Time travel, as presented thus far on The Flash, has been of the relatively straightforward Back to the Future variety: a direct shot to the past or future, followed by a just-as-sudden return trip home. But in “Flash Back” the show graduates to the Back to the Future Part II/Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure level. We see that Barry is so dead-set on boosting his speed that he goes back one year to a point where Wells was still Eobard Thawne, and therefore capable of helping him achieve his goal, despite the risk of running into himself and damaging the timeline. Caitlin explains that no matter how hard Barry works, on his own he might never be able to match the speed of the Zoom, who is 30 percent faster than our hero.
“Flash Back” begins with Barry explaining (in another of his increasingly annoying voiceovers) that “I let it happen again,” in regards to putting his faith in Jay, who is, so far as we know, Zoom. But I’m hoping that the show’s producers haven’t let it happen again, and that they have another ace up their sleeve. Because, as I’ve pointed out before, using the same storyline twice in as many seasons isn’t helping the series’ momentum, and it doesn’t bode well for its future. Yes, Barry’s trusting, to the point where it’s his greatest weakness. We get it. Let’s move on.
There’s enough story in “Flash Back” to keep us preoccupied for the time being. The episode’s most immediate threat is a “time wraith” that follows Barry on his trip. (We’re told that the creatures hate speedsters who manipulate the timeline.) It’s a different kind of villain for the this show, one that combines elements of dark fantasy and science fiction in a way I associate more with Doctor Who than The Flash. “Have you ever seen The Frighteners?” asks Cisco. “It’s sort of like that but it’s scarier and faster and after you…after him.” The time wraith does look kind of frightening, and the effects used to render it are the first The Flash has offered in some time that are of the caliber of Supergirl rather than a CW DC series. That may be due to the fact that “Flash Back” is something of a bottle episode. Despite all its time-jumping, it mostly takes place at the CCPD (where Eddie is still alive and well) and S.T.A.R. Labs, where Thawne/Wells imprisons Barry. The young speedster bluffs his former mentor into releasing him, claiming that a letter he’s sent will inform all of Team Flash about the villain’s true identity, thus preventing him from returning to his era.
Wells isn’t the only baddie working with the good guys this week. The Pied Piper, a.k.a. Hartley Rathaway, returns as well. Still imprisoned at S.T.A.R., his sonic gauntlets prove the key in driving away the time wraith in the past and defeating it once and for all in the present. Sadly, there’s not much more to Rathaway’s arc here, but at least we learn that, somehow, due to Barry’s futzing with the timeline, the former rogue has reformed and is now once more an ally of Cisco and Caitlin, and that his parents have somehow come to terms with his homosexuality.
Alas, the show’s most problematic character, Iris — and by “problematic” I mean the writers still can’t seem to find a way connect her story to the show’s central plot — continues her recent streak of narrative near misses this week. Still missing Eddie, she confesses to Barry that her late suitor’s memory is preventing her from moving forward in her relationship with her boss. (Despite the fact that most viewers seemed to find him a little creepy when we first met him.) There’s absolutely nothing wrong of course with Iris still grieving over Eddie. Candice Patton is a terrific actress and she’s great on The Flash. But I’d like to see her character play a much more integral role in this season’s storyline… It’s nice to see Rick Cosnett back, if only for one episode, though all Eddie is given to do is record what he thinks is a birthday video for Iris, assuring her that he wants more than anything for her to be happy.
It’s worth nothing that Barry’s need for speed is what propels him into this week’s episode of Supergirl (which aired the previous night), the first crossover between a CW DC TV Universe show and the lone DC series on CBS. “Worlds Finest” gave us a Barry Allen that I’d wish we’d see more often on The Flash. One as happy, positive, and funny as we’re constantly being told Barry is, but of which we’ve seen precious little evidence this season.
— Harrison Wells has got to lose that baseball cap. It makes him look like a terrorist.
— Cisco’s choice of music with which to torture Hartley, Rick Astley, is almost too abusive.
— Barry giving a little cheer after hearing his past self’s retort to the Pied Piper is all kinds of adorable, and, along with his subsequent punching himself out, is especially reminiscent of ’80s time-travel humor.
— Tom Cavanagh gets to play the evil Wells again this week, and he’s so good at being naughty that I wish the show would find more excuses for him to get down with his bad self.
— I’m a little stunned we weren’t subjected to Barry giving himself a pep talk this week. But then I guess the show’s recent trip to Earth-2 covered that.
— “Wait a minute. How do we know which one’s the real Barry?” “Dude, I’ve watched Wrath of Khan with you, like, five times!” “Yeah, and every time you turn to me at the end and say, ‘I have been and always shall be your friend.'”
Next: The Flash takes a break for a few weeks and returns on April 19. Will the mystery of Jay Garrick, Zoom, Hunter Zolomon, and the man in the iron mask finally be revealed?
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).