The Flash might have altered reality and created an entirely new timeline for its third season premiere, but one thing seems like it will always remain the same: Barry messing something up and slowly realising that using his powers for selfish reasons is a bad idea. It's a lesson he learned in the latest episode "Flashpoint" -- and it would have been much more effective if it wasn't a lesson we'd seen him learn a bunch of times already.
The Flash's gung-ho approach to time travel and parallel realities has led to some really fun moments, but it's also led to Barry Allen, the fastest dork alive, getting in something of a rut, character-wise.
Let's start with the fun of the season three premiere, set in the new "Flashpoint" timeline Barry created when he stopped Reverse-Flash from killing his mum in the past. It is always a delight to see this cast play their established roles with a few tweaks. The new Carlos Valdes as the cocky billionaire owner of Star Labs is great, and Jesse L. Martin's turn as a cold and brusque Joe instead of his usual warm self is effectively disconcerting for Barry as well as the audience. Although she's not in the premiere for that long, Danielle Panabaker manages to shine as an even nerdier Caitlin (an ophthalmologist in this world, not a Star Labs employee). Toss in an excellent performance from Matt Lescher as the trapped Reverse-Flash -- it's kind of weird to slowly nod your head in agreement with the villain when he explains how badly our hero's screwed up -- and you can see that the cast is having a ton of fun playing around with these alternate timelines.
But then we get to poor Barry, and The Flash's biggest source of frustration at the moment. After spending a few months in his happy new existence, Barry starts realising that perhaps messing up the entirety of existence just so he could play happy family for a bit is both extremely not cool and likely to start destroying the fabric of reality. But it still takes him starting to lose his memories to get him to even begin to sort out his screw-up. Frustratingly, this is all a retread of ground the character should have moved on from.
What made Flash's season one finale so heartbreaking was that Barry had grown enough as a hero that when offered the temptation of saving his mother, he refused it. Backtracking on that growth feels like less of an intriguing storytelling opportunity and more like a rehash of the same mistakes we've seen Barry make time and time again. (Your show has probably time travelled too much when it's started erasing worthwhile character development.)
Poor Wally got to be Flashpoint's Flash for all of about five minutes, then Barry showed up, demoted him to Kid Flash and then was responsible for him getting critically wounded and maybe losing his powers. NICE ONE, BARRY.
So Barry very begrudgingly allows Reverse-Flash to kill his mum in the past, which seems to return the timeline to its normal state... almost. While this new reality seems mostly OK, it's clear not everything is back to how it was -- Iris and Joe have a frosty relationship (oh yay, more Barry/Iris drama), poor Cisco is depressed and the sinister Doctor Alchemy has knowledge of both the real and Flashpoint existences, and somehow plans to bring Flashpoint evil speedster Rival back. Hopefully in this new/old reality Barry still realises just how much he's messed up... and more importantly has learnt never to do it again.
According to this season three preview trailer, it seems like the rest of the season will be The Flash hammering this lesson home, as Barry sees all the continuing consequences of his actions, with help from a very stern Jay Garrick. If Earth-3's Flash manages to finally kick Earth-1's Flash back into gear, I'll be singing John Wesley Shipp's name from the rooftops
When all is said and done, I'm glad this alternate reality didn't last as long as the cast was hinting at. Flash has done enough meddling with alternate realities and timelines after the last season; the fact that this one got to be crazy for an hour and then pretty much disappear is all we needed.
- The people of alternate universes and timelines are weirdly OK with the Flash wiping out their existences (that's what happens when Barry changes time over and over, right?) while going around telling them that they shouldn't exist.
- The amount of times Barry acknowledges how incredibly stupid he is for making the same mistakes -- whether it's with Iris or with, you know, ALL OF SPACE-TIME -- in the rest-of-season trailer is cute, but it will be significantly less cute if he doesn't actually learn anything from those mistakes.
- Speaking of which, my theory: Barry Allen can get away with an awful lot of crap (being slightly weirdly stalker-y to Flashpoint Iris, accidentally kidnapping poor Caitlin, being allowed to re-write all of known reality and then un-write it) because he looks, as Supergirl's Cat Grant put it, like the "attractive yet non-threatening" lead of a CW show. Looking like the human/doting puppy hybrid that is Grant Gustin may be Barry Allen's real superpower.