The Flash season six is honestly like witnessing the rebirth of a show. The writing is stronger, tighter, the pacing balanced, and there hasn’t been a boring moment throughout either of the episodes so far. But if the season six premiere was meant to showcase Barry and Iris’ grief over losing their daughter, Nora, then episode two, “A Flash of the Lightning,” threatens to tear apart their hope for a future together completely.
After so many years spent staring at the headline of the 2024 newspaper, Barry (Grant Gustin) has finally come to the end of the line. The episode picks up immediately where the premiere left off, with Barry ruminating on his impending death. After being silent about his disappearance throughout season five, the speedster finally admits that he only saw his future disappearance as more of a guide. He remained hopeful that he was still out there somewhere, trying to find a way back home to Iris (Candice Patton) — a running theme that brings back the “Running Home to You” lyrics he sang to her in season three.
It’s truly the perspective we’ve been missing for so long since Barry has always acted so nonchalant about his disappearance. Now that it’s literally hanging over his head like a dark cloud, he has to face the emotions that come with his sacrifice and with leaving Iris and his life behind. Barry visits Earth-3 to seek help from Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp) and Joan Williams (Michelle Harrison and Nora Allen’s doppelganger). Barry’s privy to billions of timelines and it always ends in death of the multiverse unless The Flash dies. Barry’s devastated and it’s compelling, emotional, and tragic in all the best ways.
The episode’s theme grapples with what it means to succumb to fate. Is it giving up if you accept it? Should you fight a seemingly losing battle? Is Barry simply choosing to die if he doesn’t try and stop it? The answers are all explored by way of Barry and Iris’ differing reactions to The Monitor’s visit. Iris, for example, has always been a big believer that they can make their own fate. It’s not a bad outlook to have, especially since they’ve managed to best fate at every turn, including Iris’ own fated death during season three. She thinks The Monitor’s words are a bunch of “crap” since the newspaper has and can change. However, she’s just scared. Imagine hearing you’re going to lose your husband so soon after losing your daughter. Iris has been left behind far too many times, so it’s understandable that she’s digging in her heels to make sure Barry keeps fighting.
On the other hand, Barry is a bit more shocked and resigned. He isn’t about to give up, of course, but he’s faced with the burden of billions of lives in exchange for his own and he’s weighed down by the unexpected responsibility and trauma of watching it play out. In fact, “A Flash of the Lightning” does a great job centering Barry’s perspective and emotions, which is something that has tragically been missing for quite a while. He really takes an emotional, mental, and physical beating throughout and still maintains his resiliency. The idea of his resiliency is repeated enough that any hope for his survival isn’t at all diminished by the crushing news of the future.
With Eric Wallace as the new showrunner, the changes to the show have been noticeable but not overt. Barry is the lead of his show once more, central to the main storyline, and is showcased as being smart on his own without needing the entirety of S.T.A.R. Labs in his ear giving him instructions. In this episode alone, he created a mobile Gideon from the leftover pieces of Nora’s plinth, decided to run to the future to see if The Monitor was telling the truth, and was the solo hero at the end despite his recovery. This is what was missing in seasons four and five. Every other character still has a lot to do in their respective subplots, all without diminishing Barry as the central hero. The show still feels the same, but the new energy is electric and Grant Gustin is doing some of his finest work because he finally has meaty material to work with again. His eyes carry a multitude of emotion and Gustin nails the nuance needed to showcase Barry’s journey throughout this episode.
Elsewhere in the episode, Cecile (Danielle Nicolet) brings the case of Allegra Garcia (Kayla Compton) to Iris and the Citizen. Allegra, a budding reporter and metahuman who can control radio waves, is being convicted of killing someone. But after sensing her emotions, Cecile is convinced Allegra is innocent. She stakes her career on the gut feeling she has and she, Iris et al spend the rest of the episode trying to prove her innocence. Turns out, it isn’t Allegra, but her cousin, Esperanza, who commits the crime. A while back, Esperanza had been taken in by a secret organization and they turned her into the deadly UltraViolet. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing her again soon.
Later, Cecile tells Joe (Jesse L. Martin) that the whole case made her realize that metahumans haven’t been treated fairly in Central City. Instead of continuing to be a District Attorney, she decides to become a defense attorney for metahumans. It’s a great storyline for her and something The Flash desperately needs, primarily because the show itself has usually treated the non-Team Flash metas as one-dimensional villains.
Notice how season six has done none of that. It’s been a metahuman or meta-adjacent who’s thought to have done bad things on purpose — and historically, that’s definitely been the case — but The Flash is finally finding nuance by treating the metas as actual people instead of an evil they must defeat. That’s made all the difference. It helps that Central City’s laws, which have presumably been harsh on metas in the past, are being called into question as being unjust in several instances. The real-world parallels are implied and made to buttress the superhero show. With this one storyline, The Flash becomes that much more dynamic, while also adding seeds for future storylines to take hold in the back half of the season.
“A Flash of the Lightning” is a visceral exploration of fate vs. choice and the depth of emotion that comes with facing death. Barry’s the hero precisely because he gets back up again in the face of doom, never losing that sense of hope that has kept him afloat for so many years. By bringing these themes back to the forefront, viewers are no doubt ready to root for Barry to survive the upcoming “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” even when all signs are pointing to his doom.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.