[This article contains MASSIVE potential spoilers for The Flash]
The writers of The Flash made it clear early on that holding their biggest moves for the future wasn’t in the cards, revealing their hero’s most iconic villain almost immediately. But even if the premiere episode contained a major reveal about the man behind the tragic events of Barry Allen’s life, mysteries remain. With the main antagonist seemingly revealed, it’s been confirmed that “the real endgame is almost here.” But what could the Reverse-Flash be planning?
We’ve been following the series’ biggest mysteries from the beginning, trying to see how the comic book mythology of The Flash was being adapted and tweaked – and how the writers could maintain secrecy after letting the cat out of the bag so early. Now that more evidence has risen, and the Speed Force is soon to be explored, we’re offering one theory of what Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) is truly up to – and what fans may look forward to seeing play out in front of them.
The Speed Force
Trying to explain a comic book invention like the ‘Speed Force’ is no easy task, and we wondered how eager the show’s writers would be to attempt it. For new fans, Barry Allen’s powers seem straightforward enough: a bolt of theoretical-physics-charged lightning imbues him with superspeed. Oliver Queen’s belief that the bolt of lightning “chose” Barry may also be a hint that something more is at play – but we’ll get there eventually.
That explanation has sufficed for now, yet the writers have teased the presence of the Speed Force (the real power behind the lightning) and its reality-bending nature. In Episode 11, “The Sound and the Fury” the mysterious force was finally mentioned by name, elating the most devoted fans. Drip-feeding mass audiences comic book lore is always a challenge, and Flash executive producer Andrew Kreisberg explained the team’s approach to the Speed Force to ComicBook.com:
“It is this amorphous thing. Hopefully, comic book fans will feel a little bit more like we’re heading in certain directions. For right now, it’s a catch-all phrase that speaks to a grander universe and a grander power and, ultimately, grander abilities. If you know the comics, you know what having access to the Speed Force gives you the ability to do.”
Since not all of our readers may ” know the comics,” allow us to lay out the basics of the aptly-named Speed Force. For starters, it’s the true real source of Barry’s abilities, an alternate dimension/energy/form of space often witnessed as ‘lightning’ to the average person. But for the few who are able to access it completely, a world of possibilities – and dangers – is opened.
We’ll skip over the theoretical physics and sum it up thusly: when a speedster (capable of channelling the Force into superpowers) opens the tap to full blast and starts approaching the speed of light, barriers between their physical form and the Speed Force begins to blur. The Force reaches out to the speedster – now almost a being of pure energy – to be re-absorbed. But when riding that narrow line, other abilities emerge.
In keeping with Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, space and time start to get… fuzzy once lightspeed is approached, when the rift between our notion of the universe and the Speed Force is widest. In layman’s terms, speedsters begin to run backwards through time. But the call to rejoin the source is nearly irresistible – unless, that is, the speedster in question has a human bond willing them to return just as strongly.
It speaks to the romance and warmth at the heart of “The Flash” comic series (faithfully adapted into The Flash TV series) that each speedster to carry the name has had one such loved one – referred to as their ‘lightning rods’ – to act as a homing device. Barry Allen’s has traditionally been his wife Iris West, but the comic hero – like his TV counterpart – has more than a few loved ones and key events to help guide him through the blur of time unleashed when the Speed Force is breached.
Dr. Well’s Training
Dr. Harrison Wells seemed unsure about Barry and his S.T.A.R. Labs team’s plan to take on metahuman crime, but the series premiere revealed his motives to be far, far more complicated. With his paralysis apparently a ruse, Wells is fully aware of the heroic fate in store for Barry, courtesy of a newspaper from the future; one in which Barry “vanishes” during an unknown crisis (one comic fans know to be the “Crisis on Infinite Earths”).
While surprising, the twist seemed to set a new plot in motion: Wells would shepherd Barry into becoming a better hero, pushing him when needed, manipulating his adopted father Joe, and even murdering those who would seek to knock ‘The Flash’ off his destined path. Wells was willing to do almost anything to ensure that The Flash survives to the future ‘crisis.’
But viewers have gotten hints that there’s clearly more to the story.
Simple heroism isn’t the overall goal: Barry Allen is about as good-natured and selfless as a person can get. But when a metahuman sought revenge for Wells’ failed particle accelerator (Episode 7, “Power Outage”), he stated in private that Barry’s “penchant for heroics” was praiseworthy but ultimately “impeding him from realizing the full scope of his abilities.” For Wells, pushing Barry’s powers to their limit is more important than helping his fellow man.
The episode would see Barry lose his powers and the future change, but all returned to the status quo. With his powers returned, Wells formed a new conclusion: loved ones were not a distraction for The Flash, but the factor needed to “get him up to speed.” Given what we know about the nature of Barry’s powers, Wells’ words can be taken literally: his goal, presumably, is to push Barry until he’s capable of accessing the Speed Force directly.
To do that, Wells needs to take a more… hands-on approach.
After the classic Flash archnemesis in yellow was brought into the TV show (far sooner than any fans expected), he brought with him a jaw-dropping conclusion to The Flash‘s midseason finale: the revelation that it was Harrison Wells behind the mask all along. Perhaps we should have always known, since the sudden arrival of a faster, more powerful and determined villain has served Wells’ best, pushing Barry to train harder than ever before.
Willing to kill in order to shape Barry into a hero for all mankind, Wells’ motives seem grounded enough in their own way (we wouldn’t condone them, but could understand). But even for the viewers who connected the dots early on, the actual way in which he travels through time – if that is truly the explanation for his knowledge of the future – has yet to be unveiled. But his own speed has been confirmed time and again.
Viewers were no doubt surprised to see Harrison’s speed shown multiple time in Episode 11, but after a few short bursts of speed, Wells loses control of his lower half. This instability hints that his wheelchair may not be entirely for show, while the red lightning left in his wake – as opposed to Barry’s yellow – is the first hint that his own powers differ from Central City’s hero.
The build-up to the Reverse-Flash’s reveal centered on the mysterious ‘Tachyon Prototype’ from Mercury Labs, an experimental device in the field of tachyons (particles that move faster than light). Once attained, Wells used the prototype to seemingly ‘power up’ his yellow uniform. It was a mystery worth talking about over the winter hiatus, but even that strange science and technology was further clarified just a few episodes later.
With the Tachyon Prototype strapped directly to his chest – an unsafe use, according to Wells’ computer A.I. ‘Gideon’ – the good doctor revealed that he was unable to “hold onto his speed”; claiming it would come and go uncontrollably. Where Barry taps into the Speed Force naturally, Wells seems to require a device to attain even a faulty connection (perhaps because it did not “choose” him in the same fashion?) – and that is a serious problem when an exceptional rival is what Barry needs to progress.
In hindsight, Wells’ ongoing struggle further explains the need for the Tachyon Prototype, and interest in the deceased metahuman Farooq as well. Withdrawing a blood sample from the electrified metahuman’s corpse, Wells stated the villain’s ability to “steal The Flash’s powers” was of particular interest. With his powers waning and clearly inferior to those that Barry received accidentally, his suspicious actions make a bit more sense.
But that still leaves the question of how Wells attained his speed in the first place. And with the clock ticking, his claim that “the real endgame will be here soon” becomes the core mystery moving forward.
We’ve shown why the “endgame” in question is likely to be Barry fully unlocking the Speed Force, and that still seems to be what Wells is moving him toward. But when Barry uses his powers to unlock time travel – which the producers have confirmed will be happening this season – what move will Wells make next?
Given our theory, it’s safe to assume that when Barry begins to channel the Speed Force directly – read: unlocks time travel in a stable way, not the first Groundhog Day appearance – Harrison Wells will make his final move. If he has managed to use Farooq’s blood to ‘steal’ Barry’s power for himself, then it’s feasible he could enter the timestream and pursue whatever ends he has spent months (years?) planning. Possibly with Barry close behind.
The ‘lightning rod’ aspect of speedster time travel is vague at best, but there has only been evidence of a single loved one in Harrison Wells’ life: his deceased wife, Tess Morgan. Tess, viewers may recall, was killed in a car accident around the same time – if not the exact time – of Nora Allen’s murder. Is it possible that Tess’ death led him to build the Central City particle accelerator that would one day unlock the time travel needed to prevent her fate?
Whatever his intentions, it seems that Barry‘s lightning rod will guide the two speedsters to the night of Nora Allen’s murder. Eagle-eyed viewers quickly noticed that there wasn’t one, but two speedsters forming the “ball of lightning” around Nora that night: a man in yellow (trailing red lightning) looking to kill her, and a speedster trailing yellow lightning (who spirited Barry away so he wouldn’t witness his mother’s death).
This one scene offers clear evidence that Barry and the Reverse-Flash will travel to the night his mother died – the only reason Barry was present in the CCPD crime lab in the first place – and that such a showdown was planned from the very start. In fact, Cisco deduced as much already – though he wouldn’t think it possible that the other speedster was Barry:
Viewers will presumably witness this same scene from adult Barry’s perspective down the road. And judging by his decision to protect his younger self instead of continuing the fight, Barry chooses not to alter reality – and perhaps realize that his mother truly was, as Wells put it, “destined to die that night.”
If that’s the case, then the show’s writers have also hinted that the speedsters’ meddling with the past isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, it’s just one of THREE in store.
NEXT PAGE: What’s in store for Barry Allen on The Flash
1) Nora Allen’s Murder
We theorized after the very first episode of The Flash that the floating water in Barry’s childhood fishtank was much more than just a memorable visual effect. Presumed at the time to be a side effect of superspeed, its later absence shows that is clearly not the case. We’ll skip over the logic of a time loop for now, but if the Reverse-Flash travelled back in time to permanently alter Barry’s life – creating a future in which he became The Flash – and the strange effect on gravity was a symptom, then even more dots can be connected.
2) The Particle Accelerator Accident
Since the S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator accident was responsible for granting Barry his powers, it makes little sense to think he may have played a role in the accident as well. But just as the accelerator was powered on, and Dr. Well’s team began to celebrate, the champagne behaved just as Barry’s fishtank did when the fabric of time and space was being rewoven. It floated, dropped, and all hell broke loose.
To date, the actual reason for the accelerator accident has never been found, with only a conceptual drawing of the causes offered in the show’s pilot. But now that we know there are two speedsters in play, and it’s possible to think they were present on that fateful night at S.T.A.R. Labs, see if the animated demonstration looks any different:
There you have it: two unnamed objects travel through the accelerator at high speeds, in opposite directions. They finally smash together, a “dimensional barrier ruptures,” and releases all manner of theoretical science and extra-dimensional energies upon Central City. If the writers have any intention of actually clarifying the event as something other than “science,” then it’s possible those two objects colliding – which Wells notably fails to even address – weren’t particles at all.
It’s hard to say if this collision between Flash and Reverse-Flash would potentially take place in the first season, or many down the road, but it could presumably be their last. The ensuing explosion and “dimensional barrier rupture” don’t sound like easily survivable dangers, but comic book readers know that any apparent ‘death’ of Barry Allen is never what it seems. And if this scenario has him travelling so fast he becomes more energy than man, the collision might be more likely to send him than end him…
3) The Bolt of Lightning
The final example of the ‘floating liquids revealing a world-altering change’ also occurs the night of the particle accelerator meltdown; just a few moments after it, in fact. The shockwave ripples outward, liquids in Barry’s lab begin to float, and a bolt of lightning – or should we say ‘lightning’ – strikes him. A hero is born, and the final scene of Barry Allen’s comic book “Crisis” is adapted into live-action.
To make our point here, we must call on “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” A crossover series that culled the many alternate dimensions and Earths of the DC Universe into one, and saw the (spoiler!) death of Barry Allen. Again, ‘death’ isn’t the right term. When accelerating to his maximum to save the universe, Barry saved the day, travelling through time in the process, and becoming the Speed Force-infused lightning bolt that struck him in the first place.
The above panel was released three years after Barry’s actual death in “Crisis,” but his ultimate sacrifice made its mark as one (if not the) greatest death in DC history. In fact, executive producer Greg Berlanti mentioned Barry’s sacrifice as the goal he was trying to achieve with The Flash TV series:
“When I get to the end of it, if my mom, my dad, my sister — if people who didn’t read the comics the way that I did — watch the episode and they get the same feeling that I got when I would read the comic books, then I’ve done my job right.
“We can make changes in terms of elements of the character but at the core, they have to have the experience that I got when I read ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths.’”
We aren’t saying that the show’s first season will end with a similar sacrifice (the comics version of Barry Allen stayed dead for three decades afterward), but the writers have left one massive hint that is, indeed, how Barry’s journey ends. But if the particle accelerator is a stand-in for the multiverse-ending catastrophe we never expected to see on the small screen, it begs the question: what happens to the Reverse-Flash?
Where Did The Reverse-Flash Come From?
As we mentioned earlier, there are still plenty of questions left unanswered (inevitable when both time travel and other dimensions are included in a story’s fiction). For starters, where did Harrison Wells attain his knowledge of the future and obviously flawed link to the Speed Force? The fact that he now struggles to run for more than a few seconds seems a far cry from the epic race he and Barry endured in the midseason finale.
If nothing else, the fact that Wells has been positioned as the central villain since the start makes it hard to believe he’d be at the center of the “massive twist” that Gustin is personally promising. It’s for that reason we previously argued that the Reverse-Flash’s secret identity may be bigger than just one cast member. Lest we forget, there remains one character who actually shares a name with the Reverse-Flash of the comics.
For all his scheming, Wells, with his reliance on a computer A.I. and personal problems seems at odds with the singular, determined, and endlessly powerful tormenter known as Reverse-Flash. That may be a case of the writers providing him with a similar arc, but could audiences be missing the real threat? It seems obvious that Wells’ secret will come to light soon enough, but recall the chilling words spoken to Barry when the man in yellow had him thoroughly beaten:
“You know who I am, Barry… We’ve been at this a long time, you and I. But I’m always one step ahead. It is your destiny to lose to me, Flash. Just as it was your mother’s destiny to die that night.”
Reverse-Flash’s claim that the two had “been at this a long time” despite the surrounding fight being their first encounter seems confusing. But add time travel to the mix, and perhaps it makes sense. Unfortunately, while time travel is one of the defining characteristics of the comic Reverse-Flash, it’s clearly not in Wells’ repertoire.
We would love to offer a finely-tuned theory, but simply suggest the following: the Reverse-Flash made his ‘first’ appearance fourteen years before the show begins, on the night that Barry’s mother was murdered, and potentially when Harrison Wells’ wife was killed in a “car accident.” In other words: Barry was set on his path to becoming a hero, and Harrison Wells was given a powerful reason to help him become The Flash.
Could Wells merely be a pawn of the real Reverse-Flash, being given the suit, the speed, and the information to set events in motion as he required? That would bring one heck of a twist at season’s end, but even if the man in yellow is Wells, Eddie Thawne, or a version of either from a parallel ‘dimension’ or timeline, there must be several surprises along the way to help it all make sense.
That’s the best we can offer when it comes to theorizing on the many hints, reveals, and surprises of The Flash‘s first season. And with so many in play, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. If you have your own theories, or can help fill in the holes in our own (or poke brand new ones), we invite you to share them in the comments.
The Flash airs on Tuesdays @8pm on The CW.