If you could travel through time, would you save someone you love? Would you choose your own happiness over the well-being of others? For Barry Allen, the answer to both questions is yes. When the dust settled on season two, Barry had traveled to the past to save his mother's life. In its third-season premiere, The Flash explores Barry's emotional landscape to question the nature of family itself. Given the subject, "Flashpoint" had the potential to be a terrific episode. Instead, it felt curiously weightless.
"Flashpoint" is inspired by a pivotal DC Comics arc of the same name, which debuted in 2011. Created by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert, the pleasure of the comic miniseries lies in its radically different versions of major heroes. Wonder Woman is a blood-thirsty warrior engaged in a global battle with Aquaman. Bruce Wayne died as a child, so his father is the one who wears the cowl as Batman. Initially, Superman doesn't even seem to exist, until we realize his tragic fate. And that's just the beginning. Unfortunately, this premiere doesn't begin to approach that level of experimentation. In fairness, the CW's DC Universe isn't as broad as the comics, nor does it have many well-established major heroes. "Flashpoint" works with what it has to reimagine the characters we've come to know over the past two seasons.
Barry's life isn't just good, it's downright blissful. He's living the kind of bright perfection that almost seems like a dream sequence. His parents are alive and happily married. He still works as a CSI for the Central City Police Department. He doesn't even have to protect Central City; there's another Flash in town. When he asks Iris out on a date, she says yes. But this Iris doesn't have a history with Barry. In fact, she doesn't know him much at all. They did go to elementary school together, but beyond that, they are strangers. This is the price Barry pays for saving his mother. He has changed his life, along with the lives of everyone he loves.
There's only one person who realizes the changes in this timeline: Eobard Thawne. (Yes, it's the original incarnation of the character as played by Matt Letscher.) When Eobard figures out what's happened, he tries to warn Barry of the ripple effect his disastrous decision has made.
Barry: "I'm finally free."
Eobard: "This isn't your home, Barry. […] It's a fiction."
Eobard acts like a devil on Barry's shoulder. He just happens to be right, too. Barry can play out this fantasy as much as he wants, but nothing in life is ever so simple or sweet. Barry's life may be great, but many of the people around him are almost unrecognizable. Cisco is a cocky billionaire who makes out with blandly hot women in public like it's no big deal. He's radically different from the gleeful geek we've come to love. Joe West is a failure as a detective. He's late to work often enough for Captain Mendez (Captain Singh apparently doesn't exist) to threaten his job security. Joe seems to have a perpetual hangover and an inability to take care of himself. Worse yet, he's estranged from Iris and Wally.
For me, Wally adopting the role of Kid Flash has been a major selling point for this third season. Fans like myself who grew up with the Wally version of the Flash were eager to see him in action. Keiynan Lonsdale nails the signature charm and quippy bravado that Wally's comic-book counterpart is known for, but the premiere doesn't hesitate to put the character in his place. He's just Kid Flash, not the Flash, an issue that only gets worse when Barry decides to start saving the day. It's a weird dynamic, though I suppose The Flash doesn't have immediate plans to let Wally prosper. "Flashpoint" introduces some interesting dynamics, but it's too concerned with propping Barry up as the definitive version of the Flash to focus on much of anything else.
Once Barry realizes that he's slowly losing his memories, the tenor of the episode shifts. He realizes he's made a selfish choice; he begins to understand that things must return to the way they were. Eobard tells Barry that using his abilities will make his memories disappear faster — and that the longer this timeline lasts, the closer the original one will inch toward extinction. I definitely laughed when Eobard said that the Barry Allen he knew in the future was never this dumb. Can we see this future Barry? His intelligence would be a welcome change.
Okay, let's take a moment to talk about the episode's main villain, the Rival, a.k.a. Edward Clariss. He's as interesting as you'd expect. Yet another evil speedster, except this time his costume is downright goofy. It's hard to take menacing threats seriously from a guy who looks like that. The Rival is even less dynamic than Zoom, which is really saying something.
After revealing his speedster abilities, Barry rounds up Wally, Iris, Cisco, and Caitlin (now an eye doctor, of all things) to figure out a plan. Yes, he kidnaps Caitlin. Who doesn't know who he is.
The moment Barry started losing his memory, I knew this timeline would be fixed before the end of the episode. It's a clumsy development and it saps "Flashpoint" of its narrative urgency. From there, it's all fairly predictable. Barry feels guilty about his decision. He misses the world he knows and the people he loves. He stops the Rival. He agrees to take Eobard back to that fateful night, but not before he gets one last tender exchange with his parents. Eobard gleefully kills Nora Allen.
The only surprise? Barry can't quite walk, let alone run, and his memory loss is getting worse. Are we really going to slog through another story line of him losing his powers? I hope not.
Before I move on, I've got to ask: What would Barry do without Iris? Her words of encouragement embolden him enough to beat the Rival. She's the only one who believes his story about alternate timelines. She even had an inkling that her life wasn't quite right until she met Barry, suggesting that new timelines don't always seem fully authentic to everyone. Although I found this episode to be remarkably forgettable, seeing Barry and Iris flirt again made my heart sing. It's also nice to have her faith in him be so integral to the story. Now, let's just hope the writers actually give her an arc in season three …
Back to the never-ending saga between Eobard and Barry. "Today I get to be the hero," Eobard says, moments before fixing the timeline. Yes, Barry's parents are dead and things seem to be in order. But as Eobard warns Barry, his choices have a price. This isn't exactly like the original timeline. We learn that Iris and Joe are estranged, which opens up a big question: What else isn't back to normal?
"Flashpoint" ends with Edward Clariss — who doesn't seem to be the Rival in this timeline — as he wakes up to a strange voice in his bedroom. We don't see the source of the voice, but the name etching itself into his mirror reveals who it comes from: Dr. Alchemy, this season's Big Bad. It isn't as striking a moment as it intends to be. Much like the rest of the episode, the Dr. Alchemy revelation doesn't quite work. The stakes just aren't clear enough.
It's a shame that this episode teased a whole new world, only to play things far too safe for a narrative that name-checks Flashpoint as inspiration. Nevertheless, The Flash is still a fun show. The chemistry of the cast is excellent. And to its credit, the premiere toys with some interesting ideas: expanding the time-travel aspects of the show, playing with the multiverse, Wally as Kid Flash. Perhaps this third season will bring the series back to its former glory. Welcome back, Barry Allen.