As the idiom goes, you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been. Unfortunately for all of us not named Barry Allen, we don’t have the opportunity to travel back in time to fully understand our past.
And that’s precisely what Barry has to do in “Flash Back” as he figures out just how to make himself faster. He realizes the key to matching the speeds of the Reverse-Flash and Zoom is to turn to one of them, and so he decides to face the first man who betrayed him, Eobard Thawne.
(Wally happens to be the one who gives Barry the idea of turning to an old master in the field while at dinner with the West family. That dinner also plants the seeds of one of Barry’s other goals as he heads back in time after he hears Iris lamenting she still feels guilty for dating after Eddie.)
Cisco, Caitlin, and Barry (Harry finds the whole ordeal asinine) concoct a plan for Barry to head back in time to the era of the Pied Piper. They plan a six-hour stay, during which time Barry can assume the identity of his past self, work with Wells/Eobard Thawne on a speed force formula, and return to the present, all without greatly disturbing the time stream.
Smooth plan, right? Well, naturally things go wrong almost from the start when the mysterious offspring of a Dementor and Ringwraith appears in the time stream alongside Barry before he pops out into the season 1 timeline too early.
He catches his earlier self confronting Hartley, and after the Pied Piper knocks pre-Barry out, the visiting Barry swoops in, grabs his former self, and attempts to knock him out with a Caitlin-concocted serum. Unfortunately, he’s caught off guard (by himself), and the two fight for the serum until the season 2 Barry finally gains the upper hand, sedates season 1 Barry, and switches their emblems to avoid suspicion.
Barry tries to play it cool once arriving at S.T.A.R. Labs with Hartley in tow. He generally avoids influencing the past with his knowledge, though he does help Cisco prevent what should be Hartley’s breakout. (Perhaps it’s just been a while since I’ve watched the early episodes, or maybe it’s just the show’s desire to show the difference in the team from then to its current state, but everyone seems if not colder, then less cohesive. Caitlin is even quieter while Cisco seems almost overwhelmed at times, and knowing Wells/Thawne looms over it all doesn’t help take the edge off.) He attempts to broach the subject of the speed formula with Wells, but the so-called time wraith pulls him away from his primary objective.
The wraith attacks the police station, snooping around in Barry’s lab and at his conspiracy theory corkboard. He arrives on the scene to find the wraith leaving, but he also, for the first time, sees Eddie Thawne alive once again.
Eddie’s whole not-dead thing has Barry shaken up (as much as season 1 Joe, while working with season 2 Barry, thinks it has to do with his declaration of love to Iris). Only further knocking him off his game, Barry heads back to S.T.A.R. Labs and mentions he already saw the wraith earlier that day.
He tries to provide a reasonable explanation for where he saw it, but Wells has caught on to Barry’s game. He knocks the future speedster up and locks him in his secret room demanding answers. Seeing Tom Cavanagh back in action as Wells-as-Thawne is a delight, particularly in his confrontation here with Barry. He’s in full-on angry whisper mode as he demands Barry to reveal who he is.
And so Barry does…to an extent. He tells Thawne he’s from the future and has come back looking for the answers to the speed force equation. Thawne is worried, though. If Barry can come back, it must mean Thawne failed, so Barry spins a yarn telling Thawne he made it home but in doing so formed a singularity. Barry has returned to learn how to be faster and stop the singularity, and while Thawne is initially reticent to help his enemy, Barry mentioning he’s left a letter explaining how to stop Thawne for his former self forces his foe’s hand.
NEXT: Time’s running out as the wraith’s wrath grows [pagebreak]
The wraith showing up at S.T.A.R. also encourages the two to spring into action, though Hartley is actually able to throw the wraith off course with his frequency gauntlets, buying the team a bit of extra time. (And, for Hartley’s sake, stops Cisco from playing “Never Gonna Give You Up” on repeat in his cell.)
With some time to think, though, the team concludes Barry is the common denominator in the wraith’s appearances. Unfortunately, Thawne reveals no one — by which he means other speedsters — knows how to stop these wraiths, which plague speedsters (and oh yes, there are more speedsters out there) who mess with time.
So Barry does the only thing he can and goes to investigate the wraith’s appearance at CCPD. He comes up empty-handed with clues, but his brief sojourn allows him to acquire the most emotionally affecting element of his visit. Eddie appears briefly, and Barry takes this opportunity to bring something back to the present for Iris: a video message from Eddie.
Unfortunately, even after making progress there, Barry’s mission through time only becomes more complicated as he returns to S.T.A.R. — because the other Barry also returns.
Everyone begins fretting, particularly Cisco, who calls practically everyone in sight an impostor, but Wells finally breaks through the confusion. He explains that Barry is from the future but keeps all other details to a minimum to avoid any further disruption in the timeline.
Wells begrudgingly hands over what Barry has been looking for, a thumbdrive with information on tachyon enhancement, which will allow him to improve the speed force and run faster than he ever has. But in return, he wants Barry to go home.
And season 2 Barry happily agrees, though before he goes, he tells Cisco that Hartley knows where Ronnie is and informs the rest of the team that they’ll have a year to figure out how to stop the wraith.
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Barry then begins racing to form a disruption in time, only to have the wraith right on his back, literally. The wraith has its hand on Barry’s shoulder, but season 1 Barry swoops in to help his future self break free of the wraith and jump through the time portal (which the wraith also sneaks into).
Barry returns to the present to almost be immediately attacked by the wraith. Cisco’s solution has no effect on the wraith, which begins to suck the life out of the scarlet speedster. But he’s saved…by Hartley, who appears with his gloves and uses them to banish the wraith like it had just seen a patronus.
Hartley, friendly and cordial, offering help if they ever need it again, heads out to have dinner while Barry figures out whether Thawne actually provided any help. He plugs in the drive, which initially fails to boot up but eventually reveals its secrets with the helpful thump of Barry’s fist against the console.
They have what he needs (though there’s certainly no shortage of questions about how Barry’s latest time-hopping adventure altered the timeline) to improve his speed, but Barry comes bearing one gift that may not save the world but very much means the world to one person.
He heads home and offers Iris, who is looking over old photos with Eddie, his phone. On it, he has the video of Eddie leaving what is supposedly a birthday message, in which he conveniently praises Iris’ independence, her ability to be such a strong person on her own, a quality that he loved in her. Is it conveniently worded to address her current problems? Sure, but it’s still played beautifully by both returning guest star Rick Cosnett and Candice Patton.
Barry wants to help Iris move forward because life keeps moving forward. But sometimes doing so requires facing the darkest moments of our past. (He also learns that moving forward also can mean having to accept your past and the decisions you’ve made and hope they were the right ones. He advises Harry of this as the concerned father wonders what has happened to his daughter.) To move forward and properly face the latest person to betray him, Barry has to turn to the man who killed his mother and abused his trust, and in doing so confronted one of his mortal enemies and came out with the strength to move forward.
Now, on to Zoom.