The Reverse Flash, now inhabited in full by actor Matt Letscher, hit it right on the head in the season premiere: Barry begins season 3 of The Flash as the villain in his own universe. I kind of hated this at first, but the writers have managed to get me interested in where they’re going with it.
The finale of season 2 set us up for a storyline called Flashpoint. In the comic books, this is an epic ‘What If’ storyline that pulls in many of DC’s biggest heroes and twists them around for an alternate Flash-less universe. In this universe, Batman’s origin story begins with the death of the young Bruce Wayne, shot by a mugger. Thomas Wayne becomes a Batman obsessed with fighting crime at any cost, while his mother Martha has a mental break that pushes her to become the Joker. Aquaman and Wonder Woman lead the Atlanteans and Amazons to an earth-scarring war with each other. Superman’s pod lands in the middle of Metropolis, killing tens of thousands. This puts him in the hands of the government instead of those of Martha and Jonathan Kent.
In other words, the end of season 2 set us up for excitement that the CW DC universe simply could not handle. Even if the planned four-show crossover happened to open the season, kickstarted by Flashpoint, it wouldn’t have lived up to the expectations of fans.
The result, then, is one many fans are finding disappointing, but it’s also one that I think will pay off in the end.
The CW DC universe isn’t big enough to turn Flashpoint into a full-on superhero war. Instead, The Flash is using the basic idea behind it – that you can’t fix your past – to look at Barry from a different angle. He’s not just a superhero or metahuman, but a three-dimensional person with thoughts and feelings.
The second season left him devastated. Just as he’d come to grips with the loss of his mother, Zoom took his father away from him. A grief-stricken Barry Allen did what just about anyone with time-travel powers would: he undid all the things that caused him pain.
From the outside, it’s easy to see what a selfish move that was. Like characters in zombie movies have never seen zombie movies, though, characters in time travel stories never fully understand the consequences of manipulating time.
The premiere showed us Barry’s worst impulses at play. He changed his past and, for a while, lived a blissful fantasy life with his once-dead parents. Meanwhile, he stalked Iris who, in this timeline, he never knew. He kept Reverse Flash imprisoned indefinitely while stopping by to gloat to him. The people he’d come to care for most were, for the most part, worse off. And while a speedster villain hassled the city, he stood by and watched.
The second episode showed us Barry starting to accept that he’d done something irreversible. Something that affected those around him. While Barry managed to undo Flashpoint, though, not everything was identical. His first inclination was to try to fix it, but Jay Garrick seems to have finally gotten it into Barry’s head that he can’t repair every unfortunate situation with time manipulation.
So instead, we see Barry dealing with what he’s done, being honest with his friends, and speaking openly despite the potential consequences.
He even has to deal with some totally new elements in this new timeline. It’s one thing to tell people who already know you’re a superhero that you messed up time. It’s another thing, though, to explain it to the co-worker you’ve worked with for months (and yet have never met). CSI inspector Julian Dorn, Harry Potter‘s Tom Felton, has a distaste for Barry that goes beyond a simple dislike. All we know so far is that Dorn doesn’t trust Allen.
Earlier in the episode, Barry is talking with Arrow‘s Felicity. She refers to Barry as pudding – everybody likes pudding, she quips. This is the first time Barry is the target of ire for someone other than a villain, and that relationship has a whole history to explore that Barry has no clue about. That suggests that more of Barry’s alternate past is going to come back to haunt him. It could be more little changes or big ones, the identity of Dr. Alchemy, or more of the metahumans Alchemy is pulling out of the alternate timeline.
This week’s episode added some brewing jealousy among Team Flash as one and soon two more speedsters join the team. This threatens to distract from more interesting character development, but I’m hoping the writers can balance it out.
Putting Flash in a world where each member has to deal with grief caused by Barry himself and making Barry cope with that is an interesting move. It might better fit the scope of the television show than any comic book what-if story could have. The season will bear that out one way or another, but it looks like it’s going to be interesting to watch as it unfolds.