By Philip Schweier
May 26, 2015 - 13:43
many fans, I caught the season finale of The Flash last week. Since
then, it’s been a struggle to put my thoughts down on paper, but time has given
me some distance and perspective to do so without too much frustration and
disappointment creeping in.
I enjoy the show, though like many first-year series, it has a taken a while to find it’s legs. Clearly everyone involved had an ambitious plan, which for the most part they managed to pull off. There was great deal of emotional depth for several characters, from a wonderful father/son moment between Barry and his step-dad, to an appropriately embittered rebuke between Cisco and Wells.
However, the last episode left me with a feeling of, “Wait, what?”
First of all, spoilers ahead. Allow me to get that warning out of the way, because before watching the episode, I indulged myself by clicking on a headline on a web page that led to a moment on the show being ruined for me. It’s my own fault, and I knew what I was doing, but I wish I’d never done it. What could have been a thrilling “Holy crap!” moment instead became a question of, “Okay, what’re they going to do about that?”
So if you haven’t seen the episode yet, you better check out now.
Still with me? Okay. Onward.
Barry’s first question is “Why?” Wells explains that he and Barry are enemies, each hating the other. Okay, Barry hates him because the Reverse Flash killed his mother, but why Wells/Thawne hates Barry is never explained. To Thawne, the Flash is a historical figure who’s been dead for 150 years. It’s somewhat akin to someone in 2015 hating Ulysses S. Grant.
Wells offers Barry a bargain. Together, they can harness Barry’s super-speed to open a portal through time. Barry can return to the night his mother died, and prevent her murder. Wells can return to his own era.
Which raises a question: If Barry’s speed is capable of opening a portal through time, and the Reverse Flash is faster than Barry, why can’t Wells open the portal himself? What does he need Barry for?
Previously, Wells reactivated the particle accelerator that gave Barry his powers. Once it became fully functional, it would obliterate all the super-powered criminals Flash and his team had collected and imprisoned in what was once the accelerator’s pipeline. Barry is determined that won’t happen, and goes so far as to enlist the help of his enemy, Captain Cold. But he betrays Barry, leading to comments on how far one can trust a super-criminal.
Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells
Wells proposal leads to a moral dilemma for Barry, though not on the issue of trust. That is addressed by Cisco Ramon, leading to a nod to one of the show’s more obscure DC Comics references. It was subtle and easy to miss, but no doubt those who caught it appreciated it.
Instead, Barry wrestles with the implications of attempting to change the past. If he manages to save his mother, his foster family of Joe and Iris West will never become part of his life. He’s uncomfortable with that potential loss, but here’s the thing: no one is aware of other timelines, which means Barry will never be aware of any of the emotional sacrifices he may make in the process. It’s not as if he will ever say, “Remember back before I altered history, when I used to live with Joe and Iris West? But then I went back through time, saved my mom, and all that changed. I miss that.”
This is a pitfall of time travel stories: assuming there’s an awareness of the characters involved that events have been altered. It doesn’t work that way. When something in the past is changed, there is an unnoticeable shift. All a character knows is what happened since that shift, not what was changed, or even if a change took place at all.
It’s easy to recognize life-changing decisions concerning where to live, what job to take, and who to marry. But equally important are the every day, benign decisions that might or might not have an effect on how our lives evolve. Choosing Coke or Sprite from a vending machine, going straight instead of turning left to get to work, etc. It’s a series of decisions and circumstances that add up, moment by moment, day by day, year by year. Altogether, they impact our lives in ways we’ll never be aware of.
Barry chooses to time travel back to the night his mother is killed. He encounters both himself as a little boy, and himself from a previous episode in which he attempted to go back in time to prevent his mother’s murder. Which raises another question: if the Reverse Flash is too powerful for the Flash, why not enlist the help of several Flashes from various points along the timeline to gang up on him?
Rick Cosnett as Eddie Thawne
This means there will be no Eobard Thawne to travel back in time to kill Barry’s mother. Yay.
Which means there will be no Eobard Thawne to be stranded in the past. Yay.
Which means there will be no Eobard Thawne to create STAR Labs, and the particle accelerator. Yay.
Which means there will be no particle accelerator disaster to give Barry his super-speed. Wait, what?
Maybe that’s over-thinking it, maybe not. The Flash and his team don’t have time to think about that right now, because the time portal they’ve created has expanded to catastrophic proportions and is sucking up large chunks of Central City. Barry realizes it’s much like the tornado he faced way back in the pilot, only larger. By creating a whirlwind in the opposite direction, one will cancel out the other. He speed-leaps up the debris to the mouth of the maelstrom and…
I said it before and I’ll say it again: Wait, what? What the hell kind of a season cliffhanger is that? A biblical disaster, and rather than the show ending, it merely STOPS? I expect something more dramatic – JR Ewing lying in a pool of his own blood, Commander Riker giving the order to fire on his own captain. GIVE ME THE UNTHINKABLE!! I don’t want a promise that our hero is going to recycle his very first parlor trick.
Will I tune in next September for season 2? Yes, I will. I believe the show has a great deal of potential, and I have a sincere desire to see it succeed. It would be unfair of me to allow a few moments of disappointment to ruin my enjoyment of the show. And who knows – maybe the mid-season finale will make up for it. Maybe the better moments of the season 1 cliffhanger will pay off.