Barry's back in The Flash season 4 premiere, quickly resolving last season's cliffhanger while also hinting at a bigger mystery surrounding his return.
Tonight The Flash season 4 premiered with 'The Flash Reborn', picking up events six months after the end of last season's finale where Barry surrendered himself to the Speed Force. In his absence, Team Flash (Team Kid Flash? Team Vibe?) has carried on with protecting Central City, handling the petty criminals and villains who continue to crop up. Under the keen direction of Iris and with the full assistance of C.C.P.D., they've managed to defeat whatever evil has come their way - that is, until a rocket-powered samurai comes to town swinging a sword of immense power. He demands that they turn over The Flash or else, to which Cisco (with a little help from Caitlin) responds by doing just that - bringing back The Flash.
It shouldn't come across as too shocking that Barry Allen reemerges from the Speed Force less than 30 minutes of screen time after having entered it - The Flash is Barry's story and it will always center directly on him. So while it's been six months for the characters in the show and potentially much, much longer for Barry given the timey-wimey nature of the Speed Force, Barry's absence from the show is rather short. 'The Flash Reborn' still manages to communicate what life has been like without its main speedster, but the focus switches so quickly to 'bringing Barry back' that it barely has time to register. That may seem like a missed opportunity, too quickly resolving what was a major cliffhanger from the season 3 finale, but the relative speed and ease of Barry's return is clearly indicative of a bigger mystery at hand.
The final stinger of 'The Flash Reborn' gave us our first look as season 4's Big Bad - The Thinker and his assistant, The Mechanic. It's revealed they were responsible for sending the samurai - also revealed to be an android, or rather, samuroid - to draw out The Flash, needing him to return at this point in time for some undisclosed reason. It isn't really explained whether or not they knew he was trapped in the Speed Force, or if they simply knew he had disappeared and figured threatening his city was the best way to get his attention, but they were obviously instrumental in his return. It may have been Iris who unlocked the key to restoring Barry, but it was a situation of The Thinker's orchestration. The question now is why? For what purpose do they need The Flash?
Another explanation for the speed at which Barry goes from a rambling mad man to regular old Barry is the desire for the series to revert to the more light-hearted tone of its earlier seasons. A major complaint of The Flash season 3 was that the show had become too dark, its heroes too weighed down by guilt and pain. That's at least an accurate description of season 3, a season which did have Barry saying that his "pain and darkness" is what fuels him "to be a better hero." But in this episode, Barry tells Iris, "everything that was wrong in my life, the pain, and my past, my mistakes, it's all just washed away," directly contradicting that previous statement, as if to signal this new Barry is baggage-free and ready to again embrace the fun.
Presumably, this season will answer the question of what happened to Barry while he was in the Speed Force, explaining whether or not he had his pain healed or simply removed. One implies catharsis, the other emotional tampering, but both give Barry a new lease on life and a chance for the show to revel in the more playful aspects of being a superhero. The trailer for episode 2 already implies that The Flash will be embracing that lighter tone, but with a series known for hitting audiences right in the feels, the lingering question is for how long?
Speaking of the many ways in which The Flash is known to tug at those emotional threads, the explanation given in the episode for Barry's recovery is, of course, his love for Iris and her renewed faith in him. Pulling a page from Lois Lane's playbook, Iris purposefully endangers herself in order to snap Barry out of his A Beautiful Mind homage, having had her faith in Barry, her belief that he will always be there to save her restored. In that way, 'The Flash Reborn' is just as much about Barry's rebirth as it is Iris', returning her to a time when she just knew The Flash would always come to her rescue.
Season 4 seems heavily invested in turning the clock back to an earlier, simpler time. This is evident not just in Barry's carefree attitude, but in having Caitlin fall back in place with the team with hardly a word from anyone, no mention of her past deeds or trustworthiness. The episode doesn't go so far as to fully readmit her as a member of Team Flash (outright showing Killer Frost is still very much a part of her), but its willingness to let it happen even for this episode reaffirms how much this season just wants to have fun and damn the consequences. And let's be honest, there will be consequences - not just for Barry escaping the Speed Force, but for thinking that anyone can ever really revert back to the person they used to be.
The Flash season 4 returns next Tuesday at 8pm/9c on The CW with 'Mixed Signals'.