Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Another Terrible Episode Results When The Flash Creates A "Paradox!"

The Good: Moments of performance, A few character moments
The Bad: Guts the entire show . . . again, Technical problems
The Basics: "Paradox" continues the reshaping of The Flash by rewriting the last crappy episode.

Fans of DC Comics who are also fans of the DC Television Universe have a lot to be apprehensive about. Last year, as Supergirl was announced as moving to The CW and Legends Of Tomorrow was getting renewed, news leaked that there would be a massive crossover between the four DC Television Universe shows and it was hard not to be excited, especially when The Flash ended for the season. The smart money was that there was going to be an adaptation of Flashpoint (reviewed here!) for the DC Television Universe and the idea of a sprawling story that used all four shows to characterize Barry Allen's altered universe was an exciting, captivating one that was only made more exciting when the third season premiere of The Flash was entitled "Flashpoint" and that name was dropped very early.

But that was not to be an as "Flashpoint" reduced a massive crossover event from the comics into a pretty crappy forty-three minutes of television, fans of The Flash were left feeling a lot of apprehension going into "Paradox." Picking up where "Flashpoint" (reviewed here!) left off, it is impossible to discuss "Paradox" without some references to where the prior episode ended. After all, Barry Allen has returned to his present after three months in a tangent universe that he had to collapse. And, as the last few moments of "Flashpoint" informed Barry, he has returned to an altered present. "Paradox," then, seemed like it would be instantly burdened with following Barry Allen around as he learned the differences between his familiar world and the world he accidentally created by letting Eobard Thawne kill his mother a mere forty seconds later. Going into the episode, all viewers knew was that apparently, those forty seconds caused Joe and Iris West to no longer be speaking to one another in the new rendition of the future.

Opening with Barry Allen visiting Felicty Smoak to tell her what has changed in his life following his experiences in the Flashpoint tangent universe, Barry recalls taking down a motorcycle thief he took down as the Flash and the changes he noticed upon returning to S.T.A.R. Labs. Allen's team has been completely altered; Cisco is sullen, Iris and Joe are not talking, Wally is much friendlier to Barry, and at the Central City Police Department, there is a new Meta-Human Forensics Specialist who has been working with Barry for the past year. Felicity charges Barry with fixing what has been altered when he notices that Diggle's child has changed genders from what he once knew.

In Central City, there are husks of human skin being found and Allen steals a sample from the crime scene when Julian Albert refuses to give him access. Edward Clariss, who was The Rival in the Flashpoint Universe, is being tormented by Alchemy, a voice in his head who soon manifests as a masked villain. Alchemy offers Clariss the ability to become The Rival again after restoring his memories of his Flashpoint experiences. Barry contrives to put all of his friends back in a room together and they share an awkward dinner together before it is broken up by an attack in Central City. The Rival and The Flash clash and The Flash has his first encounter with Alchemy.

"Paradox" is riddled with problems, based on what is unshown in both "Flashpoint" and "Paradox." At the climax of "Flashpoint," Eobard Thawne goes back to the moment that The Flash stopped him from killing Nora Allen. When the Eobard Thawne who had been dragged forward in time into the Flashpoint tangent returned to the past, the remnant of him that was there disappeared, as did the Barry Allen who came back in time at the climax of "The Race Of His Life," the one who then went forward in time to create the Flashpoint Tangent. So, the fundamental problem with the way "Flashpoint" was shot is that it fails to reveal where Barry Allen was. The Barry Allen we have watched all along, the one who was taken out of the Flashpoint Paradox by Eobard Thawne - the one who had memories of everything viewers have seen, including the Flashpoint Universe - was not in the room when Eobard materialized in the past from the Flashpoint Tangent. Where did he leave Barry Allen? The answer to this question becomes integral to "Paradox" because it has the potential to reveal the entirety of it as nonsense, much like the missing element from "Flashpoint." There seem to be two prime possibilities: 1. Eobard materialized somewhere outside with Barry Allen from the Flashpoint Tangent and left Barry somewhere else, like on the porch of the Allen house, for example. In that circumstance, the Barry Allen that came back with him from the Flashpoint Tangent should have disappeared exactly like his other temporal remnant. Or 2. Eobard left Barry Allen within the Speed Force while he went to kill Nora, then recovered him to take him back to the point at which he left the future. There are two key problems with this idea. The first is that Barry Allen was losing his memories of his past in "Flashpoint." If he were insulated from the temporal changes by being within the Speed Force when the changes occurred, his memories would not have been restored. The second problem is the same one that was a problem in "Flashpoint;" if Barry Allen was insulated from the temporal changes and the version we have watched all along were taken from the Speed Force and re-deposited in the future, there is another Barry Allen to account for. In other words, after Eobard Thawne killed Nora Allen, there was a child Barry Allen who would grow up native to the timeline . . . one who should still be there in the future when "our" Barry Allen is returned there. After all, there is no evidence that the native Barry Allen would have tried then to go back in time to stop Eobard . . . especially if he did not have the conversation with Iris on the porch.

Within "Paradox" the problem of what is not seen is pretty extreme. Barry Allen scours Felicity's computer for information on what might have changed in the new tangent and he cannot find anything until a picture of Diggle and his son pops up. What the hell was Barry looking at where he would have missed things like Dante Ramon dying? Was he just looking for major historical events? And the reference to Iris being angry at Joe for concealing that Iris and Wally's mother was still alive becomes problematic in this context because the viewer does not see the information Barry sees; is Francine still alive? Did Iris and Wally grow up together with Barry, with both of them being lied to? Retcons are absolute bullshit.

But reconciling the various universes becomes almost impossible to complain about because the writers and producers can just say "Well, that didn't happen." Case in point, when Jay Garrick appears, my first reaction was, "this is bullshit; there is no mechanism by which he could watch Barry Allen." After all, the Earth-2 Cisco Ramon (Reverb) was killed and Earth-2 would not be affected by temporal changes on Earth-1, save for crossover events. But maybe Reverb didn't get killed because "Welcome To Earth-2" (if there were a New Universe equivalent of the episode) happened differently because New Universe Flash handled things differently. Where is Hartley Rathaway? He was retconned back into Team Flash in the second season through temporal meddling . . . or was he?

"Paradox" is frustrating because there is no scene where Barry Allen actually confides rationally in someone. Instead of stumbling through everything, the most clear solution Barry Allen would have had would be to ask someone he trusts "Can you tell me about our experiences together?" So, for example, when visiting Felicity Smoak, Barry Allen should have actually asked her to tell him about their common experiences. He explains the Flashpoint Universe to her; she could have provided him with information she had about his friends and experiences, either by volunteering the information or he could have asked him for a primer on his past. When did The Flash characters become so stupid?!

The Flash has succeeded because it had built some interesting characters and dynamics. Barry Allen and Cisco Ramon had a fun, cool friendship that was pleasantly deep in a way that is not frequently shown on television. In "Paradox" that is gone. Julian Albert came to town and was present through the entire second season's events, apparently. And why would changing Nora Allen's time of death by forty seconds change any of these things?!

The pleasant surprise of "Paradox" is that The Flash does not play the old trope with a time traveler returning to meet someone who no longer recognizes him. So, Felicity Smoak's first lines do not include her asking, "Who are you?" when Barry runs into her office. Sadly, that is the only true pleasant surprise of "Paradox."

Similarly, Grant Gustin makes a good show of the emotional range of Barry Allen's character journey in "Paradox." Gustin reminds viewers that Barry Allen has very real vulnerabilities and wounds. In "Paradox," Gustin plays the part of Barry Allen with a different sense of pain than he did when he was simply crying about his parents or frustrated about the new universe he found himself in. Tom Felton is introduced to The Flash narrative as Julian Albert and he plays the part as professional and able to see Barry Allen for someone who is deceiving others, which is intriguing.

Todd Lasance continues to be unimpressive as Edward Clariss, but given how easily The Rival has been dispatched twice now, it does not seem like he is even remotely close to the Big Bad of season three. That is a good thing because Speedsters as villains for The Flash are getting pretty played out.

In the end, "Paradox" is flat-out disappointing and viewers who have been engaged with the prior seasons, keeping up with the science and character relationships, have to feel cheated by how both of those have been entirely mortgaged.

For other works with Tom Felton, please visit my reviews of:
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
The Harry Potter Saga

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into The Flash - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the third season here!


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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