The Flash – Season 1 Episode 23
Season 1 of The Flash comes to an end and I don’t think the conclusion was anywhere near what anyone was expecting. I know I certainly wasn’t but in this case unpredictability is a very good thing.
On shows like this we’re probably all used to the season finale boiling down to the high stakes one on one between the hero and the villain. That’s what all 3 seasons of Arrow have done and Smallville also did that. Outside of the superhero genre shows like Supernatural work to that formula as well.
The Flash manages to surprise and not stick to that tried and tested formula. This finale was very much about a large existential problem and how that relates to the cast on an emotional level. An entire season of strong writing and character development has earned the show this sort of finale and it is pulled off wonderfully.
After the big fun superhero team up last week that saw Wells apparently defeated Barry has a very different battle this week. Wells basically hits him with his most powerful weapon yet; temptation. He gives Barry the opportunity to travel through time to the night his mother died and save her which would of course change history massively. In return Wells gets to go home. It seems like a pretty good deal on the surface as Barry gets to save his mother and have the life he was denied while Wells leaves to never darken their doorstep again.
Naturally it’s not quite as simple as that; nothing ever is where time travel is concerned. If Barry goes back in time and saves his mother then his life as he knows it is completely erased to be replaced with something else. He would never go to live with Joe and Iris for one thing. Obviously Joe was the man who took him in and raised him as a son so this would be a significant change for everyone. He also risks losing out on the friendship he has forged with Cisco and Caitlin as well as potentially never becoming the Flash in the first place. The episode doesn’t touch on the last one but it’s definitely in the mix.
This internal conflict becomes the driving force for the entire episode. Barry is presented with this choice and spends a fair chunk of the episode thinking about it. I like how the episode personified this conflict through the conversations he has with the most important people in his life.
In particular his conversations with Joe and his father Henry represent the two sides of the argument. Joe thinks that Barry should change the past so that he can have the life with his family that Joe feels he deserves. Henry gives Barry the argument that there’s no way to predict what the consequences will be if he changes something so monumental. As far as Henry is concerned what happened is what was meant to happen and changing that only invites trouble.
Barry being an intelligent guy is torn between these two. He knows the risks involved to the timeline but the prospect of having his mother back and having a life with her in it is just too tempting to not consider. Grant Gustin does a fantastic job of portraying Barry in turmoil over this impossible choice. He has absolutely no way of knowing that the best outcome is so has to make it on a purely emotional basis. Is it about what he wants or what he can do for others? The choice essentially boils down to that.
The scenes leading up to the choice were really well done. His conversations with Joe were absolutely heart wrenching. Their familial bond has been well established over the course of the season but the emotion on display here was so raw and affecting that you’d have to be made of stone not to be moved. I’d say that this episode definitely solidifies Joe as the heart of the show. Jesse L. Martin was incredible showing his unrestrained emotion as he tells Barry that he is his son. It’s also very admirable that he is willing to sacrifice such an important relationship to give Barry the chance at happiness. He’s a very honourable man and never has it been more clearly shown.
Barry’s conversation with his father was similarly moving. Henry has lost everything in life because of that night but his sense of integrity won’t let him be selfish about it. He thinks that it’s too dangerous to change the past and that he couldn’t have asked for a better life for his son. He’s entirely selfless when it comes to what he thinks Barry should do and genuinely thinks that Barry is better off keeping things the way they are. John Wesley Shipp is amazing in this scene. I really enjoy seeing how he and Grant Gustin play off each other.
Using the two father figures to represent the two sides of the argument lays it out clearly. In simple terms it boils down to Barry either taking the advice of his birth father or the man who raised him. Both sides have Barry’s best interests at heart but they have a different perspective on what is best for him. It is stressed that it’s a decision only he can make and the magnitude of that is never oversimplified.
Having Iris be the voice of reason that helps him decide what he needs to do makes a lot of sense. Given how central the theme of family and what that means was to this episode it’s poetic that the other member of his family would chip in on this issue. She sides with Joe and tells Barry to do something selfish for once in his life. How important Barry is to them is never in doubt throughout this episode so it’s a powerful message that they are willing to sacrifice the great times that they had together so that Barry can have what they feel he deserves.
At this point the idea of how things are supposed to be is sort of touched on. Iris seems to assume that the future where they are married is the future that was unaltered by Wells. If Barry didn’t live with Joe and Iris then maybe he would have made a move on her instead of losing her to Eddie. It’s an interesting theory but I’m not sure if that’s how it’s going to play out as the mechanics of how time travel works in this universe are still very much a mystery. I’m alright with that as the characters are still sketchy on how they work. I’ll come back to the implications of the whole time travel thing in a bit.
When Barry traveled back in time to save his mother we were given a lot of cool stuff to look at. His journey through the speed force where he caught glimpses of the upcoming spinoff Legends of Tomorrow, Caitlin in full Killer Frost mode, the Flash museum and himself in handcuffs talking to someone. This definitely lays down hints at what is to come but also shows the non linear nature of the life of a speedster. He only has glimpses of his future but there’s no context to them so it’s not as if everything is spoiled plus it’s probably easy for him to dismiss given where his focus is at that moment.
The show has revisited the moment of Nora’s murder many times but this really gave us a different outlook on it. I like how Barry takes the advice of his other self to back off and let this happen as it was meant to. It wasn’t a total loss for him though, he does manage to say goodbye to his mother in a beautifully acted scene that shows Barry getting a sense of emotional closure on the whole thing. He can see that his mother is proud of what he’s become and she doesn’t die alone any more so things could be a lot worse.
This was definitely Barry’s episode through and through. He got the meat of the storytelling and the whole episode was focused on the difficult choice he had to make. This doesn’t mean that the supporting cast were forgotten about, far from it. I’ve already talked about how important Joe, Henry and Iris are to this whole thing but Cisco also got a really interesting scene.
His conversation with Wells where he is told that the particle accelerator also gave him abilities as evidenced by remembering being killed in the other timeline. Apparently he’s able to see through the vibrations of the universe. This is a clear foreshadowing of his future identity as Vibe but as introductions go it feels very organic and builds on previously established story elements to start setting this up. The prospect of becoming a metahuman is a huge piece of information for Cisco to process as well. It’s clear that this never occurred to him. Other than that he had some really funny moments such as his childlike excitement at the prospect of building a time machine and the hilarious quote “May the Speed Force be with you!” when Barry is about to make the attempt.
The weakest part of the episode comes from Caitlin who doesn’t actually get a lot to do. Her wedding to Ronnie felt a little forced in a lot of ways. It’s almost as if there was a little piece of happiness needed to balance out the emotional intensity elsewhere. There was nothing wrong with the whole thing but it felt a bit unnecessarily shoehorned in. At least we got to see a little bit of her future identity.
Eddie is given a lot more to do than I would have expected. His conversation with Martin Stein about temporal destiny was especially interesting. Everyone else in the situation sort of knows their future destiny due to the fact that they have super powers or are in some way connected to the lives of those with powers but Eddie is a big question mark in that regard. As far as he knows his only destiny is to be completely forgotten. It’s his legacy that is significant but he himself never really amounts to anything; or at least that’s how he sees it. Stein points out that everything he has experienced has been one big coincidental after effect of Wells’ temporal incursion. He’s simply a bystander in all of this and therefore is the only one who has anything resembling free will. He can make choices without knowing the outcome and generally live his life being surprised at each revelation that comes this way.
In effect, Martin Stein’s conversation with Eddie becomes something of a microcosm of the episode itself. Stein mentions that they’re dealing with really complex scientific ideas and trying to get their head around them but at the end of the day it’s all about people. This episode had the time travel and the potential of that as the backdrop with the singular focus being on the people involved. It’s so wonderfully complex and simple at the same time.
Eddie takes this advice and uses it to go back to Iris in an attempt to choose his own destiny. I found this scene a little hammy but the point made was solid. Eddie is the wildcard here and his very existence makes him interesting. His decision at the end of the episode to kill himself to ensure that Eobard Thawne is never born came as a complete surprise to me and was very emotionally affecting. Eddie has never been anything other than a nice guy who wants to do the right thing so it makes sense that he’s somewhat ashamed of his dark legacy. His decision to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the people he cares about was very in character for him and gave the situation an unexpected ending.
Wells/Thawne is always compelling and this was no exception. I loved how in charge of the situation he was even from the inside of a prison cell. His offer to Barry to change the past gets Barry right where he wants him. It’s not explicitly stated that his plan was to get caught all along but it certainly seems that way. He has some great scenes with Barry and Cisco where he talks about how much he has actually enjoyed being around them. There’s a conflict between his hatred for Barry and the pride he feels at the constant improvement over the past year of working with him. It’s a wonderfully complex relationship that can’t really be rationalised. It’s almost as if he needs to keep reminding himself of his plan and not get too attached to his mortal enemy. Similarly he has come to regard Cisco as something of a son.
He manages to come across as really blunt and cold when he needs to as well. When he tells Barry that he killed Nora simply out of pure hatred it’s a bit of a shock that it would be as simple as that. Part of me keeps expecting more complex motivations but in this case simple is definitely better. It becomes complex due to the time they’ve spent together. He has to get Barry to the stage where he is fast enough to enable him to return home but the issue is that he’s making his worst enemy better. It’s a really interesting problem that Wells/Thawne faces and it comes to a wonderful close here. There’s another great example of bluntness when he apologises to Cisco for being able to see other timelines and corrects him when Cisco thinks he’s apologising for killing him. It’s pretty darkly funny and shows that Thawne isn’t quite an unfeeling monster but he has a very defined outlook on what he considers acceptable.
The ending of the episode was really interesting in a lot of ways. Eddie’s sacrifice rips a hole in reality and causes a singularity to appear that starts to suck up Central City. The only way to stop it is for the Flash to run around it in the opposite direction like he did with the tornado in the pilot. We have to wait until next season to find out if he succeeds or not due to old school cliffhanger techniques.
What made this ending interesting was the implications that it had. Now that Eddie is dead and Eobard Thawne was never born is the timeline resetting to what it was before Eobard Thawne traveled back in time? If that’s the case then are we about to see a different reality where none of this ever happened? I really hope not because that will suck. It happened in Fringe and completely derailed the show as far as I’m concerned. It has been said that the concept of the multiverse will be played with next season and that was hinted at with the Easter Egg of Jay Garrick‘s helmet/hat. The use of the singularity might mean that Eddie’s not actually dead and that Eobard Thawne is lost in time somewhere. We will just have to wait and see what the writers can come up with. The whole sequence looked amazing though and I loved the cameos from some of the Legends of Tomorrow cast. Arguably none of this mess would have actually happened if Barry had simply done nothing but he’s human and flawed so made a purely emotional decision. It made perfect sense that he would make a decision like that and didn’t feel like it was motivated only by plot progression. Did Barry make a mistake? Maybe but I like that he makes mistakes and that they have consequences.
This episode actually managed to subvert my expectations as a comics fan. I assumed that this episode would have Barry travel back in time, save his mother and in turn screw up the future. Basically I thought that the show was going for a partial adaptation of “Flashpoint“. If you want to see a condensed version then watch Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. It’s great and sort of fueled my expectations for what the writers might do here. Everything that happened here seemed to set up that eventuality but turned it around at the last minute in a way that made sense. I really have to applaud the writers on that one because it can’t be easy to both adapt and innovate at the same time. I look forward to seeing what they have planned next season.
A fantastic end to a similarly fantastic season. Everything that had been set up previously led to the events of this episode in an organic and interesting way.
As always this show kept everything character driven with the central focus being on Barry’s impossible choice to leave everything the way it is or travel back and save his mother. There are strong arguments for both as represented by both of his father figures. Joe is of the opinion that Barry deserves happiness so has to do it despite how difficult it will be for Joe to lose the man he thinks of as a son. Henry thinks that Barry should leave things the way they are because he’s had a great life and shouldn’t do anything to jeopardise it. Iris is on Joe’s side and thinks that Barry should be selfish for once.
I like that Barry changes his mind last minute at the urging of himself and opts to simply say goodbye to his mother and get some kind of emotional closure on the whole experience. He wasn’t able to save her and recognises that it’s not right to do so but takes what he can get anyway.
I really liked the hints at Cisco’s costumed identity and the interplay between him and Wells was interesting. Wells does think very highly of him and has definitely enjoyed working for him. He is sincere when he sees him as a son.
Caitlin’s contribution was probably the weakest with her sitting in the background most of the time. She did have her wedding to Ronnie but it felt a little shoehorned in to give some happiness to contrast the emotional intensity elsewhere.
Eddie’s contribution was interesting with his temporal destiny being the only question mark among them. He is the wildcard and can therefore choose his own future since it’s apparently not written in stone. He opts to choose Iris and later kill himself so that his dark legacy in Eobard Thawne never happens. It’s a really noble and unexpected sacrifice that is very emotionally charged. Eddie’s last act was to show that he mattered in a really significant way so it was a fitting end for him.
Wells/Thawne is as always compelling. The dichotomy between hating Barry and being proud of how he develops is fascinating to watch and gives what should be a simple antagonistic relationship lots of depth. Thawne killed Barry’s mother simply out of hatred with no deeper significance or well laid plan beyond that. It’s wonderfully simple yet amazingly complex at the same time.
The ending cliffhanger of the hole in reality swallowing up everything to compensate for the paradox created by Eddie’s death and Thawne’s erasure is a cool ending. I hope it doesn’t create an alternate timeline where none of this ever happened because the characters are in a great position for development after this. It’s a really solid cliffhanger that has me excited for season 2.