Keiynan Lonsdale, Grant Gustin, Jesse L. Martin/The CW

“Cause And Effect” might be the most unlikely episode of this third season, if only because there was little reason to believe The Flash could pull itself out of its grim arc of despair this close to the end. In other words, I didn’t expect an hour that would lean so hard on the zany music cues at this stage of the game, with the deadline to save Iris West only a couple weeks away. The episode plays like a response to some of the criticism of the show’s increasingly glum tone, especially as it relates to Barry Allen. At times, it feels like the creative team is trying to reconnect with the cherry, optimistic vibe of its early episodes, and at other times it plays like a rebuke to those very criticisms. It’s a very meta episode, and I’m not talking about metahumans.

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Before any of that happens, however, ”Cause And Effect” deals with the aftermath of last week’s reveal, expanding on it to clarify that the Barry who became Savitar is actually a time remnant created by Future Emo Barry to help him battle Savitar. Confused yet? It’s the “I’m my own grandpa” paradox again, explained by Cisco as a closed loop: Savitar exists because the time remnant created to stop him became him after being shunned by the rest of Team Flash. The solution should be simple: as long as Barry doesn’t create any time remnants, Savitar can never exist. But as Remnant Barry explains, there’s been so much messing around with time at this point, it’s all screwed up and there’s no telling what will happen. Also, his suit can move around and punch people without him in it.

The decision to block Barry’s short-term memory makes about as much sense as any other plan to defeat Savitar. After all, if his big advantage is that he already knows everything they’re going to do, making Barry unable to remember it should negate that advantage. That Cisco and Julian screw it up and erase all his memories is the best thing to happen to Barry Allen in quite some time. From his point of view, he’s relieved of his painful past and the loss of both his parents to evil speedsters. From our point of view, he’s relieved of the mopey persona that has made him such a drag for the better part of two seasons now. For the first time since the musical episode “Duet,” Barry is having fun again.

Of course, every show that lasts long enough eventually does its amnesia episode, so it’s all about the execution. Here we get an amusing sequence in which Barry is forced to testify against Heat Monger in his capacity as a forensic scientist and stammers through answers he’s reading off a pair of smart glasses provided by Julian and Cisco (at least until his sweat causes them to short-circuit). But the smartest thing the writers do with this conceit is to bring Iris back to center of what should, after all, be her story. For too much of the season, Iris has been relegated to the sidelines; we’ve gotten very little insight into how she feels about all of this and how she’s dealing with it. It’s not even clear she still has a job outside of STAR Labs. Amnesiac Barry, carefree and optimistic and a little goofy, brings out the best in her (and in Candice Patton’s performance). She’s luminous in the scenes where she tries to bring his memory back by reliving their shared past with him. It’s no wonder she’s tempted to want to keep this Barry. Aren’t we all?

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It can’t last, of course. Heat Monger is released thanks to Barry’s botched testimony and sets fire to a downtown office building. Caitlin helps restore Barry’s memory, only because it will also restore Savitar’s (which is not a good thing, but no one seriously considers letting the building burn down, since that would only be the beginning of supervillains unleashed on Central City unchecked). Barry tells Iris that darkness will always be a part of him because of the pain he’s endured, and that’s fair enough even if it does feel a bit like defensive justification from the writers. I can only hope, though, that ”Cause And Effect” signals a willingness to provide more balance for that darkness going forward, because the Flash is a superhero who has always thrived in the light.

Stray observations

  • Cisco does his best to draw Caitlin out of Killer Frost by reminiscing about old times, and it works a little bit. She still ends up leaving on harsh terms (ouch, Julian), but the show is definitely working overtime to keep her redemption a viable option. If that happens, though, it would be nice if Caitlin retained more than a little Killer Frost; she’s just more fun that way.
  • Heat Monger really is a poor man’s Mick Rory.
  • HR and Tracy romance, anyone? I don’t really have strong feelings either way. It’s sad that they only get Star Trek: Voyager on HR’s Earth, though.

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