Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find my review of the previous episode of The Flash here.
This week, a villain who had been erased from existence returned from the future to experience his origin story before promptly being sent on his way. Ladies and gentlemen, The Flash!
Still The Flash‘s most fascinating and personal villain, Eobard Thawne’s return resulted in an episode full of awesome moments and strong character scenes. From Thawne’s eerie encounter with Harrison Wells to his interactions and effect on Barry and everything in between, “The Reverse-Flash Returns” demonstrated just how the titular premise alone can make for a good episode.
Matt Letscher played a different Eobard Thawne from that of Season 1—more villainous and aggressive but less calculating and lacking that strange paternal touch that Tom Cavanagh brought to the role. This is a younger Thawne, and Letscher played him very well. It’s clear to me that the right people were cast to play Reverse-Flash at different times in his life.
Let’s be clear here, none of the episode’s time-travel logic actually made any sense. How did Thawne come back from being erased from existence? Three circles on a chalkboard, that oughta do it! I have to admire the writers’ boldness in having the explanation to Thawne’s impossible return literally be “speedforce” and a shrug. But I’m okay with it because this is how comics have always worked, and what’s important is telling a good story amidst the insanity, which the episode did. And honestly, it’s pretty fun to speculate and have some things unexplained. (For a deeper dive into the speculation, scroll to the bottom of the review.)
The episode’s big problem was how crowded it was. “The Reverse-Flash Returns” was the big bold headline of the week, but the respective storyline had to wrestle for screen time with multiple other plot threads. None of those were bad, though. They were just numerous.
The best of those was the West family storyline. The writers took something that started as just an excuse to introduce Wally into the series and made it into a touching, dramatic, and satisfying story. It gave Iris room to stretch out and deal with meatier material than usual, and it contributed to Wally’s character arc. It was great, but in an episode centred on the Reverse-Flash, it felt misplaced. Though to be fair, Wally does need to have a continuing story as the show is working to build him up, so I understand why it was there.
One subplot that definitely could have been postponed was Caitlin’s quest to save Jay Garrick. It led to the awesome casual reveal that Jay’s Earth-1 doppelgänger was called Hunter Zolomon, which is a huge revelation to those familiar with the comics. But it still could have been put off a week or so. It felt superfluous and took time that could have been dedicated to making the Reverse-Flash conflict feel less rushed.
Less superfluous was the resolution to Barry and Patty’s conflict from last week, as Patty finally left Central City, presumably for good (it seems the actress, Shantel VanSanten, has left the show as well). It still frustrated me to no end to see Barry continuing to lie to her in service of a tired trope, but at least Patty finally figured that Barry was the Flash all on her own. It reinforced how clever she is, and led to two very touching and well-acted goodbye scenes. And out of the three subplots crowding the episode, this was the one that was at least a bit thematically tied to the Reverse-Flash conflict.
There was something powerful about a miserable Barry driving someone he loves away in an episode focused on the man who had told him he would never find happiness. Thawne’s ominous and prophetic message from the premiere still hangs over this season, haunting Barry and his every decision, and I love that. Whether as a “time remnant” or a nagging voice inside his head, the Reverse-Flash is never going away. As Barry said, “I could throw him three centuries from now, he’ll always be a part of me.”
Rating: 4/5 (Great)
So… how exactly did Thawne come back? I can think of a few options, two of which are explicitly stated in the episode but not made very clear.
- The Singularity. Eddie killing himself erased Thawne, which created a paradox since none of the events of the show would have happened without Thawne existing. The paradox could not be resolved so a world-ending singularity was formed because the universe threw its hands up in confusion. But Barry and Firestorm stopped the singularity which saved the world but allowed certain inconsistencies to remain. This one’s pure speculation on my part, and probably wrong.
- Speeforce. When Eddie killed himself, maybe this instance of Thawne was in the speedforce, which exists outside of time, thus protecting him from being erased. But how can someone from the future be in the speedforce while an event happened in the present? Alternatively, since the speedforce exists outside of time and Thawne’s accessed it multiple times, wouldn’t that mean that multiple instances of Thawne survived? This explanation was brushed upon in the episode but not elaborated at all, so it’s shaky. Speedforce!
- Time Remnant. Eddie’s death at point X in time prevented Eobard’s birth at point Z. Anything that happens after point Z has been altered, but Thawne’s appearances at any point Y prior to point Z remain. This is why Barry’s mother’s death has not been undone, and any pre-Wells time-traveling version of Thawne can still appear. This seems to be the explanation the show’s going with, even though it’s pretty convoluted. But hey, comics!
A few other things: why did holding Thawne captive lead to Cisco vanishing? We’ve never seen time travel mess with reality like that, except maybe when Eddie shot himself—but since this Reverse-Flash is a “time remnant” and his future/past self is otherwise nonexistent, does it even matter what happens to him?
Finally, Wells said this was Thawne’s origin story, but that confuses me a little. In the original timeline, Barry hadn’t yet become the Flash in 2016, so Thawne traveling back to 2016 would not have encountered him. Also, it was said that this was how Thawne met Wells, but Earth-2 Wells wouldn’t even be there if it weren’t for the singularity, which was caused by Thawne traveling back in the first place. The only explanation I can think of is that in the original timeline, Thawne landed in a different year, but this time around, the speeforce detected a change and tossed him out in 2016, like some sort of cosmic fate.
In conclusion: I fucking love comics.
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