The Flash – Season 3 Episode 1
The Flash begins its third season in an alternate reality created by Barry saving his mother from death at the hands of the Reverse Flash at the end ofth last season.
I’ll preface this review by saying that I was really excited about the possibilities of adapting the Flashpoint comic story arc in this show. It’s a densely plotted story that has a lot of fun with the notion of alternate realities and to see that explored in a TV show was an interesting prospect. Of course I wasn’t expecting a straight adaptation of the comic arc as the TV universe doesn’t have access to many of the characters but I was hoping for something a lot better than we got here.
The Flash as a TV show has to stick to its own established canon and the rules of its own universe so I won’t necessarily compare this to the comic story or the animated film Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. This episode should be judged on its own merits and how successfully it achieved what it set out to do.
After watching this I’m not quite sure what it was hoping to accomplish. Whether it shares its name with a famous comic arc or not is largely irrelevant in making this episode a success. What it fails to do is justify itself as being a worthwhile story to be told in this TV show and that failing can be boiled down to resolving it in the space of a single episode.
This alternate reality has a lot going for it in terms of potential. Barry has his parents back, doesn’t have to fight crime as the Flash as there is another one out there and in general he is just enjoying his life. The flipside to that is that he is no longer close to Joe or Iris, Cisco and Caitlin aren’t his friends/partners Barry’s memories of his old life are starting to fade away.
Barry has essentially decided to play God for selfish reasons and the point of the episode is for him to learn that it was a bad idea. This lesson is learned by witnessing the things that have gone wrong in the lives of those he cares about and in fairness the episode does achieve that but not in a way that feels in any way satisfying.
The episode takes on a quick tour of the Flashpoint reality as the episode progresses by showing Barry’s normal existence as a CSI who lives with both of his parents, his romantic pursuit of Iris, Joe as a melancholic alcoholic, Wally as the Flash –or Kid Flash-, Cisco as a selfish billionaire and Caitlin as an Ophthalmologist.
Everything is covered off so quickly that there is no time to really explore how different the characters are in this new reality. For instance, Joe is a depressed alcoholic but we don’t ever find out why that is. Considering Iris and Wally seem to be so close I wonder if his wife never left but still died of cancer. This is speculation since the episode isn’t interested in exploring this alternate version of Joe. His role in the episode is reduced to making Barry feel bad about the changes he made impacting other people negatively.
As mentioned above, Wally is the Flash but this isn’t explored in any great depth either. We find out how he got his powers and get some background into his efforts to save the city with Iris acting as his backup. I liked this dynamic as it gave Wally more to do and lifted Iris out of the somewhat selfish rut she has been stuck into. It’s a shame that the episode doesn’t have the time to show the brother/sister duo and how they approach fighting crime.
I did like seeing Wally as the Flash, however briefly. Keiynan Lonsdale delivers the dialogue with confidence and sincerity that makes him believable as a heroic figure. We only really see him in one major fight that doesn’t go his way but the actor and the character suit heroics nicely.
Iris is interesting in this episode as she seems to be changed the least from the version we’re familiar with. The problem with Iris most of the time is that the writers don’t seem to know what to do with her so she gets drawn into love triangle plots and generally behaves selfishly. As the support for her super powered brother she has a role that really works for her.
Her relationship with Barry is different in this timeline as well. Since they didn’t grow up together she barely knows who he is so their meeting is treated as if it is their first. Barry still has strong feelings for her and seems content to make a completely fresh start with her. Again, this would have been interesting to explore beyond their date that gets interrupted.
Seeing Cisco as a selfish billionaire was really entertaining thanks to Carlos Valdes’ performance. The man never ceases to be entertaining and creates a version of Cisco that is just magnetic to watch for all the time we see him. Other than his wealth the main difference in his personality is that he is far more self-absorbed but has some desire to help. He was happy to design a suit for Wally but wants nothing else to do with his mission to protect the city.
Caitlin as an Ophthalmologist doesn’t really go anywhere beyond mentioning that being what she does in this timeline. She reacts to being kidnapped pretty well and sinks into her usual support role really quickly. It’s another example of a lack of development.
The alternate timeline also raises other questions. Presumably Cisco bought S.T.A.R. Labs from Harrison Wells but where is he? He isn’t mentioned so what became of him is a mystery that will never be cleared up. Also, presumably Barry still saw Reverse Flash attempt to kill his mother. I assume the older version of that Barry was erased when Barry returned to the present but that also isn’t covered anywhere here.
Another question raised is around the Speedster villain, The Rival aka Edward Clariss (Todd Lasance). How did he get his abilities and what motivates him to be a bad guy other than him simply not being a very nice person? He does seem like a fairly powerful Speedster but beyond that there is almost nothing to him other than the fact that he awkwardly introduces himself because he likes to know the names of his rivals. His costume isn’t really up to much either.
Lastly, the Time Wraiths were conspicuously absent here despite the fact that they have been established as beings who monitor the timeline. When they were introduced back in “Flash Back” I thought their existence would be problematic and the fact that they don’t turn up when they should just proves that.
Reverse Flash is around to constantly remind Barry of the problems he has caused. Barry has locked him in a cage that dampens his speed but Thawne’s power over Barry extends much further than the abilities they share. He spends the bulk of his screen time telling Barry that this new timeline is wrong and it’s all his fault. Barry reacts to this with anger and denial which makes sense given that he definitely feels insecure about what he has done and that insecurity only grows as the episode progresses. Thawne is a great foil for him and his demand that Barry specifically asks him to kill his mother is appropriately sadistic.
Barry’s decision to put the timeline back to the way it was comes far too quickly. The realisation that he is losing his memories seems to be the catalyst for this but surely his memories are irrelevant since he now lives in a completely different world to the one he knows. Noticing that others are suffering because of him is definitely a big part of it too but the loss of his memories is also in the mix.
There are hints that this timeline isn’t meant to be outside of what we as an audience know. Wally is referred to as Kid Flash even though he is the only Flash in this timeline, Iris feels that something is missing from her life until she meets Barry and Cisco feels predisposed to help others while also knowing how speedsters can kill people so there are echoes of the other timeline still rippling into this one helping further the idea that Barry has created something unnatural.
In terms of the concept of the “Flashpoint” timeline I think this episode completely ruins the potential this idea had. I wasn’t expecting a full adaptation of the comic arc but I was expecting something somewhat meaningful.
Having Henry and Nora Allen both alive and well created certain opportunities that this episode failed to capitalise on. Nora Allen has always been an idea that motivates Barry to be better. The driving force of his entire life was finding out who killed her so having her as a character who can be developed is a big deal. There was a real opportunity to develop Nora as someone worth saving which makes her inevitable death meaningful. Even more so if she identified the need to sacrifice herself and told Barry that he had to do it. We only see two scenes featuring Nora and neither of them develop her in any meaningful way.
Another issue is that the show keeps returning to Barry’s unresolved feelings about the death of his mother and making the experience of losing her a hurdle that he needs to clear. This has been the focus of two episodes so far; the season 1 finale “” and the season 2 episode “The Runaway Dinosaur“. Both episodes were largely about Barry putting it behind him so that he can move forward so returning to that well makes very little sense here.
It is now at the point where Barry having to come to terms with it feels repetitive and this episode doesn’t come close to replicating the emotional weight of either episode. Hopefully this won’t be brought up again as there is only so long I can tolerate the show rehashing the same emotional beats and we’re already beyond that point.
The best way to approach this story would have been to make it an arc. I never expected a war between Wonder Woman and Aquaman and a more intimate exploration of an alternate reality would have made sense for this show. If the first 5 episodes of this season had been set in the Flashpoint timeline then there would have been time to really explore it and make it into something interesting. What we get here is a disposable alternate reality episode with very few consequences and it’s a complete waste.
Arguably Flashpoint couldn’t last too long because this show exists in a shared universe so changing the timeline in such a big way would surely affect the other shows. One way around this is to have Flashpoint exist in an alternate timeline that doesn’t affect the other shows. Considering this is science fiction it’s not too far-fetched a concept for the show to use.
Another way to handle this story would be to use the wider universe that has been created. Instead of Thomas Wayne becoming Batman, Robert Queen could have been used as Green Arrow. Supergirl could have filled Superman’s role. Superman could even have been used. Other substitutions could also have been made but I imagine this is something we will now never see.
With the timeline restored at the end of the episode there are some changes that will likely fuel the next episode or two. Reverse Flash tells Barry that things have changed and that he will soon find out what those changes are. We are given a taste when it is revealed that Iris and Joe no longer talk for some reason. We also get a hint of Doctor Alchemy which may be a consequence of Barry meddling with the timeline. After this disappointment of an episode I’m not optimistic about the implications being well handled.
“Flashpoint” was a major disappointment considering the potential the idea had for storytelling. Some things worked such as Iris having a more natural role than usual and Wally fitting into being a hero fairly well but the episode fails to explore the concept of the alternate reality in any meaningful way. Having this undone in a single episode was a huge mistake and the implications of the changes to the familiar timeline aren’t all that interesting so far.
- Iris having a more natural role than usual
- some interesting ideas
- a waste of potential
- the lack of proper exploration
- emotional beats that don’t really work