
Serial television is tough, especially on networks where budgets and schedules are both tighter, but this is still disappointing. These are good actors and fun characters–do something interesting with them. Please.