[This is a review of The Flash season 3, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
Barry Allen has made a big mistake. At the very end of The Flash season 2, he chose to travel back in time and save his mother. That decision altered the timeline, creating an alternate Flashpoint Earth where his parents both lived but everything else was terribly wrong. After realizing his error, Barry worked with his arch-nemesis, the Reverse-Flash, and righted the timeline. Now back in the present, it seems as if everything has gone back to normal — except it hasn’t. And in fixing his initial mistake, Barry may have created an even bigger mess.
Tonight’s episode, ‘Paradox’ — written by Aaron Helbing and Todd Helbing and directed by Ralph Hemecker — begins exploring the many ways in which Barry’s reality has again been altered, making it clear that though the Flashpoint event is over, it will have a lasting impact on season 3. Among those changes is Barry’s new co-worker — Julian Albert (Tom Felton), a fellow crime scene investigator at the CCPD who doesn’t get on too well with Barry and someone Flash producer Todd Helbing has called “a direct result of Flashpoint.” Also returning this episode is the real Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp), The Flash of Earth-3 and Barry’s father, Henry Allen’s doppelganger, promising yet another speedster team-up and more heart-to-heart moments between the two.
“I Screwed Up Everyone’s Life.”
In the Flashpoint universe, Barry became convinced his meddling with the timeline had ruined everyone’s lives. Determined to fix that problem, he traveled in time again, putting events back the way they happened. (Except even that wasn’t entirely accurate, with the Reverse-Flash not getting trapped in the past as he had originally.) Upon returning to the present, everything at first seemed normal, but very quickly Barry learns his time traveling has created even greater changes in the lives of his closest friends and family.
Joe and Iris have barely spoken since Iris learned her dad lied about her mother still being alive; Cisco’s brother is dead, and the loss has made him sullen and humorless; Barry has a new coworker, Julian, a meta-human CSI specialist, and they’ve apparently been sharing the crime lab for almost a year; and the kiss Barry and Iris shared before he set off on all this time traveling nonsense now never happened. The more Barry messes with the timeline, the more problems he creates. The Flashpoint Earth may not have felt right to Barry, but the one he’s come home to is much worse.
After an entire episode of trying to discover what changed through really awkward conversations, wanting to change the past yet again, and then finally getting some sense knocked into him (more on that later), Barry comes clean about what happened. And it may be one of The Flash‘s most heartbreaking scenes, watching Barry tell his friends and family that he is the reason behind much of their misery, but it’s also a cathartic one, allowing all of Team Flash to come to grips with the bad stuff in their lives. By the end of ‘Paradox’, not everyone is back to normal and their relationships are still strained, but there are signs things are on the mend: Cisco names their newest villain, the Wests leave as a happy family unit, and Barry and Iris again rekindle their romance with a kiss.
New Heroes & Villains
Though Team Flash is on the mend, the fact remains that this season will have big changes thanks to Flashpoint, most of which involve new heroes and villains. There is, of course, a new season villain – Alchemy – a character only teased in the premiere but who makes his grand entrance in this episode. His motivations are still a mystery but we do understand how he’s trying to achieve them: by giving back the powers of those who had them in the Flashpoint universe. And as far as ‘Paradox’ is concerned, that means Edward Clariss again becomes the speedster, Rival. He’s thankfully dispatched with by the end of the episode (seeing as another speedster villain is really redundant), but it does promise a whole season of new villains – some of which we may have met before in other realities. As for Alchemy, it’s a little too obvious he’ll turn out to actually be Barry’s new coworker, Julian, but both of them appearing at the same time can’t be a coincidence.
On the hero side, Wally appears to have retained none of his speed so (at least for now) Kid Flash is no more. But other members of Team Flash do have powers: Cisco shows up in the nick of time to save Barry as Vibe, exhibiting more developed powers not too dissimilar from his Earth-2 doppelganger. He also has a more sophisticated rig, allowing him to project a blast of vibration energy. But it doesn’t appear as if Cisco has been regularly suiting up as Vibe, though it’s definitely something they leave open as a future possibility. Then there’s Caitlin, who for the most part doesn’t appear all that different from her pre-Flashpoint self – well, except right at the end of the episode when she exhibits heat absorbing powers exactly like her Earth-2 doppelganger, Killer Frost. It’s been teased for some time that we hadn’t seen the last of Killer Frost, but it was a surprise the reveal came so soon. And instead of say, having Alchemy grant Caitlin those powers, she already has them and no one else seems to know. The question now, is how?
“We’re Not Gods! We’re Men.”
About two-thirds of the way through ‘Paradox’, right when Barry decides he must again travel to the past and fix his mistake, he’s stopped by none other than The Flash, Jay Garrick. Turns out Harry told Jay all about Barry’s fight with Zoom, how he killed Barry’s father, and how Jay is the Earth-3 doppelganger of Barry’s father. So Jay’s been keeping an eye on Barry (how is unclear, just chalk it up as one of the details The Flash usually muddles) and noticing Barry making many of the same mistakes he once made, decides they need a chat.
The scene is, of course, wonderful and full of emotion, filling the slot left vacant by Barry’s actual father dying with just another reason for Grant Gustin and John Wesley Shipp to share screen time. But there is a greater weight and significance given to Jay’s advice than there had been with Barry’s father. “I’m a speedster, like you,” Jay says to him, explaining that he has made the same mistakes, that at one point he too traveled to the past only to create a present that was even worse. And when Barry asks then why have these powers, Jay responds “We’re not gods! We’re men.” Having the ability to the change the past isn’t to say you should change the past – which, coincidentally, is something that at least some version of Barry understood since the rift between him and this timeline’s downer-Cisco began when Barry refused to do just that.
Our Barry, however, is only learning that lesson now; to accept his mistakes, live with them, and move on. But Jay has another, more important question for Barry – “What kind of hero are you going to be?” Learning to be responsible with his powers and not think of them like a cure for every ill is only a stop along the way to becoming a better hero – a journey we’re obviously watching Barry go on this season.
The Flash ‘Paradox’ confirms that the lingering effects of ‘Flashpoint’ won’t be insignificant, changing the lives of those closest to Barry in major ways, and in some cases, creating even more super-powered individuals. But most importantly, Barry has (fingers-crossed) learned to stop meddling with the timeline – at least we hope so. This series just couldn’t handle any more changes!
The Flash season 3 continues next Tuesday with ‘Magenta’ at 8PM on the CW. You can check out preview of the next episode, below: