“The Last Temptation Of Barry Allen, Pt. 1" isn’t set on Thanksgiving, as we’re told several times that the Crisis is two days away, meaning this week’s events unfold on December 8. It does feature a family gathering for a meal, however, as Team Flash meets up at the West household for some mashed potatoes, mixed veggies, and Ramsey Rosso’s delicious homemade lasagna. The secret ingredient is bubbly, gooey, black blood, which is soon dripping down the teeth and chins of Barry’s family and friends, much to his horror and our delight.
Before the season began, the showrunners assured us that Bloodwork would be the scariest of all Flash villains, a quality that hadn’t truly manifested until tonight. Even in this episode, Sendhil Ramamurthy isn’t particularly terrifying as Ramsey; he mostly comes off as smug and condescending. But as Barry’s dark night of the soul unfolds, director Chad Lowe (who has appeared on Supergirl and directed a couple of its episodes) brings an unsettling, nightmarish quality to the proceedings. Those aren’t words I ever thought I’d write, but that’s the way it plays out. There’s some haunting imagery along the way, including a graveyard populated by the casualties of The Flash since the very beginning, but it’s the sound design that really gets under the skin: a combination of chimes, whooshing noises, and burbling arcade music straight out of Logan’s Run unlike anything the series has done before.
The hour begins exactly where we left off last week, with Ramsey tackling Ralph and both of them tumbling from a high building. These first couple of minutes contain more elongating effects than the entire season so far, and—more of that, please! Ralph turning himself into a human spring or reaching down into one sewer grating and stretching all the way up through another to bop Ramsey in the head...well, that’s more fun than dressing in a tuxedo and making creaky Bond quips, for my money.
Ralph may have won the battle, but he’s now infected with Ramsey’s blood, and it takes an infusion of Barry’s super-healing to save him. During the infusion process, however, a glob of Ramsey blood-goo slips into Barry’s veins and causes him to fall under Ramsey’s control. Horror of horrors, Ramsey now knows Barry is the Flash, a secret that has only ever been discovered by every single character in the history of this show! Ramsey informs Barry that there is a way for him to survive the Crisis and save everybody after all—simply join him on the Dark Side, and life will go on, better than ever.
The counter-argument is provided by the Speed Force, again appearing to Barry in the form of his late mother Nora (Michelle Harrison). The Speed Force confirms that what Ramsey is saying is true, but that it’s not the path for Barry to follow. Grant Gustin does some of his best acting of the entire series as Barry finally unleashes his frustration—with his foretold death, with all the deaths he couldn’t stop over the years, with the Speed Force’s manipulation of him, with the life that is finally his own but that he’ll never get to live. It’s one of those moments that really makes you feel the accumulation of all the seasons and episodes, and the weight of everything Barry has had to bear in all that time.
This all culminates in a literal tug-of-war for Barry’s soul, and when Barry awakens seemingly healthy but notably cold and distant, something is clearly wrong. That’s confirmed when a black-eyed and goo-mouthed Flash kneels before Ramsey and the inevitable words “To Be Continued” appear onscreen. It’s hard to give the episode a complete grade when we’ve really only seen half of it, but at least in its first part, “The Last Temptation Of Barry Allen” is a high point of the season so far.
- This week’s major subplot involves more people who know the Flash’s very, very secret identity, as Allegra stumbles upon the Crisis headline at the Citizen office and wonders why Iris isn’t more concerned about that than tracking down the people who turned her cousin Esperanza into Ultraviolet. That quest leads to an elite courier service (“Uber for the uber-rich”) who transported Esperanza on behalf of a government agency, and to the employee they try to interview ending up dead. More to come on that, presumably.
- For much of the episode, Ramsey was making a much better case than the Speed Force, which relied a little too heavily on Barry’s past loyalty and innate heroism. Admittedly, the black eyes and mouth (and even a dripping black lightning emblem) are a bit of a turn-off, though.
- Nash Wells made only a brief appearance this week, but looks to have found the Monitor’s hiding place.
- Remember when Iris dubbed Central City’s new speedster hero “The Streak”? Good times, good times.