Once a hugely fun show, ‘The Flash’ was an infuriating narrative mess last season, which ended with one of the series’ most maddeningly incoherent episodes. I closed my last recap by saying, “The show needs to get back on track quickly next year.” That seemed like a nearly impossible task. Could the Season 3 premiere have actually done it?
Zoom is gone… for now. Dr. Wells has returned to Earth-2… for now. Neither appears in the premiere episode. The last season finale ended with Barry traveling back in time to prevent his mother’s murder, thus radically changing the timeline.
The new season opens with Barry in a very different Earth. (Still Earth-1 though, presumably, because the show’s conception of alternate universes is wildly inconsistent.) Barry is still a speedster but nobody knows it. He’s just Barry Allen, nerdy police CSI tech. Iris doesn’t even know him at all. He has to work up the courage to introduce himself to her at the coffee shop. Central City has a completely different Flash fighting crime. (The news media often calls him “Kid Flash.”) This other Flash struggles to deal with a new speedster supervillain called The Rival. Barry is more than happy to leave the superheroics to someone else for a change.
Barry is really just plain happy in general. His life is exactly where he wants it. His parents are both still alive and happily married. He’s free of the burden to save the world every day. He has a fresh chance to start all over again. There are just a couple of little problem to spoil his mood: 1) In this timeline, Joe is a grumpy drunk and a lousy cop for some reason. 2) Barry brought the Reverse-Flash with him when he jumped back to the present, and now he has a responsibility to keep him alive, locked in a speed-damping cell in an otherwise empty warehouse. (I don’t see a toilet in there. Must smell pretty bad.)
Reverse-Flash argues that Barry’s new life is just a mirage, and that he’ll eventually see that and beg Reverse-Flash to kill his mother again to set the timeline right. Barry ignores him, but throughout the episode he suffers disorienting spells with flashes of memories from his old life.
Barry watches as Kid Flash tangles with The Rival again and fares poorly. Kid Flash is tossed out a building window and Barry has to use his own powers to save him. He removes Kid Flash’s mask and discovers that (shocker!) he’s Joe’s son Wally. This will not come as even remotely a surprise to the audience. Wally doesn’t seem bothered at all that a total stranger has learned his secret identity. He brings Barry back to his apartment/base of operations and tells him his origin story. (His race car was struck by lightning, which interacted with an experimental fuel and gave him super-speed.) Iris then walks in. She knows exactly what her brother is doing and has been his sidekick in crime-fighting. Barry offers to help the both of them defeat The Rival.
To do that, they’ll need a little help. The trio pay a visit to the former S.T.A.R. Labs building, currently the headquarters of Ramon Industries. Cisco is a tech billionaire in this timeline. He’s also kind of a selfish prick. Although he knows Kid Flash’s identity (and designed his yellow suit), he doesn’t want to get involved with their crime-fighting.
After he suffers a particularly debilitating memory flash, Barry returns to the Reverse-Flash for answers to what’s happening to him. The smug Reverse-Flash gloats that Barry has really screwed up the timeline. The pain he feels is his memory being sucked away from him. The more he uses his speed, the faster it happens. Soon, he’ll have no memory of his old life at all, no Speed Force power, and this reality will overwrite the old one permanently. Barry refuses to believe him.
Defiantly insisting that he can still be The Flash and live in this world, Barry reveals himself as a speedster to Wally, Iris and Cisco. He tries to explain the alternate universes and alternate timelines thing but just winds up confusing them. (Now they know how the audience feels!) Feeling that something is still missing, Barry searches for Caitlin, kidnaps her, and brings her to Cisco’s lab. What he doesn’t realize is that Caitlin isn’t a scientist in this world; she’s a pediatric ophthalmologist. Even so, she catches up to speed on the story quickly and has a helpful idea about using traffic cameras to track speedster activity.
Barry and Wally locate The Rival and join forces to take him down together. The Rival is not impressed by either of them. He’s so smug that he takes off his mask and tells them his name – Edward Clariss. He vows to take them both on. Wally gets cocky and tries to fight him alone, but Clariss stabs him in the gut. He then creates two powerful tornadoes.
Barry feels a moment of doubt, but with the help of an inspirational speech from Iris, he disperses the tornadoes and beats The Rival. He doesn’t quite finish him off, though. The Rival gets back up and tries to jump Barry from behind, but Joe turns up at the scene and shoots him first.
Wally’s injury leaves him in a coma, and his speed-healing doesn’t seem to be working. Barry feels responsible and decides that he needs to set things right. He says his goodbyes to Iris and to his parents, and returns to the Reverse-Flash, who takes great joy in making Barry ask him to kill his mother.
Freed from the cage and his speed restored, Reverse-Flash travels back to the moment that Barry defeated him. This time, just when Barry thinks he’s won, the second, older Reverse-Flash appears and attacks him again. That version of Barry vanishes from the timeline as our main Barry watches helplessly. The Reverse-Flash then kills his mom.
Reverse-Flash returns to the present day and drops Barry off, then speeds away to a time or place unknown, vowing to fight Barry again another day. The world seems to be pretty much how Barry left it before he went back to save his mom. Both his parents are dead. Joe is a good cop and a good father figure. However, something still isn’t right. Joe gets mad when Barry asks where Iris is. Wally (no super powers in this timeline) asks how he could be so insensitive to bring up that subject. He should know that Joe and Iris don’t talk anymore. Barry screwed something up.
Edward Clariss is just an ordinary guy in this timeline. However, he’s woken from sleep by a voice beckoning him to his bedroom window, where an invisible force etches the word “Alchemy” in the glass.
This episode is titled ‘Flashpoint’, which is also the name of a famous event in ‘Flash’ comics. From what I can tell, the episode draws some from that storyline but also diverges quite a bit. No matter, what’s important is that, in the continuity of this TV show, the episode is a very strong start to the season. It goes a long way toward straightening out the incoherency of Season 2. Even if the logic of the plot isn’t entirely free of holes, the emotional beats it hits all ring true.
Of course, the question now is whether the season will build off this or will revert to the same sloppiness that made the last season so frustrating to follow from week to week.