The Good: Wonderful character moments, Great performances, Engaging plot
The Bad: Some severe plot problems for larger continuity issues
The Basics: "Flash Back" returns The Flash to the first season where Barry Allen attempts to learn how to get faster from Eobard Thawne.
As one who loves all sorts of science fiction, comic book and fantasy works, it is hard to completely surprise me. Indeed, when you watch and read enough material, it is easy to find parallels in programs. In the case of The Flash, it's latest episode had many notes that rang similar to the Doctor Who episode "Father's Day" (reviewed here!). And, if you're going to take from something else, at least take the great and The Flash does that. "Flash Back" also manages to surprise me in that, as its plot events spiral out of control, it seemed like the episode would have to - by necessity - undo itself, much like "Out Of Time" (reviewed here!) in the first season.
"Flash Back" follows very loosely on the events of "Trajectory" (reviewed here!), but the divergence in the main plot reaps a number of rewards for fans of The Flash. To get the most out of "Flash Back," one has to be a fan of The Flash (its first season anyway) and it helps to have seen "The Sound And The Fury" (reviewed here!) recently.
Barry Allen is working on calculations for getting faster and trying to figure out how to apply them to himself, when Dr. Snow reveals that physically The Flash, Reverse Flash and Zoom all move their bodies at roughly the same speed. After a dinner with the Wests, Barry is inspired to get mentoring on how to move faster by Eobard Thawne. Ramon and Snow figure out a time period where Barry Allen going back would have little potential to disrupt the overall timeline: the resurgence of Hartley Rathaway. Going back in time - encountering a mysterious entity in the time corridor as he does - Barry Allen once again apprehends Hartley Rathaway and when he returns to S.T.A.R. Labs, he disarms Rathaway to prevent him from exploding the cell he is trapped in.
But the mission quickly goes off the rails. The entity that Barry saw in the wormhole materializes at the Central City Police Department and begins to wreak havoc. Wells realizes that Barry is not who he appears to be and he captures the future version of The Flash and interrogates him. Thawne agrees to help Barry to stop the Time Wraith and get faster. But when the Barry native to that time awakens, things get even more complicated.
"Flash Back" has so much right with it that the things that are wrong actually take a bit of contemplation to recognize. The climax of the episode only works with a specific amount of information that Barry Allen did not give to his comrades at the time (or, even more importantly, Hartley Rathaway). Conceptually, "Flash Back" has the issue that if Eobard Thawne had the information Barry Allen needed, one has to ask why he did not apply it himself sooner. In other words, if Eobard Thawne wanted to get back to his own time as desperately as he did and he was training The Flash, why he would not have incorporated the calculations Barry Allen was working on in the second season to get Allen where he needed him to be faster makes no sense. The shockwaves from "Flash Back" make subsequent episodes like "Out Of Time" and the first season finale where time travel was treated as an absolutely new and audacious concept for The Flash nonsensical.
That said, "Flash Back" is a near-perfect episode and arguably the best episode of The Flash yet. The episode is absolutely ruled by Tom Cavanagh. Cavanagh plays Harry, Wells, and Eobard Thawne as Wells. Cavanagh manages to make each element of the different roles distinct and he is wonderful. Thawne is super-smart and when Cavanagh delivers his lines, we see the wheels in the character's head turning and never feel like we are watching Cavanagh recalling his next lines. The key scene in the middle of the episode is like watching two chess masters play and it is engrossing to watch.
Peppered throughout "Flash Back" is Barry's desire to help Iris move on from Eddie Thawne's death. That core of kindness from Allen leads to a tangent plot by which Barry uses his time travel to give Iris the gift of a message from Eddie. Amid all of the horrible events going on in his life, it is very much a sign of Allen's character and love for Iris that he would take time to get a video from Eddie for Iris.
"Flash Back" is smart enough to cover some of its bases - Barry changing the timeline with Rathaway makes it so he has to course correct Cisco by giving him the information that Rathaway knows where Ronnie Raymond is to allow that aspect of the first season's plot to progress - and it does that within the episode well. The existence of the Time Wraith, though it looked so much like the Black Flash that it was disappointing to not have that added to the mix!, causes huge continuity issues for Legends Of Tomorrow and any of the other time travel adventures within the DC Television Universe.
That said, "Flash Back" is an incredible character study for the Flash and Harrison Wells and is expertly executed to be entertaining, smart, and engaging!
For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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