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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Flash battles his darkest fears in a busy episode

Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes, Grant Gustin
Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes, Grant Gustin
Photo: Katie Yu (The CW)
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In a normal season of The Flash, premiering on schedule in the fall, “Fear Me” would have slotted in nicely as the Halloween episode. In this pandemic-delayed run of episodes, let’s call it the Arrowverse’s contribution to March Madness. Even as the powerful monster introduced last week (dubbed Fuerza by Cisco, since She-Hulk is already taken) is still on the loose, a new threat arrives in Central City ⁠—the nightmare-inducing Psych (Ennis Esmer).

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Cecile is the first to detect the new villain, as she hallucinates a straightjacketed, purple-eyed fiend urging her to come home. Joe initially dismisses it as a nightmare, but he’s the first to suggest a Freddy Kreuger meta could be responsible. At STAR Labs, the gang already has its hands full. First, there’s the issue of Caitlin and Frost having been split into two separate beings. Next comes a lightning storm that expels the Speed Force in its human form, that of Barry’s mother Nora. (Why the new Artificial Speed Force would still have the same persona as the original, now-dead one is not really something we’re supposed to think too deeply about, I guess.)

Caitlin and Cisco come up with a solution to the first problem, which involves reconfiguring the Firestorm matrix to fuse “Caity” and Frost back into one body. The only problem is that Frost isn’t so sure she wants to go back to living half a life, especially since she has to sit through This Is Us every time Caitlin watches it. By episode’s end, the two sides of Danielle Panabaker have decided to make a go of it Odd Couple-style, but that plan may be short-lived thanks to Joe’s visitor from the governor’s office, Kristen Kramer, who is in Central City to apprehend Killer Frost for her crimes.

Illustration for article titled The Flash battles his darkest fears in a busy episode
Photo: Katie Yu (The CW)

If it seems like I’m jumping all over the place, well, that’s very much in keeping with how “Fear Me” plays out. The episode is most successful when it sticks with Psych and his mind games. The nightmares are genuinely creepy at times, particularly one shot of Iris doing a weird contorted walk straight out of a Japanese horror movie. There are a lot of callbacks to the past, in particular to the Big Bads of Flash history. Barry’s initial hallucination has him going up against Thawne and Savitar again, though it turns out that’s not his greatest fear. Indeed, early in the hour Barry is confident in the team’s ability to meet new threats precisely because they’ve dealt with such massive ones in the past and come out on top. His true fear, Psych learns, is losing his friends and family because he’s not up to the challenge after all.

It makes a twisted kind of sense, then, that Barry’s solution to the Psych threat comes from another Big Bad: Clifford DeVoe, whose intellect-enhancing chair is now part of the STAR Labs trophy collection. Cecile, who has been picking up the nightmares of everyone in Central City, uses the chair to boost her empathic abilities. When Barry finds the courage to face down his fears, Cecile uses the chair to transmit that courage throughout the city, freeing its citizens from Psych’s grip.

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Now we see what The Flash has really been up to this season: running Barry through the full Wizard Of Oz cycle. First he got a brain when the ASF granted him super-speed thoughts. Next we learned Barry had the biggest heart of all, allowing him to convince Eva to end her reign of terror. And now we find out he’s got what makes the sphinx the seventh wonder...what makes the dawn come up like thunder...courage! This can’t be a coincidence. At some point this season Barry will lose his speed again, and he’ll need a pair of ruby slippers to get it back.

Barry’s victory is short-lived, as he short-circuits shortly after arriving back at STAR Labs. The Speed Force awakens with a warning: Fuerza and Psych are just like her. That would appear to confirm a theory that’s been floating around the comments section for the past couple of weeks: other Forces have been unleashed, and there are undoubtedly more to come.

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Stray observations

  • Tom Cavanagh Watch: He’s still gone from the credits. Thawne made an appearance this week, but his face was blurred, so who knows who actually played him. The voice sounded right, though.
  • Next week looks promising, as Cisco and Chester go back to the ’90s.
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