[WARNING - This review contains SPOILERS for The Flash season 3, episode 10.]
The fallout surrounding Flashpoint -- the alternate timeline Barry created when he traveled back in time -- consumed much of The Flash season 3's first half, with Barry learning to face his problems instead of rewriting them. His biggest problem at the moment is the threat of Savitar -- a self-proclaimed God of Speed hellbent on destroying everything Barry loves in revenge for future-Barry locking him away.
The midseason finale saw Barry (with a little help from Jay Garrick) manage to trap Savitar and hurl him into the Speed Force in the hope he'd be sealed away for good, but doing so also sent Barry five months into future to witness a grisly scene -- Savitar murdering Iris. Now facing a future of his worst nightmare, the temptation to rewrite time and save Iris is stronger than ever -- can Barry resist meddling with the timeline again?
In tonight's midseason premiere, 'Borrowing Problems from the Future' -- written by Grainne Godfree and David Kob, directed by Millicent Shelton -- that desire to again rewrite time and save Iris weighs heavily on Barry. When a new villain, Plunder, begins terrorizing Central City, Barry is hesitant to stop him, worried that capturing Plunder will bring about the terrible future that kills Iris. It then falls to Wally to protect Central City as its newest speedster -- Kid Flash.
"Two of Them"
When Wally received his own Flash suit at Christmas, it was taken as a symbol of his readiness to join Barry in the field. This episode gives us that right away - it's Barry and Wally, Flash and Kid Flash working side by side as a crime-fighting duo. However, once Barry realizes that it was Plunder's capture he saw being reported on the news in the future, he begins having second thoughts about catching him, afraid he would only further cement the events in the current timeline and ensure Iris' death.
Barry, of course, doesn't share any of this with Wally and instead starts holding him back, telling Wally he still has more to learn and needs more practice before joining him again on a mission. (Mind you, this is after Wally came to Barry's rescue.) It's a reversal of what Wally had to go through earlier in the season, where it was Joe and Iris holding him back, keeping him in the dark about the extent of his abilities in order to protect him. Here's it's Barry keeping him in the dark about his own fears of the future, content to let Wally feel ashamed rather than admit his worries - or the grim future he witnessed - to the rest of Team Flash.
As The Flash has repeatedly demonstrated before, keeping secrets does more harm than good, and wisely, Barry eventually comes clean. In doing so, Barry gives Wally a much-needed boost of confidence by having Kid Flash capture Plunder instead of himself, changing the timeline of events leading to Iris' death ever slightly. Whether that makes a difference in Iris' fate remains to be seen, but the gesture certainly puts Wally well on his way to becoming Central City's new favorite speedster - along with guaranteeing he will forever be known as Kid Flash.
Team Flash has changed over the years, expanding its membership with each new season. In tonight's episode, they welcomed a new member - Julian Albert. Initially, he was just Barry's new co-worker, one of Flashpoint's more irritating changes to the timeline, but it was later revealed he was also Savitar's right-hand servant, Alchemy. Though it turned out that Julian wasn't strictly evil - but like many of Savitar's victims had been brainwashed into acting as he did - he still isn't an especially friendly guy. So it was a little surprising that Caitlin sought him out, eventually asking him to join Team Flash.
Caitlin's reasoning, however, is sound. She needs someone with his knowledge of meta-humans if she has any hopes of ever being cured of her own meta-abilities. She also understands the immense guilt he feels over what Savitar made him do, recognizing it as the same guilt she feels about the things she did while under the influence of Killer Frost. In this way, the two are kindred spirits, both racked with remorse over things they didn't willingly do. Caitlin recognizes this in Julian and knows she cannot let him suffer alone.
Her decision for him to join Team Flash is then two-fold - Julian will help Cisco find a cure as well as update the tech they currently use to keep her powers in check, and in the meantime, be forced to socialize with other humans beings and not be stuck moping alone. (Bonus, we get to enjoy how including Julian on Team Flash shakes up the dynamic, bringing a new irritable smartypants into the mix.)
Fixed VS. Ever-Changing Future
The real peril of 'Borrowing Problems from the Future" isn't Plunder or any of his robberies, but that the future in which Savitar kills Iris is already set in stone. Barry reaches out to H.R. about just this in a scene where it's really obvious how much Barry wishes he were actually speaking to the original Harrison Wells (err... Thawne?) or even Harry and not this weird Earth-3 facsimile they have now. (Are we for sure trusting H.R.? There's something suspicious about him still. Like all that coffee he drinks. Though his enthusiasm over the museum is infectious and Tom Cavanaugh is a joy to watch in those scenes.) But what H.R. explains to Barry are two views of the future - one where the events are fixed and unchangeable, another where the future is constantly in flux.
It's pretty clear which view Barry wants to believe in, but just believing in it won't make it true. And even if it's possible for Barry to change a specific future event, he'll need to do so very carefully. The domino demonstration, though neat, was hardly necessary because The Flash has already made it a point to show the repercussions of time travel. That was the whole crux of Flashpoint, the only difference here being that Barry is trying to change a future event and not a past one. Which might be the key, actually, assuming the future is constantly in flux and not fixed as H.R. believes.
To accomplish this, Team Flash decide to alter several headlines that Barry reads while in the future - basically, it's the only information Barry has about the future other than Savitar kills Iris (well, that and now H.R. being on the roof, very suspicious), making it their only viable option for affecting any change. It's also a concise teaser of what's to come this season, mentioning the Music Meister, Killer Frost, a gorilla attack - all developments we expect to crop up this back half of season 3. If they can change every headline, maybe Iris has a chance, but then again, the future tends to find a way of happening no matter what.
The Flash midseason finale works as a bridge between the two halves of season 3, switching Barry's focus from changing the past to changing the future - though keeping all the risk. Finally confessing what he saw to Iris and everyone else was definitely the right move, too, not to mention it allowed for some emotionally charged scenes for Grant Gustin and Candice Patton. Those two have become the very heart of the series, and for that reason alone, The Flash better hope they can change the future.
The Flash season 3 continues next Tuesday with 'Dead or Alive' @8pm on The CW.