Talk about deja vu. The Flash just hit the giant re-set button. Again. The difference is this time they might actually follow through with it, but does that mean the entire second season was a waste of time?
In “Race of His Life” (S2:E23), Barry and Zoom more or less ran around in circles during their climactic battle, which seems particularly fitting because we ended the season roughly where we started, stuck in a hopelessly complicated time travel paradox. Eddie killed himself to save everyone last season; Barry traveled back in time and saved his mom this season. Very different actions, one selfless, the other entirely selfish, but they both work to the same end: everything’s about to change.
Except, of course, nothing actually changed after Eddie died, at least as far as the timeline goes. Eddie’s heroic death theoretically erased his descendants from the timeline, including Eobard Thawne, meaning every part of The Flash should have been fundamentally altered, going back to moment Thawne killed Barry’s mom. However, we were told the resulting paradox after Eddie’s death caused the breach between universes, and that Thawne (and everyone else) had somehow been protected by a “speed force bubble” which is why nothing had actually been erased from history.
Just go with it. Impeccable time travel logic is not what you look for from The Flash or the Arrow-verse in general (obligatory reference to the white hot, time travel mess that is Legends of Tomorrow). The Flash has always been more complicated than we realized anyway. For example, technically, the entire show takes place (or at least used to) in an alternate timeline since where Thawne came from Barry’s mom wasn’t murdered when he was a kid.
The Flash had a logical opportunity to completely reset itself after that first season, but it didn’t want to. Instead, the paradox was simply the tool the producers used to transition into the multiverse. You could let it trip you up, but, hey, look at that cool fight scene and, awww, Joe and/or Barry are crying again. Oh, you guys. When they cry we all cry.
But now what are we to make of “The Race of His Life”‘s ending in which Barry saves his mother and watches his past self (the season 1 version who ultimately decided not to save Nora) disappear in front of him? Are they following through on what was promised by the season 1 finale? Did The Flash just blow up the entire Arrow-verse? Or is this just a temporary swerve which will be quickly undone?
It remains to be seen how this plays out (or how the other Berlanti suphero universe shows will or will not be impacted), but as far as Flash goes they appear to be following Flashpoint Paradox‘s lead. That’s the comic book arc in which Barry traveled back in time to save his mother and returned to a present where his mother was alive but everything had changed, sometimes in little ways (an erased romantic connection), often in very significant ways (he no longer had powers and had never become The Flash).
It was adapted into a fantastic animated movie:
Based on that, might we be looking at a season 3 in which the only people who realize the timeline has been altered are Barry and Cisco (due to his Vibe powers) or maybe just Cisco?
If so, that would be a bold move, but I return to the question I opened with: Does this re-set butting ending mean the entire second season was ultimately a waste of time, or, if not a waste of time an exercise in building up characters they were always going to erase? Worse yet, is The Flash running around too many of the same narrative circles? For example, will this be yet another way for them to prolong the shelf life of the Iris/Barry romance, another obstacle throw in their way?
As TV Guide argued earlier this month, before “The Race of His Life” season 2 was already guilty of some cutting & pasting:
This year’s big villain, Zoom (Teddy Sears), is a hyper-fast speedster from another place in the time-space continuum, just like last year’s Big Bad, Reverse Flash (Tom Cavanagh). Zoom, like Reverse Flash, introduced himself to the group by posing as their mentor, used his knowledge of the speed force to help Barry get faster, and then revealed he was assisting the team only to take Barry’s speed for himself
Then “Race” introduced another doppelganger who looks just like one of Barry’s deceased father figures, suggesting Barry + Harry’s growing bond in season 2 could be repeated with Barry + The Real Jay Garrick in season 3.
Plus, they obviously played the dead mom card again even after devoting an entire recent episode to Barry achieving some degree of closure on that front. That’s not to suggest we were necessarily meant to believe Barry could ever truly get over Nora’s death (because who could, really?). However, he left her Speed Force ghost behind and ran to Iris, who acted like the light guiding him home. Now, two episodes later he actively rejects Iris and runs back to save his mom. Yes, he’s grieve-stricken, and so not in his right mind that the entire team temporarily sidelined him in STAR Labs Guantanamo. However, is this in more ways than one a giant step back? Or was this inevitable?
At this time last year, I was similarly distracted by the wibbly wobbly, timey wimey ramifications of Eddie’s death, but I didn’t let that creeping uncertainity spoil my enjoyment of the season 1 finale because I was so emotionally invested. Perhaps I emerged from “Race for His Life” more annoyed by a repeat of a similar swerve because I did not engage with the episode on an emotional level, definitely not in the same way Barry saying goodbye to his dying mother reduced me to tears last year.
Your hero is only as good as his villain, and a last minute “You killed my father!” wasn’t enough to elevate Zoom into a worthy successor to The Reverse Flash, even though Zoom was the scariest monster around before we discovered his identity. Plus, the final reveal of who was in the Iron Mask turned out to be more of a comic book easter egg than anything else, not something which was worth waiting for unless you are someone with a deep fondness for Jay Garrick in the comics, the 90s Flash TV show and John Wesley Shipp.
Is The Flash guilty of somewhat running in circles? Yes. However, if they are truly going to honor that cliffhanger then where they might go with this in season 3 could be very different.
What did you think of “The Race of His Life”?