[WARNING - This review of The Flash season 3 premiere contains SPOILERS.]
Of all shows in the CW/DC slate, The Flash is by far their most affecting. At its core, it's a series about a man who at a very young age had his world rocked when his mother was murdered and his father framed for it. He then gains the power to change his tragic past, constantly weighing the cost of doing so. That tragedy was very much at the center of season 1, even culminating in a heartwrenching finale in which Barry (Grant Gustin) traveled to the very moment his mother was killed, intent on saving her -- only to instead choose to let the tragic event stand as is rather than risk damaging the time continuum.
Much has happened since then, and when at the end of The Flash's season 2 finale Barry again found his way back to that critical moment -- he chose to save his mother. The decision had a monumental effect, not only in that it significantly changed the universe and all the people Barry knew within it, but in how having Barry succumb to his most selfish desire signaled to us just how profoundly he has changed. Season 1 Barry Allen couldn't risk the world as he knew it to save his mother, but the Barry who only narrowly saved the entire multiverse from annihilation could and did.
In 'Flashpoint', both of Barry's parents are now alive, and he's meeting Iris (Candice Patton) for the first time and asking her out on a date. He doesn't even need to be The Flash anymore because there's someone else running around as Central City's resident speedster. Everything is perfect, almost as if Barry should have done this a long time ago. Except, everything only seems perfect, and soon, Barry's new life begins unraveling at the same time he begins forgetting his old one. Reminded of the potential repercussions that come with changing the past by his prisoner, Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash, Barry must choose which reality he truly wants to exist.
Flashpoint On A Smaller Scale
When it was announced The Flash season 3 would delve into Flashpoint, the expectation was that, like the DC Comics event, there would be universe-wide (potentially multiverse-wide) ramifications from Barry's decision to travel into the past. And while The Flash's 'Flashpoint' does certainly feature a new timeline where some characters are alive and others nowhere to be found (and Caitlin [Danielle Panabaker] a pediatric ophthalmologist, who knew?), these changes feel small compared to the massive repercussions of the Flashpoint event in the comics.
The smaller, more personal nature of this Flashpoint may just be a symptom of their decision to introduce and dismantle their Flashpoint universe in the span of a single episode, but given that it's been established that all CW/DC shows exist in the same universe (or soon will), not involving any of them feels like a missed opportunity. Granted, the timeline we're left with by the end of 'Flashpoint' isn't identical to their pre-Flashpoint universe, so there's still a chance that Arrow or maybe Supergirl will show signs of Barry's timeline tampering.
But here, the ripples are all directly tied to Barry, with the change in the timeline seemingly only affecting those closest to him. And frankly, the changes don't come across as all that detrimental. The worst off is Joe (Jesse L. Martin), who without raising Barry has somehow become a drunk, but just about everyone else seems to be relatively happy - Barry's parents are eager empty-nesters, Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) and Iris are their own Team Flash, and Cisco's (Carlos Valdes) a billionaire. In fact, everything seems to be going swimmingly until Barry starts mucking things up.
Who's The Villain?
At one point during 'Flashpoint', the imprisoned Thawne asks Barry, "Who's the villain?," by which time the episode is already making that pretty clear - it's Barry. After changing history and creating this new timeline to satisfy his own desires, Barry begins acting eerily like a villain. For starters, Barry is keeping Thawne as his prisoner in a speed force dampening cage (not the first time Barry's been responsible for questionable imprisonment, but it isn't a very heroic habit). When faced with an unconscious Kid Flash, he quickly unmasks him to learn his true identity - whatever happened to superhero etiquette? (And while we're here, why is Wally called Kid Flash in a universe without a previous Flash?) Barry then reveals himself to also be The Flash - something that no one finds suspicious - and through sheer force of will, reassembles his Team Flash whether they want to or not, even going so far as to kidnap Caitlin! ("Excuse me, have I been kidnapped?")
Throughout this entire episode, it's one selfish act after another, culminating in a battle with The Rival that leaves Kid Flash gravely injured. And it's only then that Barry seems to understand how his actions are hurting those he cares about. By trying to give himself the perfect life, he's destroying the lives of others - a fact that Thawne is only too happy to remind him of, promising that soon Barry will be begging him to kill his mother. And he's right, by the end of 'Flashpoint' there's a total role reversal between the two - Barry has made a real mess of everything, and it's up to Thawne to set it all right again.
All Just A Bad Dream...
...or was it? Returning to the exact moment of Barry's mother's death and allowing the Reverse-Flash to go through with the deed appears to have put the timeline back as it was - only it hasn't, not really. 'Flashpoint' only gives us the one clear example of how the timeline remains altered - Joe and Iris are no longer on speaking terms - but it surely won't be the only difference.
For one, there is the matter of what happens to Thawne? Now after the murder of Barry's mother, the Reverse-Flash returns with Barry to the present and doesn't become stranded in the past. So what happens to Harrison Wells? Is the Harrison Wells of S.T.A.R. Labs now the real Wells, and not Thawne in disguise? And if so, does Barry still become The Flash at the same time as he did originally? If you'll recall, in season 1 Thawne-Wells made it so Barry became The Flash at an earlier point in the hope he'd steal Barry's speed and return to the future. But if Thawne still has his speed and is freely traveling, that needn't happen. And what about Eddie? Presumably, he might still be alive if the events of season 1 didn't unfold in the same way.
It's possible all this time-traveling and rewriting of history is beginning to wear thin, and even the writers can no longer keep it all straight. Either that, or these plot holes aren't so much glaring mistakes but hints at the further repercussions of Barry's meddling.
The Flash season 3 continues next Tuesday with 'Paradox' at 8PM on the CW. You can check out preview of the next episode, below: