Warning: this review contains full spoilers for The Flash: Season 6, Episode 10. If you need a refresher on where we left off, here’s our review for the midseason finale and our full review of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
It’s funny to think how little we knew about the future direction of The Flash coming into the second half of Season 6. Crisis on Infinite Earths had been casting a huge shadow over the series, to the point where we didn’t even know if Barry Allen would still be alive come January. And even once it became clear Grant Gustin’s Barry wasn’t the one sacrificing his life to save the multiverse, there was still the question of what conflicts and villains would drive the series post-Crisis. Thanks to “Marathon,” we now have a much clearer sense of how the series will move forward from the crossover. This episode deftly balances the need to reflect the events of Crisis while also building a clear path forward.
Surprisingly, the tone of “Marathon” isn’t as lighthearted as you might expect now that Barry has just been given a second lease on life. Apart from that early CC Jitters scene, this episode is a fairly glum exploration of how the various members of Team Flash are moving forward from Crisis. This does feel like an appropriate choice, however. With multiple heroes having sacrificed everything to save the multiverse, a lighthearted, feel-good midseason premiere would probably ring hollow. This goes back to one of the main strengths of Season 6 – it’s better at tone management and knowing when to be funny and when to let the drama carry the day.
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“Marathon” is also notable for featuring Arrow’s David Ramsey in his first guest role since that show wrapped. I’m sure we were all hoping this episode would follow up on Arrow’s big cliffhanger, but the script is very careful to place this episode’s events before the Diggle family’s departure from Star City. Instead, Dig plays a more understated but still important role, helping Barry come to terms with Ollie’s death. I appreciate how this storyline subverts expectations by revealing there’s no actual mystery at all and Ollie’s final gift is truly just that – a gift to commemorate a friendship that helped establish the Arrowverse as we know it today. Plus, it never gets old watching Dig deal with Speed Force-induced motion sickness.
In another surprise, welcome twist, Iris is turning out to be the driving force of the show’s post-Crisis status quo. Her ongoing investigation and partnership with Esperanza has never really been one of the more compelling pieces of the Season 6 equation, but this episode goes a long way toward changing that. While a bit plodding at first, there’s a growing sense of danger and unease as Iris digs deeper into the mystery of McCulloch Technologies and invites both physical and legal disaster. That culminates in a very satisfying stinger scene that makes the identity of the series’ latest big villain abundantly clear.
Along the way, we also get a surprisingly different take on Doctor Light, one that doesn’t seem particularly beholden to any prior comic book incarnation. While it’s a little strange seeing Kimiyo Hoshi depicted as a ruthless assassin when she’s always been the heroic counterpoint to the fiendish Arthur Light, she does make for a fun secondary antagonist in this episode. And with the Arthur Light version having recently appeared in Titans, it stands to reason The Flash may have been limited to using Kimiyo.
The promise of an ongoing Team Flash vs. Mirror Master storyline is extremely appealing. For all that this series has done to refine the Arrowverse formula and showcase speedster villains like Reverse-Flash and Zoom, it’s never really taken advantage of the full scope of Flash’s rogues gallery. Specifically, the Flash Rogues have always felt like an afterthought. Captain Cold and Heat Wave barely spent any time as villains at all before reforming and shifting over to DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. The rest have been used as minor, forgettable footnotes.
Even Mirror Master suffered that fate back in Season 3, with the Sam Scudder version of the character being used as a one-and-done threat to Central City. Mirror Master deserves better, and it seems that he’s finally getting better. The twist being that the classic Evan McCulloch version is being transformed into Eva McCulloch, a billionaire inventor who now exists as some sort of warped, journalist-snatching mirror demon. And as with the previous Bloodwork arc, the hope is that the the condensed nature of this storyline will prevent too much fluff and filler from gumming up the works.
Barry and Dig’s quest aside, the lingering effects of Crisis are most clearly felt in Cisco’s emotional journey. “Marathon” is great about exploring both the humor and the tension that arise in trying to come to terms with a new world built on the ashes of multiple worlds. Having Supergirl and Black Lightning as permanent neighbors is great, but what about all the new and resurrected villains that have appeared alongside them? That’s to say nothing over Cisco’s guilt and regret over taking the metahuman cure. That’s the tricky thing about the old great power and great responsibility mantra. Do superheroes get the luxury of a happy, peaceful retirement? Can they even appreciate that retirement when it comes? These are interesting questions to explore, particularly in light of how Smallville’s Clark Kent was portrayed in Crisis.
Carlos Valdes delivers what is easily the episode’s strongest performance, especially late in the game where his guilt begins to overwhelm him. It’s a welcome reminder that Cisco is far more than just the obligatory snarky tech whiz, but a character who’s grown and evolved and suffered every bit as much as Barry himself over the course of six years.
I do wish “Marathon” gave us a better sense of what Cisco’s Arrowverse future entails. There were rumors last year that Valdes was leaving the series after Season 5’s finale. Clearly that rumor didn’t pan out, but maybe there was a kernel of truth to it? It’s hard to tell if Cisco’s absence is temporary as the series builds toward a new status quo for the character, or if Cisco is being phased out so Valdes can pursue other projects. It would be a shame if Cisco exits the picture just as the series is finally finding its footing again.
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One thing is clear – Nash Wells is now being positioned as Cisco’s temporary replacement on Team Flash. Having a Wells as a more permanent presence on the series is always a nice thing, particularly one who isn’t as aggressively annoying as Season 5’s Sherloque. While this episode highlights the fact that his adventurous swagger is a mask for his loneliness and guilt over his role in Crisis, there are some concerns regarding Nash’s current characterization.
For one thing, it’s a little bizarre seeing him revert to his old Nash persona so soon after his turn as Pariah. I’m not clear on how much time was supposed to have passed between Nash’s disappearance and his return as Pariah, but he definitely had the air of a man haunted by countless years of watching his failure play out in front of him. Neither the writing nor Tom Cavanagh’s performance reflect the full weight of that experience. If anything, Nash seems more bothered by his daughter’s estrangement than his role in the death of the old multiverse.
On that note, do we really need another running subplot about Harrison Wells trying to reconnect with his daughter? It’s a redundant plot twist, and seemingly unnecessary given how much drama this character already has to process. The hope is that Nash can better find his place in the team Flash dynamic in this second half of Season 6, but there are reasons for concern right now.
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