[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for The Flash Season 2, Episode 20.]
You can take the super out of the superhero, but you can’t keep a good man from doing the right thing. That’s the lesson that Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) helped prove in the latest episode of The Flash, “Rupture”, with less than desirable outcomes. For as good as Barry might be, it didn’t take long for Zoom to rear his ugly head to remind us all that only a superpowered hero would he able to bring him down.
With Barry deciding that he can’t be the hero he’s best at being without his superspeed, Harrison Wells concocted a means of recreating a controlled replication of the particle accelerator explosion and lightning bolt that bathed Barry’s cells in the Speed Force’s energy. But when the flips were switched, things… didn’t quite turn out as fans were no doubt hoping. But fear not – things may not be as dire as they seem, provided you know your DC Comics mythology.
Considering that not every fan of The Flash will fall into that group, and considering just how difficult it can be to traverse the history and science fiction governing the hero and his superpowers, allow us to lay out some key details about the Speed Force itself, Barry’s connection to it, and how the show’s writers may have just cracked open one massive new piece of The Flash mythology (while adding two new DC heroes to the cast). Needless to say, there are SPOILERS ahead.
Setting The Scene
The exact nature of Barry’s superpower – “Speed Force energy” accelerating every cell in his body – has been kept fairly vague to this point, but the show has established a working definition (for now). With Barry and Harry concocting a device to “boost” the Speed Force in his cells, they had little time to judge how far Barry had come before Zoom arrived to drain all the Speed Force from Barry’s body, and inject it into himself. It made him faster than ever, but left Barry as his old self.
The solution thought up by Harry is, while dangerous, the most obvious one: he got his powers one way, why not repeat with the same results? The method being a crack in reality itself, an explosion which sprayed dark matter, and every facet of experimental physics and quantum science across Central City – while also seeding a cloud, which struck Barry with a bolt of lightning. Add in the chemicals in and around his body at the time of the accident (likely including the many he was doused with after being struck), and you have all the makings of one weird recipe.
Obviously, for the comic book fans, we’re skipping over any sense of destiny or intelligence on the side of the Speed Force. But Harry follows the science, and Barry cooperates. Taking his place across the barrel of a ‘particle accelerator cannon,’ the collision is made, the lightning strikes, and… things go bad from there.
The Flashpoint Connection
The following is less a vital piece of information here, and more of a fun easter egg for those not versed in the modern era of “Flash” comics. The CW and showrunners have relied pretty heavily on the comics written by DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer and avid Flash fan Geoff Johns – primarily his “Flash: Rebirth” and “Flashpoint” runs. It was “Rebirth” that revealed it was Eobard Thawne who had killed Nora Allen, as in the CW TV show, and in this latest episode, it’s likely that a key scene in “Flashpoint” was also recreated with a wink.
In “Flashpoint”, Barry also ends up without his superpowers. Not because they’ve been stolen, but because he, like Barry in the TV show, traveled back in time to rescue his mother from the Reverse-Flash. Except in the comics, he actually did stop the murder. The result was a future torn apart by its former heroes, and in which Barry never became The Flash. With some help from Batman, he found his powers once again: by surrounding himself with the chemicals he was doused with, and sitting on the roof of Wayne Manor waiting for lightning to strike.
The first strike proved as damaging as in the show, but aside from the premise, we wouldn’t look to closely for hints of what’s to come. Still, knowing how many fans caught the similarities, we figured it best to fill everyone in. Especially since Barry actually got his powers back through the experiment. Barry of the TV world… wasn’t so lucky.
Things Go Horribly Wrong
As soon as the actual particle accelerator gives its controlled explosion of strange energies, things start going off the tracks. Apparently, the differences in the actual events are important: Barry’s initial contact with the energy was secondhand, through the lightning which channeled unknown properties from an unknown place into Barry. But with all that power directed right at him, after the lightning fired through him, the power pumping past was too strong for his body to take.
After a few seconds of what looks like Barry dying, in human terms (skin becoming pale, lips and eyes turning blue), things get downright horrifying. A few glimpses of skin being peeled off of Barry’s face are soon followed by his entire body, suddenly turning to dust as his remains are carried away with the glowing energy blast that soon shatters containment (and quite possibly helps create two new speedsters in The CW’s universe).
It’s worth pointing out that viewers have already seen one speedster turn to dust: Trajectory, the young woman who learned firsthand what messing with Velocity can do to the human body. As her speed increased (presumably, Speed Force energy) her lightning shifted to blue, and ran faster, or channeled too much energy than her body could take before dissolving into dust.
There’s no such blue lightning here, though. In fact, the yellow-orange lightning surrounding Barry and removing him from his physical form has been an indicator of the actual Speed Force up to this point – the good kind, which empowers Barry, not destroys him. Still, he doesn’t exactly look to be enjoying the experience.
However, the writhing in pain stops once the energy engulfs him, leaving him wide-eyed, not terrified. To be fair, he doesn’t have much time to actually react before he, to the perception of those present, dies.
The Death of Barry Allen?
As much as Zoom and Barry’s friends and family may believe that this experiment simply resulted in killing the team’s only hope, most viewers know that’s not the case. It isn’t the first time that a CW superhero has been “killed,” but the difference here is that Barry’s ‘death’ was inherently a mystery. The experiment should have worked, right? Since promos for the next episode show Barry alive and well – not to mention the wealth of photos and marketing showing Barry must return – the question doesn’t hinge on Barry’s fate, but his form.
In other words: where did he go? For those readers of the comics, the answer seems straightforward. But in order for that answer to actually make sense, it looks like the writers are finally delving a bit deeper into the mythology of the Speed Force. And if you thought it was just an energy that grants speed, prepare to have your mind blown (provided the Flash showrunners remain as faithful as ever to the comics).
Barry Allen Has Entered The Speed Force Itself
There’s a good chance that fans confused about Barry’s disappearance will take to the Internet for answers, and possibly find out that Barry Allen actually has died already (in the comics). The scene took place as part of the famous “Crisis on Infinite Earths” series, in which Barry Allen – at the time, still fueled by an energy source that was nowhere near clearly explained – attempted to outrun a tachyon (particle moving faster than light) to save the multiverse. He succeeded, but along the way, ran backwards through time, through each important event in his life, until he eventually wasted away into nothing but dust.
The Flash had died saving the universe, apparently expending his entire life essence to do it. And for three decades, Barry Allen remained dead. That was until “Final Cris” came along, which revealed that Barry was still alive and well, living in another dimension which all other presumed-dead speedsters also called home. With “Flash: Rebirth” Barry returned for good, and Geoff Johns got down to writing some new lore to make sense of the Speed Force that powered Barry, his successor Wally West, and most other speedsters.
For starters, the Speed Force wasn’t just an energy. It wasn’t just an alternate dimension experienced through increased speed. It was a completely different plane of existence.
Here is where things start to get a little weird, but you’ll have to bear with us. Mainly, because DC writers have seemed to only agree on one thing: the Speed Force, by definition, is hard to actually explain. But the basics are as follows:
- The Speed Force is like a river, flowing energy to Barry and his fellow speedsters.
- Like a river, a speedster may attempt to follow the energy back to its source.
- To do that, they have to run faster than light, faster than anything, running backwards through time itself.
- When the Speed Force barrier is broken, the speedster is at risk of losing themselves completely, and being re-absorbed into its depths.
- For Wally, Jay and Barry, it’s their wives who were able to pull them back to reality (their ‘lightning rods’).
- In the Speed Force, time, space, and reality become… well, as weird as the writer wants them to be.
The comics have stopped short of actually showing a sentient being controlling the Speed Force, but even without it, the energy dimension/plane/afterlife has a will of its own. That includes its version of the Grim Reaper, and an indomitable will to find Barry and Wally, and either return their powers, or pull them back into its fold. And as Geoff Johns gave Barry Allen a second life, he changed history: Barry disintegrating into bones and dust in a wash of energy wasn’t death – it was his passage from this world to the next. The next being the Speed Force.
Weighing all the evidence, we would say that’s what fans of The Flash witnessed, with Barry receiving a more direct connection to the energy than ever before. And while he may be lost for the moment, his foray into the Force could have MAJOR implications on his powers moving forward.
What Happens Now?
With most ventures into the Speed Force, there comes a mandatory look at key events, people, and questions that plague our speedster hero. For Barry, it’s his mother’s death, father’s incarceration (and later, death), meeting Iris West, etc.. But in the New 52, the Speed Force was given an actual physical structure, a clutch of rocks amidst a sea of memories that seem more at home in Inception than The CW. But the core danger remained: lose yourself to the past, your past, and you may be lost in the Force forever. It calls for every speedster, and the faster they go, the firmer it pulls.
We would expect a similar journey to await Barry, as the key figures in his life appear to give voice to his deepest fears and doubts, all in the name of keeping him from heading back to those he loves. But, as bad as that might sound, don’t think of the Speed Force as being ‘evil’.
There is some good news in all of this. As the weeks and months have slipped by without any actual explanation of how or why Barry could get faster, it has begun to seem more and more necessary to actually define the Speed Force. In the simplest terms, according to DC Comics mythology, the Speed Force isn’t a drug, it’s a faucet. The more the speedster can open the faucet, the more powerful they become. Powerful enough to stop someone who has had to steal the power, or has already lost their speed for treating it like a stimulant.
It remains to be seen if this is the truth Barry realizes, and if it’s the newly-revealed love Iris feels for him that will pull him back to reality harder than the Speed Force can pull to keep him staying put. But in Johns’ version of the energy, Barry Allen didn’t get struck by a lightning bolt supercharged by the Speed Force – he created it. Take a second to imagine what kinds of power could be at his disposal if the show follows the same twist, and it’s safe to say that the coming weeks – and Barry’s return more than anything else – will be must-see viewing for Flash fans and comic readers alike.
We hope we’ve been able to catch non-comic readers (or just those who find the Speed Force a bit confusing) up on the proceedings, so some of the stranger moments from next week’s The Flash episode will be easier to decipher. If you have questions or theories of your own, be sure to mention them in the comments, and we’ll keep you updated as more details (and the potential addition of two new speedsters) arrive.
The Flash airs Tuesdays @8pm on The CW.