After “Flashpoint” — last week’s fun but frenetic season premiere — Flash fans and critics across the internet seemed to agree on two things.
1.) This show’s cast of characters will always be irresistible, no matter the timeline or Earth.
2.) The Flash needs to pick a reality and stick with it for a while.
The good news about this week’s “Paradox” is that it was a stronger hour of TV, because — ironically for a story about a speedster — it slowed down a bit. It also brought a screeching halt to all the time-hopping shenanigans in a way that hints at permanence. The bad news is that the timeline the show is now stuck in appears to be a grimmer version of the one we’ve known before. That said, all signs point to The Flash getting back to semi-normal in the near future, and most likely bringing back the brightness that sets this series apart from most other modern superhero sagas.
The Splash Page
It’s tempting to say that the key scene and image in this episode is the shot of Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-3, standing above Barry Allen after ripping him from the Speed Force and stopping him from trying to change time again. That whole sequence is pretty terrific. It’s always a treat to see John Wesley Shipp on this show, not just paying homage to his stint as the hero of the 1990’s The Flash TV series but also serving as a strong, warm presence. Shipp plays Jay appreciably a bit different than he did Barry’s dad, Henry, in the first two seasons, taking on more qualities of a grizzled champion. Plus, his Jay sets this world’s Flash straight by explaining why he can’t just shake the universe like an Etch A Sketch every time he doesn’t like the way the picture looks.
But this week’s signature shot is actually the one of Barry standing in front of yet another pane of glass with a marker, explaining alternate timelines to Cisco, Iris, Wally, and the rest of the team. The moment defines “Paradox” for two reasons. First off, to be honest, a lot this episode feels like as much of a do-over for the Flash as the multiple “butterfly effect realities” have been for Barry lately. It’s not that there was anything overly wrong with “Flashpoint” aside from it rushing through the ramifications of Season 2 big, universe-resetting cliffhanger. But while last week’s installment was plenty funny and exciting, this week’s brought much more heart by forcing Barry to reckon with what he’d done.
That’s the other reason why Barrys little lecture is so key to what “Paradox” is about. In “Flashpoint,” the changes wrought by the Flash saving Nora Allens life last season transformed present day reality dramatically. Here, the changes are more subtle. Iris never forgave Joe for lying to her about her mom being alive. Cisco’s brother Dante died in a car accident, and he’s been brooding ever since. Before Jay stops Barry, he’s tempted to use his powers to tweak his friends’ lives further — like someone who’s just bought a new TV and can’t get the color just right. But he eventually comes to understand that some rifts are better closed up through normal human interaction, not meta-human intervention. The lesson of this episode is that sometimes things just suck, and you have to work through them gradually, the way any non-speedster would.
All of that said … boy, it was a frag to see Cisco so miserable. One of the few constants on The Flash is that Cisco Ramon enjoys himself. Making him into a mope is a bad choice for the dynamic of of this series going forward. But perhaps the writers are planning to move him out of bummerville as fast as possible, judging by the active role he plays in the climax of the episode, when he dons his new Vibe suit to save Barry. In one of the last scenes in “Paradox,” Cisco even softens enough to give the Flash’s latest rogue a better name, changing “Alchemy” to “Dr. Alchemy.” (“Don’t pretend like Dr. Alchemy doesn’t have a nice ring to it,” he says, showing signs of of his old self.)
As for the still-mysterious Dr. Alchemy, he follows through on last week’s epilogue by finding this timeline’s Edward Clariss and bestowing on him both the powers and the memories of the Rival, the speedster who mortally wounded Kid Flash and then was shot by Joe West in “Flashpoint.” The Rival gets taken down again in “Paradox,” though his masked patron remains at large, seemingly determined to continue tampering with reality by restoring some of the characters and conditions from the alternate timeline. This means it’s probably only a matter of time before Wally West becomes Kid Flash again (which’ll be wonderful, honestly).
The major new introduction this week though is Julian Albert (played by Draco Malfoy himself, Tom Felton): a CSI specializing in meta-human physiology. In this only slightly revised reality, Julian’s been Barry’s work nemesis for months. The instant dislike our hero has for his new lab mate is one the few personality traits that doesn’t seem to alarm his friends. No matter the universe, apparently Barry will always despise Julian — and vice-versa.
To Be Continued…
Next week we’ll get a better sense of what The Flash will be like in a timeline where Cisco is moody and Barry is grudgingly working with Julian. One big question to be addressed soon is how long Caitlin Snow can keep the secret she reveals only to the home viewer in the episode’s closing minutes: that she has ice powers like the evil Earth-2 Caitlin (aka Killer Frost).
As for whether Cisco can keep holding a grudge against the Flash for not using time-travel to save Dante’s life … well, it’s encouraging that Barry comes clean with the team in his big timeline-explaining scene, about what he did and what he won’t do again. If nothing else, that means we’re unlikely to get week after week of Cisco and the other characters giving him the cold shoulder. Television writers too often use “you lied to me and now I’m not sure I can trust you” as a vague, lazy narrative complication to stretch out the drama for a few more episodes. Arrow, for example, gets stuck in that rut far too much. Here’s hoping that The Flash gets out as fast as possible.
– So what do we know about Julian Albert, Flash-ophiles? Not a whole lot from the comics. Given what this show has done in the past with characters who don’t have a print predecessor, don’t be surprised if we find out later this season that “Julian Albert” is an alias for someone much more familiar in the Flash mythology.
– One early highlight of this episode is when Barry races to Star City to explain his time-altering predicament to Arrow’s Felicity Smoak — which also serves to quickly catch us up on what this post-“Flashpoint” world is like. Felicity thinks she’s being kind when she tells Barry that he’ll be fine because he’s “like pudding … and everybody likes pudding.” But she may in fact have made matters worse, because she feeds his presumption that he’s capable of smoothing everything over, rather than learning to live with the parts of his life that are rough.
– The Felicity scene is also a reminder that Barry’s changes to the past affect more than just his general vicinity in Central City. For example, Arrows John Diggle now has an infant son instead of an infant daughter, which is a weird continuity change to make on another show.
– Hey, Barry’s “fixes” brought back the CCPD’s Captain Singh! Last week in Flashpoint” he was replaced by Captain Mendez, played by Alex Désert, who — in a heck of a fan-friendly Easter Egg — played the same character in the ‘90s TV Flash.
– The worst scene in “Paradox?” That would be Barry trying to bring Iris and Joe back together (ultimately successfully) by racing between their respective offices and tricking each into revealing what it would take to accept a dinner invitation from the other. Did neither notice the long pauses in their conversations with Barry while he was talking the other West across town?
– That said, could someone involved with The Flash post the recipe for Grandma Ester’s noodle dish that bonds Iris and Joe? Our own universe could probably use something like that right about now.