[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.