When we left last season's cliffhanger, weeping with pain at the thought of a Flash-free summer, Barry had just zipped back to the past after defeating Zoom. Unable to bear the thought of losing both parents, Barry opted to use his power for selfish ends. He winds up saving his mother's life - and changing the course of history.
In this world, Barry still has two parents. In this world, he never grew up with Iris and Joe. In this world, it seems, Joe and Francine never broke up the way they did, because both Joe and Iris know Wally. In this world, Harrison Wells was never taken over by Eobard Thawne, and it's (wonderfully) Ramon Industries instead of S.T.A.R. Labs which comes to the forefront of invention and money-making.
In this world, Flash, or Kid Flash was born when Wally West invented a new type of nitro for his car and was struck by lightning while driving. No particle accelerators involved.
Barry finds having both parents AND not having to be a hero - while, at the same time, still being able to see and meet and flirt with Iris - very relaxing. I don't think I've seen him smile so much since the series began. Kid Flash has to fight a ridiculous version of Zoom, called the Rival, who Barry doesn't seem to take very seriously. Who can, with his badly-designed uniform and seemingly-pointless helmet ear horns? Compared to Barry's previous world, this seems like paradise.
Except for three things.
Thing One: Barry's starting to forget his own past. Due to the use of the Speed Force in this world, he's able to sustain his memories of the other. Using that same Speed Force seems to drain his ability to sustain his own memories.
Thing Two: Barry's lonely. Throughout the episode he seems out of pace with the rest of the world, in the background, not part of it. When he decides to come out of hiding and help Kid Flash with the Rival one of the first things he does is try to take all his old friends out of their new spaces and bring them together to work and figure out a solution - even though they no longer have any connection to each other. To Barry's credit, they work as a team, even though Caitlin is now a pediatric optometrist who pushes Lasik, and they find a way to detect and follow the Rival. The thing is, without having the actual history of being a team there to help them, well, they aren't. Lack of teamwork results in Kid Flash being seriously injured.
Thing Three: Barry's babysitting Eobard Thawne. When he rescued his mother, Barry imprisoned Thawne back in the present. Thawne is a, wait for it, Thawne in his side, insisting that Time itself is coming for Barry and Thawne because of their violation of the natural rules of order and time.
This episode works mostly because of Grant Gustin's consistent characterization. By now, we are familiar with the concept that Barry sucks with secrets and with the nuances of time travel. He's barely able to keep his geek in control when he meets Flashpoint Iris, and his slip at sharing Wally's name could have made things a lot harder than it did. Also, his belief in his own rightness - excusing kidnapping and imprisonment - is clearly evident throughout. It would be nice if Barry had a moral qualm about anything, but the thing is, he doesn't have immoral thoughts to qualm about. He just wants to help, even if he does it in a heavyhanded and sometimes very mistaken way. He realizes his selfishness is what caused Wally's injuries, and that losing his memories of his world is not the way he wanted to go, and there's only one decision he can make given all of that. And that's exactly right, from the perspective of the moral arc. Barry needs to be checked as to the ethical use of his powers, but more to the point, the reason for ethical use is that selfish, unethical use of power at that level is usually very destructive to one's self and one's world. This episode gets this right.
Where the episode fails for me is in continuing to push push push the Barry and Iris relationship. Wouldn't it make more sense for Cisco with his vibing powers to have had some of that dialogue? It just felt forced and fake. Iris uses Support Powers to get Barry over the hump and willing to go back in time and... let the Reverse-Flash kill his mother. No psychological issues could possibly arise from that. Nah. I mean, part of me is sentimental, and does definitely go for the whole love-across-timelines thing. But part of me thinks: hey, for all Barry's feelings, he and Iris have just started sharing thoughts in that other world, they haven't earned this connection yet. I don't know. It was one wrong note in an otherwise pretty good season premiere.
In the end, Barry's left with two enemies, and one major problem. First, Eobard Thawne, who's now free in a new present. Secondly, in a teaser at the end, Edward Clariss, who was the Rival in the Flashpoint world, is now something else in this world: he's hearing voices, and seeing the word Alchemy written on a mirror. And who knows what else Flashpoint has released? We know of at least that one major problem: Iris is no longer part of the family in this back-to-the-future. Instead, apparently, she's been estranged and they no longer speak.
Sometimes it doesn't matter how fast Barry runs. Events always outpace him.
Bits and Pieces
Wally West in the Kid Flash costume was awesome. I hope they get to use it again. Keiynan Lonsdale gives good hero; in fact, he's got something of the same aura of Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoit, that frank innocence in the face of evil. Please, bring back Kid Flash!
Gary sharing school details with Iris to get onto her good side. I mean, Barry.
Flashpoint is named by Eobard Thawne.
In Flashpoint world, Captain Singh is replaced with Captain Julio.
Matt Letscher! I like how he plays the Reverse-Flash here, giving Eobard Thawne an almost lilting, haunted quality, a man who's pursuing his own doom and knows it. Wonder how much he'll be around this season.
Barry: You know what I need you to do.
Thawne: Yes, but I want to hear you say it.
Barry: I need you to kill my mother.
Thawne: (smiling and nodding) With pleasure.
Barry: I hate you.
Thawne: And I hate you. But I sometimes wonder which of us is right.
I think this was a strong season premiere, but I'm very happy Flashpoint world didn't become permanent. Joe's struggling with depression was all too clear; so was a Cisco who gave in to the competition he had with his brother, and a Caitlin who seems... reduced, somehow. I also think maybe realizing this is what Barry needed to let go of what he's lost. How could he help rebuild a team he couldn't even remember? Four out of five words scrawled on a mirror.