They say that if you don’t learn from the past, you’re doomed to repeat it. Well apart from being the best argument ever to re-watch classic TV shows, that statement doesn’t just refer to the history books but your own life as well. Sometimes, you can worry about a problem that wouldn’t have bothered your younger self, and remembering why can help you through it. Or if you’re losing faith in your training/career pat,h maybe thinking back to reasons why you started in the first place will rally your determination. In this week’s Flash episode, Barry Allen realizes that the solution to the problems of his future (such as not getting killed by Zoom) lies in his past but will memory lane be as smooth a stroll as he expects?
Flash Back – Still stinging from the betrayal of Jay Garrick, Barry is pushing harder than ever to go faster. He needs to learn to how go beyond mere physical enhancements, and so he travels back in time a year to learn how to manipulate the speed force from the real expert: the original Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne . He soon learns the hard way that time should not be so idly messed with.
So this episode is essentially a scaled-up version of last season’s Rogue Time. Rather than jumping back just a day, this is expanded to a little over a year by revisiting The Sound and the Fury (season 1 episode 11). To its credit, the story handles the setup extremely well via Cisco’s narration montage laying out the key parameters like an audience FAQ list. Just like last season’s episode, it’s a fun fest of in jokes but with a whole season’s worth of material to pull from with clever dialogue points around the differences in various characters then and now. Right from Barry miming along with his own cool dialogue, it’s a complete geek out of Easter Egg references. As expected, Cisco becomes the outlet for best meta moments. His finest is another brain melting causality rant upon seeing future Barry’s white flash symbol. Though the best thing about the execution of Flash Back’s premise is that it doesn’t get overly caught up in being strictly déjà vu. After establishing some early similarities, it breaks away nicely via some pledged differences to make sure that sure that this still feels like an original episode. The biggest new element comes in the form of spectral stalking Time Wraith, which looks to be show’s variation of The Black Racer (in the comics it’s kind of a speed force personification of death, heralding the death of a speedster). You can spot the clear influence in close ups of its head show a speedster costume mask similar to Barry’s. However, because the show already has a black speedster in Zoom, they’ve had to take this Dementor-like approach to clearly differentiate. This unsurprisingly leads to plenty of fun Harry Potter references but none greater than by the returning Hartley Rathaway/Pied Piper because his hair and glasses actually make him look like The Boy Who Lived himself.
Pied Piper’s (Andy Mientus) return is an entertaining character encore that not only shows us a different side to his character but plays well into this week’s Flash/Supergirl crossover episode in which his character was referenced while dealing with a sonic sister in crime, Silver Banshee. Yet he’s not the only joyous return. In many ways, Iris’ early scenes of reminiscing over Eddie Thawne embodies the audience as despite the good new characters Season 2 has delivered, he is still a fondly-missed cast member whose place (especially since Patty left), nobody has managed to fill. So it’s with open arms and a firm suicide watch that we welcome Eddie (and Rick Cosnett) back onto our screens even for just a little while. His Iris time capsule is utterly heart-wrenching and despite his commitments on Quantico, hopefully this will not be the last time he sneaks into Central City. Yet there is one man above all others that deserves recognition here and that man is Tom Cavanagh.... my God, he has more faces than a bag of D20's!
Just when we think he couldn’t give us anything new after his Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne double-shifting last season before producing a whole new variant in his Earth 2 doppelganger, he pulls this self aware Wells/Thawne out of his seemingly bottomless bag of tricks. Just how quickly the old Wells puts things together and rumbles future Barry really speaks to the strength and danger of his character. Then, the first “cards on the table” conversation scene between Wells and future Barry is one of the greatest sequences of this entire season. If you’ve watched/loved the recent season of Daredevil, it’s familiar in effectiveness and delivery to the stunning prison sit down between Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk. It’s a clash of strong personalities, a seething villain and excellent changes in the balance of power. Cavanagh grabs your stare like a tractor beam with his syllable dripping with emotion and suddenly, all desires for story progression fade from existence as we just want these two to keep trading verbal blows.
So this episode sees The Flash as it manages to retread its own footsteps without tripping over itself as the time travel story dodges all major headaches, and sets up well for smaller time line changing consequences to surface in future episodes. The entity of the Time Wraith makes a great addition as a natural deterrent to time travel and a reason for the team not to use it as a go-to solution. It also makes us wonder if we’ll see one again at some point on Legends of Tomorrow.
Overall it’s a strong, very clever episode that wields The Flash’s own continuity as a weapon for entertainment. Some of the early Flash Vs Flash effects look a bit shabby but the particle accelerator visuals are nothing short of breathtaking. While this isn’t a style of episode that should become common place, it’s fantastic. From a season perspective it could do with using Wally West a bit more as in these last two episodes, he’s really slipped into the background, but apart from that, everything is progressing well. The Flash is on break next Tuesday so grab your own Cisco and watch Wrath of Khan instead.