NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of “The Flash” are present in this review
As much as The Flash has been dabbling in parallel universes most of all over the course of Season Two, we got a welcome return from the show’s time travel element in this week’s episode, “Flash Back.” Once again, the series also crushed it with its latest time travel-themed storyline, which yet again effectively delved into the dangerous consequences of time travel, and highlighted how much Barry continues to grow desperate in the looming fight against Zoom.
After trying and failing to find ways to increase his speed, again, Barry comes up with his latest ill-advised idea; Travel back into the past and consult Eobard Thawne. Naturally, Cisco, Caitlin and Wells all think that this is a terrible idea, especially since Barry will irreparably damage the timeline if he gives himself away to his former nemesis, thus having potentially grave consequences for the future. Barry thinks he has no choice but to try however, and it’s back to the events of Season One, specifically during, “The Sound and the Fury”, as Barry is dropped around the team’s first encounter with Pied Piper last season.
This is a very cool device for Season Two, in that it goes back to a key event from Season One, and then presents it from a new perspective. Not only is this a cool hook for time travel, but it also provides a neat way to change the show’s dynamic in the present as well, however subtly, as Barry’s time travel trip is inevitably not going to go as planned, or else we wouldn’t have gotten a whole episode about it. Disappointingly, there’s no mention of yesterday’s crossover event on Supergirl in this episode, and you’d think that Barry would want to bring up encountering a vastly different hero that doesn’t exist in his universe at some point, though that’s a pretty minor nitpick, especially when this episode is so incredibly good.
Despite Barry initially knocking out his past self and successfully infiltrating S.T.A.R. Labs to engage the former Wells/Eobard Thawne, he’s quickly found out, and makes several mistakes that give away to Thawne that he’s from the future. The resulting scene is fantastic, as Barry desperately tries to talk Thawne out of killing him, and eventually fibs about a device to tip off the past Barry to who, “Wells” really is in this timeline, and what Barry must do to stop him. This seems to begrudgingly get Thawne on Barry’s side, and has him doing what he can to give Barry a new speed formula that he can eventually use to make him faster, so that he can better battle Zoom.
The tension alone was enough to create plenty of thrills this week, especially with the historical alterations drastically affecting the initial battle against Pied Piper in the past, though things really kicked up when Barry inadvertently unleashes a ‘Time Wraith’ on the past, an entity that hunts down and kills rogue time travelers that are unjustly messing with the timeline. Why we haven’t seen these things on sibling series, Legends of Tomorrow is anyone’s guess, though a throwaway explanation claims that they only hunt amateurs somehow. Whatever. Also, Warner Bros., admitting that you’re recycling the Dementor effects from the Harry Potter movies for this creature more than once, does not make it okay!
Again though, these are ultimately pretty minor nitpicks, as the episode showcasing Barry’s attempts to preserve the past, before having to improvise without too far messing up the future, his present, provided some great, highly intense entertainment. Tom Cavanagh was a real standout in performances this week as well, as he plays both the Eobard Thawne version of Wells and the Earth-Two version of Wells without missing a beat, really highlighting the rather noticeable differences between the two incarnations of Wells. Barry’s new, more confident interactions with his former greatest enemy were also very cool, and further highlight how much Barry has matured and grown more confident as the Scarlet Speedster since this show’s first season.
Another thing that this episode did beautifully was the revisiting of Eddie Thawne’s character, with Rick Cosnett returning to reprise his role from Season One. This comes in time for Iris to doubt her choice of agreeing to a date with her editor in the present, which Barry is initially helpless to assist with. This episode gave us a better farewell to Eddie’s character, who killed himself quite suddenly to save the day during Season One, and the message that Barry recorded to show Iris from Eddie in the present was very sweet, and hopefully gives Iris the closure that she needs to finally move on. We may have barely seen the West family this week, Iris especially, but the more fulfilling exit for Eddie’s character was very satisfying here.
Eventually, after having to reveal himself to the past incarnation of S.T.A.R. Labs, after the past Barry wakes up earlier than Caitlin anticipated when making a knockout drug for him, Barry and the crew find a way to send Barry back to the present with the new formula, with Barry asking that they spend a year finding a way to destroy the Time Wraith. When Barry reaches the present, the weapon that Cisco and Caitlin have apparently invented in the interim doesn’t work well, though fortunately, an intervention by Pied Piper destroys the creature, right as Barry is about to have the life force sucked out of him! That was the biggest perceivable consequence to Barry’s meddling in the past, actually; Pied Piper is a good guy now! This is a neat reference to Pied Piper having reformed at one point in DC Comics lore, and could possibly set the character up to work with Cisco in further developing his abilities as Vibe in the future. If history serves though, Pied Piper’s reformation is certainly not the only major change that Barry has created by interfering with the past, and hopefully the show remembers to create some big consequences for this later!
Even having a sister show that is exclusively about time travel, it feels like The Flash is incredibly skilled at these kinds of stories, which often serve as the show’s best episodes overall. “Flash Back” was another outstanding winner in terms of portraying a time travel story, presenting a great showcase of Barry’s desperation in the battle against Zoom, and the lengths that he’s willing to go to save his own time. A reformed villain is certainly a win for the present, as is Iris getting a better sense of closure with Eddie’s death, though like I said, this show is never one to let Barry down easy when he’s forced to mess with history. Zoom may not be the only thing that Barry should be afraid of, after these actions.
- Excellent time travel storyline
- Intense return by Eobard Thawne's Wells
- Effective revisiting of Eddie's character