[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for The Flash Season 1, Episode 15]
The producers of The Flash promised to tackle some of the DC Comics superhero's most iconic powers and villains before long, and this week's episode didn't disappoint. It was no secret that Episode 15, "Out of Time" would take strides to establish Barry Allen's special link to time and space, but rather than tip-toeing into the fiction, viewers were thrown into the deep end (alongside multiple season finale-worthy twists).
Needless to say, time travel tends to bring confusion and hard questions with it, so we thought it wise to offer a bit of comic book science and theory behind Barry's unique form of time travel, and what the writers may be building toward as part of Harrison Wells' mysterious "endgame." Be warned: major SPOILERS for episodes both past (and possibly future) lie ahead.
Eobard Thawne Revealed
By this point, anyone curious about the Reverse-Flash has done enough digging to know that the first man famed in the role was Eobard Thawne of the 25th Century. Though the villain's story has changed over the years, he's generally seen as a brilliant scientist and fan of legendary hero Barry Allen, whose adoration drives him to replicate Barry's powers and suit, and travel back in time to shape Barry's legacy through... extreme means.
Seeing as Harrison Wells shared a similar moral flexibility when it came to helping Barry become more of a hero (and his knowledge of the future), many have suspected Wells was actually Thawne in hiding. That notion was proven accurate over the first half of the season, with "Out of Time" finally including Wells' confession that he is Thawne, removed from his own time and place (presumably the future, though not explicitly stated).
The rest of the comic canon seems largely intact: it was comic writer Geoff Johns' "Flash: Rebirth" event which tweaked Barry's origin to include his mother's death at the hands of Thawne (an effort to "make Barry a better hero"). As we previously speculated, Thawne has similarly sought to build a better hero, pushing Barry to unlock the full power of the Speed Force so that he can manipulate it for his own purposes. Thawne confirms as much to Cisco Ramon, once his hoax is uncovered.
WHAT'S DIFFERENT: The Cisco/Wells scene also hints at several key changes to Thawne's motives and methods. For starters, he claims he traveled to the Allen household to kill Barry, not Nora. But it's worth noting that Thawne doesn't clarify which Barry he was hoping to kill fifteen years prior: the boy, or The Flash (or what happened to cause him to kill Nora).
Since Thawne uses the term 'Speed Mirage' more than once in the episode (to describe two very different phenomena), it's worth explaining just what he's demonstrated for Cisco. Claiming to 'be in two places at once' isn't quite accurate, since speedsters are capable of being just about anywhere at any time. Instead, this seems to be the same ability Barry used in the comics to keep his civilian identity beyond suspicion.
By standing in street clothes, then changing into his uniform and standing elsewhere - endlessly repeated (what fun!) - onlookers were fooled into seeing both men at once. Despite Thawne referring to his double as "an after image" (presumably a false title, since neither is the 'true' Thawne), the flickering between the two seems to imply the same ability is being put to use here.
Thawne's technique in dispatching Cisco without a mess - vibrating the molecules of his arm into those of his colleague's heart - is also a comic book nod. It may seem a vile superpower, but it's also confirmation that Barry may, at some point in the future, learn to vibrate his own molecules at a high enough frequency to phase through solid objects.
It's just as important to point out which powers Thawne doesn't have compared to Barry. And in order to understand just what happens to Barry at the episode's close, the real source of those powers must be clarified (easier said than done). For now, take Thawne's words at face value: Barry's speed and connection to its direct source are far superior to Thawne's flawed substitutes.
But as Eobard Thawne's powers are apparently fading, Barry's powers are growing exponentially.