After twenty-three episodes that brought classical superpowers back to the small screen, the first season of The Flash came to an end in last week’s “Fast Enough.” With a race to the finish that had viewers on the edges of their seats for weeks and one heck of a cliffhanger to knock them right off, the five months of hiatus until the premiere of the second season feel downright endless. Fortunately for fans, there’s plenty of material to examine in the meantime. So, in the name of reflection, reevaluation, and plain old killing time, each Tuesday will feature an in-depth look back at certain aspects of Season 1. This week’s installment will consider what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen next with regard to time travel on The Flash.
What Worked: The Flash did a good job of easing the prospect of time travel as a device into the framework of the first season. It would have been a bit much to premiere a show as having a plot centered upon a pair of speedsters battling through time, and introducing the concept by discovering forensic evidence of an adult Barry being present at the time of his mother’s murder was a compelling hook. Viewers may not have signed on for a time traveling hero, but his story by that point was too intriguing to give up entirely.
Also effective was Barry’s first trip to the past. Occurring entirely by accident due to a combination of speed and high emotion, Barry traveling back a day in time allowed a bunch of great stuff to happen for the audience without hamstringing the narrative by irrevocably passing a whole slew of points of no return. Barry got to kiss Iris and learn her true feelings. Cisco got to unleash an exposition dump by confronting Wells about his role as the Reverse Flash. Wells got to reveal his identity as Eobard Thawne. The show gave some fantastic reveals with its first trip into the past and subsequent reset.
Even better than the reveals was the fact that Barry learned that there were repercussions – good and bad – for changing things about the past. He may have saved Captain Singh and stopped a tsunami from ever swelling up to swallow Central City and even unknowingly prevented Cisco’s death, but his actions to stop the events of the previous day did result in Cisco being kidnapped and Captain Cold learning Barry’s secret identity.
Despite the fact that the Flash basically introduced himself by handing out “My name is Barry Allen – don’t tell Iris!” business cards for the majority of the season, the danger inherent in an intelligent supervillain knowing Barry’s greatest secret is considerable. Just ask Oliver Queen.
While Cisco living may have balanced the cosmic scales in Team Flash’s favor, the message to Barry was clear: it’s impossible to know what tampering with the past could do to the future. It was perhaps the most important lesson for Barry to learn all season.
What Didn’t Work: Sadly, Barry didn’t learn that lesson for very long. Upon hearing from Eobard Thawne that he had the opportunity to go back in time to save his mother from ever being murdered by the Reverse Flash, it was as if Barry completely forgot about the repercussions of the last time that he messed with the timeline. He’d made relatively minor changes to events that hadn’t occurred recently enough for the effects to be felt to history; changing such a monumental event as his mother’s death and his father’s imprisonment would irreversibly damage the established timeline. Frankly, it was irresponsible and selfish for Barry to actually consider agreeing to Thawne’s proposition.
And that was before the audience learned that saving Nora had the possibility of literally bringing about the end of the world. Seven billion lives to one already lost. There should have been no question.
Barry’s recklessness might have worked better if there had been more opposition to his plan. Henry Allen alone argued against Barry saving his mother, and Henry was the individual with the most to gain by her survival. That none of the brilliant scientists had anything to say about Barry changing all of reality by altering an event that had affected the courses of many lives was an oversight that the plot couldn’t sell. Even if the scientists were curious about the possibility of time travel, the explosion of the particle accelerator should have been enough of a lesson about the dangers of technological hubris to curb their appetites for heedless discovery.
Besides, there had to be at least one Doctor Who or Star Trek fan in that little group of geniuses. Somebody would have known not to mess with a fixed point in time. Even Cisco only opposed the plan because of the possibility of Barry’s death. The overlooking of possible consequences of such a serious change to the past was disconcertingly lazy for a show in which the entire finale arc revolved around time travel.
The laziness unfortunately did not stop at the failure to consider consequences. Eddie killing himself to prevent Eobard from being born should have changed everything the instant that Eobard ceased to exist. If Eobard had never been born, he never would have become the Reverse Flash. If there had been no Reverse Flash, Barry’s mother never would have been murdered, meaning at the very least that Barry never would have traveled to Starling City and saved Oliver’s life the previous year. Without Eobard, STAR Labs and the particle accelerator never would have been built when they were, meaning no metahumans, no Flash, and no Cisco or Caitlin in Barry’s life. Heck, if Eobard had never been born, there would have been no person for Eddie to need to kill and Eddie would be alive.
Eddie killing himself to save Barry and the rest of Team Flash was an act of heroism that cannot be denied and was a great twist at the end of the episode; the execution of the plot immediately thereafter just didn’t make sense. Instead of dealing with the intricacies and nuances that could have manifested from Eddie’s sacrifice, it went right for the big world-ending hole in the sky.
Couldn’t somebody on Team Flash have suggested double-crossing Eobard? Sure, they’re the good guys, and the good guys keep their promises, but come on. Giving a supervillain arch-nemesis a time machine based on his word that he won’t screw with the hero was begging for something to go wrong. That’s on them, really.
What Needs To Happen Next: The first thing that needs to happen with regard to time travel after Barry stops the big world-ending hole in the sky from actually ending the world is that the show needs to establish some guidelines. With upcoming spinoff Legends of Tomorrow apparently revolving around time travel, there needs to be a set of unbreakable rules held consistent within The CW’s DC universe. After the fiasco of Barry setting off a black hole on the verge of consuming the planet, there’s no room left for any cute time travel hijinks or mini resets. The stakes have been raised; they need to stay that way for the sake of three shows’ continuities.
The Flash needs to find some excuse that will prevent Barry from using time travel on a regular basis. As with the Lazarus Pits over on Arrow, time travel runs the risk of becoming a huge deus ex machina hanging over every plot twist for the rest of the series’ run. It needs to become 99% impossible or morally reprehensible or having such devastating effects no matter what that Team Flash wouldn’t dare use it unless it were the very last of last resorts.
The show needs to wrap up the major time travel arc as soon as possible. Time travel on a weekly basis doesn’t belong on The Flash any more than metahumans do on Arrow or Villains of the Week will on Legends of Tomorrow. The shows may all be connected in one big DC universe on The CW, but concept crossover should be saved for big episodes.
Somebody needs to acknowledge the sheer awfulness of Barry’s plan to go back in time. Heartless as it may seem for a character to say aloud, allowing Barry the chance to save or say goodbye to his mother was not even a little bit worth the risk of the planet being consumed by a black hole. If nobody mentions it, this will be just one more lesson that Barry didn’t learn.