NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Flash” are present in this review
The Flash is celebrating its landmark 100th episode this week, with lead star, Tom Cavanagh even directing the episode to boot! “What’s Past is Prologue” certainly reaches for the stars with an awesome narrative hook as well, one that also provides the proper midseason finale for The Flash this week, excluding next week’s ‘Elseworlds’ crossover event that The Flash is sharing with Arrow and Supergirl. Similar to Arrow’s 100th episode from a couple of seasons ago, this occasion means taking the opportunity to celebrate the legacy of The Flash, and that means going back in time to re-encounter some old foes, after Barry and Nora are required to travel to the past in order to retrieve some items that could de-power Cicada’s deadly dagger!
Where this episode primarily ends up disappointing though is in how short it falls from Arrow’s far superior 100th episode from 2016. To be fair, “What’s Past is Prologue” still has enough cool moments to make it worthwhile, but its storytelling isn’t nearly as tight as Arrow’s 100th episode, or indeed any number of superior episodes from throughout The Flash’s current run. The idea is certainly sound, but the effort to rush through so many key antagonists, while also weirdly glossing over The Thinker entirely (maybe because he was just defeated last season), is better on paper than it is in practice. Only one of these trips to the past truly yields any tantalizing narrative fruit, though this is something that should easily keep fans of the show buzzing during the lengthy midseason break, which begins after the Elseworlds crossover next week.
So, what’s the impetus for a dangerous trip to the past? Well, Barry and Nora have to round up important relics from two of Barry’s former speedster enemies, namely a piece of Savitar’s suit, and the Speed Force Transmitter used by Zoom, before taking them back to the day of the Particle Accelerator explosion, so that they can super-charge the device with Speed Force energy, which should disable Cicada’s dagger. Barry initially rejects the idea of Nora coming along, but this may as well have not happened, since Iris quickly convinces him to re-consider, making the entire debate moot. It’s probably a good thing that Iris interjected too, since Nora ends up being the only one that can retrieve the piece of Savitar’s suit, after Barry has to end up outrunning a Time Wraith. Seriously, did Barry just forget about Time Wraiths?! That’s kind of a big oversight, especially when he blatantly put Nora in danger by agreeing to take her along!
Adding insult to injury is that the two speedsters have no trouble at all ditching the Time Wraith, which is supposed to be this all-powerful manifestation of the Speed Force that’s meant to efficiently remove speedsters that are abusing the timeline. Some protective force Time Wraiths are, since they seem to end up being a benefit to Team Flash (and the Legends of Tomorrow, for that matter!), whenever they pop up, rather than a detriment. This same pattern held true in this episode as well, when Barry and Nora end up being unexpectedly cornered by Zoom, which is a very exciting idea!… Only to have Zoom be quickly and easily snatched away by the Time Wraith while Barry and Nora are trying to flee further into the past… And then the Time Wraith just leaves Barry and Nora alone after that? Huh? First of all, doesn’t Zoom being taken away in this manner prematurely negate the conclusion of Season Two, royally screwing up the timeline? Maybe this is to help explain how Zoom allegedly became Black Flash on Legends of Tomorrow, but even then, this is confusing, since it still negates Zoom’s big defeat from before, which was supposed to have actually turned him into Black Flash… Only how this works still isn’t explained. Why bother having Zoom chase after Barry and Nora at all, if there’s going to be no noticeable fallout?!
Fortunately though, the episode starts getting a lot better once Barry and Nora accidentally break their improvised time device, which leads to Nora suggesting that they seek the aid of Eobard Thawne in 2014, before charging the device with the Speed Force energy during the Particle Accelerator explosion. The resulting scene is truly fantastic, as Barry and Nora are forced to talk with the disguised Thawne, as Harrison Wells, while the Barry of the past lies unconscious in Thawne’s Time Chamber. Thawne drops a bunch of cool female speedster Easter eggs when trying to identify Nora as well (one of which is, weirdly, Jesse Chambers, who was previously re-purposed as Jesse Quick in the Arrowverse), and upon learning that Nora is Barry’s daughter, he then asks if she is, “Dawn”, hinting at the existence of the Tornado Twins, Dawn and Don Allen, in the Arrowverse’s future, despite Nora not claiming that she has any siblings! It’s a delightful potpourri of Easter eggs for avid Flash fans that regularly keep up with the Scarlet Speedster’s adventures in DC Comics lore. The suggestion that the Tornado Twins ultimately meet a terrible fate in the future is also pretty interesting, as is Gideon later teasing that Nora joins the Legion of Super-Heroes in the future, a future superhero team that also apparently exists on Earth-1, just as they do on Supergirl’s Earth-38!
After all of the tinkering and the cool confrontation with Thawne in the past however, Barry and Nora eventually manage to set up the trap for Cicada, and all seems to be going according to plan. After Cisco manages to breach Cicada’s dagger into space using the dark matter magnet that Thawne helped build though, Cicada simply calls it back even from there, quickly disabling everyone, and only being driven away by Killer Frost. Of course, it didn’t help that Barry saw fit to screw around by weakly smacking Cicada a few times while he was temporarily without his dagger, rather than actually putting metahuman cuffs on him, knocking him out, or, you know, actually taking this seriously! Because it’s not like Cicada is a dangerous arch-villain or anything! Regardless, Cicada gets away because of Barry’s stupidity, and Team Flash realizes that Killer Frost is probably the best weapon to wield against Cicada, since Killer Frost’s particular make-up isn’t based on dark matter, and is thus immune to Cicada’s power-stealing dagger. This is an interesting tease regarding what’s next for the battle against Cicada during Season Five’s back half in 2019, as is Sherloque discovering that Nora has been keeping ‘Time Language’ in a mysterious journal, which apparently allows her to remember even aborted events from history. Yeah, I’m not sure how a bunch of scribbles can somehow be untouched by shifting history, but whatever. It’s the Speed Force, so it’s hardly stark real-world science.
There’s at least one last great tease before the episode ends as well (excluding the same Elseworlds teaser that also played out during the endings of this week’s Supergirl and Arrow midseason finales), wherein we learn that Nora learned her ‘Time Language’, and gained all of her resources when it came to traveling from the future, from none other than Eobard Thawne! Turns out that Thawne is still alive and kicking yet again in 2049, officially making him the biggest cockroach of the Arrowverse, and he’s one of the main catalysts behind Nora traveling back to 2018, likely to set up some sort of danger for Barry in the present once again! The reveal that Thawne is still scheming against Barry in the future, and Nora is connected to him, previously unaware that he’s the Reverse-Flash, is awesome, providing a neat way for history to repeat itself, as another Allen descendant ends up being fooled by Thawne in the future!
Frustratingly though, this superb return for Thawne had to be stuffed into an episode that was full of unsatisfying, underdeveloped plotting. This is not only a disappointment for The Flash’s 100th episode, but also for its true midseason finale, excluding next week’s Elseworlds crossover. Most of the trips to the past didn’t ultimately carry enough narrative weight to truly matter, with the returns to key moments in the battles against Savitar and Zoom ultimately being a complete waste. The fact that Barry and Nora so easily got away with screwing with the past, again, also seems to really go against one of the key rules of the show. At least The Flash is in a pretty good position before it goes off for the midseason break, following next week’s Elseworlds event, so it’s poised to return on an exciting note in mid-January. I just wish that the show’s proper 2018 run (again, excluding Elseworlds), could have capped off with more exciting turns than the expected revival of a fan-favourite villain.
- Awesome narrative hook that re-lives key villains
- Killer Frost becoming a key figure in the battle against Cicada
- Thawne being poised to return by exploiting Nora
- Barry stupidly forgetting about Time Wraiths
- Zoom confrontation ends up being a complete waste
- Barry's carelessness allowing Cicada to get away