Synopsis of 3×20: The team hunts for a grad student who could be the key to stopping Savitar but Caitlyn wants her as well. A turn of phrase is all the clue Barry needs to realize Savitar’s secret identity, his future self.
The Flash wasn’t always like this, but in retrospect, the path that got us here is clear. The first season of the show was shocking and exciting because there just hadn’t been a show like it. Those first episodes blended high stakes sci-fi mysteries with exciting, brash monster-of-the-week episodes, with every episode adding to the next like the best seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Fringe.
The second season was both iterative and slightly experimental. Zoom served as a combination of a horror movie villain and an extension of the threat that Thawne once represented. It was a different take on super heroics but operated on the exact same rules, doling out answers in drips and drabs until the finale seemed like a blessing, less of an exciting cap to a white-knuckle season.
Season 3, by comparison, is even more iterative. The most notable difference this year from the episodes that came before it was just how long it took to put the main threat on the board. some of that was assuredly due to the way the writers quickly shortened the Flashpoint timeline that initially seemed like it would form the crux of the season but some of it surely exposes just how weak the central drama here is.
In much the same way as Zoom, Savitar has been more monster than man and it led to a feeling like the reveal of his identity was always going to be more perfunctory than necessary. It didn’t really matter who he was or that he had to be anyone. It just felt like part of the way the show works. The villain has to be revealed, he has to be someone we’ve seen before. As such, that’s how we get to where we are.
As far as a reveal, it’s mostly fine. I have a lot of love for bizarre time-travel shenanigans and the idea of Barry’s guilt driving him to madness has been one that the show’s gone to again and again this year. It feels believable that, somehow, Barry would end in the villain suit here, literally become his own worst enemy.
It’s just that, much like the rest of the episode, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t know that this season wouldn’t have benefitted from just never having Savitar be a person or just someone we’d never seen before. These constant self-referential reveals have just emphasized how shallow the show’s bench really is.
There’s not really a feeling that there’s anyone else in the world than the ones we see every episode and it’s one that just weakens everything in this show. It’s hard to buy Savitar as a threat on the level of Zoom or Reverse-Flash when it doesn’t seem like he cares about anyone other than the main cast. For all the problems on that show Arrow always managed to clearly communicate the idea that its villains are city, if not country or world shattering threats.
With The Flash continuously built around bit reveals, its success increasingly depends on how effective those reveals are and it’s just not all that impressive here. Savitar as a villain worked better without a face and the one he’s given asks a handful of questions without really bothering to question whether or not you should care. It’s an hour that’s not any better than what’s come before, almost solely because it’s not doing anything different than what has come before it.