So, after the midseason finale of The Flash, we posited a few ways in which Barry (Grant Gustin) could save Iris (Candice Patton) from getting murdered by a somehow revived Savitar. (A guess about that: When a magical doodad glows the same color as the Speed Force, maybe don't toss a magical doodad into the Speed Force? That seems like a bad idea.) One idea was just to move out of Central City, another was just to never go to that park ever again, and another was just to set a bunch of traps around the city and hope that Savitar is as dumb as the Wet Bandits.
As this week's episode demonstrated, the show opted for the final option: facing the future head-on (was there any doubt?). Barry and the rest of Team Flash will fight for a better future by acting in the present... by using their knowledge of the future to alter how they behave in the present so that the future will change. You know, standard time travel/free will/pre-destined stuff.
At this point in the Arrowverse, between how Flash has been handling time travel and Flashpoint and then how DC's Legends of Tomorrow in general has operated since its premiere, this particular issue of changing the past/present to change the future has become a wonky thing. We have been repeatedly told that the future wants to happen, that those dominoes want to fall, and there's nothing any of our various time traveling superheroes can do to stop it. But we're also told that the future is not set in stone, that there are lots of possible futures, and that all it really takes is, well, more time, for a future to set and harden into place to the point where it can't be changed, or at least becomes the reality in which everyone exists.
The Flashpoint timeline was almost this. It had almost seemed to settle into place before Barry went and undid it. Of course, this resulted in the death (again) of Nora Allen, a domino that refused to stay upright, even when all the dominoes around it kept changing. It also resulted in dead siblings, unwanted superpowers and co-workers, and aliens invading the planet.
But now Team Flash is faced with sort of an Irispoint event if you will, a known event in time that they're attempting to stop, and letting the dominoes from that topple where they may. No one is — yet — questioning the repercussions of stopping this event, and the changes on their timeline, their very existence, it could create, but it feels like a natural question to be asked, considering everything people got judgy about regarding Flashpoint.
Of course, ignorance is also bliss, so they won't know what the changes will be unless Barry travels further in time to see what the fallout of Iris' murder is, apart from a changed byline. There's an ethical question here, but the show may not be willing to engage it because to do so would be to have one of its very likable characters advocate for the death of a friend (and also main character and also primary love interest and also black woman lead actor on a successful genre program). It's not a great look for anyone. Iris could just be replaced with Iris-2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9 and so on (cough Arrow cough), but that's still shifting around dynamics, and it wouldn't be their Iris — who, by the way, is facing down her impending death like the boss she is.
The other upside of not asking this question about changing the future, is that The Flash now suddenly has some structure to it. Since sometime in the middle of Season 2, The Flash has suffered from shaggy plotting that allowed the Zoom arc to just meander and then be filled with uninspired villains of the week that never seemed to matter, even in their own episodes. Season 3 wasn't much better on the last point, but on the former, there was just too much Flashpoint fallout to deal with for the Savitar and Alchemy stuff to really take hold. With these events to change in an effort to save Iris in place, suddenly the show can give its episodic plots a bit more heft instead of us just waiting for Savitar to return.
To that end, we have a number of things to look forward to:
- The Music Meister has a six-figure book deal
- Luigi's reopens after a murder
- Joe (Jesse L. Martin) gets honored at City Hall
- Killer Frost (Danielle Panabaker) is still at large
- The S.T.A.R. Lab museum closes
- City still recovering following gorilla attack (!!!)
Apart from Luigi's and the murder (which may be the most mysterious of the items on the list), this all seems like quality stuff to organize the season around — even if chunks of it, like Joe being honored and the museum closing, are things that will have to happen at roughly the same time as Iris's foretold murder. Other things, like Caitlin's descent into full Killer Frost mode and the gorilla attack (again: !!!), can happen sooner, which doesn't bode well for that solar-powered anti-metahuman ability device Caitlin received.
And unlike the list from the first season of Arrow, this isn't a collection of things that The Flash can randomly say, "Oh, yeah, and this is a thing we have to deal with this week...because!" It's not an arbitrary (albeit useful in a first season) structure to propel episodes forward, but a purposeful one that a show needs in a third season where time travel is a major component of the narrative.
It also benefits us, the audience. Instead of feeling like we're simply drifting through a season until we get to Episode 17 or 18, there's a plan in place for us to follow, elements of a narrative for us to look forward to. Our fates have been predetermined, and we can't change them. In this case, there's some degree of comfort in not being able to change our futures while we watch Team Flash try to change theirs.
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