“The courage to move forward—even in the face of overwhelming odds—that’s what makes you a hero. That’s what makes you the Flash.”
For the last few weeks, Ramsey Rosso’s presence in The Flash has amounted to that of the boogeyman. His name has come up as a reminder the team’s searching for him, but he’s had very little screen time since he embraced his powers in “There Will Be Blood”. It was a good idea, considering we’re only just getting through the first third of the season. Though the special effects showcasing Ramsey’s abilities have been somewhat disappointing—though his fight this week isn’t that bad, even if Ralph’s own elongated powers are, from a visual standpoint, so much better—it’s the show’s inability to establish him as a genuine and terrifying threat that was the real problem. After this week’s installment, it turns out that the creative heads behind The Flash may know what they’re doing.
After Ralph is infected by Ramsey’s mutated blood, Caitlin suggests that a transfusion of Barry’s speed healing blood may save their dying friend. Yep, it’s another Deux Ex Machina/faux science moment the series heavily relies on (sometimes too much) but I understand it. After all, it’s a show about a man who can run faster than the eye can see. Though the solution works, a drop or two of Ramsey’s blood infiltrates Barry. A more fascinating aspect of the infection is that Ramsey’s blood carries his sentience with it, an important property that makes “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen” as captivating a dive into a character’s mind as we’ve seen on a CW show.
It becomes apparent early on that Barry’s struggle with Ramsey is in our protagonist’s head as his overworked body fights Ramsey’s infection. But he’s not alone in this. The Speed Force appears in the familiar form of Nora Allen. If the episode title didn’t give away its focused theme, the events unfold clearly enough to catch the Biblical allegory.
Barry is the embodiment of good (Jesus), sacrificing himself for the betterment of humanity with the Speed Force is the All-Mighty, the one who has bestowed fantastical abilities to Barry. The Speed Force warns against trusting Ramsey—who is, of course, the devil. And, as the devil, Ramsey’s greatest weapon is manipulating the truth.
When the Speed Force admits to Barry that Ramsey’s blood could save him, Barry is horrified at what he thinks is the Speed Force’s casual acceptance of his impending death. It draws from Barry an anger that is powered by his fear of leaving behind his friends and family, including his unborn daughter. His reaction is so visceral, intensified by one of the most indicting lines of the series: “You’re not my mom,” he tells the Speed Force, “you’re the reason I buried her”. He follows that up by attacking the Speed Force with a viciousness I don’t ever recall seeing Barry display.
What “The Last Temptation” lacks in subtlety is made up on the backend by Grant Gustin’s exceptional performance. He embodies all the fear, frustration, and anger of a man sentenced to die for the greater good. We’ve been given so many instances of Barry doing the right thing in the face of danger that it throws us off to see his struggle accepting his fate this time around. Barry represents the light and a beacon to “believe in the impossible”, one of the show’s original taglines. To watch his calm façade break down as he clings to the possibility of cheating death is both a welcoming surprise and a painful reminder that, despite what he can do, Barry is only human. Though he is the hero, the moment of doubt makes him even more human for us as he wars between what is the right thing for everyone else versus his understandably selfish desire to live. Being that he is Barry Allen though, the Flash, there’s no doubt that he would overcome those fears and remain in the light…right?
In a remarkable swerve, Barry gives into the Satan-ish Ramsey and becomes the embodiment of the villain’s twisted mindset as Negative Flash. As visually cool a transformation as it is, that pales in comparison to watching our favorite speedster give in to the darkness. It’s rare to see such a drastic turn for our protagonist this close to a major crossover event but it also makes sense. If Barry is going to successfully stop the Crisis, he must go in without fear, without doubt, knowing the sacrifice he must make in order to save the multiverse. But before he can do that, Barry must find his way out of the darkness and back into the light.
- I have not been a fan of Ramsey’s arc and the expediency at which he went from a determined scientist who wanted to save everyone to the vile Bloodwork. “The Last Temptation” does give me a better understanding of why that transformation was so abrupt and, more importantly, frames Ramsey as a credible threat and not just the pontificating bad guy. There’s nothing original with the way his abilities affect others—pretty much like the rage from 28 Days Later (or any other zombie movie)—but the impetus behind his actions nudge him into the Thanos category more than anything else. If Sendhil Ramamurthry can tone down the sinister black-blooded grin and personify a character that truly believes his cause is just, Bloodwork could actually become one of the better series villains.
- I’m not sure where they’re taking the whole Caitlin/Killer Frost thing. While I understand the necessity of not having Frostie speak in that echo-y tone, it takes something away from her character. Add to the fact that she’s becoming more like Caitlin and losing some of that Frostie snark, I just don’t know if I like it. Hopefully there’s more to this story than what we’ve seen so far.
- On the other end of things, I do like how they’ve handled Allegra. Unlike Victoria Park’s Kamilla—who has not been given much to do this season—Allegra has a coherent narrative arc, one where it seems like she’s being groomed to become both a member of Team Flash and Iris’s “Team Citizen”. It helps that Kayla Compton carries this energy about here that only emphasizes the qualities of her character.