How The Flash Season 8 Finale’s Biggest Twists Set Up Season 9

The Flash showrunner Eric Wallace breaks down the season 8 finale, Iris’s time sickness, and what fans can expect when the series returns in 2023

Photo: The CW

The following contains major spoilers for The Flash

The Flash Season 8 Episode 20

The Flash season 8 came to an explosive conclusion with “Negative, Part Two,” an hour that saw hero Barry Allen face off against the newly assembled Negative Forces alongside his children from the future, reunite with Iris, and survive what may well be his last battle with Eobard Thawne’s Reverse Flash—by choosing not to fight at all. 

“This final graphic novel was all about closure,” The Flash showrunner Eric Wallace tells Den of Geek. “[It’s about] coming to a conclusion for some of the story threads that were hanging [out there], I think the largest of which was Iris’s time sickness, but also Barry’s leveling up storyline, which was the theme of this entire season 8.” 

In the end, despite the fact that virtually every member of Team Flash from Barry to Allegra to Cecile saw their powers increase this season, season 8’s final two-parter came down to the team’s ability to make very human choices and to connect emotionally with their roles as heroes.

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“We knew Barry had leveled up to a point where he had almost godlike abilities this season,” Wallace explains. “And as big as his foes have been this year with Deathstorm and Despero, I was like, well, how do you top that? All right, we’re going to put Tom [Cavanagh] in a new suit and he’ll be the negative version of The Flash. But what does that mean emotionally? You can’t just get more and more powerful and have that power be unchecked.”

Barry Allen’s greatest weapon has always been his humanity—his compassion, empathy, and ability to put himself in the shoes of the worst sort of monsters. Yes, we’ve sometimes made fun of his ability to basically pep talk villains into changing their lives for the better, but what makes Barry a hero isn’t his superspeed. It’s his heart. 

“The theme is, really, no matter how much you level up, always realize you’re a human being. And human beings not only have limitations but we want people with limitations,” Wallace says. “We want people with humility. We want people who know when to stand down and are compassionate. So I was very excited to really get that theme across in an entertaining, kind of nutball, crazy way this season.”

One of the biggest overarching themes of season 8 has been the mystery of what’s happening to Iris. Since developing a mysterious time sickness in season 7, she’s been frequently experiencing debilitating pain, lost time, and occasionally straight-up vanishing into the ether.

“As storytellers, we’ve known where we were driving the whole time. We knew Candace [Patton, who plays Iris], would not be in four episodes. We have nothing to do with that. So when people are like, ‘Why isn’t Iris on the show?’ That’s just the way things happen in life sometimes,” Wallace explains. “It’s not an evil plan. But we know it’s coming—and I know how hard it is as an audience member to ask ‘Wait, where’s my favorite character? Why isn’t she on the show this week? Grrrr.’ I get it because they’re not in the writer’s room, and [they don’t know] that when she comes back, we pick right up at that story, and we’re going to pay off her season-long journey, which is she has to level up too, just like anybody else.”

According to Wallace, he had to think about what that meant for a character like Iris, who has already been through so much over the course of the last few seasons, from getting trapped in the Mirror dimension to battling the time sickness that’s been zapping her in and out of reality for a season and a half.

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“All the characters in Team Flash had leveled up except Iris. She was the only one left. Well, how do you level up if you don’t have any powers? [But] she’s been under siege since day one on this show when her dissertation got stolen by a criminal and then getting stabbed over and over by Savitar. What this woman has been going through for eight years—how is she able to survive?”

Truly, if anyone is going to become the show’s ultimate avatar for strength and survival, there’s probably no better choice than Iris—particularly as she is one of the few The Flash characters that doesn’t have superhuman abilities. (Something that makes her consistently heroic behavior all the more impressive.)

“Quite frankly, [her journey] became a metaphor. This is going to sound crazy but the more I think about it, the more  I realize the world around us and America around us, what’s been happening, has been informing Iris’s storyline,” Wallace says. “Iris represents all of us, all the human beings in our country struggling against whatever we may be struggling against. There could be all sorts of adversity. But we can do it and we can do it by realizing we got this. And if we all realize we’ve got this, it means we’ve all got it together, and we will emerge in a better place. And that was Iris’s big epiphany. That’s her leveling up emotionally and saying, ‘I can take more. I can deal with this. I can because I’m not just a survivor—if I can invent a new word for her—I’m a thriver.’”

In fact, in Wallace’s view, it’s Iris’s love for Barry that ultimately saves the day, allowing her not just to find her way back to her husband, but give him the understanding that his battle against Thawne can’t be won by brute force.

“She really saves the day because she saves The Flash. Because if Iris doesn’t reconnect with Barry and single-handedly restart the spark between them, we’re all toast,” Wallace says. “So this is a story where she really gets to save the day, and that’s exciting to me.”

Seemingly killed by Barry’s own lightning last week, Iris finds herself inside the time stone that Damien Darhk gave her father during the Armageddon event earlier this season. But this time, no one’s coming to save her, and she has to find her own way out—and discover her own strength in the process.

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“That was on purpose. The first thing I said way back in 804 and 805 when we were first doing the time stone and setting that up [was] okay, she’s not going to be rescued by anyone. Barry rescued her from the mirror and that didn’t work out too well. Let’s not do that again. She needs to have agency,” Wallace explains. “The ultimate agency is having the strength to realize you can save yourself. Again, maybe I’m too affected by what the country is going through [currently]. But I’m really saying the same thing: We can do this, everybody. I’m an optimist. I believe in all of us. We can do it together. And Iris symbolizes that.” 

And Wallace sounds pretty excited about what this realization of her own strength means for Iris’s future. 

“I feel like this is Iris’s greatest moment, and from here she can do anything,” he says. “And this officially makes her the most badass character on Team Flash. Sorry, Barry, but it’s just the truth!”

Part of the reason that the events of the season 8 finale feel so definitive in many ways is that they were actually originally planned as a series conclusion, before Wallace and the rest of the writing staff received the news that The Flash had been renewed for a ninth season. 

“We knew we could only get away with this story in a season finale,” Wallace explains. “And remember, this was meant to be a series finale until we knew we were getting that ninth season. We were well into the writing of 820, and we’re thinking, I guess this is it. We got to show the ultimate battle between Reverse Flash and Flash. We got to have Iris rise up and be fully equal to her partner, Barry Allen. We got to have Danielle Panabaker step out of that cube. We got to do all these things. It’s going to be amazing. And then we got the wonderful news of that ninth season, so we’re like well, okay slow down!” 

Instead, Wallace says the series now has the opportunity to tell an “entirely expanded emotional story” about many of the twists hinted at in the season 8 finale, including whatever’s happening to Caitlin in that cryo-chamber to the identity of the next major villain that will replace Tom Cavanagh’s Reverse Flash

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“I’m sorry, the Reverse Flash is dead, just like Frost,” Wallace says. “However, I too can’t imagine a season nine of The Flash in which Tom Cavanagh doesn’t find a way back in some shape or form. And whoever steps out of that cube is going to turn Team Flash’s life upside down. That was Danielle Panabaker’s voice, which makes us ask: Who is coming out of that cube? Tune in next year.”

Wallace had several more teasers about season 9 to share, stating that the mysterious blue stone revealed at the end of the hour is “a hint to who one of the two Big Bads is next year.” He also promises that Barry and Iris will finally get to spend some time together onscreen (or, you know, at least be in the same dimension).

“I’m happy and excited to report that next year not only will Barry and Iris finally be on adventures together, but get ready for a little romance,” he says. “Everyone always thinks because I love horror so much that I don’t like any other kind of genre. Folks, my next favorite genre is romantic comedies. I love them. Get ready for some fun in season nine.

But, unfortunately, not all of Wallace’s predictions were happy ones—and one in particular sounds quite ominous. 

“As we said at the end of this episode, there has to be a balance,” he says. “The Negative Speed Force must choose another avatar. So, sometimes you should be careful what you wish for. They wanted to get rid of Thawne and they did. But what if the next avatar is worse? Oooooh, didn’t think about that, did you, Barry and Iris?”