On one hand, I really enjoyed this episode and I am happy that Rathaway is back on the show. On the other hand, unless it is addressed really soon, I think they broke the logic of the show forever.
I really liked that near the end of last season, Barry started going back in time and changing things and Dr Wells immediately knocked some sense into him. Going back in time is bad. It creates paradoxes. You get back to a time that’s nothing like what you left. A million good sci-fi movies have already said it perfectly. You don’t fuck with time.
And then we had the Season 1 finale. Barry went back in time to save his mother and at first things pretty much worked. He made it back to the year he was going for. He ended up in his childhood bedroom as the Reverse Flash was about to murder his mom. And just as he was about to go and save her, a future Barry put his hand up basically saying “Don’t.”
It was one of the most powerful moments on the show. The only thing Barry wanted in the world was to save his mom. He had done the impossible to get to that moment. But in that moment he had to trust that his future self knew better. Saving his mother would change time in a way that must have been so catastrophic that Barry would have to let his mother die again to protect everything else.
Fast forward to this week. Barry decides that the only way he can learn the secret to running faster is to learn it from Eobard Thawne aka Season 1 Dr Wells. Since he was erased from existence, the only way Barry talk to him is to go back in time to Season 1. And in complete disregard for everything that I just said, about how he seemed to learn his time traveling lesson (not to how time travel sometimes creates breaches) Barry just goes ahead and does it anyway.
Conceptually, the episode was fun. We got to relive the first season and revisit a villain that came and went a little too quickly. The time wraith element was a little strange, especially since fans think it was some sort of alternate future Barry. And originally I didn’t mind the time travel nonsense because things were going so poorly. Barry gets found out immediately and ends up handcuffed in the time vault. Then evil Dr Wells decides to help Barry get back to Season 2 before anything else goes wrong but then Barry bumps into his past self and makes everything a hundred times worse. Also an evil time ghost is chasing everyone. Shit is going down. And in a last ditch effort, Barry has to run back to his time before the ghost eats his soul and it barely works.
But then, Barry goes back to Season 2 and who is there but Hartley Rathaway hanging out with the STAR Labs team like he never went bad in the first place.
Originally I thought, cool. I like his character. He is the right kind of well meaning jerk that can replace Earth 2 Wells when he is inevitably killed in the finale. His character also bears a great deal of comic significance as Pied Piper was one of the first Flash villains to switch from bad to good and become an ally. Also Rathaway bears a ton of historical significance as one of the first openly gay mainstream comic characters. It’s always good to see that kind of diversity especially when they don’t have to change the original characters to add it.
But then I thought, wait a second. That went waaaaaaay too well. Barry learned the secret to running faster (tachyons, duh). He also managed to save Hartley from a life of villainy, seemingly by accident. He also even managed to record a message from Eddie to Iris telling her everything she needed to hear to move on. That is the opposite of everything we have been led to believe about time travel thus far in the show.
And before you ask, yes I remember that in the Legends of Yesterday/Today crossover, Barry ran back in time to stop Vandal Savage from vaporizing everybody. I don’t think that counts because
- That episode wasn’t very good and I’ve written it off in general.
- Barry absolutely had to do that in that instance. He really didn’t have a choice.
Also I’m willing to acknowledge that because of Legends of Tomorrow, the hard and fast rules of time travel seem way more like guidelines that even veteran time travelers like Rip Hunter have no problem completely ignoring whenever they pose a minor inconvenience. Hopefully LoT can sort their problem out too, but until Captain Cold comes back and tells Barry all of this, it shouldn’t affect Thee Flash. They really do need to sort that out before the finale, though. It’s getting ridiculous.
And maybe you’re thinking “Well the time wraiths seem to exist as a safeguard against time traveling too much” which I would agree with except they were able to neutralize the time wraith IMMEDIATELY! Big deal. If one of those show’s up again, just zap it with the gloves. Problem solved.
And that’s the big issue with this week’s episode. There were NO consequences to time travel. Why doesn’t Barry now use time travel to solve every problem? Remember how Eddie is dead? Save him. Did Earth-2 Joe die? Save him too. Is Team Arrow trying desperately to prevent the death of a teammate this week whose funeral you will eventually attend? Save everyone. You don’t have to bring them through time with you but just show up at a critical moment and tell them exactly what they need to know to fix the situation.
Arrow ran into this problem last season with the Lazarus Pits. If the show was going to keep killing characters, only to bring them back in a week’s time with the pits, why does any of the death matter at all? Why aren’t we throwing Moira and Tommy and every other character that tragically died into the pits immediately? And to it’s credit, Arrow got rid of the pits. Nyssa destroyed them recently, not because they were too dangerous, but because the writers realized they broke the show. They lowered the stakes of every season finale from here to eternity. Flash needs to do that too.
Good science fiction relies heavily on rules. We have to establish the rules to super speed and time travel so that we can build the drama of the episode around those rules. Breaking the rules is fine, but the audience has to understand why. Up until this week, the time travel rules were “Don’t do it unless you absolutely 100% have to and even then maybe don’t do it. Time travel is bad. Don’t fuck with time.” On this week’s episode, Barry broke that rule. Fine. But why wasn’t it bad, at all? Why wasn’t there a catastrophe? How does this rule actually work?
On a future episode of the Flash, we need to see this from the other perspective. A Barry from the future needs to come back with a message that overusing time travel with ruin everything that the team has to stop using it, now. I don’t care if it feels too much like the Season 1 finale again or like a certain cameo in a DCEU film. It need to happen because the future of the logic of the show depends on it.
I also guarantee I will forget about all of this next week because it looks like we’re finally getting the Zoom origin and WOO HOO! BRING ON THE ZOLOMON!
Matthew Nando Kelly is an incredibly cool and handsome Senior Staff Writer for Pop-Break who was allowed to write his own bio. Besides weekly Flash recaps, he focuses on film, television, music, and video games. Matthew also has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he discusses pop culture related brackets with fellow Pop-Break writer DJ Chapman. He has an unshakable love for U2, cats, and the New Orleans Saints. His twitter handle is @NationofNando. Did we mention how handsome he was?