At this point, it’s hard to imagine The Flash without time travel. So much of its three seasons have revolved around the concept, with the whole series actually instigated by the Reverse-Flash’s temporal machinations. The first half of this current season was motivated entirely by the consequences of Flashpoint and with time travel mostly beaten to death as a plot point by now, Barry’s accidental trip to the future at first seemed like more of the same. But surprisingly I’m actually finding this far more interesting for Barry’s development.
Messing with the past was almost always a bad idea and Season 2 frankly had too many examples of Barry making stupid decisions for the plot, such as touching everything on Earth-2 when he was specifically told not to, or just straight-up giving his powers to Zoom. But as to a time travel example, we can look to his going back in time to get Thawne-as-Wells to train him to fight Zoom, which was a guaranteed bad idea that everyone else agreed with. Time travel was always something Barry’s enemies were happy to do, which definitely implied it wasn’t something he should be messing with.
Even with Flashpoint itself, we may be able to empathize with Barry’s decision to change the past in order to bring his parents back to life, but it’s still a moment of very poor decision making. It was also a redundant character moment, in that it undid Barry’s previous development in the frankly fantastic Season 1 finale, where he selflessly chose not to save his mother. It was a beautiful moment that spoke of Barry’s strength as a hero and it was a shame to see it undone.
It also makes most of the problems on the show Barry’s fault, which is tough story-telling territory and unfortunately just didn’t fit well with The Flash. When it came to the whole debate of Flashpoint and Barry’s actions, the conversation just failed to feel fully realized, never quite deciding whether Barry truly fucked up or whether it wasn’t that big of a deal. Only Oliver during the crossover seemed to truly empathize with Barry’s choice (not that Oliver is an example of good decision making).
Flashpoint at least gave this season a bit of a drive in the same way that the Particle Accelerator explosion and the introduction of Earth-2 gave the previous two seasons their primary arcs. I’m not sure why the show feels the need to always have a new reason for the meta-humans of the week with each season, but Flashpoint and Dr. Alchemy by extension provided that this year. And to be fair, Flashpoint also fed directly into the fantastic crossover episodes and gave us the set-up for the Kevin Smith-directed “Killer Frost”, easily one of the season’s strongest episodes.
The difference this time is that the trip to the future was an accident and so relieves Barry of the burden of stupidity. There’s no way to forget what he saw and it’s totally understandable that it would consume him and become his primary goal in the way that it has. It may not be new territory for superhero stories but, much more than Flashpoint, this development fits with Barry’s character and has the potential to challenge him in a different way to normal.
In trying to change the future, Barry’s choices aren’t going to be quite so simple as usual, such as trying to avoid catching Plunder directly and even considering killing Grodd in order to prevent his prophesied attack. Last season was fuelled so much by Barry’s poor choices without there being any actual weight forcing him to make those decisions, but the threat of Iris’s murder is at least a much more believable way to have Barry stray a bit closer to the edge.
Iris as a character that has seen immense improvement since the first season, especially since they let her be a part of Team Flash, and they’ve even managed to make her relationship with Barry actually work (as long as you forget that they were raised as siblings). But with all the build-up to her potential death at Savitar’s hands and especially Barry’s proposal at the end of “Attack on Central City”, I find myself wondering if they might have the guts to go through with actually killing her.
Although I do like the development for the characters, it’s hard to get excited in the threat of the act itself, especially especially when the date of Iris’s supposed death is so firmly and obviously set for the finale. That’s a long time before we get a resolution and her survival is so expected that it would be great if The Flash finds a genuinely surprising way to defy expectations. Barring a superb Savitar identity reveal, Iris dying could well be it. Either way, time will tell how long The Flash can carry the momentum of this threat.
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