If you watched the season finale of “The Flash” on May 19 you would be justified in saying, “Wait — what just happened?” Because we just discovered that the entire first season is an alternate timeline, which kinda changes everything.
For those who didn’t waste their childhood reading time-travel stories in comic books, an alternate timeline is where a person goes back in time and changes an event or decision, overwriting the history that’s already happened with a new history — a change that no one will remember. As far as anyone except the time traveler knows, the timeline they’re in is the only one that’s ever existed.
Or, possibly, the time traveler creates a second history that exists simultaneously with, but separate from, the first history, generally referred to as an alternate or parallel universe. (For extra credit, please consult the “Terminator” and “Back to the Future” movies.)
Meanwhile, back at “The Flash,” let us examine the repercussions of what happened in the finale. (Assume a big, blinking SPOILER ALERT from here on.)
We have discovered that Eobard Thawne, also known as the Reverse Flash and The Man in Yellow, is from the future. He came back in time to kill Barry “The Flash” Allen (whom he hates for unrevealed reasons) when Allen was still a boy. But the future Flash also traveled back in time and saved his younger self — whereupon Thawne murdered Barry’s mom out of spite, and Barry’s dad went to jail for it.
Thawne then discovered there in the past that he had lost his connection to “the Speed Force,” a mysterious energy that empowers super-speedsters. He realized he had to create The Flash to have a speedster to open a stable wormhole so he could go back to his own time. So he killed physicist Harrison Wells and took his place. Then he created the “accident” with the particle accelerator that connected Barry to the Speed Force (and created a mess of supervillains).
But, as Eobard revealed while monologuing to his ancestor, Eddie Thawne, The Flash was destined to come into being anyway — Thawne just sped things up. In other words, Thawne created an alternate timeline which replaced (or ran alongside of) the original timeline, one in which Barry becomes The Flash without Thawne’s interference.
But in the finale, Thawne has been erased from history. Evidently Eddie was a direct ancestor, because when he died, Eobard disintegrated into little shiny particles, and was sucked into a wormhole for good measure.
Which means he didn’t come back in time and kill Barry’s mom. Or Harrison Wells. Which changes everything.
Theoretically, next season could begin with (a non-powered) police scientist Barry Allen, who grew up with his biological parents, and is dating reporter Iris West. That is, in fact, how we were introduced to the character in his 1956 debut!
But I don’t expect the “Flash” showrunners to go full Marty McFly on us. For one thing, two characters who had origins on the show — Captain Cold and Firestorm — are destined to co-star in the upcoming spinoff show “Legends of the Future,” so they have to exist pretty much as they are now. It would be really tedious if we had to have second origins for those characters, as well as any others created in the first season (and there are a lot).
Also, actor Tom Cavanaugh, who played Wells and Thawne-as-Wells, is returning as a regular. Which likely means the S.T.A.R. Labs troika of Wells, Cisco Ramon and Caitlyn Snow will remain in place. Since the original Wells had no reason to build a particle accelerator, it’s kinda difficult to imagine how he’s there, but the casting announcement is hard to explain otherwise.
And, of course, there’s the possibility that Eobard isn’t dead. Yes, we saw him turn into a Tinkerbell effect and get sucked into a wormhole. But you know what else went into that wormhole? Dead Eddie. Or perhaps not-quite-dead Eddie? Anyway, even though the actor who played Eddie Thawne, Rick Cosnett, will no longer be a regular, it’s not inconceivable he could return — as a combo-Thawne Reverse Flash. After all, Eobard needs a body, doesn’t he? And a Thawne constantly trying to restore his favorite timeline could be an interesting, and constant, threat.
Speaking of Cisco and Caitlyn, the finale hinted at some big changes for them, as well. In the comics, Cisco becomes the hero Vibe, and Caitlyn becomes the villain Killer Frost. On the show, Vibe’s powers were hinted at when Eobard suggested that Cisco was affected by the particle accelerator and could feel the vibrations of alternate timelines. And we saw an image of Caitlyn in full-blown Frozen mode in Flash’s wormhole jaunt, where (we are told) he saw visions of the past, present and future.
If Cisco can really tune into alternate or parallel realities, that could come in really handy because of what came out of the wormhole in the season finale: a silver hat with wings. For non-comics fans, that item belongs to the original Flash, Jay Garrick, who was created in 1940. His original adventures ended in 1951, but DC Comics brought him and his whole world back as the parallel “Earth-Two” in 1961, and one way or another Garrick has been with us ever since.
Does that mean the “multiverse” — DC’s pantheon of parallel universes — is in the works? Yup. Grant Gustin, who plays The Flash, told TV Guide that there will be “multiple timelines” as the season progresses. “I think we’re going to start showing Earth-One and Earth-Two in the near future.”
That disturbance you just felt in the Speed Force was the voices of millions of fanboys crying out in joy, and who were suddenly silenced when they passed out from sheer happiness.
And executive producer Greg Berlanti hinted at comicbook.com that other speedsters may soon make an appearance. Chances are we’ll meet Kid Flash (Wally West, Iris’ nephew) and maybe even Impulse (Bart Allen, Barry’s time-traveling grandson).
There’s one other aspect of the season finale that raises comic book-related speculation, and it’s a biggie.
In 1985 DC launched a reboot of their superhero line in a series titled “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” In that series, Barry Allen traveled back in time, losing physical coherence as he went. He finally emerged from his time-traveling wormhole as little more than a bolt of Speed Force lightning — which hit a certain police scientist working late in his lab and gave him super-speed. Yep, in that story, The Flash went back in time to create … himself.
“Crisis in Infinite Earths,” which was a massive retcon (i.e., retroactive continuity), has itself been retconned a couple of times, and that specific history of The Flash really doesn’t exist any more. But as we left Barry Allen in the season two finale, he was racing into a wormhole, which usually means travel through the space/time continuum. And his origin is in flux, due to the Eobard Thawne timeline coming unglued. And Thawne himself kept checking a newspaper from the future to make sure his scheme was on track, one whose headline shouted that The Flash had disappeared in a “crisis” in 2024.
OK, a sentient lightning bolt selecting himself in the past to become The Flash doesn’t really seem likely to happen on television. But whatever happens, like everything on this show, it’ll probably happen pretty fast.
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(Contact Captain Comics at [email protected] For more comics news, reviews and commentary, visit his website: comicsroundtable.com.)