When last we saw Barry Allen, he’d just raced through time and across dimensions to defeat his speedster nemesis Hunter Zolomon and avenge the death of his father Henry. Though overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment, he still summoned the energy to zip backward in time to save his mother Nora from being murdered by the Reverse-Flash, Eobard Thawne. So as we begin Season 3 of The Flash, we’re faced with two questions:
1.) What kind of havoc did Barry wreak on the timeline?
2.) Will The Flash’s showrunners squander all the audience goodwill by plunging straight into a fresh set of chronological paradoxes?
Fans of the comic books and the show spent the summer hoping for the imminent straightening out of latest semi-dubious plot twist, which was adapted from comics writer Geoff Johns’s 2011 Flashpoint storyline. Judging by the lively Season 3 premiere — also called Flashpoint — showrunners Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti aren’t in a hurry to stay put. They clearly grasp both the dramatic and comic potential of time-bending, but whether they understand how constant rewrites weaken the story is unclear.
Fortunately, what is absolutely clear is that the show will continue to have really great moments that give fans a lot to talk about.
The Splash Page
About 20 minutes into “Flashpoint,” Barry’s walking along with Iris West on their first official “date” in this new timeline, when suddenly he doubles over in psychic pain. This episode doesn’t explain how much time has passed since Barry saved his mother and returned to the present, but early on the audience is given the opportunity to infer that a super-powered Wally West has taken on the duties of The Flash (or “Kid Flash” as he’s called, very much against his wishes). Barry, it seems, has been living a happy life with his now-living mom and dad while working as a CSI for the Central City Police Department and preparing to ask out Iris, who only knows him as some kid she went to elementary school with. Our hero is in a different timeline now, but he remembers his past and he’s trying to get back the things he liked about it. This happens until he tries to sort through his own memories. His mind buckles from the contradictions.
This happens a few more times in “Flashpoint,” ultimately setting up the episode’s main crisis. As explained by Eobard Thawne — whom Barry brought back with him to the present and imprisoned in a speed-dampening glass cage — the longer Barry stays in this new reality he’s created, the more he loses his recollections of what used to be. This is the dilemma: He’s given himself back the family he was denied as a boy, but he’s losing touch with the man/superhero he became.
Barry should’ve known this might be a problem, given that during the first two seasons he’s seen how big an impact the tiniest change can have on both in his own life and the lives of others. His choice in the Season 2 finale to go back in time was a selfish one, and something that The Flash could never let stand for too long (which is why so many fans groaned at last years big cliffhanger, given that it couldn’t last). Still, it’s a poignant moment the first time that Barry’s fully struck by the ramifications of his actions, as he sees his life with Iris zip before his eyes, on its way out of his brain for good. The shattering disconnect of that scene is echoed in every time he zooms around Central City to watch Kid Flash at work, at once enjoying his vacation from super-heroics and sensing that something’s very wrong with this picture.
Most of the rest of “Flashpoint” is dedicated to defining what the “Flashpoint” universe is like … for as long as it lasts, anyway. By the end of the episode, after Kid Flash has been mortally wounded by yet another evil speedster — who calls himself “The Rival” — Barry does what Thawne predicts will happen early on: he frees the Reverse-Flash and asks him to go back in time to re-kill his mother. Frankly, the regret and redress happens a bit too soon, if only because we barely get to enjoy what Flashpoint-Earth has to offer before it’s all gone. In the final scene, Thawne completes his mission and deposits Barry back at the West home, where he finds himself in yet another timeline, where Iris is inexplicably estranged from her father and brother.
Still, it’s fun to see Barry find and reform his team in the Flashpoint world, starting with Cisco (who’s now a cocky tech billionaire, stationed in the former S.T.A.R. Labs building), and then adding Caitlin (who’s been working as a pediatric ophthalmologist, yet still shows her quick wit when she’s kidnapped at super-speed and asked to help beat the Rival). The best scenes in “Flashpoint” are a reminder that the core of The Flash will always be the easy camaraderie between the main characters, which persists even when their circumstances and personalities have changed. In this timeline, Cisco and Caitlin have never met, and yet within minutes she’s gently teasing him. And while Joe West here is a drunk cop with no sense of purpose, he still acts heroically and saves Barry in the big final battle with the Rival, when the Flash is in danger of being killed.
To Be Continued…
Are we stuck in a loop, resetting every episode? Given how quickly and unceremoniously the show resolved “Flashpoint,” chances are that the big changes are done for a while, and that we’ll continue living in a world that’s not too radically different from the one we’ve known for years, aside from the Iris trouble. (Another prediction: The subtle timeline-shifts will allow the CW to bring Supergirl into the Arrowverse as though she’s always been there.) Meanwhile, in this week’s epilogue, we get our first brief glimpse at a classic Flash rogue, Dr. Alchemy, who seems ready to plague the good guys whether they’re still wringing their hands about Iris or not.
-The Rival may seem like a pale imitation of Season 1’s big villain Reverse-Flash and Season 2’s similar Zoom (black costume and all), but in the comics he’s actually the first of the “anti-Flashes,” debuting way back in 1949.
-Barry freeing Thawne at the end of this episode also means that Reverse-Flash is very much in play to be an enemy this season, or at the very least a Legion of Doom member on Legends of Tomorrow. “Flashpoint” also seems to set all this up a bit by reminding us that Thawne sees himself as the hero of his story.
-We don’t see at the end whether Cisco is still a billionaire in the newly “corrected” timeline. I’d like to get the old Cisco back, but I’d also love to spend more time the mega-rich version, who’s still lovable even as an obnoxious jerk. Maybe he’s so easy to suffer because he retains his gift for pop-culture-influenced interjections (“Babadook!” he slips in at one point) and nicknames (like reinserting an old Cisco-ism by dubbing the Rival “a weather-wizard” for his speed-generated cyclones).
-The MVP of this episode is Candice Patton, who’s been so much stronger on The Flash ever since the writers started getting Iris West more directly involved in the action. Here, she runs the gamut from quietly embarrassed by her drunken dad to proud about how she and Wally have become a scrappy, low-budget crime-fighting team. She’s also a delight flirting with Barry, telling him, “You’re really cute, but you should try talking just a little bit slower.” She sells one of the main ideas of this episode, taken from the comics, which is that Iris will always serve as a beacon for Barry, calling him back to where he belongs.
-Wally says he got his super-speed when the experimental chemicals he was using in his street-racer were struck by lightning. Does that mean there was no metahuman-generating S.T.A.R. explosion? Best not to think too hard about any of that. That timeline’s been severed anyway.