This review contains spoilers.
2.17 Flash Back
For a show that’s had the possibility of time travel in its back pocket for as long as The Flash has, it’s astonishing that the device hasn’t been used to mess around with the narrative too much so far. It’s used sparingly, for one, and up until now the show has taken pains to ensure that Barry can only really time travel by accident, and even then only with a myriad of unforeseen consequences.
Flash Back marks a departure from that, with Barry going back in time for his own purposes and more or less getting everything right. Yes, almost everything goes wrong while he’s there, but he travels back to the right place and time and doesn’t squash any butterflies during the hour. The only thing that appears to be altered is that Hartley is a good guy now, which is good because I enjoy the presence of Andy Mientus very much.
Instead, the new threat introduced to deter the gang from using this trick whenever the heck they want is the Time Wraiths – scary looking Dementor things that attack those who abuse the time force.
The set-up then, is that Barry wants to get faster and the only way this can happen is for him to learn from one of the two people who have succeeded in doing so. One is Zoom, who is currently on Earth 2 and also under the influence of V9, and the other is Eobard Thawne. So, Barry decides, he must travel back to 2015 and confront his old mentor, all without tipping off the STAR Labs team of the past that they’re actually working for a homicidal monster.
It’s the sort of story The Flash is extremely good at telling, and has already told to some extent a couple of times this year, but there’s something about actually going back to season one in the timeline that illustrates the changes to both Barry and the show so brilliantly. Something broke inside him when he found out Thawne’s true identity, and that makes the episode following Jay’s reveal the perfect time to do revisit that.
We’ve seen the Thawne of the past come to present-day Central City, but not the other way around.
Then there’s Iris who, after starting to date her boss, is remembering the happy times with Eddie and feeling guilty about moving on. It’s a small part of the episode, but lovely nonetheless. Barry acting as a loving brother to Iris is always going to be my preferred mode, and it was of course nice to see Eddie again.
Once again the show takes utter joy in its own concept, having Barry fight himself immediately after he travels back, or with past-Cisco’s reaction when he realises what’s going on. The most satisfying thing about the episode, though, is watching present-day Barry interact with past Wells, looking into the eyes of his enemy before his enemy has even betrayed him. It’s great.
It’s tempting to think that Barry has been relatively static in his heroic optimism, but Grant Gustin was terrific as the two versions of the character, one immediately recognisable as himself in 2015, and the other not faltering from our experience of him in season two. But they were still noticeably different, which shows how much last year really did affect him and how the show has committed to that idea.
He’s no Oliver Queen, but he’s still not the happy-go-lucky he was just a few months ago.
Flash Back was one of those ‘sweet spot’ episodes of the show, playing with time for big dramatic, emotional effect. Barry may have succeeded in not altering his present-day reality too much, but the first-hand reminder of Wells’ treachery will likely just spur him on to take down Zoom as quickly and cleanly as possible.
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Trajectory, here.