The more that ‘The Flash’ tries to justify some of its sillier and more fantastical ideas with “science,” the less sense it makes. The series might not have this problem if the show-runners would stop writing themselves into a corner.
Episode title ‘The Reverse-Flash Returns’ is a clear example of this. In comic book mythology, the Reverse-Flash is one of Barry Allen’s most important recurring foes. Killing him off at the end of the first season, as the TV show did, was probably not a good idea at the time. Everyone should have known that they’d need to find a way to bring him back eventually. Nevertheless, not only did the writers kill him, they did it in a definitive and unambiguous way such that his very existence was erased from the timeline completely. Not only is he gone, he never existed at all.
And yet, here he is again. Dr. Wells’ attempt to explain this is pure, incoherent nonsense.
We’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s start at the beginning.
The episode opens with Barry saving the city from a runaway chemical transport truck that’s been rigged with a locked steering wheel and no brakes. Spotting a tire iron in the cab, Barry comes up with the neat idea of stopping the truck by taking off all of its wheels and forcing it to skid to a halt. The episode never explicitly reveals who did this to the truck or why, but Reverse-Flash, using his original Eobard Thawne face (Matt Letscher), is seen spying on Barry from nearby, so perhaps he did it to lure The Flash out.
Last week’s villain The Turtle is found dead in his Pipeline cell. Dr. Wells plays dumb as to how that could have happened. Jay Garrick is skeptical of him.
Cisco tells Dr. Wells that he wants to use his vibe powers to find the villain Zoom, but unfortunately he still doesn’t know how to activate or control them. Wells brings him to the Time Vault (the other Dr. Wells’ hidden room in the lab) and scares him by sneaking up on him wearing Reverse-Flash’s yellow suit. He theorizes that Cisco’s visions are trigged by the adrenaline rush of fear. Sure enough, Cisco has a vision of the Reverse-Flash being back in town and kidnapping Dr. Tina McGee from Mercury Labs.
How can the Reverse-Flash be alive again? Wells expounds on a theory about a “time remnant” and draws a chart with lots of circles and arrows explaining that the Eobard Thawne in town now comes from an earlier point in the future than the one they knew. This is his first encounter with The Flash. At some later point, an older Thawne will go even further back in time to impersonate Wells, eventually leading to Eddie killing him. He has to be here now, so that everything our heroes have already experienced can happen later. He blurts this out very quickly and authoritatively, leaving little time for anyone to think on it too much or question him.
The thing is, that’s complete BS. When Eddie killed himself, he prevented Eobard Thawne from ever being born. There should be no young Eobard Thawne to meet The Flash for the first time. He doesn’t exist and never will. The closest we get to an explanation for that is some gibberish about the Speed Force magically protecting certain parts of the timeline.
Whatever. It’s not worth trying to understand. It inherently does not and cannot make any sense. We’ll just have to move on.
Reverse-Flash has indeed kidnapped Dr. McGee. He forces her to build him some sort of tachyon machine that will give him enough speed to propel him back to the future.
Dr. Wells makes Cisco a pair of special goggles that will trigger his fear impulse so that he can control his visions. Cisco uses them and sees a vision of Reverse-Flash killing McGee and using the time portal to get away. Dammit, they’re too late! Unless… a clock in the vision showed a time three hours from now. Cisco can see the future!
As soon as McGee fires up the tachyon generator, the team at S.T.A.R. Labs detects the tachyon signature and knows how to locate Reverse-Flash. Barry races to the building just in time to save McGee. He then wrecks the time portal while he’s at it, trapping Reverse-Flash in our time.
Barry chases Reverse-Flash all around Central City. Because this is a younger, less experienced Reverse-Flash, Barry is able to outrun him and beat the hell out of him. He stops just short of killing the man. Instead, he does the right thing and locks him in the Pipeline.
Unfortunately, it turns out that capturing the Reverse-Flash has unintended consequences for the sanctity of the timeline. Cisco first develops a nosebleed and then has a full-on seizure, followed by his body phasing through a bed. Wells urges Barry to send Reverse-Flash back to the future he came from, restoring the timeline. This will save Cisco, but it also means that Reverse-Flash will still eventually kill Barry’s mother, impersonate Dr. Wells, and do all the other evil mayhem Barry remembers him for. But from Barry’s perspective, all that stuff already happened and is done with anyway, so what’s all his consternation about, other than a desire to punish Thawne?
Because Barry broke the tachyon machine, the only way to send Thawne back in time is for the two of them to race around the reactor core together, allowing Barry to give Thawne an extra boosts that will propel him through a wormhole breach. Thawne taunts Barry about having to set him free. “I am the one thing you cannot stop,” he says.
With Thawne chucked through the wormhole, Cicso recovers.
Unwilling to accept that her boyfriend Jay is dying, Caitlin comes up with a plan to find his Earth One doppelganger and use healthy cells from his body to make a cure for Jay. Unfortunately, no matter how hard she searches, she can’t find the guy.
When Caitlin tells Jay about her plan, he brings her to a park and tells her that he already had the same idea. In fact, he already found his own doppelganger, a man living on this Earth under the name Hunter Zoloman. Unfortunately, Zoloman is not a speedster, which means that his DNA was not mutated by the Speed Force and his cells can’t be used as a cure. Jay reasserts that the only way to stop his illness is to regain his speed and defeat Zoom.
Secrets and Lies
Ever since his girlfriend Patty announced that she’s leaving town to go to CSI school, Barry has acted cold and distant toward her. He says that he doesn’t want to stand in the way of her dreams, but he’s kind of just being a dick.
After months of complete obliviousness, Patty finally begins to suspect that Barry may be The Flash. She confronts Joe with this and he lies to her face. She doesn’t believe him.
Later, Patty tells Barry that she knows he’s The Flash. She begs him to admit it. If he tells her the truth, she’ll stay in Central City with him. Unfortunately, Barry still has the notion in his head that telling Patty his identity will put her in danger. He reasons that she’s better off without him. He denies being The Flash. Much crying ensues.
On her way out of town, Patty calls Barry and tells him that there’s a man with a gun on the train. Barry races to save her, only to find that it was a trick. She just wanted to prove that he was The Flash. He finally reveals his identity to her, but then says goodbye and leaves. Barry is willing to sacrifice his own happiness to protect Patty.
This episode has some good action set-pieces and a number of nice character moments, but the incoherent plot is a real frustration, even by dopey comic book standards. I’m also not terribly fond of the way Barry treated Patty the whole time he was with her. Did he really learn nothing from the Iris fiasco?
Ultimately, I think it’s probably a good thing to have the Reverse-Flash back on the show. I just don’t like the way it was done and wish the writers had put more thought into this when they killed him off in the first place.