April 30, 2023

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The Flash 9×09 Review – A Spectre of the Past

The Flash -- “It's My Party And I'll Die If I Want To” -- Image Number: FLA909b_0265r -- Pictured (L - R): Stephen Amell as Green Arrow and Grant Gustin as The Flash -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2023 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Despite this being the final season of The Flash, it seems like at least as many episodes have left Barry out to focus on other characters as there have been episodes that focus on the speedster himself. It’s been a frustrating season filled with lackluster episodes that feel totally skippable. This week’s episode, though, should not be missed by anyone who considers themselves an Arrowverse fan. Spoilers follow for The Flash Season 9, Episode 09, “It’s My Party And I’ll Die If I Want To.”

“It’s My Party And I’ll Die If I Want To”

Team Flash throws a surprise birthday party for Barry (Grant Gustin) but things go terribly awry when Ramsey Rosso (Sendhil Ramamurthy) crashes the festivities.

Bringing back a long-gone character from an ended show feels like a recipe for disaster, and I’ve been bracing myself for this episode ever since we heard it was happening. The rest of the season, as outlined above, did little to help assuage my fears. But this is so much more than a cameo from Stephen Amell. It’s a one-time comeback for the Green Arrow that pulls in so many of the wild things that have happened to Barry and Oliver over the years without feeling overstuffed.

One key thing the show does to start with is focus the whole episode on Barry. There are scenes with Chuck and Allegra and such, but they don’t wander far from Barry’s story and, more importantly, they all interact with and support Barry’s story. There’s no awkward games of Settlers of Catan, no cringey bar callout scenes. This story is about Barry and his journey.

It’s Barry’s second 30th birthday–he turned 30 once before, and then he got zapped with a beam that rewound him a couple of years. Barry seems like his mind is elsewhere even though people like Wally West and John Diggle have come out of the woodwork to stop by and wish him a happy one. When Bloodwork shows up, though, everything goes sideways, and Barry finds himself taking his last breaths on the floor while Bloodwork and a blood-tainted Kid Flash run amok.

When Barry dies, he wakes up in the woods to a familiar voice asking him, “Barry, Barry, Barry, what have you done now?”

It would be so easy for Stephen Amell’s return to be just this scene in the woods, and honestly, it looked like it at first. It’s kind of what I expected. They talk for a minute, and then Oliver sends Barry reeling back to the world of the living.

Except that when Barry wakes up, Oliver is there–in his Green Arrow garb. This is still the Oliver we know; he’s the Spectre, rather than simply being Oliver Queen. There’s a lot of story here–Oliver explains that the Multiverse still exists, and that they’ve been slowly building it back up, but that Bloodwork is trying to infect the multiverse with his virulent blood. He took control of Kid Flash so that they could open a portal to the multiverse together.

Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2023 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

One of the big setpieces of the episode occurs when Bloodwork sends a squad of infected police officers after him. For as up and down as Arrow’s quality was over the years, the action was always a blast. I think of moments like the Slabside Redemption episode and remember how talented Stephen Amell was at not just playing the role of a superhero character, but also in doing his part to make fight scenes exciting and visceral.

At this point, I can’t say I’m totally sure how often the Green Arrow we see fighting is Amell and how often it’s a stuntman, but at the very least Amell brought that energy back with him. It makes me wonder what fight scenes we could’ve had if they’d worked harder on Flash fight choreography. In comparison, Flash kind of feels like what it is: a bunch of nerds that mostly get out of fights by using their superpowers.

And I don’t want to discount the other guest stars: David Ramsey, Sendhil Ramamurthy, and Keiynan Lonsdale. Ramsey has been in and out of the Arrowverse more than just about any other actor, and he steps into the Diggle role so easily. We almost certainly won’t be getting the superhero show they were developing for him, and hopefully he can move onto other things, but he brings such good weight to every scene he’s in, and the friendship between Diggle and Oliver is one for the ages.

Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2023 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Ramamurthy is one of the more effective and scarier villains from the last few years of The Flash. His powers are scary and upsetting, with the way he can attack almost anyone before they even realize it, and then throw their own loved ones at them. After he shows up, but before Barry’s death, Ramamurthy’s character is messing around with Barry’s head, putting him on the set of a television show and the like, and Ramamurthy seems to have a blast with it. He also is one of the few villains that feels believable. Not in terms of plausibility, but in that you believe that he believes what he’s saying. Ramsay Rosso thinks he can save the world–the entire universe–by bringing everyone under his control and, as he says, “curing death.” It makes the things he does make more sense. He doesn’t want to kill anyone, he wants to be the hero. He just has a really twisted, messed-up way of approaching it. Lonsdale is meant to be an ultra-enlightened version of the speedster, but this story shows how doubt can linger even when you’ve learned so much. It’s hard not to think that his character left the Arrowverse too early, and it’s fun to see him again.

Oliver and Barry have awesome chemistry, and it seems like part of the reason the Arrowverse began to fall apart when it did is just from Amell’s departure. He gave so much life to Oliver, and these two still have great big brother/little brother energy. This could’ve been a really cheap cameo, but instead it sets up these final Flash episodes and gives closure to some of the Arrowverse’s most fun characters. This is easily one of the best episodes of The Flash in years, and it’s head and shoulders (and a few more heads and shoulders) above basically everything we’ve seen this season.