Wednesday, May 25, 2016

CW's Flash Just Hit the Reset Button Again – Here's What You Need to Know

In the wake of last night's Flash finale, the writing team behind the series has once again declared that continuity is for the weak. Depending on how you look at it, this actually marks the fifth major revision to The Flash's timeline. So where does that leave Barry and the gang?

Spoilers to follow, obviously.

Timeline Alpha


It's hard to remember, but we've never actually seen Barry and crew's first trip around the cosmic treadmill, only gotten subtle glimpses from artifacts Wells-Thawne brought back with him from his far-off future.

In this–ostensibly original–timeline, the real Harrison Wells brought his particle accelerator online "about ten years" later than we've seen in the series. (At least according to the then-depowered Thawne. right before he killed Wells.) By this point Iris had already become a reporter and married Barry, or had at least done so within the same calendar year. Metahumans would not have existed prior to this point, though magic wielders, other enhanced humans, and non-powered individuals still existed. Interestingly, the details of the article indicate Green Arrow, Atom, and Hawkgirl were all present and widely-known by their hero monikers by this time. On April 25, 2024, the above heroes fought Reverse-Flash, and the two speedsters disappeared in what is presumed to be the time travel incident that first brought Reverse-Flash back to Barry's childhood.

Click for sweet Easter eggs and full text.

This is also effectively the "past" of Eobard Thawne/Harrison Wells/Reverse-Flash. Thawne was born in 2151, and went on to become the foremost expert on the history of The Flash before becoming insane and jealous of the (long-dead) hero.In his quest to recreate the conditions that created The Flash, Thawne realized he had become Flash's greatest foe, and was fulfilling a time-loop scenario, so he traveled back more than a century to antagonize Flash as Thawne had studied. His newspaper "clippings" are not from his time, but are essentially historical research he accumulated during his professorship.

Timeline Beta


This is where the show actually picks up. Barry's mom was killed by a "yellow streak," his father went to prison for her murder, Joe raised Barry, and Barry became a forensic scientist in part to exonerate his father.

When Thawne killed Nora Allen, the Barry that became the Alpha Timeline's Flash ceased to exist. This didn't remove Barry entirely (he's just a chronically-late CSI in love with his adopted sister), but it did mean he never became Flash and thus Eobard never became Reverse-Flash. Since he did, and paradoxes don't tear the universe in half, this left Eobard, now a time remnant, trapped in early 2000 and depowered.

In order to get himself home, Thawne decided to alter the timeline again, putting it back closer to where it should have been before he murdered Nora. He then murdered the original Harrison Wells and his fiancé Tess, and uses future technology to resequence his own DNA to a sample of Wells'. He coopts the Wells identity and, being a genius from the future, builds a particle accelerator a full ten years earlier than intended. Because he's impatient.

Everything that we see as viewers of The Flash takes place here, in this altered Timeline Beta. It is important to note that until Thawne body-snatched Wells, this timeline could have played out into one where no Flash ever came into existence. However that possible future was avoided, and so thankfully didn't create a third timeline before even the first episode of the series took place.

First Timeloop - Who Doesn't Love a Tsunami?


Shit shit shit shit shit shit shiiiiiit shit

This is the first instance where Barry actually travels through time, at least from his perspective. Interestingly, it's also an incidence of predetermination, not alteration of the timeline. À la Donnie Darko, Flash experiences a closed loop timeline wherein he sees himself time traveling without realizing it, experiences a tragedy, and then time travels back to stop it, effectively fulfilling the role of himself he had previously seen.

Technically, this would imply that this is all still part of Timeline Beta's intended course of events. A knot in the rope, if you will. Barry had to experience one present to go back and overwrite it, because he had already seen himself in the process of overwriting it in his own past. (Conversely, when Thawne initially kills Nora Allen, the only Flash present was the one from 2024 he was battling, who rescued young Barry and was thus not present to save Nora. This was a full alteration.)

Within the confines of this loop, Joe was severely injured, Iris discovered Barry's secret identity and possibly the seed of her romantic feelings for him, Cisco figured out Thawne-Wells and gets murdered in secret, and Central City is nearly destroyed by tidal wave. Closing the time loop, however prevents all of this, allowing Flash to know where Weatherman was hiding and stop him whilst preventing Joe's capture and the potential distaster from ever happening.

Flashdance - Eddie, Eobard, and the Singularity


Pausing for a moment, let's ration out what the Season 1 finale did to the time stream.

Everything is actually fine up until the moment Eddie sacrifices himself. Flash gets roped into helping Wells-Thawne go back to his own future using a tame machine (originally designed by Booster Gold), because Thawne-Wells still hasn't recovered enough of his Speed Force from Barry to make the trip on his own. Barry meanwhile was supposed to go back in time to stop Thawne from killing his mother, thus restoring her to the timeline and possibly even Thawne's original power levels. Barry refuses, however, accepting that the evil Thawne did still made him the hero he has become.

Thawne is ready to let the singularity destroy the Earth if it means getting home to his version of the planet and timeline, but Eddie commits suicide to ensure that (even via adoption, so now nad-shooting or vasectomy jokes here) Eobard Thawne could never be his descendant. This is such a major change and so intrinsic to who Eobard is in a universal sense that he immediately begins disintegrating, having been erased from existence.

For once, Flash isn't the only person to remember a timeline shift. This was already seen when Cisco began "vibing" his Timeloop 2 death, but this is different. It's not a matter of meta-abilities, but rather everyone present is A) in proximit yto an active and open hole in the fabric of space-time, and B) have all experienced lengthy, complex interactions with a being who is now in the predicament of never having been able to exist.

"Time remnants" are explained a bit later in Season 2, but the explanation is as necessary here as it is at the scene of Nora's murder: Eobard must exist in his future in order to go back in time and cause the events that eventually lead to him not existing. It's a paradoxical loop that is only solved by him existing in his own past, even if that past takes place in what is now a future that will never exist. These events are so important they can't be entirely removed without imploding the universe, and so tiny pockets of space-time exist outside the main timeline, though still capable of merging with it when necessary.

Timeloop 2 - Legends of Yesterday

Once again, Barry witnesses himself time traveling, gets a bad feeling, everything goes wrong, and he ends up traveling back in time now with the knowledge that their initial plans are going to fail and the foresight to reformulate. Successful, Timeline Beta continues onward, albeit with another knot in the string.

Timeline Beta-2: "Hey, I've Got a Really Bad Idea"


In an attempt to learn how to get faster and defeat Zoom, Barry travels back in time to talk to Thawne-Wells, who still exists at this point in Barry's and Earth-1's distinct timelines. (Time Remnants!) He knocks himself out and impersonates his Season 1 self, but in so doing piss off the Time Wraiths, demonic enforcers of the Speed Force's will in matters of speedsters haphazardly messing with time travel.

Though the wraith is defeated, in so doing Barry rewrites minor portions of the timeline. Most noticeably, Hartley is now considered an apparent ally of Team Flash, and has a much-improved relationship with his parents, rather than a jealous, murderous fugitive.

It is arguable whether this constitutes a full new "Gamma" timeline, or is merely a minor alteration of Beta events. Since only a few moments set during a couple days were affected in the past and Wells-Thawne believed his plan to escape to his future by exploiting Barry would succeed, the rest of the Season 1 timeline essentially remains unaffected.

"The Relay Race of His Life"


Major spoiler time:

In the Season 2 finale of The Flash, Barry is roped into racing Zoom to save the lives of Joe and everyone else. If he fails to defeat Zoom within 500 laps of a giant ring, the device will siphon enough of their electrical discharge to power a reality-killing "magnetar." In real world astrophysics, this would be a star so dense it's not quite a black hole, but so nearly so that every atom of its core mass has been squished so close together the electrons have no room to orbit and are atomically fused into their nuclei, forming nothing but a sea of neutrons. And now it's spinning so fast that the fluid dynamics surrounding its formation have created the most terrifyingly powerful magnet possible in the universe. Zoom plans to use a man-made version of this to create a shockwave that will ripple through the multiverse, collapsing every one of the infinite realities, save the one on which they stand: Earth-1.

So, not good.

To defeat him, Barry does the most Barry thing ever. Zoom had suggested that Barry could be more like Zoom and create a time remnant version of himself to help fight, he just had to be willing to kill himself to do it (otherwise 2 Barrys and paradoxes and ugh). Instead, Barry travels back in time mere moments and sacrifices himself.

We see the perspective of the gang and Zoom and the rest of the world, so what we see is a second Barry appear and begin fighting Zoom. While this slightly-future Barry is kicking ass, real present Barry creates a counter-pulse to dissipate the weapon's radiation and save the multiverse.

Slight-future Barry just replaced himself in his own timeline going forward. The version of him from his own personal past never went back in time himself, so that whole future ceased to exist, as would slight-future Barry had he not already left that no-longer-possible future. Technically, he probably should have ceased to exist, but since that'd mean he never defeated Zoom, his past self would have gone back in time to become him anyway, so it's Time Remnant 3: Electric Boogaloo.

Barry was also counting on his violation of speedster time travel rules attracting the Time Wraiths, hoping that they would be for more concerned with finally capturing Zoom for all his selfish mucking about in the timeline than Barry himself for an infraction of mere moments.

If you were keeping track, this makes Barry a couple days and change older than everybody else in his current timeline.


"Gamma Gamma Gamma Gamma Gamma Chameleon"


Following his defeat of Zoom and the loss of his father, Barry is left feeling "More broken than I've ever been in my whole life." Iris totally loves him and he can't even process it. He learned that Zoom/Hunter Zolomon stole the name "Jay Garrick" from the real-real Jay, the Flash of an Earth-3 who also happens to be the doppelganger of Henry Allen ("Garrick" having already been mentioned as Barry's paternal grandfather's maiden name, though we all assumed it to be a subtle Easter egg.)

Distraught and completely not giving any f--ks, Barry kisses Iris, sees her inside, and then apologizes before zipping back to the moment Eobard Thawne killed his mother and beating the ever-loving crap out of him. Knocking Reverse-Flash unconscious, Barry looks up and sees his … we'll say middle self from the end of Season 1 look on. Where he once accepted Nora's death and held her as she died before returning to his own present, now this Barry fades out of existence as his entire timeline has been completely rewritten.

Current Barry looks on and reassures Nora that he will not hurt her, that she is safe. And…

That's where we're at.

Where Do We Go From Here?


Barry has once again made a time remnant of himself by erasing, well, now it's his entire personal history, effectively bringing the timeline back to its closest possible condition to before Eobard Thawne ever started screwing with it to destroy Barry. Where we go from here is pure speculation, but a couple of significant conclusions can be drawn from it.

  1. In Timeline Gamma Nora Allan wasn't murdered and Henry Allen never went to jail for it. As a result, Barry was never traumatized and grew up happy and most importantly with his parents and separated from Joe and Iris.
  2. As a result, Iris never thought of Barry as her brother. In the new timeline, she and Barry will share essentially the same relationship they did back in Timeline Alpha, the one Eobard Thawne originally came from. Whether that means they've been dating since college as on Earth-2 or barely had any contact after grade school, remains to be seen.
  3. Barry will retain his powers, as he is a time remnant and he has not prevented himself becoming The Flash as Thawne did (merely delaying it), and should have the ability to return himself to 2016, though this will now be the 2016 of the current timeline, Gamma. (Think Back to the Future II.) Should he do this, he is likely to be the only metahuman present for upwards of another eight years.
  4. Currently, that means the Harrison Wells of Earth-1 is still alive (as well as Tess Morgan and potentially an E1 Jesse Wells-Morgan), and is slated to bring his particle accelerator at S.T.A.R. Labs online in early-to-mid 2024. Metahumans will still be unleashed upon the world and Barry will still become the Flash as he did in the timeline Thawne displays in his newspaper clippings. Unfortunately, this is only now a possible future, since Barry himself is chronologically somewhere in the neighborhood of 27 years old and will presumably attempt to return to 2016, where there is already a non-powered Barry Allen. This is problematic to say the least. This is the Barry who gains his powers in 2024.

Obviously, there's going to be a lot going on in the first episode(s) of Season 3, sometime probably in October. The show is going to have to explain how Barry is returned to 2016 without completely erasing himself in the process, or at least explain how he can replace and effectively kill that timeline's version of himself.

Beyond that, the door is wide open to reviving dead characters, rebooting others, and just generally shifting character dynamics that may not have worked in previous seasons. With Supergirl's move from ABC to The CW, Barry's sudden understanding that Earth-1 lies at the center of the multiverse is also likely to bring about further universe-hopping escapades, not just the rumored Arrow-Flash-Legends-Supes four-way in the next yearly crossover.

There's a whole new world on its way, and it'll be here in a…

…bout four or five months. Ugh.

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