The Flash recap: The Reverse-Flash Returns
Barry and the rest of Team Flash can run, run, run all they want, but eventually, they’ll have to stand still and face the challenges in their lives. For Barry, that means facing the foe who set into motion so much of his life while also tackling what ending his relationship with Patty entails.
For Cisco, he must learn to not fear but embrace his power. Iris and the Wests must deal with Francine’s imminent death. With these and so many more challenges forcing Team Flash to reckon with the idea of letting go, “The Reverse-Flash Returns” delivered one of the strongest The Flash episodes in a while.
And while that titular foe’s homecoming poses the largest threat to the well-being of Team Flash, it is the emotionally charged hurdles that elevate so much of the episode’s drama. But “Returns” has that special knack that the best Flash episodes do, blending the two into one another to become the crux of the episode’s narrative and emotional heft.
This Reverse-Flash is the Eobard Thawne who kills Barry’s mother and comes back in time and masquerades Harrison Wells. This Thawne just happens to come from an earlier point in time than the Thawne they all fought last season. This is, then, as Harry so wisely notes late in the episode, the Reverse-Flash’s origin story insofar as he came to be mixed up with Barry Allen’s life.
Of course, this Thawne still does not yet know a thing about his future plans, but the course of “Returns” prepares him to become that dastardly foe. Stuck out of time, he initially discovers what time period the Flash lives in, but he still does not know anything else about him. So the Reverse-Flash’s main focus is to return to his own time, which he intends to do with the forced assistance of Mercury Labs’ Dr. McGee. Barry first realizes the Reverse-Flash has returned when he attempts to stop Thawne’s Mercury Labs assault, but he initially fails.
And it’s understandable why. The shock of Thawne’s return is a terrible one to face, a specter of evil Barry thought his life was rid of returning in corporeal form. Taking him down will, just as it did before, require more than Barry’s powers, and it’s Cisco who steps up to the plate this time. He wants to use his vibing power to find Reverse-Flash as he did earlier in the episode, and so Harry prepares a set of goggles to enhance his powers.
How does he figure out how to do so? By scaring the living hell out of Cisco. Dressing up in the Reverse-Flash costume, Harry surprises Cisco, realizing the rush of adrenaline to his brain is triggering the vibes. He wires the goggles to induce a similar effect and allow him to control the length of his vibes. Cisco uses them to find Reverse-Flash coercing Dr. McGee into using tachyons to create a portal back home, after which he proceeds to kill the good doctor.
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The only problem is the activated tachyons should leave a trace they can track, but none can be found in Central City. As Cisco further reflects on his vision, he realizes it took place at 9:52 p.m., and it’s only 6 p.m. as they speak.
“Are you telling me I can see the future,” Cisco asks.
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you,” Harry deadpans in response.
“Those goggles are getting named immediately,” Cisco says, solidifying the need for a Harry-Cisco The Office-style spin-off.
Barry is able to locate the Reverse-Flash just in time to stop him from killing Dr. McGee, leading to a chase throughout the city that ends in a furious Barry pounding the daylights out of his foe. Barry is called back from the brink of murdering him and instead brings him back to S.T.A.R. Labs, where Cisco takes a victory lap.
Cisco confronts the imprisoned Thawne, boasting about the irony that the powers that allowed him to find Thawne were given to him by the Reverse-Flash himself. But Cisco stops riding so high when his nosebleeds at the lab turn into full-on seizures. As Harry explains in one of the episode’s two over-explanatory science scenes, capturing Thawne caused the timeline to rupture, and Cisco is suffering as a result. (The other concerns how Thawne could still travel back in time, the gist of which indicates the speed force gave Thawne some protection and also ensures Barry’s mother’s death is a fixed point in time that cannot be altered.)
And it’s not just nosebleeds and seizures, he’s starting to vibe out of this point in existence, and the only solution is to restore balance to the timeline. That means freeing the Reverse-Flash and sending him home.
NEXT: Saying goodbye to love and loved ones
The thought initially haunts Barry. He can’t let Thawne go, but letting go is exactly what Barry has to learn to do if he wants to save Cisco. Barry accepts his fate and suits up to combine his speed with Thawne’s and propel him back home.
This is the moment where the Reverse-Flash that seeks to prove he’s better than the Flash begins to infect Barry’s life. Freed from his cell, he’s meeting Harry, the Earth-1 version of whom he will inhabit when he next travels to this time period. He learns of S.T.A.R. Labs, of all the people Barry cares for, and of Barry.
Despite this, Barry moves forward with the plan and allows Thawne safe passage home, rescuing Cisco and restoring balance to the timeline.
To be the hero Barry believes he must be, these tough choices and sacrifices will have to be made. Releasing Thawne was one of them, and it’s likely to be far from the last one, especially as the battle to take down Zoom looms.
Barry also had to learn to let go in his non-speeding hours as well. Patty hoped they could be cordial with each other, but at work Barry is distant from her. He’s doing so because he doesn’t want her to become another loved one Zoom, Thawne, or anyone else could harm in their efforts to stop Barry.
And as hurt as Patty is by Barry’s behavior, she doesn’t want to give up on him, so much so that she does some digging once she learns Barry has been assisting S.T.A.R. Labs. All of his cases happen to line up with Flash-related incidents, with logical leaps someone couldn’t make…unless they were The Flash.
Patty has always been billed as an intelligent detective, and it’s nice to see that remain true to the end of her and Barry’s relationship. Patty concludes Barry is the Flash, confronts Joe about it, and then moves on to discuss it with Barry.
She wants him to admit who he is. She wants to hear the truth. Part of her very much wants to stay rather than leave for school. And there is part of Barry that wants her to, as well. He loves her. But Barry believes loving her, in this instance, means refusing to give her a reason to stick around if it’s going to endanger her life.
With no other choice, Patty accepts Barry’s decision and leaves, but she makes one final call to him, and to the Flash, on her train ride out of town. Feigning an armed attack on the train, she incites Barry to rush to her aid. He lets down his protective shield to let Patty see and hear Barry in the costume.
Barry and Patty are learning to let go, learning to say goodbye. It’s not what either of them really wants, but it’s what they both accept has to happen at this point. (Even if, as a viewer, it’s so tough to accept because Grant Gustin and Shantel VanSanten’s chemistry this season has been so much fun to watch. And VanSanten is particularly great in tonight’s episode, whether in her frank talk with Joe or in her tearful struggle to have Barry open up to her.)
While Barry and Patty learn to each let go of someone they love, the Wests are learning to do the same in a much more devastating fashion. Francine is on the verge of death, and it’s time for the family to say their final farewells. Joe does so offscreen, giving Iris the key moment of forgiveness before her mother’s imminent passing. Candice Patton does some fantastic work as Iris as she comes to terms with her mother’s years-long absence and tries to connect with the parent who had otherwise been gone for so much of her life. As much as she seeks some peace for her family, she also wants to give Francine peace of mind before her passing.
There’s still Wally who has to say goodbye, but he’s refusing to do so. He wants to stay out on the road racing instead of facing what reality has in store. Accepting his mother’s death proves too difficult, but Iris talks some sense into the boy. He has the rare opportunity to actually spend a knowing final moment with Francine. She doesn’t want him to spend the rest of his life regretting letting that chance slip him by, but Wally initially refuses to visit her. Eventually he comes around and asks Iris to help him say goodbye. To help him let go.
Jay is also staring death in this face, his own, and though he appears to have some more time than Francine, it is finite. The only solution is to find Zoom, but Caitlin refuses to accept that at first. Having watched her own father suffer for years from multiple sclerosis, she does not want to watch Jay similarly anguish. She thinks of finding his Earth-1 doppelganger, and replacing Jay’s sick cells with Earth-1 Jay’s healthy ones.
But that proves impossible, as Jay explains to her. She couldn’t find a Jay Garrick on this Earth, and neither could Jay, because no such person exists. Jay’s counterpart was adopted and eventually given the name Hunter Zolomon by his new family. (Spoilers: Zolomon is quite the name drop for the show because in the comics he is one of the speedsters to take up the name Reverse-Flash/Professor Zoom. Let that affect your “Who is Zoom” theories accordingly, as it would be surprising for the show to use such a name and not do much with it now or going forward. End of spoilers.)
So Caitlin lets go, just as Jay has, of all other possibilities. Instead, they’ll focus on the one thing all of Team Flash will have to in the weeks to come: hunting down and stopping Zoom.
After the success of Arrow, Barry Allen (a.k.a. the Flash) gets his own CW treatment in this comic-themed spin-off.