The Flash is having fun early in 2016. Sure, Barry Allen’s relationships might be falling apart around him and the demon speedster Zoom may still haunt everyone’s steps like the nightmare creature that he is, but that doesn’t stop The CW show from giving very quirky comic book legacy villains like the Turtle a serious treatment, or say re-introducing Reverse-Flash, the Big Bad from the first season who’s actually appearing in the main characters’ timeline for the first time before committing all the heinous acts he was responsible for last season. Oh, and he’s wearing a different face this time, that of Eobard Thawne (Matt Letscher) and not Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) because he hasn’t gone back in time to kill him yet and steal his identity. If you’ve followed all of that, you should be in good shape for tonight’s twists and turns.
In “The Reverse-Flash Returns”, we’re actually seeing the timeline play out as it normally would have, it’s just that Season 2 is now catching up to events that had not yet occurred in the timeline of Season 1. That would be all well and good as long as no one does anything to cause a time paradox, like say glimpse future moments in the timeline before they happen and then interfere in a way that prevents those actions from occurring. Surely our heroes know better than all that…
The return of Reverse-Flash was heralded at the end of last week’s midseason premiere and reinforced in this episode’s cold opener as Eobard Thawne looks on while The Flash disables a rigged ethanol-hauling tanker truck before it can explode and wipe out a city block. And while we’re in the spirit of reminding viewers of what happened last week, Caitlin Snow and Jay Garrick arrive to break the news that the Turtle – their best hope for negating the speed of the villainous Zoom – is dead. Garrick is instantly suspicious of Harry Wells’ hand in Turtle’s sudden death, but the S.T.A.R. Labs team quickly abandons any investigation into this apparent homicide because Reverse-Flash is back in town.
Now, in contrast to what the writers of these episodes like to do, let’s slow things down a bit and look at the very human side of Barry’s life in this episode. Remember that Patty broke the news to Barry that she’s been accepted into a C.S.I. program at Midway City University (totally within running distance) and will be leaving her job and her boyfriend behind. Barry handles this pretty much like you’d expect him to: not well. Coupled with the fact that the people he loves have a habit of leaving him (unless you count Joe, Iris, and his teammates…) is the concern that his meta-human enemies will use those people as leverage against him. He doesn’t want Patty to become one of those bargaining chips, so even when she finally deduces his secret identity, Barry stays the course and denies his existence as The Flash. It’s not until she pulls a sneaky trick and gets him to come to her rescue on the train that his identity is confirmed and the two part amicably.
There’s also the side plot featuring Iris and Wally’s mother Francine, who’s basically on death’s doorstep and wants nothing more than to reunite her family all together in the same room one last time. It takes some forgiveness on Iris’ part, and some convincing of Wally, but the Wests all seem to be gathered for a final farewell to their matriarch in an upcoming episode.
Perhaps the most interesting storyline outside of the superheroics in this episode is the one concerning Caitlin’s search for Jay Garrick’s Earth-1 doppelganger so that she can harvest his healthy cells to cure Earth-2 Jay Garrick of his speed-sapping affliction. The problem is, they can’t find the guy anywhere. Cue Earth-2 Jay Garrick pointing out his Earth-1 double, a man who looks exactly like Jay apart from wearing glasses (so who could blame them for missing the other similarities), who was adopted by a family not named Garrick, and whose DNA is presumably not mutated like Earth-2 Jay Garrick’s is, making him unsuitable for curing Jay’s “speed cancer.” Oh, and his name is Hunter Zolomon. Much more on that in a minute.
While your brain is still spinning over the mega-bomb name-drop of Hunter Zolomon, let’s take a look at what The Flash had to battle through this week. After quickly glossing over the death of the Turtle, Cisco and Harry get back to work on figuring out a way to close the portals all over Central City, but they just as quickly put that aside in favor of triggering Cisco’s Vibe powers in order to get a clue as to Zoom’s whereabouts. Harry dons the Reverse-Flash suit in order to cause an adrenaline response in Cisco, which activates his Vibe powers. What he sees is not Zoom, but Reverse-Flash, who’s kidnapping Dr. Tina McGee in order to get her to harness tachyon particles for a time-machine so he can escape this timeline. As we know from Season 1, Reverse-Flash gleans all sorts of information about The Flash, his identity, his family, and his allies through these time hops until he eventually trips back to kill Barry’s mother, kicking off this whole sequence of events. The Flash would, ideally, like to put a stop to all of that.
Eobard Thawne, protected by the damning effects of the self-sacrifice of his ancestor Eddie Thawne due to his position traveling outside that timeline at the moment of Eddie’s death, becomes a timeline remnant that can’t be altered without causing a paradox. The Flash is able to prevent Eobard from killing Dr. McGee and escaping through time thanks to Cisco’s enhanced Vibe powers – courtesy of a pair of snazzy specs cooked up by Harry – and easily outmatches the speedster in a footrace and battle of fisticuffs. With Eobard imprisoned at the pipeline, Cisco gloats over Reverse-Flash, the man who was his former mentor, greatest adversary, and creator of the Vibe powers due to the particle accelerator explosion. Barry also pays him a visit and though he keeps his identity hidden, Eobard Thawne has learned enough from context to piece everything together; he’s going to put his plan into motion exactly as he always has, and The Flash has to help him do it.
Much like when a future version of Barry Allen traveled back in time to the moment of his mother’s death to prevent a younger future version of Barry Allen from interfering with the Reverse-Flash, this older and wiser Flash now has to help Reverse-Flash return to his own time in order to keep Cisco stabilized in this timeline, knowing full well that this action means the death of Barry’s mother and the continuation of a battle between the nemeses in the past. What’s done is done, and with another quick trip around the particle accelerator, The Flash tosses his not-so-speedy-anymore antagonist through a rift in time. So passes the Villain of the Week, but what was it all for?
As for the dramatic side of things, Barry sure did have a lot of guilt laid on his shoulders in this episode; he bared some of the weight responsibly but shrugged a good portion of it off as if it were only a matter of circumstance instead of anything with real gravity to it. I’m also not a huge fan of how the writers are handling Patty all of a sudden or what they’re trying to do with their relationship. Oddly enough, the romantic pairings have been the weakest part of The Flash so far: Caitlin’s fiancé died, twice (sorta); Hawkman and Hawkgirl have a very complicated relationship; and Barry’s girlfriends are either his adopted sister, a journalist who’s not that into him, a techie who’s engaged to a former billionaire vigilante, and a King Shark-shooting cop who’s fleeing the city for higher education. Even the adults fare poorly: Joe and Francine West’s relationship was dysfunctional to say the least, Barry’s parents’ marriage ended with his mother’s death and his father’s incarceration, and Earth-1 Harrison Wells and his wife died in a car crash caused by Reverse-Flash. Love is tough in the DC TV universe.
Now, onto the comic book craziness. I liked the inclusion of Reverse-Flash in this episode for a couple of reasons. One, it helped to remind viewers that the existence of a multiverse and intersecting timelines is a perilous place where one misstep can spell disaster. Two, it was a great way to keep the timeline consistent by showing how Reverse-Flash originally gathered intel on Barry Allen, and three, allowed Eobard himself to explain his obsession with becoming everything that opposes The Flash. Too bad The Flash proved far too fast for him this time around, a not-so-subtle reminder that he’s faster than he’s ever been, but still not fast enough to outrun Zoom.
***Skip on down to the Rating and Miscellanea if you don’t want to know about Hunter Zolomon.***
And now we come back to Hunter Zolomon. Just looking at his name alone, you might figure this guy to be a supervillain, and you wouldn’t be wrong. (Heck, you can’t spell Zolomon without Zoom.) But I’d advise a bit of caution here as the writers are a very tricky bunch and like to throw so many red herrings around that even King Shark could satiate his appetite. In the DC Comics, Hunter Zolomon is one of the Reverse-Flashes who antagonizes the third Flash, Wally West. A creation of Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins, Zolomon was a former FBI agent with an incredibly dysfunctional family past who moved to Keystone City to take a job as a profiler for a metahuman task force. A long and very complicated story short, an attack by Gorilla Grodd left him paralyzed, and he sought the use of the cosmic treadmill to restore his mobility. Lo and behold, the machine exploded and transformed him into Zoom, a being with the ability to change the rate at which he moves through time, which is very different from other DC speedsters who tap into the Speed Force. It’s a power that’s very curious considering the attention paid to the Turtle’s powers and how they worked in the previous episode…
As for the existence of Zolomon on The Flash and how he factors into the Zoom mystery, there are a few theories: One, Earth-1 “Jay Garrick” aka Hunter Zolomon might straight-up be the Zoom who has plagued Earth-2 without our heroes’ knowledge, though how he has traveled back and forth between parallel worlds for years remains unknown. Two, Earth-2 Jay Garrick is actually Zoom and has been siphoning speed from both Barry Allen and his Earth-1 doppelganger Hunter Zolomon, explaining why Harry Wells is so distrustful of Garrick and why he appears to dog him at every step. Three, Zoom could still be one of any of the other parallel world doppelgangers or perhaps someone we haven’t even met yet. Obviously this is the biggest reveal of the episode, so please share your own theories in the comments below!
Rating: ★★★ Good
Barry: “There are many reasons why we run…”
Cisco: “Of course. Now he’s going to make me wait in this freaky-ass Braille room.”
Reverse-Flash: “I know what time period you’re from, and very soon you will die.”
Francine: “One thing you learn when you’re dying is not to hold anything back.”
I can solve Patty/Barry’s relationship problem right now: Tell her you’re the Flash. Run back and forth between Midway City and Central City. Solved.
Cisco: “Whoa, I’m in full-on Vibe mode right now.”
Joe: “You ever seen Barry run? He waddles, like a slow-ass duck.”
‘Wally West: The Flash and the Furious’ (Followed by ‘2 Flash, 2 Furious’)
The Flash: “Not fast enough, Thawne. I’ll never lose to you again.”
Cisco: “Bye Felicia.”
Patty: “Admit to me that you’re The Flash and I’ll stay.” Barry: “I can’t do that. I’m not him.” Patty: “That’s too bad, because I really wanted to stay.”
Hunter Zolomon sounds like a totally normal name for a totally normal, not super-powered guy.