No single episode of The Flash could redeem an entire season as flawed as this fifth one turned out to be, but “Legacy” manages to pull the strongest elements of this past year together in an emotionally satisfying way, shaky as the storytelling logic is at times. The Cicada saga is put to bed, a much more worthy adversary gets a moment in the spotlight, and Team Flash is dealt another family tragedy even as other changes big and small point the way toward the future.
The hour picks up right where we left off, with the Flash firing the mirror gun at the dagger with the intent to destroy it. Ralph throws himself in the way of the blast and gets himself mirrored, with every cell in his body turned inside out. (This feels like an abandoned Mirror Master plot, reminding me yet again that this show has never really given that villain his due.) Cicada II escapes, and the rest of the team is left to wonder why Ralph did that. Sherloque figures it out, as I did not last week and you probably did: the dagger is being used to dampen Thawne’s powers in the future, which is why he has it clamped to him as he led into the execution pod. If it’s destroyed in the past, it won’t exist in the future and there won’t be any way to keep him imprisoned. (Except...what about the power-dampening cuffs and other such devices we’ve seen? I guess we’re to assume that Thawne is too powerful for them, and only the dagger can keep him in place.)
That leaves Team Flash with a dilemma: stop Cicada II or stop Thawne. For Barry, there is no choice. He won’t let thousands of metas die, even if it means setting Thawne free in the future. But Nora comes up with a plan to stop them both: convince young Grace to take the meta cure, thus preventing the existence of Cicada II and allowing the dagger to be used against Thawne. To accomplish this, Nora once again mind-melds with Grace, entering a mental landscape where both Evil Voice Chris Klein and Regular Guy Chris Klein exist as the devil and angel on Grace’s shoulders. Good wins out, but the cure doesn’t work because Cicada II escapes from the pipeline in time to show up and disrupt its effects with the dark matter of her dagger. She’s about to kill Nora with it when Barry zaps the dagger with the mirror gun. It vanishes, soon followed by adult Grace, and that’s end of Cicada.
And not a minute too soon. In fact, a dozen or more episodes too late, but at this point I feel like I’m rolling a boulder uphill with that complaint. It’s still baffling to me that the creative team thought Cicada would be a strong enough villain to sustain an entire season, and arranging for two different versions of the character didn’t help much. Adult Grace never felt fully-realized even compared to Orlin Dwyer, which is really saying something. (And not something good.) In theory a vengeful meta with the power to destroy all other metas could have been a compelling Big Bad, but the execution never came close.
Fortunately, for this episode at least, we do get a formidable foe, as the Cicadas are instantly forgotten and the Reverse-Flash takes center stage. Does it make sense that Cicada’s dagger disappears just as he’s about to be executed? Not really, because it should have never been there in the first place. But the show goes all in on the idea that when timelines are changed, there’s a grace period during which the old one continues to exist for a while. I don’t make the rules! Anyway, once he’s free, Thawne makes quick work of the guards, except for the warden who delighted in torturing him with red lightning, who gets karmic retribution before Thawne phases into his heart. As he pops his costume out of his ring, however, time reverses and Barry and Nora show up. Again, I don’t know how they did that or why they didn’t keep reversing time until he was trapped in the box again, but here we are.
The result is a showdown between Thawne and all of Team Flash, assembled in its current form for the last time. After a season goofing around as Sherloque, with brief appearances in fake-paternal mode as Thawne, it’s a pleasure to see Tom Cavanagh oozing whispery menace again. It’s a tantalizingly brief return, however, as the team defeats him but suffers a loss: in the new timeline created by the destruction of the dagger, Nora no longer exists. Because of...reasons? The show always plays fast and loose with these revised timelines, and this is no exception. Thawne offers Barry the chance to save her by taking her into the negative Speed Force, and then makes his escape. (“I’ll see you at the next Crisis,” he says, and more on that below.) Nora decides she can’t live with the anger and rage she’d be cursed with while connected to the negative Speed Force, and chooses to disintegrate into sparkly dust, kind of like those Marvel heroes did a while back.
It was probably inevitable that Nora’s story ended tonight (if it truly has—this is the Arrowverse, after all), but it ends up being a touching departure. Jessica Parker Kennedy has done good work all season, even when the writers seemed determined to turn Nora into an annoyance, but never better than tonight in her farewell message to her parents. Nora thanks them for helping her become a hero, and says she doesn’t regret anything because of the time they were able to spend together, and...well, look, I might have gotten a little choked up, I’ll admit it. After a season that frustrated so often, it’s a strong note to go out on.
- Other changes to Team Flash: Sherloque goes back to his own Earth for a reunion with Renee Adler. Joe is now the captain of the CCPD precinct, as Singh takes a promotion to police chief. (Singh knows Barry is the Flash, because of course! Everyone does.) And Cisco decides to take the cure, because he doesn’t want his superhero powers to define him. That’s all well and good, I guess, but maybe let the whole team in on it? Because there will be more villains coming and your powers would really come in handy? Oh well, I guess now that everyone has a pocket breacher, Vibe isn’t as necessary as he once was. (I don’t know if this means Carlos Valdes is leaving the show, but it wouldn’t surprise me given the gaps between his appearances this year.)
- When Cisco breaches his coffee cup to demonstrate his powers to Kamilla, I assumed it ended up at Winterfell. But no, it just pops back down from above.
- One more Classic Barry moment: when he tells Nora she’s a lot like him—too trusting. “Oh, you mean like when you trusted me so much you took me back to the future and forbid me from coming back?” is what she didn’t say. But I kind of wish she had.
- A hint of what’s to come: Thawne references the next Crisis, which will be the Crisis on Infinite Earths, already teased as this fall’s crossover event. In the comics, Barry Allen died during that crisis, and here Gideon’s future newspaper updates itself again. Now the Flash vanishes in 2019. Until then, enjoy your summer.