Back from the dead—or the annual Spring hiatus—The Flash returns this week with Barry doing what he does best: thumbing his nose at timeline etiquette. The good news is that, this time, he’s headed to the future: 2024 to be exact.
Off the bat, we see that the future of Central City is far from being the bastion of hope present-day Barry has tried to make it. Turns out, Iris’s death was starting point of Team Flash’s downfall. Wally’s catatonic and wheelchair-bound, Cisco’s part cyborg (it happens when your hands get frozen off), Julian’s keeping watch over the incarcerated Killer Frost, Joe’s lost everyone, and HR is…well, in truth, HR is the only one of the bunch that is actually enjoying the current state of Central City 2024. But the crown jewel of the morose time is the emo Barry. Sequestering himself away from anyone that meant anything to him and refusing to do anything about the rogue scourge owning the streets, he’s channeled his inner Peter Parker from Spider-man 3, including the emo hairstyle. It’s pretty sad to find how broken he’s become and the present-day Barry doesn’t do much in the early goings to try and change things.
Yet, as things go, Barry does taps into the hero within, temporarily putting aside his desires to return to the present in order to mend the broken bonds of his Team Flash family. Though taking down Top and Mirror Master requires an assist from his future self and despite him returning to the present without a clue as to Savitar’s true identity, Barry is more grateful than ever for the bonds of family and friendship, a reminder that will only heighten his focus to take down Savitar and save Iris.
“The Once and Future Flash” seems to pass in an eye blink and while the narrative itself is quite simple, that simplicity is the strength of the episode. It’s a character piece, one where our hero comes face-to-face with the fallout of his worst fears, his greatest failure. Whereas most can only see the damage after the fact and no ability to change that, Barry can actually face that reflection of failure—his future self—and converse. Even though the end gives us a future where Barry and Team Flash reconnect, there’s still the present-day future to attend to. Yes, Barry returns to present day and while he seems more solid than ever in his mission to save Iris, the team appears more disillusioned than their future counterparts. It’s an irony only a show like The Flash could give us, both powerful and poignant. It’s a thought-provoking exercise for the viewer, if you will, but also a reminder that Team Flash has a ways to go before they become the well-oiled machine needed to beat Savitar.
It’s this last part that brings us the most intriguing of cliffhangers. Barry’s entire trip was to discover Savitar’s identity, something that, despite besting Savitar in the future, he never finds out. But who is the one that could change that? A friend turned enemy, of course. Caitlin is no more and the post-credit scene gives us a tantalizing tease of speed god proportions when she runs into the big bad. She questions Savitar’s motives, challenging him to provide her a reason to trust him. He does so, stepping out of his Transformers-like armor to reveal the man behind the mask. While the audience never sees his face, Killer Frost’s shock is a strong indication that Savitar is none other than…
Though there are several strong character moments and a few Easter Eggs, the most important aspect of this week’s The Flash, is without a doubt Savitar finally stepping out of the armor. We may not see his face but, as mentioned, Killer Frost’s reaction suggests that the speed god’s identity is someone close to her. Based on what we know, there are only two people who could have such an effect on her. Robby Raymond, her former fiancé, or Barry himself. In truth, the brief glimpse we got as Savitar’s armor opened, my first thought was to Robby. That would be a bold choice, one which would require quite a bit of temporal and narrative gymnastics to clear up and could muddy things for a lot of people.
The other, more plausible possibility—as speed forces go—is that Savitar is none other than a twisted version of Barry Allen himself. But why, if Savitar is Barry, would he want to emotionally destroy himself? Truthfully, we have more questions than answers now and, for at least the next week, speculation will run rampant until we get visual confirmation on Savitar’s identity. Once that occurs, a whole new realm of questions will arise, questions that will take the final weeks of season 3 to answer.
The Flash: “The Once and Future Flash”: