Barry Allen’s lightning bolt ring has gone missing.
Brought to the DC Comics superhero from the future (the year 2049, to be exact) to store his superhero suit at the beginning of The Flash season 5, the gold accessory is one of the most iconic props from the CW’s last remaining Arrowverse show. That’s why, on the penultimate day of filming the series finale in March, star Grant Gustin chose it — along with several other recognizable items, including the red STAR Labs helmet he wore in the pilot — for EW’s cover shoot bidding the show goodbye. But as the actor packs up Barry’s supersuit, gold boots, and other memorabilia from the past nine seasons into a box on the speed lab set, he slips the ring into his pocket and never gives it back to the props guy waiting in the wings.
“I knew I was going to keep one thing, but I didn’t know that it was going to be the ring,” Gustin tells EW two months later in Los Angeles. “Right as we were finishing, I was like, ‘This is going to stay in my pocket.’ Now it’s in a drawer at home with all of my important jewelry. I put it on, actually, the other day.” It doesn’t matter to him that the ring doesn’t actually fit — “I have fat knuckles and skinny fingers,” he admits with a laugh — he just wanted to keep a piece of Barry Allen with him forever.
Deciding to steal Barry’s ring was easy. Deciding to end The Flash on May 24 after nine seasons, however, was a whole different story. Gustin first debuted as the Scarlet Speedster in Arrow‘s second season in 2013 before spinning off onto his own series created by Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns, and Andrew Kreisberg in 2014 — beginning the CW’s interconnected comic book universe dubbed the Arrowverse.
Five additional shows, two web series, and nine official mega-crossover events later, the Arrowverse is one of the biggest and most complex shared universes on TV (Marvel, take notes!). “When it came to the greater Arrowverse, the scale of it was something that was really lost on me for the majority of the run,” Gustin says. “It’s something I won’t fully understand or appreciate for years and years and years, to see what the impact that Greg Berlanti and [executive producer] Marc Guggenheim and all of these guys were able to have on the TV landscape. It was unlike anything that had ever been attempted in television.”
Super producer Berlanti admits he had no idea what he was starting when he decided to introduce Barry Allen sans speedster powers in the two-part midseason finale of Arrow‘s second season. “We all loved these characters so much, and as we began working on [Arrow], more characters would come up and other possibilities opened up to us creatively,” Berlanti told EW in an email prior to the writers’ strike. “I had always loved Barry Allen as a kid — and I guess in the back of my mind, the hope was to include him in some way in Arrow, but obviously we knew that would take our show into the realm of superpowers. We had to find a way to do it that worked in our creative reality, and in [the] time and the budget of a TV show.”
The Arrowverse’s first superhero remembers that origin story quite differently, however. “This was right after the first season [of Arrow],” says Stephen Amell, who played Oliver Queen, a.k.a. the Green Arrow. “Greg Berlanti called me into his office and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to be introducing Barry Allen. He’s the Flash. We want to spend the next bit of time building the Justice League on TV.’ And that’s precisely what they did. I mean, I think DC gets a lot of s— for not building this interconnected [film] universe, but I just think people need to look at what they did on TV.” That sentiment is shared across the board between Arrowverse stars and showrunners past and present, as they all praise Berlanti for pulling off the impossible. “Crossovers had been done before, they’ll be done again, but the scale to which we did it was unprecedented,” Amell adds.
That said, nothing lasts forever. As the Arrowverse grew exponentially, it eventually hit its peak in 2019-2020’s massive “Crisis on Infinite Earths” saga, marking the beginning of the end. Arrow concluded its run shortly after in 2020, Supergirl and Black Lightning followed suit the next year — and in 2022, Batwoman and Legends of Tomorrow were canceled (too soon!). When Superman & Lois declared in its season 2 finale that it no longer exists on the same Earth where the shared universe takes place, The Flash officially became the last standing Arrowverse series.
So when Gustin made the call to end The Flash after season 9, he unintentionally ended the Arrowverse along with it. As for why Gustin decided to hang up his supersuit, “It just felt like time,” he explains. “A lot of people wanted us to get to 10 seasons, but in my mind we did 10 years — it was 2013 when I was cast as Barry Allen, and we finished in 2023. We had done everything we needed to do, the characters were in a good place, and we had reached the conclusion.”
It’s clear Gustin is at peace with his choice. But it took him a long time — and several false starts — to get there. The actor actually tried to make the call a few different times during the past nine seasons, but was always talked out of it. “Initially when we all signed on, it was a six-year run that got extended to seven,” he says. “I got married [to physical therapist and trainer Andrea LA Thoma while filming] season 5. I had a kid [daughter Juniper Grace Louise] during season 7 — so obviously you start thinking about life changes at that point. Plus, Arrow had ended with season 8, so I thought, ‘Let’s end with season 8.'”
After a conversation with Berlanti, Gustin was convinced to keep going for just a little while longer. But two weeks after wrapping season 8, he called up Berlanti, The Flash showrunner Eric Wallace, then-CW president Mark Pedowitz, and Warner Bros. TV CEO Channing Dungey to share that season 9 would be his last. At that point, he didn’t know if the show would continue without him as the titular hero, or if his decision to leave would also mean the end of The Flash. “I just knew it was time for me to step away, have more time with my family, and just enter this next chapter of my life,” he says. “But I think I would’ve really questioned my decision if they had done a season 10 — if I knew the whole family was still together and I was somewhere else — so I’m glad we all finished at the same time. I’m not really a FOMO person, but I would’ve for sure had FOMO about that.”
Gustin was relieved when all the Powers That Be decided to end the series with a shortened, 13-episode final season rather than go on without him. “Grant was so incredibly thoughtful in his decision, and I understood it completely,” Berlanti says. “The reason he’s such a great Barry is he exudes the same goodness on screen that he possesses in real life.”
That’s why Gustin felt it was his responsibility to break the news of the show ending to the entire cast himself, starting with Candice Patton, who has played his onscreen partner-in-crime, Iris West-Allen, for all nine seasons. But unbeknownst to Gustin, “I knew it was going to be my last year too, whether the show continued or not,” Patton says. “So I was definitely relieved that Grant was on the same page about ending the show. I definitely didn’t want to leave before everyone else, so I was just really glad.”
Grant Gustin, Danielle Panabaker, Danielle Nicolet, Kayla Compton, Brandon McKnight, and Jon Cor in ‘The Flash’ series finale | Credit: Bettina Strauss/The CW
Gustin’s conversation with Danielle Panabaker — the only other series regular aside from him and Patton who has stuck around for all nine seasons (albeit in three different roles: scientist Caitlin Snow, metahuman Killer Frost, and goddess Khione) — went a lot differently than Patton’s. “I laughed at him, because that was not the first time that Grant had told me that he was done with the show,” Panabaker says of their FaceTime chat. “Many times over the last nine years, he’s gone so far as to make phone calls and tell people that he was ready to be done. I really believed season 8 was going to be his last year, so I’ve heard this song and dance before. When it broke in the press, I texted him and I said, ‘Okay, I believe you this time.'”
The rest of the cast, while disappointed to know the end was finally coming, all supported Gustin’s decision. Wallace, however, was hoping for one more season — the showrunner had already sketched out plans for seasons 9 and 10 to end the show on episode 200. But he pivoted, leaving a lot of his original ideas on the cutting room floor to end the series on episode 184 instead. “My initial reaction to finding out that it would be not only the last season but a shortened last season was bittersweet and a lot of disappointment,” says Wallace, speaking to EW prior to the writers’ strike. “But we are the lucky ones — we got a year of knowing this is the end, so let’s make this the greatest end we possibly can.”
But the showrunner is careful to clarify he didn’t write a definitive ending for the Arrowverse in the Flash series finale. “I still am hopeful that the Arrowverse is not over,” he explains. “I’ve approached it as The Flash is over and I want to make the best Flash series finale as possible.” He knows how that sounds — he’s definitely in denial. But despite the facts, he just isn’t ready to say goodbye. “I’m going to have lunch with [Superman & Lois showrunner] Todd [Helbing] in the next couple weeks,” Wallace says. “And I’m going to tell him, ‘If you get a fourth season, you’ve got to sneak some Arrowverse in there. You are now carrying the torch.'”
Helbing (who served as showrunner on The Flash for seasons 2-5) smiles as he thinks about the potential of keeping the Arrowverse alive if Superman & Lois reverses its decision. But he doesn’t know if he’ll even get that chance, as his series hasn’t been renewed yet and the CW’s slate of original shows continues to get slashed by new owner Nexstar. “I will say this, it sure is a lot easier now that the other shows aren’t on the air, people’s schedules are a lot easier to work around, so… maybe,” he says “I would love to bring Grant on, and I think it would be a lot of fun to have Candice, to have Iris with [Elizabeth Tulloch’s] Lois Lane. So we’ll see.”
But for now, whether he likes it or not, Wallace is bringing the Arrowverse to a close when The Flash series finale airs Wednesday, May 24, at 8 p.m. ET/PT. “I’ve wrapped up a lot of things in the series finale, and it ends on a very hopeful note that shows you how the future of the Arrowverse could continue in some way, shape, or form,” says the showrunner. “It hopefully gives people closure, but also some hope for the future, because otherwise, it’s very sad to think that there won’t be an Arrowverse after May 24.”
Over nine seasons, Barry and Team Flash have battled and defeated many big bads, both speedster and non, but quite a few of them return in the last hour of the epic, four-part series finale (which kicked off May 3). The familiar faces bring the story full circle while the episode still delivers the signature three facets of every Flash episode: Heart, humor, and spectacle. “I’m very proud of the last episode,” Wallace says. “It’s a love letter to the audience.”
It’s also a touching parallel to Gustin’s own life. “It is poignant that it finishes as Barry and I are both starting a family,” says the actor, whose Barry saw Iris go into labor in the second hour of the four-part saga. “I had a lot of figuring things out to do over the course of the nine years, and same for Barry. None of us knew what we were getting into when this started or how big it was going to be, and I’m just proud of the way we all grew together and always continued to show up for the show and do the best we could. I think we really finished on a high note.”
Wallace is most excited for finale viewers to see how he’s “leveled up” Barry Allen to “his full comic book potential, to almost godlike status,” something both he and Gustin had wanted to see for a long time. “He’s not the same person who got struck by lightning way back in 2014,” the showrunner explains. “Look at what he’s become over nine years, which is a message to the audience: Look at what you all can become. Everybody can fulfill their full potential if you just take a heroic path.”
But of course, that path won’t be easy for Barry and the rest of Team Flash. “They wrote the s— out of those last four episodes, and the way they’re bringing all these characters and everybody’s favorite villains all back in the finale, it’s going to be insane,” says Brandon McKnight, who joined the series in season 6 as Team Flash member Chester P. Runk. Joining all those villains is resurrected season 1 ally Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), breaking bad as DC Comics supervillain Cobalt Blue. “What Rick did coming back as Eddie blew me away,” Gustin teases. “I’m excited for fans to see that storyline unfold because we were building to those moments for a long time.”
Along with some surprise cameos from Teddy Sears as Zoom and Karan Oberoi as Godspeed (pictured below), previously announced returning cast member Tom Cavanagh also reprises his original season 1 role in the episode as Eddie’s distant relative Eobard Thawne. Cavanagh, who exited as a series regular in season 6 but has returned as a guest star every season since then, is thrilled that he got to suit up one final time as Barry’s archnemesis Reverse-Flash. “The last day I did, there was blood and glass and destruction and things blowing up — it’s a good way to go out,” he says. “It seems appropriate.”
Teddy Sears, Karan Oberoi, and Tom Cavanagh in ‘The Flash’ series finale | Credit: Bettina Strauss/The CW
There was one return that couldn’t happen, however — in any timeline. Original cast member Carlos Valdes, who played Team Flash’s resident tech-genius-turned-metahuman-superhero Cisco Ramon, left the series in season 7 and does not make a cameo in the finale. It’s not for lack of trying though. He tells EW that he wanted to appear in the final season, but scheduling conflicts made it impossible (he was filming Hulu’s musical rom-com Up Here around the same time). “Honestly, there was no way to make it happen,” he says, “which was really heartbreaking to me because I thought, if I decided to step away from the show, at the very least I have to be there for the finale to round this thing out.”
The Flash was dealt another curveball while filming the series finale, as the titular superhero faced one more, unexpected villain. “I didn’t get COVID for three years, and we were six days away from finishing and I somehow got COVID,” Gustin reveals. “And God bless them, they somehow made it work and shifted some things around on the schedule. We shut down for a day. I was so close to the finish line and ended up having to do the full 10-day quarantine because I was still testing positive. And I felt fine! I just had to sit at home and wait to do my last few days for a while.”
While Gustin was in quarantine, production continued as best as it could without its star. “There was some creative filming that had to be done and they were going to have to add him in later on green screen,” Panabaker says. As a result of the reshuffling, an extra day was added to filming to complete the finale. “It felt like they were trying to keep me here,” Gustin jokes. “We just prolonged the end.”
The end of the world is looming. It’s the third-to-last day of filming back on the Vancouver set, and angry red lightning flashes outside the windows of CC Jitters. Barry has reached his breaking point — he’s just been told his plan to save everyone is impossible, but he refuses to accept anything less than no casualties. He eventually explodes, yelling at his own allies in a rare moment of devastating fury from the usually optimistic hero. As the director calls cut, emotions remain dialed up to 11, but for a much different reason: John Wesley Shipp just had his series wrap after more than 30 years of playing the Flash (first as the original Barry Allen on CBS’ 1990 show The Flash before returning decades later to play Barry’s father Henry Allen, along with multiple older versions of the comic book hero, on the CW).
The two Flashes, both clad in their respective superhero suits, are now hugging as the crew emerges onto the set, applauding the milestone. But the Golden Age Flash is only focused on the younger Flash for a minute. “I never would’ve anticipated in 1991, when I swore I’d never get into another superhero suit, that I would have it end that way, in the last season, saying goodbye to Henry Allen and then Jay Garrick, both in and out of the suit,” Shipp says. “I tried to thank Grant, but then my voice cracked. And that’s when he came over and gave me a big hug. And that said everything that needed to be said.”
This moment on Thursday night isn’t the first emotional series wrap of the week, and it won’t be the last. Original cast members Jesse L. Martin and Cavanagh’s final scenes the day before were the first moments where people got visibly choked up. That sentimentality ramps up on Friday as the rest of the series regulars finish filming. First up is Patton, and while the details of her final scene are top secret, it’s not a spoiler to reveal that tears flow nonstop throughout her entire last take, from both Iris and Barry and Patton and Gustin. “There were just so many tears, and I just had a good long cry in my trailer afterwards,” Patton remembers as she talks to EW on the phone in April. “I don’t know that there’s a way that you can prepare for a day like that because it doesn’t feel real.”
A few hours later, the rest of Team Flash — Panabaker, McKnight, Danielle Nicolet, Jon Cor, and Kayla Compton — stand with Gustin in the speed lab for both a goodbye and a reunion. It’s their final scene, but they think they still have more time. “We didn’t know it was the last take until it was over,” reveals Compton, who plays metahuman Allegra Garcia a.k.a. Ultraviolet. “They called cut, and then all of these people just started to walk on set, and that’s when it hit us, ‘Oh, we’re done. This is it. We’re being clapped out.’ I just started crying.”
“Normally on a set, when it’s the last take of the day, someone calls out ‘martini,'” explains Nicolet, who plays metahuman D.A. Cecile Horton. “Well, no one called ‘martini.’ As soon as they started clapping us all out, my Flash life flashed, pun intended, before my eyes.” Cor points out that he kept his emotions in check until he was alone in his trailer. “The only meltdown that I had was privately, and nobody knew,” says the actor, who plays supervillain-turned-hero Mark Blaine a.k.a. Chillblaine. “I couldn’t stop, but I had never been happier.”
As for the Flash himself, Gustin was surprised by his own reaction a day later while filming his very last scene, running on a green screen. “I thought it would be more complicated for me, emotionally. I thought I’d have more of a struggle,” he says. “And I wasn’t emotional. I was almost feeling guilty, like, ‘Why am I not crying more every day like everybody is?’ And I know Stephen was that way too when Arrow was ending. I’m a very sensitive person and very honest about my emotions, but I think it just spoke to how it was time for it to end and I was ready.”
It’s only now, sitting in EW’s studio two months later, that it’s all finally starting to sink in. “Wow, I’m getting a little emotional talking about it now,” he says with a smile. “Now I’m feeling the emotion more than I did that week. I don’t think I felt everything on that final day as I should. But I felt really at peace that whole last episode, as I did for most of that season. I just was really taking it in and appreciating that I got to be the one to wear the suit, because it could have been anybody else, and I was the one lucky enough to get to do it.”
Gustin is quick to clarify that the Flash costume had its downsides, of course — recalling how the cowl used to be glued directly to his face back in season 1, and he was actually forced to eat meals and take naps with it on — which is why he’s surprised at how much he’s actually going to miss suiting up. “The suit is tough to work in, but it was never lost on me that a superhero suit was made for me to put on, and I got to go to work and do that,” he says. “Knowing it was the last season, just putting the boots on and zipping it, I knew that I was running out of time. I knew one of these times, it’s going to be the last time I take it off.”
And when that moment came, Gustin didn’t take it for granted. His wife and daughter had come to set to watch his final day (“The last thing we shot is the last shot you see of the series, which was cool,” he reveals), and they were with him in his trailer after he wrapped. “As I was finishing taking the suit off, I handed my wife my phone and was like, ‘Film me hanging this up,’ because it was just a moment I knew that I’d want to have,” he says.
Sharing that moment with his family is something he’ll cherish forever, especially as he looks ahead to his future post-Flash. “Now I’m going into this next chapter in my life where I don’t know what’s going to happen professionally,” Gustin says. “And I’ve said for years, this may very well be the pinnacle of my career — and how cool, if it is, that I got to do this. But I get to now go into the unknown with my family. Now I’m just husband, and dad, and not the Flash anymore.”
That’s why, when he’s now approached by fans asking if he’s the Flash, he loves giving a new answer. “My response has been, ‘I used to be,’ which is weird to say, but true,” he says. “And it also kind of feels good.” But he’s also aware that he’s prolonging the end for himself even more. “I think maybe it’ll also hit me more and more as I watch this final season. It’s not over for me yet.”
He’s also excited to finally participate in fan conventions, now that he suddenly has some free time in his schedule. “We’re still talking Flash, I’m still going to get to meet The Flash fans, and it’s a new chapter of The Flash era now, so I don’t think it’s ever really going to end,” he says. “The filming chapter is closed, but I still get to be the Flash.” He pauses, then smiles as he continues: “So I shouldn’t say I used to be the Flash. I should just say yes when people ask me if I’m the Flash.”
He does still have the ring, after all.
Director: Rachel Talalay; Producer: Ethan Bellows; Music: Blake Neely; Color Correction: Carlos Flores/Forager; Photo Director: Alison Wild; Head of Video: Kristen Harding; Creative Director: Chuck Kerr.
THE FLASH TM and all pre-existing characters and elements TM and ©DC Comics. Copyright © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.