Two words: game changer. It’s almost like The Flash just decided to dump all of the resolutions to their storylines in one episode, only for them to pull the rug out from under the carpet.

Can you have your cake and eat it too? The Flash wants us to have its cake and eat it too and then throw it up and make us eat a different cake that tastes slightly different. Are you still there with my analogy? Let me explain, with some classic TV history, what I’m talking about (and if this can work).

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The “What If” and “What Is” Conundrum

Television (and storytelling in general) has the ability to show us “what if?” What if this happened, what if that happened? These are episodes. When a television show shows us “what if?” in comparison to “what is?” then it can get interesting. This is what I will call “the have your cake and eat it too” device. These are often episodes that contain alternate universes.

Often, this scenario works best in self-contained episodes. A classic example of this is an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer called “The Wish,” where we see what Sunnydale would have looked like if Buffy never came to town. It’s a fantastic, one-off episode (that has a cross-over later in the season), but it’s perfect because it’s one-and-done. 

When television writers decide to serialize these “cake and eat it too” devices, it’s often disastrous. Homeland is a perfect example of this: it basically repeats the other choice from its first season finale in its second one of the what-if conundrum. The result? It jumped the shark and I jumped from watching that show in a heartbeat. “What if” and “what is” cannot work in a serialized format. Unless you introduce time travel.

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The Flash Travels Back in Time and It Changes Everything

So what am I getting at? Ah, yes. The Flash. The Flash is using time travel to complicate the “cake and eat it too” device and it’s really trying to have its cake, eat it and serve us another cake that tastes awfully familiar, if you are still following my analogy. 

You see, The Flash just blew everything up — all of its major storylines and secrets — by telling us a major backstory and advancing the plot, only to have that plot reset. It’s a brilliant use of dramatic irony, where the audience knows things the characters don’t know. 

We know that Harrison Wells is from the future. His name is Eobard Thawne, descendant of Eddie Thawne. He was able to be in two places at once thanks to something called a “speed mirage.” And he came from the future 15 years ago and murdered Nora Allen, though he intended to kill Barry Allen for unknown reasons. Now, Wells is stuck here, training the Flash so he can return to his time and world. And in case you didn’t realize he’s a bad guy, he murders Cisco — after explaining that he’s come to view him like a son. Dude’s a stone-cold sociopath. 

Meanwhile, the stakes are raised for everyone else in this episode as well: Joe’s in big, big trouble with a mad weatherman, Barry and Iris admit their feelings for each other, they make out, and Barry flashes into The Flash in front of Iris.

They give us these answers, this great backstory and they speed up the character and relationship beats — and what does The Flash do? They have Barry run so fast (to stop a tsunami from destroying Central City) that he runs back in time, to a day earlier. The show just hit reset. When none of this has happened yet.

Back to when Cisco’s alive, Joe’s still in danger (but not mortal danger), Barry and Iris are still in unrequited love, and everyone knows Barry’s secret except Iris. And best of all? Barry knows what’s going to happen. Except about his good friend Wells. But we know exactly what’s up with Harrison Wells.

I can’t say enough how brilliantly I think The Flash executed this tricky timeline storyline thus far. I mean, that’s dense writing. It’s risky. I knew this was going to be a special episode — not just from the episode’s trailer — but because The Flash is uncharacteristically throwing caution to the wind. First of all, they paralyze Singh (of course, after he gets engaged — fulfilling a classic police trope). They literally kidnap and torture Joe, who’s the heart and soul of this show. And they make huge strides in the Barry and Iris romance/relationship. They make Cisco the one to figure out that Wells is a bad guy. They even give Eddie something to do; that’s how serious the writers of The Flash move through plot!

This is a game changer of an episode. Yeah, it gives us answers to the shadiness of Harrison Wells, confirmation that Iris also has feelings and a lot more. But it has so many future implications to this. Now the question becomes this: can The Flash have its cake and eat it too? Can it show us one “what if” and satisfy the “what is”? Or will they blow all of that out of the water? It brings up so many interesting ideas and story possibilities. Will Barry be able to change time? Is that possible in this reality? I hope that it can successfully execute the “what if” and the “what is” conundrum. I can’t be as outraged and as heartbroken as I was when I watched Homeland. Not again.

I’m sorry if I’m geeking out about this, but I didn’t realize that The Flash had this in them. Don’t get me wrong, The Flash is a show that is reliably entertaining, warm, fun and a treat to watch every week. And it’s done a great job of exploring Barry’s powers and responsibilities as a superhero. But it’s also often predictable because we’ve seen these beats and storylines on other shows (and even this storyline is familiar for sci-fi fans). But it’s still a bold storytelling choice that’s going to affect the rest of the season. I can’t wait.

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Other Thoughts

— Very light on Caitlin Snow, but she needs a break after all of that Firestorm business. (So do all of us, I think.)

— I’m not exactly sure what a “speed mirage” is, but if it explains how we see two of Wells, I’ll take it. 

— The choice to bring back the weather man brother from the pilot is a weird but good one. Also, I will shallowly admit that I thought it was the third Hemsworth brother. 

— I wonder how long it will take the show to let Iris find out Barry’s the Flash. I hope she learns this in a way that’s new to the Flash/Arrow universe. Though I’d love for her to learn like Laurel Lance did, I doubt she will. 

– Theory Corner: That lightning that hits Singh will actually hit Eddie in the next episode. This will be the catalyst to make him into the Reverse Flash. BOOM. Barry actually creates the Reverse Flash.

The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8pm on The CW.

(Image courtesy of The CW)

Emily E. Steck

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV