[WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Flash Season 1]
It might seem strange to be looking down the road when it comes to The Flash, since the CW TV series has kept a frightening pace since the very first episode. While other comic book shows and films tend to only tease their big bads early on, beginning their heroes' crimefighting careers with lesser foes, the first half of The Flash's season saw the character's most iconic villains introduced and regularly appearing - in the case of the Reverse-Flash, with an even more devious twist than usual.
It's impossible for writer and producers with an affection for the DC Comics source material to bring in elements of time travel without at least hinting at what stories the move would make possible. And even before Barry traveled through time in Episode 15, word of "Flashpoint" was spreading through the fan communities.
We tend to agree that the "Flashpoint" comic series - a major crossover story arc in the comics - will be influencing upcoming events on the show, but for those unfamiliar - or simply unable to see how the epic event could be adapted to the small screen - allow us to make the case.
Barry Allen and the colorful characters of his villainous Rogues Gallery may have had decades of adventures (helping to launch the Silver Age of comics), but it was the 1985 "Crisis on Infinite Earths" event that cemented The second Flash's legacy for all time. When the fate of the universe hung in the balance, Barry ran faster than ever before, saving all creation, and dying in the process.
Even more impressive these days, Barry stayed dead for over 30 years. After three decades, it was DC Comics' Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns who resurrected the speedster, returning him to the spotlight in the "Flash: Rebirth" series. It was this series which altered Barry's origin story, no longer having his mother killed by an unknown man, but Eobard Thawne a.k.a. Reverse-Flash, his sworn enemy.
The real plan for Barry was much, much bigger, moving into the "Flashpoint" series not long after (later adapted into the animated Flashpoint Paradox feature). The story begins simply enough, as Barry finds himself at work in the crime lab, with his mother now alive and well - but his superspeed missing. It soon becomes clear that Barry is not trapped in a dream, an alternate reality, or some magical deception, but an alternate timeline in which 'The Flash' was never born.
Without a superpowered Barry, the Justice League never formed, and as usual, the Reverse-Flash was once again singled out as the likely culprit. But when Eobard Thawne finally revealed himself, he confessed that this broken reality wasn't his doing, but Barry's. Apparently, Barry had finally decided to run backwards in time, and prevent Thawne from killing his mother.
The price however, was this "Flashpoint" alternate future; one in which Bruce Wayne had been shot to death as a child, Superman's crash landing leveled a city, and the world had fallen to pieces. Barry would eventually regain his powers and realize his mistake, leading to a tearful goodbye between he and his mother before travelling back in time to allow her to be killed by Thawne's (returning not the world that had been, but DC's New 52 continuity).
Where Johns had delivered a heartbreaking blow to both Barry and fans with his retconning of Nora Allen's murder, it was brought full circle, with the readers and hero realizing that time is not to be messed with - and that fate is not meant to be changed.
The show's producers were up front about the influences being taken from "Rebirth" and Johns himself, and the pilot episode revealing Nora Allen's murder at the hands of 'a Man in Yellow' moving at superspeed showed they were investing in Thawne from the very beginning.
The Reverse-Flash would soon return to confirm to Barry (Grant Gustin) that he was guilty of the crime, and Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) even more recently revealed himself to be Thawne in disguise. Cavanagh's version of Eobard Thawne is infinitely more sympathetic and patient than that seen in the comics, but this isn't the only wrinkle to the comic book source material the writers have added.
When Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) carried out their own investigation into Nora Allen's murder, they discovered that the killer had company, since Barry - an adult Barry - was also present at the scene (likely explaining how young Barry was instantly removed from the action).
On the surface, that fact would seem to confirm that not only is the "Rebirth" storyline being adapted (in which Thawne killed Nora) but aspects of "Flashpoint" as well (where Barry traveled back in time to stop/allow it). In fact, Barry promised his adopted father that when he unlocked time travel with his metahuman powers, he would travel back to that night to save his mother, no matter the cost.
An understandable goal, but one that seems to overlook the potential fallout of changing history.
Since then Barry has cracked the time travel problem just once, bringing criticism from those who claim it was merely an excuse to undo shocking plot twists (in this case, a main character death and two serious injuries). But The Flash's best-informed scientist wasn't thrilled by the idea, but immediately warned of the risks in re-writing events in the name of 'making things better.'
It's hard to know if Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne was truthful when he demanded Barry keep the details of the day ahead to himself, but he delivered his warning that "time is an extremely fragile construct" with conviction. Thawne/Wells may have his own reasons for keeping Barry moving forward in his training, but that doesn't make his warning any less valid.
In our explanation of Barry's time travel, we explained how the showrunners went out of their way to show that any trip through time causes barely perceptible changes, but it seems Dr. Wells is far more concerned with the larger problems yet to be discovered in this new timeline.
We have yet to see if Wells is accurate in his prediction that an averted disaster could lead to an even bigger one down the line (though the show has continued to hint at one major "crisis" in which The Flash vanishes), but Barry showed little concern regardless. Instead of heeding the advice, the speedster threw caution to the wind and trusted his good intentions to see him through.
Leaving little doubt that the chance to save his mother's life isn't just something Barry will consider, but cease with little thought of the consequences.
Barry's reckless use of time travel ties directly into "Flashpoint," since it ultimately leads to the story's emotional weight: the one time Barry made a selfish decision, the entire world suffered for it. Comic fans have seen the references and momentum moving towards a "Flashpoint" twist for weeks, but all veils dropped when Wells asked Barry to consider: "How many more people could die if your mother lives?"
When the pilot episode of The Flash concluded with a clear reference to the "Crisis on Infinite Earths," fans knew the show wouldn't actually attempt to recreate the universal conflict (starring all of DC's biggest heroes). In the same way, it's tempting to think that a dystopian future populated by alternate versions of DC's icons is a stretch for a weekly TV show. Then again, this show has already made its hero's most iconic villain a central cast member, and a telepathic gorilla isn't too far behind...
The show has already established that Barry Allen WILL go back in time to save his mother, but even casual sci-fi fans will question whether it's even possible, since we have already witnessed him fail. In other words, Barry can't succeed, because... he didn't. But as Wells warned, time is a fragile thing. And although viewers have only seen one possible outcome of that night to this point, that may soon change.
One would hope Barry has the common sense to know the world is a better place with The Flash than without, regardless of his personal sacrifice. Then again, some lessons are only learned the hard way. Knowing that it isn't just speed that allows Barry to tunnel through time, but emotional duress, could a disaster leave him with no choice but to rescue his mother?
We won't go into the spoilers revealed by the recent Flash set photos, but simply say that the amount of betrayal, loss, and anger required to travel through time are on their way to Barry at this very moment.
Were Barry to decide that his mother is better off alive, what would it mean for Joe and Iris West? Would growing up outside of the West family bring he and the love of his life closer together, or farther apart? What would Barry become if his loss didn't drive him into forensic science? If his attempts at preventing Nora's murder are successful, then audiences may see those answers questioned - either this season, or the next.
"Flashpoint" showed a horrible future far greater in scale than anything The Flash would likely attempt, but the moral of the story remains the same: Nora Allen's death forever changed Barry's life. It scarred him, but also set him on the path to save countless others. Once Barry realizes that fact, then there is a very good chance he will do what's right.
That said, there's no reason why he'd be unable to arrive at his childhood home a bit early.
Geoff Johns' "Flashpoint" isn't just remembered for the alternate future it presented or even the new continuity it launched, but for its emotional core (as is usually the case with Barry Allen). When Barry explains to his mother how he has changed the story of his life, she, like her son, chooses the noble sacrifice for the good of others. At this point, we would expect nothing less from The Flash's writers.
If this is the route chosen for the TV show, then Thawne's menacing claim (that Nora "was destined to die that night") would be proven true - not because he was stronger or faster, but because Barry and Nora would always sacrifice themselves. Barry was destined to fail because he would always choose to fail, knowing that it would make him into a hero both his mother and father would be proud of.
Make no mistake: that kind of narrative sorcery (turning the most profound failure into a moral victory, and sacrifice into power) isn't easy to pull off. But given the heart of the series to date, and the writers' ability to make the most of their cast, we would say they're capable of delivering on a season (or two) of build-up. Not to mention confirming Henry Allen's claim that since Barry's first steps, he was running to his mother.
That's our view of The Flash to come, with the comic book source material obviously in need of some tweaking to keep "Flashpoint" a story about Barry Allen and his mother, not the larger DC Comics universe. We invite you to share your own thoughts on how the writers may put time travel to use, if at all, and sound off in the comments.
The Flash airs Tuesdays @8pm on The CW.