WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for The Flash season finale
Well, The CW's resident speedster series has a new challenge, as The Flash sent Barry Allen to speedster Heaven in its season 3 finale. Not in the sense that Barry was killed by his latest enemy - Savitar didn't even kill Iris West - but the episode's final scene saw him leaving Central City behind as he reunited his physical body with the Speed Force that's been fueling his power from the beginning. With Central City in the hands of Wally West, Harry Wells, and the rest of his friends, Barry went willingly into the hereafter, knowing he had finally set things right.
Except... he won't be gone forever. Given the realities of a serialized TV show, fans knew even before the episode's close that Barry Allen would return for another season. At the same time, the moment was treated with more finality than fans have come to expect. More finality than we would hope to see erased in the Season 4 premiere, at any rate. So what's the real story being told, if not the last days of Barry Allen? And if Barry Allen will most definitely return to become The Flash once again... what's the point of sending him into the Speed Force, body and soul?
We may have one answer, based in the pages of the DC Comics world. And if this is the story about to be told, the Barry Allen that returns could take The Flash series to a brand new level.
Barry Allen Enters Speedster Heaven
There are plenty of questions to be asked about the final few minutes of the finale, due in no small part to the consistently-sketchy description and understanding of the larger Speed Force mythology. What we know is this: with Jay Garrick freed from his Speed Force prison to help take down Savitar, the quasi-literal "prison" was in need of a new occupant. Shouldn't the eradication of Savitar's very existence have undone the prison? Apparently not. And while Wally West and Jay Garrick stood silently by, Barry emerged as the frontrunner to fulfill the role of 'imprisoned speedster' needed to keep the Speed Force in balance.
Fans may make their arguments over the fictional storytelling here, and wonder if Barry really should be the one to sacrifice his life to stop the Speed Force tremors manifesting as multi-colored lightning blasts and earthquakes. The fact is, the moment he decides he has to sacrifice himself the Speed Force opens a breach, and comes walking out in the form of Nora Allen (just as it had during Barry's prior foray into the Speed Force). His mother's arrival implies Barry has made the right choice. He may have caused all this trouble in his creation and undoing of the 'Flashpoint' timeline, but it's no "Hell" he's going to.
Where Savitar, Wally, and Jay describe the Speed Force prison as particularly horrible - in the case of the last two, forcing them to re-live the worst moment of their life in an endless loop - the form of Nora tells him that peace, not torment, awaits Barry. His race has been run, his misdeeds set right: he is headed to a form of speedster Heaven. After saying his final goodbyes, Barry goes willingly hand in hand with the woman-- sorry, the entity that has guiding him on his path to adulthood. And just like that, Barry Allen's story is over.
The way the scene plays out is reminiscent of several key moments in Flash history. It's safe to say that just about every hero to hold the 'Flash' mantle has given their 'life' for others, even if that means returning to a pure energy form and returning to the larger Speed Force - only to one day return. But the specific allusions to a form of afterlife, or 'Speedster Heaven' will lead the longtime DC readers to a specific story from comic book history. Fans don't need to worry about reading it themselves, but should remember all the same: "Terminal Velocity" may hold the answers to this summer's coming questions.
It was a story arc written by Mark Waid, seen by many as the moment much of his early 1990s run was leading to. The titular 'Flash' at that point was actually Wally West - the original Wally, successor to Barry Allen - who was watching as the odds became stacked against him. We'll spare readers the details, since the reason why he had to enter the Speed Force isn't actually the most important part. But suffice to say that Wally was also fighting against what seemed to be the immutable chain of events that led to the death of his love, Linda Park.
The Flash of the TV series may have seen the love of his life saved by the sacrifice of H.R. Wells, but for Wally West, only moving at the fastest speed possible could save Linda. He did it, knowing full well that he would be saving the world only for those he left behind. Because as far as any DC speedster to that point knew, traveling beyond the limits of the Speed Force meant becoming one with it - and when you crossed that line, you never returned. Until Wally did.
Things continued to spiral out of control following Wally's return to the Speed Force - a trip that had seen his predecessor, Barry Allen effectively killed years earlier. But where Barry had never returned (and wouldn't for another decade and a half), Wally's friends were visited by a blindingly bright, impossibly fast ally just as their fight seemed lost. It was Wally West charged with more Speed Force energy, and using new powers his friends had never seen. Once the action died down, and Wally could explain it all to Linda, he offered an explanation of where he had been... and what he had seen on the other side of the Speed Force:
"Linda... I made it through. I sped to the other side of light. I became part of some force... some power. It was... it was glorious. I remember less with each passing second. It was like looking at the face of God. I couldn't comprehend a billionth of it-- and yet, I know it's a part of me now... More than it's ever been for any man alive. I have a direct line to the Force of Speed. I don't understand it now-- but I have a feeling that in the days to come, I'll start to."
Thus, the notion of 'the Speed Force' was introduced into DC's mythology as an explanation for the swiftness of the company's speedster heroes. So too began Wally West's exploration and mastery of said Force, using it to unlock brand new abilities and control over speed, vibration, and in some cases, matter and time itself. But as Wally explained that he had begun an "evolution" of his powers, the most important question became his reason for returning.
In the end, no matter how good the Speedster Heaven was, it didn't have Linda. And love was strong enough to help him find his way back. And just like that, the long history of Linda Park acting as a 'lightning rod' to pull Wally West back from the nothingness and communion of the Speed Force began. All elements that The Flash TV show has since adopted for its own speedster, Barry Allen. And if they have adopted Wally's breakthroughs into the Speed Force... what's to stop them from doing it again?
Barry's Return in Season 4?
Assuming that Barry Allen will return for Season 4 of The Flash, and therefore assuming that The CW and producers won't buck every rule of television and kill off their show's (and universe's) poster boy, the question is how. The cynics in the audience may believe that the specifics surrounding Barry's return to Central City are of little consequence - he's coming back, and the showrunners probably don't care how. But with so much time and emotional weight placed on Barry's retirement for the sake of the Speed Force, there has to something special about this resurrection.
If the show's writers stick to "Terminal Velocity" and its own follow-up to The Flash's journey to the 'other side,' then the Barry Allen that returns could take some cues from the comic book Wally. Barry would be something of a new man, having gained a far greater understanding of the powers he wields, while simultaneously gaining a clearer for of symbiotic bond with the Speed Force itself. Not just a hero who uses it, but one connected to it more directly and purely than any speedster before. And yes, he would bring with him a brand new batch of superpowers and strategy.
That checks the boxes of escalation or character progress on a superpower level, but if done right, Barry Allen may finally - finally - become the confident, self-assured, determined, and unshakable hero that he was known for in the world of DC Comics. Fans have had to witness Barry doubt himself, only to be pep-talk-ed back into superheroics more times than could ever be counted, so is Season 4 the point at which Barry becomes the hero who gives words of encouragement? The hero who comes up with the answers when others deem the situation hopeless?
It would certainly change up the formula of The Flash while still keeping true to the character journey it's all built around. New superpowers? Check. New level of leadership and mythology accessed? Check. Barry Allen as the hero fans love, but returning to those he loves with a greater purpose, a greater understanding, and a greater task (safeguard the Speed Force, not just access it)? Check and check.
If you ask us, the next season of The Flash could head in less promising directions. But make sure you let us know about your own hopes or predictions for Barry Allen's return to the world of flesh-and-blood TV stars.