The Flash – Season 9 Episode 10
“A New World Part 1: Reunions”
The Flash starts to build towards its endgame with a visit to a formative time in Barry’s life as well as the tease of a new threat.
At some point, The Flash was going to have to acknowledge that this is the final season and start building to some sort of a conclusion. All of the time so far this season has been wasted running in place with only minor steps forward on a narrative and character level. Iris is finally pregnant, Allegra and Chester are finally in a relationship, Barry put himself forward for a promotion at the day job he rarely attends and other minor details. With four episodes to go, there is finally a sense of momentum and the suggestion of a plan.
A common thing to do in final seasons is reflect on how it all began and The Flash is following the rulebook to the letter in that regard. Barry being sent back to the day his mother died once again is, in theory, an ideal opportunity for him to reflect on how far he’s come and acknowledge the progress he has made in processing that formative experience. It’s an event that has hung over the show since the very first episode and has been revisited repeatedly in different ways. Solving the mystery of his mother’s murder defined his life until he learned the truth and then coming to terms with that added to his grief. His father’s death promoted him to create Flashpoint and the consequences of that decision lingered for a long time. In one way or another, Barry has always been dealing with the night his mother died so taking a definitive stance on his emotional state in relation to that is a good idea in the final season.
The trouble is that the events of that fateful night have been altered and twisted so many times that there’s nothing resembling a baseline to build a plot. This episode arguably makes it worse by ignoring previously established plot in order to force a full circle moment to signify that Barry has grown in the years since becoming the Flash. It’s completely inconsistent with prior instances of the night of his mother’s murder but it’s clear what the intent was.
An obvious counter to this is that Crisis resulted in a new world with a different history so most of the prior meddling can be dismissed with that explanation but even that isn’t earned as the idea of Crisis creating an unfamiliar world that the characters have to navigate is dropped fairly quickly and doesn’t come into play in this episode. It was previously established that Thawne travelled back in time to kill Barry and ended up settling for his mother when the young Barry was saved by his future self. The future Barry was hot on Thawne’s heels when exiting the time portal and arrived with him which is no longer the case as this version of Barry is now the one participating in the fight.
Using the idea that the post-Crisis Earth-Prime timeline has altered the events of Nora’s murder once again so that Barry must now participate in them could have worked and it would only have required the inclusion of a realisation on Barry’s part that there was no future version of himself coming to save his younger self. It could have been an impactful realisation on Barry’s part that he effectively has to create himself by participating in those events. The appearance of the version of Barry that travelled back in time in the season 1 finale could have been so much more meaningful as it’s now no longer an alternate future version of Barry that gestures for his younger self to not get involved.
Events have altered to the point that he has to be the one to give that advice to his younger self. He looks upon himself from near the beginning of his superhero career and sees someone who has yet to experience everything he has and has so many lessons left to learn and takes on the role of the experienced figure giving him what should have been foundational advice through a simple gesture. If done well it would have signified growth and acted as an acknowledgement of how much Barry has learned since those days. Another layer of it is to showcase how much the show has grown and evolved. It doesn’t work because the show has failed to earn that moment.
Barry still routinely makes the same rookie mistakes he did back then and the plot surrounding the moment is so convoluted that it distracts from the power it’s supposed to have. It’s unfortunate as the idea of the Flash creating himself both by saving his own life as a child and imparting wisdom to his younger self in the early days of his career is a strong one but the show simply doesn’t have the weight to support it.
This episode demonstrates how little Barry has learned over the years in how he approaches Thawne. In their first conversation over a drink, he references that he’s going to run towards that defining moment rather than running from it. This says that he has come to understand that it has to take place in order for his life as he knows it to play out in the way it did. Creating Flashpoint was supposed to teach him that he has no right to meddle with the entire universe for his own personal gain and the lessons since should lead him to the conclusion that his life experiences have shaped the man he is now. Some are negative and some are positive but all of them are necessary. The point of revisiting this event is to punctuate his understanding of that and work to make sure that the universe unfolds as it’s supposed to.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something the episode sticks to as prior to the fight, Barry gives Thawne the chance to walk away and take a different path than the one he’s supposedly destined to follow. He tells Thawne that he may win this battle but it’s only the beginning of a long and complicated chain of events that ends in his downfall. As an act of kindness, Barry gives Thawne the chance to make a different choice but he’s so consumed by his hatred of Barry that he is fixated on following through on his plan.
It’s a noble gesture on Barry’s part and reinforces his kindness that is evidenced elsewhere in the episode but it doesn’t match his supposed understanding that Thawne has to kill Nora for the good of the bigger picture. If Thawne had taken Barry up on his offer and made a different choice then the timeline would be significantly altered. It’s an example of an emotional beat that works by itself as it shows Barry has the clarity to give Thawne the chance to change but fails in the context of the larger story surrounding it. If it had been left to Barry thanking Thawne for getting the peace he always wanted concerning this foundational part of his life as a demonstration of truly letting go of his hatred then it would have been narratively and emotionally satisfying.
More could have been done with the notion of Eobard Thawne as a tragic figure so consumed by hate that he is unable to look at his life objectively. This moment is as defining for him as it is for Barry as it’s the beginning of his eventual downfall. His hatred of Barry and his obsession with destroying every aspect of his life seeped into every fibre of his being until there was nothing beyond that. The tragedy comes from his stated desire to be a hero and blaming Barry for standing in his way but the show has never done anything with that. There should have been an Eobard Thawne-centric episode at some point over the course of the series detailing his backstory so that his descent into villainy could be better contextualised rather than the inconsistent accounts delivered over the years. His capacity for good was shown briefly in the previous season so there is an angle that could have been explored. Instead, it can be added to the long list of missed opportunities.
Barry’s interactions with his parents reinforce the innate kindness that allows him to offer Thawne a second chance. These scenes are more or less what would be expected with no surprises. The Flash has always depicted Henry and Nora Allen as the flawless ideal that Barry looks up to. This makes sense in the context of loss as it’s common to idealise those who have passed away because the relationship becomes about how they are remembered and pushes aside the fact that people contain multitudes. Henry and Nora Allen don’t contain multitudes because they represent something that Barry no longer has. His mother was taken from him tragically at a young age so Barry’s only perspective of her is that of a child who didn’t grow up with his mother in his life.
Similar applies to his relationship with Henry but he did have some opportunity to establish a connection with him in adulthood. Even at that, he was depicted as the giver of sage advice without exhibiting any flaws. It wasn’t a bad approach as his role in the show was defined but Barry’s relationship with him was limited. There is also Flashpoint to consider where an adult Barry lived with his parents for three months but that was also unrealistically idyllic so the show has never explored Barry learning what his parents were like as people beyond his idealised perception of them.
Time travel provides an opportunity for Barry to interact with his parents in a more realistic way. A relevant example of what to shoot for would be Back to the Future where Marty McFly interacts with his parents and sees them in a very different light. The Flash doesn’t do this with Nora and Henry. They are portrayed in the same saintly light they always are which supports Barry’s innate kindness coming into play in his approach to dealing with Thawne but it’s limited in that they are caricatures rather than characters. Unquestionably helping Barry is justified by Nora being predisposed to trust him because of his resemblance to her father but the complete lack of concern over whether Barry may be dangerous stands out as being badly misguided. It’s all in service of their saintly persona that they can sense the good in him and don’t hesitate to help someone in need but the whole dynamic lacks nuance.
It’s important for Barry as he is able to indirectly tell his parents about their pending grandchild and hear them indirectly declare how proud they are of him. Ultimately their interactions offer very little beyond what “Flashpoint” delivered. The opportunity for Barry to see his parents in a more complex light and develop these characters beyond the pedestal Barry places them on is wasted. As presented it’s a shallow furthering of what the episode wants to say about Barry’s relationship with his parents which is unfortunately not a great deal.
Another function of the episode is to set up the threat for the final episodes. The episode opens with a new character played by Rick Cosnett going to work and ends with him being struck by lightning a lot like Barry was and gaining powers. It’s likely he is this show’s take on Cobalt Blue based on the abundance of blue surrounding the character and the new avatar for the Negative Speed Force based on Barry’s assumption that he was facing it earlier in the episode.
The Negative Speed Force -if that’s what it was- inhabiting Joe and using him against Barry raises the stakes as fighting back risks harming or possibly killing the man who raised him. Barry fighting a possessed Joe is never fully taken advantage of as it never comes across that Joe is in any real danger. The situation is resolved very easily and Joe isn’t impacted in any measurable way. This is expected in order to preserve the timeline but there’s an emptiness to the threat that somewhat frames the coverage of it as little more than filling time. If Barry had been more concerned about losing Joe and destroying the timeline in the process then it would have been overall more tangible. It feeds into the general issue of this episode being undecided on what point it’s trying to make.
Despite its many flaws, the episode does have some things to celebrate. The aforementioned showcase of Barry’s kindness when offering a second chance to his greatest enemy is one strength as is Barry getting to hear his parents indirectly declare that they’re proud of him. Notably impressive is Barry behaving intelligently when he first finds himself in the year 2000. He immediately tries to get back and when that fails he tries to make as few ripples as possible while trying to secure resources to help him secure his return. Going to Joe is a risk but an understandable one as he needs to find someone he knows has a trusting nature to help him. Reaching out to Joe to track down Tina McGee is somewhat contrived as she should be easy enough to find at this point considering she’s the CEO of a company but his logic is sound at least. Reaching out to Martin Stein is an act of desperation that doesn’t work but it makes sense for him to do so.
His methodology left a lot to be desired as a direct approach may have been more successful, especially when considering Martin Stein is no stranger to visitors from the future. Another option that is bizarrely never mentioned is Harrison Wells. He may not have the resources at this time but may have been useful. It may even have been possible to track down Timeless Wells. Once again this show demonstrates a questionable grasp of continuity but Barry exhibiting some intelligence before behaving in a contradictory way is a refreshing change. The episode also stands out by being almost entirely focused on Barry rather than the exploits of the increasingly uninteresting supporting cast. The beginning of the final arc on The Flash starts by actually being about the Flash.
An episode that disappoints because it has clear potential that it consistently fails to make proper use of but still has some poignant emotional beats.
- the idea of Barry coming full circle by creating himself
- Barry offering Thawne a chance to walk away as an expression of his kindness
- indirectly telling his parents about their granddaughter and hearing them say they’re proud of him
- Barry behaving intelligently at first
- the power of Barry participating in the definitive moment being lost due to the overly convoluted plot
- Barry offering Thawne a chance to walk away countering his supposed understanding that his mother’s death has to play out
- Henry and Nora not being developed beyond the saintly portrayals that have been seen before
- Barry’s time spent with them offering little more than previous examples
- the lack of tangibility to the threat
- another example of the questionable grasp of continuity
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