The Flash: Season 2, Episode 17 – "Flash Back"
Tom Cavanagh, Rick Cosnett, Grant Gustin, Jesse L. Martin, Candice Patton, Andy Mientus
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 8 pm
US: 29 Mar 2016
If, like me, you’re a fan of last season’s status quo on CW’s The Flash, then “Flash Back” should be quite a treat. Tom Cavanagh’s always spectacular as Harrison Wells, but it was especially fun to watch him play man-from-the-future Eobard Thawne (a.k.a., The Man in Yellow, a.k.a.. The Reverse Flash) pretending to be Harrison Wells. In that role, in which he was both father figure and nemesis to Barry Allen/The Flash (Grant Gustin), Cavanagh was the character that we all loved to hate.
Last season was also before Eddie (Rick Cosnett), Reverse Flash’s present-day ancestor, sacrificed himself to ensure that his evil descendant would never be born. Cosnett’s Eddie was not as central a character as Cavanagh’s Wells, but he made a fine partner to Joe (Jesse L. Martin), and an even better romantic interest for Iris (Candice Patton).
In “Flash Back”, the Flash decides that it’s necessary for him to travel back to the time before Eobard Thawne was defeated. From the point of view of viewers, this means that the Flash travels back to season one. This comes on the heels of the Flash’s journey from CW to CBS for a visit with Supergirl, indicating that comic book crossover storytelling has found a home on this comic book-inspired television show. (For those interested in keeping the continuity in order, the visit with Supergirl isn’t mentioned in this episode of The Flash, but there are signs that it must have happened after the events of “Flash Back”.)
Traveling back in time is never easy (something Michael J. Fox taught us a long time ago), and something that the Flash learned the hard way when he went back in time to try to save his mother from death. In this case, he finds that he has arrived earlier than he’d planned and must immediately engage in a battle with his past self.
Luckily, season two Flash has a white circle around the lightning bolt on his chest, while season one Flash has a red circle, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. After taking his past self out of commission, Barry then proceeds to finish what past-Flash was working on and arrests the Pied Piper (Andy Mientus).
It doesn’t take long for Wells to figure out that something’s wrong with Barry, and that’s when the fun really begins. Cavanagh’s return to last season’s menacing version of Dr. Wells is a lot of fun, especially since he and Barry have to keep the secret of Wells’ true identity from the rest of the team. It’s also fun to see the old dynamics at play, with the evil Wells being forced to play along and join forces with Team Flash to defeat another villain.
In this case, the villain is a time wraith, a spectral being reminiscent of a dementor from the Harry Potter films. Time wraiths react to disturbances in time, especially those caused by incautious speedsters like Barry. This one even looks like Barry, complete with a Flash-like cowl covering his emaciated form. Of course, Reverse Flash also wore the Flash’s cowl, so the time wraith might just as easily be a ghostly version of Eobard Thawn, chasing Barry through time to get revenge for his death. Either way, I don’t think this will be the last time Flash encounters such a creature.
“Flash Back” is typical for an episode of The Flash in that it moves at a near breakneck pace, is filled with character doppelgangers and duplicates, isn’t afraid to shake things up and rewrite the past, and doesn’t mind asking the audience to let go and just have fun. It’s also a typical episode of the series, because it manages to do all of that while slowing down long enough to make a joke or showcase the human side of its characters. In this case, it slows down long enough to give Eddie a poignant moment to say goodbye to Iris.
“Flash Back” manages to do two things: remind us just how good season one of The Flash was, while simultaneously serving as an example of just how good is season two.