Oh, I see what you did there, Flash, calling this episode “Rogue Time.” Half of the episode really is just about getting Captain Cold, Heatwave, and the newly introduced Golden Glider much closer to being the oddly noble group of comic book villains known as the Rogues, but the other half is focused more on Barry’s first adventure with time travel, hence “Rogue Time” instead of just saying “Time for the Rogues” or something. But beyond that, this was also a time to meet new family members, “Rogue Time” introducing us to both Cisco’s seemingly arrogant brother and Captain Cold’s gold-loving sister Lisa, played by The Tomorrow People’s Peyton List. So, we welcomed the return of Wentworth Miller (Cold), Dominic Purcell (Head Wave), said hello to Peyton (Golden Glider), and breathed a deep sigh of relief that Cisco survived everything this time around, his fatal encounter with Dr. Wells now erased from history.
The actual time travel component of the story marched along somewhat predictably, with Barry playing Marty McFly to Harrison Well’s Doc Brown (“I have to tell you about the future!”/”You can’t! It’ll rupture the space time continuum!”). However, even though much of it progressed as I expected (e.g., Barry captures Weather Wizard right away, dumps Linda, makes a move on Iris, gets shot down because he forgot that it took a life or death situation to cause Iris to open up) I greatly admired how this episode was structured.
Writing a good time travel story is ridiculously difficult. Director Matthew Vaughn told Empire Magazine Podcast that back when it looked as if he would be the one to direct X-Men: Days of Future Past the time travel part of the story scared him, “Time travel is a wank, let me tell you. I actually laughed and told Simon Kinberg, ‘I’ve cracked it for a 12-page story treatment based off the Days of Future Past comic, but you can bloody go write the screenplay because you’re going to have a nervous breakdown trying to make sense of this, the impact of bloody every scene on past, present and future.’” In that situation, the task in front of them was to essentially wipe out the events of the bad X-Men movies while hopefully maintain some of the stuff from the good ones. Luckily, The Flash’s first foray into time travel – well, outside of Dr. Wells’, I guess – was far less challenging to pull off. This was just Barry Allen essentially getting a do-over on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, and it could have very easily turned into a Groundhog Day-esque exercise of simply revisiting the same scenes again.
Instead, they were very clever with it. I thought it was odd the way one scene in the last episode (“Out of Time”) just started with Caitlin at STAR Labs suddenly announcing, “So, Clyde Mardon has a brother?” It was a bit of obvious exposition, but it felt kind of like we’d entered right in the middle of a conversation. Now, when we revisited that same section of the story in “Rogue Time” we see that immediately before Caitlin said that she was actually walking into the lab and talking to Cisco about going to his brother’s birthday party with him, then segueing naturally into her question about Clyde Mardon. Even before that, unless I missed it Barry did not spill anything on his boss at the morgue crime scene this time around, and that awful Flash-pun headline Iris was writing which her mentor mocked in “Out of Time” happened again in “Rogue Time” except this time Barry was actually in the background, eventually stepping forward to interrupt their conversation.
It was the little things that stood out last episode, and now it becomes apparent that they were signposts meant to stand out so we would notice when something was different about them the next time around. Moreover, it became apparent how much of a complete story they had in mind to be told across these two episodes, “Out of Time” featuring that scene with Wells and Cisco watching Buster Keaton movies and talking about Cisco ducking out of some family function as a means of setting us up to watch Cisco not duck out of that family thing in “Rogue Time.” They also displayed a brilliant mastery of context, giving us Wells and Cisco in the same setting at the end of both episode, Wells using almost the exact same language to describe his fatherly instincts towards him both times. However, it was insanely menacing in “Out of Time” and touching in “Rogue Time,” although only to a limited degree. We now know that Wells truly does care a great deal about Cisco, but that won’t stop him from killing him without hesitation should Cisco get in his way.
Of course, this being time travel your mind can’t help but look for holes, and I do kind of wonder what exactly Captain Cold and pals were up to the whole time during the events of “Out of Time.” They were clearly tailing Cisco, looking for their chance to use Lisa to capture him. So, would they maybe have been in a van somewhere near STAR Labs waiting for Cisco to leave the night that Dr. Wells killed him in “Out of Time”? Ah, why bother with such questions. The gist of the matter is that the Rogues were powerless criminals and would have remained so in the original timeline since Cisco was dead thus leaving them no one to build them new weapons, but thanks to Barry’s time travel shenanigans the Rogues all have guns courtesy of Cisco and know The Flash’s secret identity. Dr. Wells promised Barry that time would replace one tragedy for another, though replacing a giant tidal wave of doom with a couple of people getting guns and finding out someone’s true identity isn’t quite the same level of destruction, now is it? But it did result in my favorite scene of the episode.
It’s entirely possible that Smallville already did something like this and I’ve forgotten, or that some superhero film has, but I can’t recall seeing anything quite like Barry Allen’s confrontation with Captain Cold at the end of “Rogue Time.” He knows that Barry is The Flash! This is supposed to be when he goes around kidnapping his loved ones. Heck, he already kidnapped Caitlin in an earlier episode, ditto for Cisco in this one. Surely, he’ll run out and nab Iris next. At the very least, he’ll threaten to expose Barry’s secret to the world, possibly pulling a Slade Wilson on Arrow and just showing up at Iris door one night to suddenly declare that Barry is The Flash. Well, Cold doesn’t go that far, but he does pull a standard “I have some program somewhere rigged to release your secret to the world should I get arrested.” But after that Barry and Captain Cold more or less shake hands and decide to be gentlemen’s about it. No more killing, no threatening loved ones. Cold will keep committing crimes in Central City because he’s an adrenaline junkie who needs his fix but loves his home too much to leave, and Barry will keep trying to stop him.
Contrast that downright civil arrangement with what’s about to go down on Arrow, where two characters are about to find out Oliver Queen’s secret and bring down a world of hurt on him. That’s just generally how that particular part of the superhero story goes, and I’ve always heard that one reason people love The Flash in the comics is because his relationship with his villains is unlike anywhere else. I actually recently picked up a graphic novel all about Flash’s Rogues, and at one point they end up stranded in a Gotham City overrun by villains. It was a fun way for the authors to contrast Batman’s villains with The Flash’s, with the former being a collection of the insane and downright evil and the latter being a group of minimally powered baddies who actually follow their own noble code and simply want to steal a buck for a living. That was the first time I started to really understand why people love The Flash’s villains so much, and now that Wentworth Miller’s performance as Captain Cold has started to grow on me (his speech patterns are so overly pronounced they’re positively fun to impersonate) I am starting to see that translate to the show as well. I am also starting to see why exactly the Arrow/Flash producers are trying to package Miller and others into a Arrow/Flash spin-off, although I think it’s a mistake to take away one of The Flash’s chief villains this quickly (last I heard, Heat Wave is going with him).
The still-forming Rogues do look tame by comparison to the Reverse Flash, though. Around the same time Captain Cold was reaching his civil agreement with Barry, Dr. Wells was phasing his fist through a newspaper writer’s chest, preventing him from ever publishing that damaging front-page story we knew he was writing. How exactly did Dr. Wells know that Iris’ mentor had that secret file on him? Did he already know on his own, and after killing Cisco in “Out of Time” he was on his way to kill the guy at the newspaper? Or was this time’s way of trading a life for a life, Cisco dying in one timeline, this guy dying in the new timeline? Ah, again, why bother with such questions.
Which is apparently the same general mindset Iris and Eddie adopted when Caitlin told them “Barry has lightning psychosis” and they apparently thought, “Sure, that’s totally a real thing.” I admired and enjoyed almost all of “Rogue Time,” and Caitlin’s out-of-nowhere Hail Mary pass at the end does have the added benefit of conveniently getting rid of any lingering questions like “Why isn’t anyone asking Barry why he spends so much time at STAR Labs?” Both Eddie and Iris did appear to give the departing Barry and Caitlin the briefest of looks to indicate that maybe they do not completely, 100% buy it. However, for now that rift between Barry and Iris and Eddie has been solved by a scientist telling them that Barry’s pretty much out of his mind sometimes, but not to worry because they’re working on it. It gave us a funny scene, but it did feel like it oddly back-pedaled and canceled out some well-earned drama. Barry, frankly, deserved to get punched by Eddie, and Iris needed to make a dang decision already, making her feelings perfectly clear to both Barry and Eddie, especially the latter. Now, they kicked that drama further down the road, presumably because it’s simply still a little too early in the season to go there yet.
It is apparently not too early in the season for Barry to completely turn on Dr. Wells though, and while that made for an effective cliffhanger I will be curious to see how Barry explains his turn of heart to Joe in the next episode. The setting of it in Barry’s loft, standing next to his big wall of crazy, helps, as it suggests that he’s likely re-examined said wall and possibly added to it to come to the conclusion that Joe’s been totally right about Dr. Wells this whole time. However, I was a bit surprised to see Barry going from seeing a news report about someone tangentially connected to Wells having suddenly gone missing to apparently abandoning everything he thought he knew about his mentor/surrogate father figure.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Time travel is hard, but The Flash got it right, with “Out of Time” and “Rogue Time” functioning as an effective two-part episode. It is regrettable that so much of their drama was ultimately undone either by time travel or “lightning psychosis,” but it was fun while it lasted.
1. I lost track of how many times I accidentally typed either “Rogue One” (the new Star Wars movie) or “Rogue Nation” (the new Mission Impossible movie) instead of “Rogue Time” while writing this review.
2. Did anyone else love the way Caitlin and Dr. Wells no-sold Barry’s brooding about Linda and Iris at STAR Labs, choosing not to ask any follow-up question in favor of simply pushing forward with what they were doing?
3. Kudos to Carlos Valdez’ stellar acting when Cisco briefly quit the team out of shame for having betrayed Barry’s trust. Between that and his heart-breaking death scene in “Out of Time,” he’s had an amazing two episode run.
4. Goodbye, Linda Park. It now seems as if that one episode where Barry kept showing up at your place of work to convince you to date him was ultimately a waste of time. That man ate hot peppers for you! Now, he’s positively giddy after he breaks up with you.
5. Sidenote: I guess this isn’t necessarily the last time we’ll see Linda. She’s a significant player in The Flash comic book universe, just not so much for the Barry Allen version of The Flash though.
6. So, um, has Barry just completely stopped trying to use his super speed to disguise his phase and voice when he’s The Flash? For example, couldn’t Lisa have easily recognized him when he was briefly holding her hostage at the casino? She talked to him at that bar the night before when she hit on Cisco.
7. It did seem like Dr. Wells and Caitlin rather randomly figured out Captain Cold’s true plan after the casino robbery.
8. Captain Cold punched a mobster in the nose and declared himself the new Godfather. That was like The Flash‘s way of briefly introducing some Gotham-esque crime drama, and then immediately throwing it out the window, yelling, “Not in my show, buddy.”
AVClub – They gave it a B- “The Flash made some daring storytelling choices at the end of last week’s episode, only to pull the rug out from under us this week. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, but the end result was a much more glum, Arrow-like hour than usual. If this is the darkest timeline, I’d just as soon turn back the clock one more time.”
GirlOnComicBookWorld – “Overall The Flash episode 16 was another great episode, that still managed to keep things exciting even after last week’s epic episode. Things seem to be moving along nicely, with Barry finally looking into Wells, and Captain Cold nicely paving his way into becoming one of the best Flash rogues.”