After a lackluster beginning to the back half of season five, The Flash finally got its groove back in “Memorabilia.” “Seeing Red” saw the show at a low point, but it thankfully bounced back in a big way. The episode balanced plot, emotion, and character development with ease, intelligently employing memory to strengthen relationships, and built a parallel between Grace and Nora that drove the story forward.
Central to the story was Iris, who was fighting against herself and against time for the majority of the episode. She was fighting against her passion to create the Central City Citizen, trying her hardest to change the name because if she could do that, then she could alter the course of the future in some small way. She was also fighting against who she thought she’d become in the future, holding herself back from being true to herself in the fear that she would become someone Nora loathed and whom she didn’t want to be. However, the episode forced her to reexamine everything she’d come to know about her future and found optimism in the potential to change it and make it her own.
In all the years we’ve known Iris as a character, she’s always proven herself to be fierce, loyal, kind, protective, and genuinely caring. So the information we had about her future self, courtesy of Nora, didn’t align with the person we’ve known her to be. On one hand, the idea that losing Barry could and would harden her to a degree and that she’d double down on being protective of her family was something anyone could understand and sympathize with. On the other hand, Nora had always been an unreliable narrator–all the way back to her opening dialogue about the reasons she came back to the past, which turned out to be false–so getting confirmation that the bad, controlling mom she went on about, and whom Iris feared becoming, was a fallacy colored by Nora’s grief and anger was relieving. The episode instead reaffirmed that no matter the grief, heartache, and hardships she has had to face, the Iris West-Allen of the future remained a compassionate and loving person.
The character development in the episode was fantastic overall. The fact that the writers didn’t simply leave Iris and Nora’s relationship as-is following “All Doll’d Up”–where it was assumed all was finally well–should be commended. Episode co-writers Sam Chalsen and Kristen Kim took it a step forward and solidified the relationship by assuaging Iris’ fears about motherhood, while also allowing Nora to grow and mature by having her apologize to her mom for her unfair treatment in the present and the future. Nora was able to empathize with her mother and see past her own pain and anger of growing up without a dad. That’s a great achievement on a show that has underdeveloped and struggled with mother/daughter relationships, often portraying them as problematic. Iris and Nora’s relationship finally came full circle and “Memorabilia” treated it with even more thought, depth, and care than ever before. Candice Patton, especially, knocked her emotional scenes out of the park with her nuanced expressions and emotive eyes. She played three versions of Iris at different points in her life with success and her performance was impeccably balanced and executed at every turn.
It’s a bit frustrating, though, that Nora chose to continue working with Thawne. She’ll eventually learn that lying to those you love is never a good thing, but what will it take for her to see that Thawne shouldn’t be trusted? After all, besides murdering her grandmother, he’s also part of the reason for her dad’s disappearance. So it’s unclear at this point why, after seeing what her desperation in hiding the truth led to, she’d still opt to seek his help and mentorship. Jessica Parker Kennedy, however, nails the fear, the reluctance, and relief regarding Nora’s secret and it’s easy to see how her character has matured over time through the actress’ portrayal.
The parallel between Grace and Nora tied everything together nicely. They shared similarities: both have lost at least one parent, are angry at the cards life dealt them, and were projecting that anger onto other things (or people). Grace (guest star Islie Hirvonen) is arguably scarier than Chris Klein’s Cicada after this episode and Hirvonen’s performance was excellent given that she had to play both an innocent little girl as well as an angry, hateful one. And now that she knows Nora is a speedster, things could get ugly really fast.
Another intriguing, if frustrating, aspect was the almost nonchalant way Barry said things like, “I wish. This is probably the only time I’ll get to see [Nora] at this age.” It’s clear that he’s a bit distraught about it, his voice filled with a tinge of sadness, but he hasn’t gotten the chance to properly dwell in the implications of his future. He’s been able to detach himself so easily from the future he knows he won’t get to see, but it also seemed purposeful because it’s hard to believe he doesn’t notice when Iris or Nora’s eyes linger on him in sadness whenever he says something about it and swiftly moves on to the next topic. Whether it’s denial or optimism that he can still be saved, the elephant in the room needs to be addressed and hopefully that happens soon. Aside from that, Barry was as supportive of Iris as ever and his faith in her as a person and her abilities as a mother were never in doubt. He may not have had the whole picture, but his opinion that Iris would do good by their daughter never wavered.
The episode also succeeded where last week’s didn’t: its plot was clever and exactly the Inception-style, psychological trip you’d expect it to be given the involvement of the mind. It’s the kind of episode that “We Are the Flash” should’ve been when venturing inside DeVoe’s mind last season, so it’s nice that the show was finally able to properly pull something like this off . The editing, the lighting used to distinguish between Grace and Nora’s memories, and the pacing were all fantastic, too. The show’s twists don’t often surprise, but the twist revealing Grace was actually responsible for Cicada and that she’d been faking her coma was shocking. There was a theory that speculated Dr. Ambres as the one who was purposefully keeping Grace in a coma, but nope, it’s Grace who’s purposefully choosing not to wake up. Bonus: she has a dark matter shard in her brain. Creepy.
And of course, this review wouldn’t be complete without the mention of the B plot, which involved Ralph being a good friend and taking Cisco out for drinks. Noticeably absent last episode and thankfully back in “Memorabilia,” Cisco is adamant about working on the metahuman cure, but what he really needed was a break. That break, after a lot of sarcasm and eyerolls hurled at Ralph, led him to an idea that would advance the cure. Suffice to say Cisco finally got some much needed attention, progress in his new storyline, and a potential love interest in Kamilla (guest star Victoria Park), a bartender and budding photographer.
Ultimately, “Memorabilia” was a strong and memorable (sorry) episode all around. It had tight writing, fluidity, a plot that found a way to parallel Grace and Nora, and a surprising twist. It also managed to tie in Iris, her journalism arc, and relationship with Nora very seamlessly. It progressed the season’s story, introduced a new and interesting character, and gave Cisco some much needed screen time and subplot. It’s easily one of the best episodes of the season and brought back the heart and the intensity of emotion that was missing from last week’s episode.
- I need Sherloque to stop playing mind games with Nora. I know he’s suspicious, but he’s almost too interested and it’s creepy the level of investment her secret.
- Loving parents or not, Barry and Iris need to start wondering why it wasn’t The Flash who was Nora’s defense system while in her mind.
- Caitlin and Sherloque conference called in the West-Allen family and I chuckled.
- Kamilla is a photographer. Iris mentioned being able to hire a photographer now. A coincidence? I think not.
- Iris founded Central City Citizen early, hmmmm.
- Update: Sherloque’s accent is still horrendous. Is it even French anymore?
- Did Ralph think leather jackets would remind Cisco of Cynthia and make him think he wanted to date again? I thought that would just make him sad.
- I love anything involving the mind, so this episode was amazing in that regard. All the memory stuff was so beautifully executed.
- Barry acting like a kid in a candy story at the Flash museum was the cutest.
- I guess Barry should be prepared to have plan D because plan C will most likely blow up in his face next week, too.
- Nora apologizing to Iris and that whole speech made me tear up.
- Ice skating, game night, this is what I’d like to see more of. The characters doing normal things outside of STAR Labs.