Review: ‘The Flash’ can’t overcome its time travel problems with ‘Flashpoint’

The Flash is back for its third season, and I have a review of the premiere coming up just as soon as I know how to flank…

You may recall that I wasn't crazy about the idea of the TV show doing its own version of the “Flashpoint” story from the comics. The show's previous rewrites of the timeline had led to weak episodes, Barry's selfishness about wanting to change his own past regardless of the impact on others – and the show's reluctance to call him out for it too much – had grown tiresome, and I wasn't looking forward to all of the characters having to reintroduce themselves again and again and again.

On the plus side, the actual TV execution of “Flashpoint” went by, well, quickly. Perhaps as a way to avoid having to tinker with Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, or perhaps as a recognition that this idea could only go too far, Barry and Thawne travel back in time again, allow Nora to die, and more or less put the timeline back the way it was before the end of season 2.

But the execution of the episode, and what it portends for the rest of the season, was frustrating.

For starters, the show finally lets Barry acknowledge that it's a very bad thing for him to keep trying to alter his own past, given the impact each trip has on the world around him, but it does so in an episode that makes a weak argument against him. Yes, Joe is a drunk in this timeline, but everyone else among the core cast (the only people we can use to judge the changes) was doing as well as they were in the main timeline, if not better: Wally's a hero (and Iris a one-woman support team), Cisco is rich, Caitlin (who hasn't had the love of her life die on her twice, and then her next boyfriend turn out to be a supervillain) seems perfectly happy with her life as a pediatric ophthalmologist, etc. And Henry and Nora are alive and the nicest people in the world! This is not the timeline you want to present if you want Barry to accept that he has to let his parents die, when instead the impetus seems to be him slowly losing his memory of the original timeline – which, again, makes this all about Barry and not about anyone else around him, or among the millions of other people whose lives have been affected by his prior existence.

Also, the show's time travel rules are also gibberish at this point. I'd be fine leaving that alone (as I noted in my Timeless review yesterday, I've enjoyed plenty of time travel stories that made no sense) except that the show keeps forcing me to think about it in terms of who is dead, who's alive, what actually happened in our characters' pasts, etc. If Thawne is no longer stranded in the past after murdering Nora(*), then is the real Harrison Wells alive? Is Eddie Thawne? Would the particle accelerator experiment have happened when it did, given that Thawne wanted to turn Barry into the Flash earlier than he was in the original (pre-series) timeline? Will the show keep rewriting its own history until we no longer even bother asking these questions?

(*) Speaking of which, I thought for sure that the second trip back in time would match up with the one from the end of season 1, where Barry sees a slightly older version of himself shake his head and warn him not to save Nora. If this wasn't that, does that mean that we are eventually going to see Barry journey back to the night of his mother's murder a third time?

After a promising start, last season turned into a depressing muddle. I'm hopeful that now that the timeline has mostly been reset (even if Joe and Iris are estranged now for some reason), season 3 can have a fresh start, but this wasn't an inspiring beginning.

I'll check back in later this season, but in the meantime, what did everybody else think?