The Flash S02E17 “Flash Back” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on: Sky 1, Tuesdays, 8pm
Writers: Aaron Helbing, Todd Helbing
Director: Alice Troughton
Essential Plot Points:
- Barry has a brainwave about discovering how to run faster – go back in time and ask Wells (the Eobard Thawne version from season one) to reveal the secret formula to running fast.
- Since Thawne-Wells will clearly not want to give a Barry-from-the-future this information, Barry will have to impersonate his old self to trick the info out of Wells.
- No one thinks this is a good idea (but oddly, no one mentions the phrase “butterfly effect” which must be a first). Barry ignores them.
- He travels back in time to when he fought The Pied Piper/Hartley Rathaway.
- He has a brief, spectacular-looking fight with his old self, before sedating him, replacing him and defeating the Piper.
- Barry returns to STAR Labs with Hartley, then starts his charm offensive on Thawne-Wells.
- It doesn’t work because a Time Wraith has followed Barry into the past. Time Wraiths are like time’s janitors – they try to prevent people messing about with the time line and they HATE speedsters.
- But Thawne-Wells is the only person who knows a Time Wraith when he’s described one – everybody else thinks they’re dementors. He immediately puts two and two together and threatens to kill Barry after revealing he knows he’s from the future.
- Barry retaliates by saying he’s left past-Barry a secret letter revealing Thawne-Wells’s true nature and how to defeat him. If future-Barry dies, past-Barry gets to see the letter (it’s never clear if he’s bluffing here or not but Thawne-Wells falls for it, whatever the case).
- The Time Wraith traces Barry to STAR Labs. Hartley helps chase it off.
- Past-Barry wakes up earlier than expected and rushes to STAR Labs where he meets his future self right in front of Cisco, Caitlin and Thawne-Wells. Ooops. Future-Barry has some explaining to do.
- Luckily everyone believes his story. They the concoct a plan.
- Thawne-Wells gives Barry the speed formula on a memory stick.
- Future Barry runs back to the future with the Time Wraith in hot pursuit…
- But in the year in-between Cisco, Caitlin and the now-reformed, good-guy Hartley have built weapons to defeat the Time-Wraith. Hurrah!
- Oh, and while he was in the past, Barry recorded a message from Eddie to give to Iris to help her move on (we would’ve thought it’d have the opposite effect but there you go).
When in doubt, time travel. And ignore any warnings about causal loops and butterfly effects. Because, you know what? Time travel episodes can be a hell of a lot of fun.
Of course, they’re always full plotting pitfalls and logic problems. Aside from all the paradoxes ones there’s the less sciencey question that’s often left unasked: if you can time travel why aren’t you doing it all the time? After all, breaking the temporal barrier now seems to be about as much of a problem for Barry as it was for the Enterprise crew. Cisco must be reminded of that moment in The Voyage Home when McCoy says, “Are you really going to try this time travel in this rust bucket?” and Kirk’s response is, “We’ve done it before,” as if it’s as simple as catching a bus.
At least the episode pays lip service to all the timey-wimey debates. And, let’s face it, The Flash is a show that masters in convincing its audience to suspend their disbelief. Actually, not so much suspend it, as fossilise it. So once again it gives us a load of ridiculous tosh and turns it into top entertainment.
How can you not love the Flash vs Flash fight which is comic-book action at its finest? How can you not love The Pied Piper becoming one of the good guys? How can you not love a cameo from one of Doctor Who’s Reapers, now with a Harry Potter makeover but still getting into a state of high dudgeon over temporal anomalies. (Do you think the Reapers, the Time Wraiths and Sapphire and Steel all work for the same boss? Maybe they go out for pints together.)
It’s a high concept episode that has fun playing with that concept and drops in a loads of Easter eggs for the attentive to enjoy too. The soapy West stuff is at a minimum – though it still feels a little like a contactual obligation – but it doesn’t drag the episode down. It’s a shame to have to say that, as the show was great at incorporating some good old schmaltz in season one that could quiver the lip of even the most cynical viewer. But it’s been less sure-footed with some of the more emotional scenes of late (Barry talking to his mum on the phone in “Welcome To Earth-2” being one of the few recent occasions that has really hit the nail square on).
So now Barry’s accessed the secret to running really fast. This can only be good news as we enter he endgame of the season. Bring it on.
- The Flash vs The Flash fight is just magnificent. Congrats to director Alice Troughton for coming up with so many comic book art-style angles and framing. Excellent FX work too.
- Harry’s in a major grump. He walks into the episode spitting, “Your plan is asinine!” and is generally pissed off throughout. While we feel sorry for the guy having his daughter run away, he’s so much more fun when he’s in a bad mood.
- Subjecting Hartley to Rick Astley endlessly singing, “Never Gonna Give You Up” is a cruel and unusual punishment. There must be something in the Geneva Convention about such treatment. We’re not sure if it technically counts as Rickrolling but the effect must be similar, only amplified.
- This shot was just brilliant. It was the best live action Scooby-Doo we’ve ever seen!
- And while the shots of the Time Wraith were variable through the episode, the final attack looked absolutely bloody amazing. The little touch when it looked like the Wraith was starting to generate its own Flash mask was cool too. Nonsensical, but cool.
- It’s great to see the new hero-Hartley. He swaps side often in the comic books so this seemed to be a nod to that. But even if not, he made a decent hero and a potential valuable ally in future.
- Whether or not Barry was bluffing about the “secret” letter it seems odd that Thawne-Wells doesn’t reply, “But how’s that going to work, then?” Or at least to ask Barry where’s it’s hidden so that – after he’s given Barry the speed formula – he can destroy it. He wouldn’t want past-Barry discovering it by mistake, would he? It’s not a heinous problem with the episode but the details are irritatingly fluffy.
- Did Barry give Eddie direction about what to say in his message. “Now, Eddie, I know this might sound strange but imagine you’ve died and you need to say exactly the right things to Iris to make her realise she has the strength to carry on… Eddie? Why are you looking at me in that strange way…? No really, Eddie, I’m not planning to kill you so I can get back with her… HELP!”
- Why, when Barry returns to the future, does Cisco seem not to know that Time Wraiths are called Time Wraiths? Following the time logic of the episode, he should.
- In a very rare moment of stunningly-not-stunning acting, Grant Gustin’s little temper tantrum when the memory stick momentarily doesn’t seem to work is really unconvincing. Then again, it’s a completely unnecessary piece of false drama so maybe he just couldn’t be arsed putting any effort into it.
And The Random:
- This here – 3×2(9yz)4a – is the same formula that Johnny and Jesse Quick recite in the comics to tap into the Speed Force.
- When Cisco sees the Flash logo on a white background on future-Barry’s costume, he likes it, but begins to wonder whether if changing the logo on past-Barry’s costume that will set up a bootstrap paradox (either click that link or watch the pre-credit sequence to the Doctor Who episode “Before The Flood” again, which is lot easier to digest). This exactly mirrors what Cisco says in a scene in season one episode 20 “The Trap” when he sees a picture of the future costume with its white logo for the first time: “That’s dope. Wait a second. Suppose we now change the colour on your suit. Will it be because we got the idea from this picture? That would mean we’re living in a causal nexus. This… wow. This is so trippy. Like, Marty and the Polaroid trippy.”
- Talking of Cisco we love the subtle little Vulcan salute he gives when the Barrys are trying to prove they’re real by talking about the times they’ve watched The Wrath Of Khan with him.
- Other cultural references include the Time Wraiths being compared to Dementors from Harry Potter twice: Cisco actually calls them Dementors while Hartley says, “Holy Harry Potter,” when he sees one (which may also be an in-joke referring to Hartley’s Harry Potter glasses – we were half hoping when he destroyed the Wraith at the end that he’d go, “Avada Kedavra!”). Cisco also mentions not wanting to create a “12 Monkeys time loop”.
- Musings: Just before he leaves the past, Barry says to Cisco, “Hartley knows where Ronnie is.” Why include this line unless it’s going to come back to bite them in the future somehow?
Review by Dave Golder