As a rule, episodes of ‘The Flash’ that dabble with time travel are almost always absurdly convoluted, contradictory and painfully illogical. This week’s attempt, amazingly, almost makes sense… until it doesn’t at all.
Still believing that his friend Jay Garrick is the villain Zoom – and without ever considering the possibility that Zoom could be an evil doppelganger instead – Barry feels terribly betrayed. After everything that happened with the original Dr. Wells/Eobard Thawne, he can’t believe he let himself get fooled again. He continues to obsess about ways to increase his speed until Joe’s son Wally makes an offhand comment about an engineering project he’s working on for school. In trying to design a faster and more efficient type of engine, Wally studied the journals of famous engineers of the past.
A light bulb goes off in Barry’s head. Besides Zoom, the only man he’s ever known who cracked the formula for increased speed was Eobard Thawne. He’s dead now (except for the younger version who was propelled into the future the last we saw him) and didn’t leave any journals behind, but Barry knows how to time travel!
The plan: Barry will go back one year to the past, drug the younger version of himself unconscious and switch places with him, then walk into S.T.A.R. Labs pretending to still be friends with Dr. Wells and ask him questions about increasing Speed Force. When he gets the info he needs, he’ll simply switch back with younger Barry and Evil Dr. Wells will be none the wiser. The new, Earth-2 Dr. Wells thinks this is a terrible idea and warns Barry about the dangers of altering the timeline if Thawne discovers the ruse, but Barry won’t listen and presses forward anyway.
The date Barry chooses to go back to follows the battle with Hartley Rathaway, the meta-human known as Pied Piper. Caitlin gives him a special tranquilizer dart to knock the younger version of himself out. Barry races around the lab’s reactor core until a time breach opens, then hops in. While traveling through the tunnel, he sees a scary black ghost thing that freaks him out a little.
Barry arrives in the past a little earlier than he planned. Young Barry is still fighting with Hartley. During a lull in the clash, Older Barry grabs Young Barry and drags him away. Before he can drug him, however, Young Barry runs, forcing Older Barry to chase and fight him until he can finally stick him with the tranq. He then switches the lightning logo on his chestplate back to the old version, and runs back to finish off the battle with Hartley, which he accomplishes easily. What Older Barry did with Young Barry while he’s tranquilized isn’t explained. Does he just leave him unconscious in an alley?
Upon bringing Hartley back to S.T.A.R. Labs to lock him up in the Pipeline, Barry immediately does something he’s not supposed to. He alters the timeline by warning Cisco that Hartley plans to escape using a weapon in his hearing aids. Cisco confiscates the devices. The wheelchair-bound Dr. Wells/Thawne finds Barry’s sudden intuition a little suspicious, as are all the questions about Speed Force that Barry continues to press him on.
While Barry is talking to Wells, the black ghost thing appears at Barry’s office in police headquarters and causes a big scene. Barry gets a call about the disturbance and grudgingly agrees to go help with it, but gets to the station too late. It has already left. However, what Barry finds even more upsetting is seeing his friend Eddie, who he knows will sacrifice himself later to stop Eobard Thawne.
After Barry returns to S.T.A.R. Labs, Evil Wells knocks him out, locks him in the secret Time Vault room, and reveals his true self. He’s no dummy. He could tell something was off about Barry and knows he’s not who he claims to be. He explains that the ghost thing is a demon called a “Time Wraith” that lives in the dimensional space between time and hates time travelers. These Wraiths only appear in the regular world when hunting a time traveler. Therefore, Wells concludes that this Barry must be from the future, so there’s no point playing games about their identities anymore.
Wells and Barry put all their cards on the table. Wells assumes that if Barry came back from the future, that must mean that Wells’ own plan to kill him must fail and he must be dead. Barry lies and tells Wells that he actually won and returned to the future. However, doing so opened a singularity (that part is true), and Barry had to come back to the past to ask his help in stopping it (that part’s not true).
Geesh, confused yet?
Gloating a little, Wells points out that although Barry may need him, he doesn’t need Barry. So what’s to stop him from killing him? Barry bluffs and says that he left a letter with Young Barry that will spill the beans on the Eobard Thawne thing and explain how to defeat him. If Wells/Thawne kills him, Young Barry will get the letter. (But wait, if the story is supposedly that Thawne eventually wins, how would Barry know how to defeat him anyway?)
The Time Wraith appears at S.T.A.R. Labs and chases Caitlin to the Pipeline. She and Cisco lock themselves in Hrtley’s cell. Hartley uses the sonic weapon on his gauntlet gloves (which Cisco had on him) to stun and scare off the Wraith, but isn’t able to do any permanent damage.
With the Wraith a big problem for the both of them, Wells and Barry agree to team up to take care of it, and will maintain their cover in front of Cisco and Caitlin as if everything were still normal. The only problem with this plan is that Young Barry wakes up early and returns to the lab. Realizing that the jig is up, Older Barry doesn’t try to hide. He reveals himself and confesses that he’s from the future. Cisco is completely freaked out by the two Barrys.
Wells gives Barry a thumb drive with his research into using tachyons to increase Speed Force. Barry explains to the others that he will return to the future, luring the Time Wraith to follow him into the portal. He tells Cisco and Caitlin that they have one year to develop a way to defeat a Time Wraith, because he’s going to need it as soon as he comes out on the other side.
With a little help from Young Barry, Older Barry manages to open a time portal, which the Wraith chases him into. Barry reappears in the present timeline about two seconds after he left, with the Wraith right on his tail. He yells for Cisco to kill it. Cisco shoots the Wraith with a sonic weapon gun he had waiting, but it doesn’t do the job. Fortunately, Hartley saves the day by stepping in and blasting the Wraith with his gauntlets. It seems that, after everything Barry did to muck around in the past, the only notable consequence to the timeline is that Hartley is now reformed and part of the team.
Barry brings the thumb drive to the Time Vault room and plays it on Thawne’s computer. It reveals all sorts of complex formulas about tachyons.
As the episode ends, Barry stops at home to visit Iris. While in the past, he asked Eddie to record a birthday message about how wonderful he thinks Iris is. Barry tells her that he found this old file and, rather than truly upset her, thought it would help her to move on with her life.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about these time travel episodes is that they go out of the way to acknowledge all the pitfalls of time paradoxes when Barry alters the timeline, but then go ahead and fall victim to them anyway. If Barry interacted with himself in the past, why doesn’t he have a memory of that happening? The implications of Young Barry seeing an older version of himself would have major impacts to everything that happened afterward, yet apparently the only thing that changed is that Hartley is good now?
I don’t buy it. Even if Barry didn’t reveal Eobard Thawne’s secret, and lied to Thawne about what would happen later, Thawne would still alter his plans in ways that would make him harder to defeat.
Also, if these Time Wraith things are somehow a big threat to time travelers, you’d think they would have been mentioned by now on the ‘Legends of Tomorrow’ spinoff, which is all about time travel. Something tells me that we’ll never see them on that show.
On the other hand, the episode is kind of fun in the way it plays around with prior events, ‘Back to the Future Part II’ style. The interactions of the two Barrys, and especially Cisco’s reaction to that, are also pretty funny.