The Once & Future Flash - Recap & Review

OMG the feels! The emo!

This episode of The Flash has it all! Get ready for an emotional rollercoaster of Flash proportions, with bonus vertigo from the freaks-of-the-week!

Spoilers beyond the fold

After a somewhat mediocre season with only a few highs, The Flash returns from spring hiatus after 4 weeks, and it did so with a bang (a flashbang, even #sorrynotsorry).

We begin with a quiet scene at Iris and Barry's place wherein she extracts a promise out of him that he will be there for her father if she dies. This is pretty central to the rest of the episode, so take note of that. It's also worth noting that this is pretty much just one of two lines that Iris has in this episode, because "The Once & Future Flash" is all about how her death makes all the men in her life feel.

Sigh. More on that later.

So this episode picks up right where the last one left off: Killer Frost is awake thanks to Cisco and Julian. When Barry gets to STAR Labs, she's cornered the crew. It's worth noting that she doesn't actually kill anyone, which may suggest there's still some of Caitlyn in her. She ends up running off.

That's the moment when Barry announces that he's leaving. Who with the what now? But as it turns out, Barry's plan is to travel to the future to ask his future self Savitar's identity, so that he can figure out how to defeat the big bad. As Barry points out, he can travel to the future and be back without any time really passing in the present.

He ends up eight years into the future, in 2024, in what appears to be the darkest timeline. Central City looks rough, covered in litter and possessing the same dreary greyness that seems a permanent fixture over in Star City. When Barry pops into the alleyway, he is almost immediately confronted by Top and Mirror Man, and proceeds to get his ass kicked, until he manages to scurry off. The villains tell him that Central City is theirs now, and they seem pretty surprised that Flash is around again.

Barry ends up at this penthouse apartment that in the present he lives in with Iris, and the place is trashed. That's where 2024 Cisco finds him, having sensed something or other. Anyway, as Barry discovers, his future self is a hot mess of emotastic proportions, complete with an awful greasy hairdo, and a total lack of care.

Barry. Dude. No. Just no. 
Future Barry disbanded Team Flash after Iris died, and sequestered himself inside STAR Labs after kicking everyone out. Cisco lost a fight with Killer Frost in which she freezes his arms and shatters them, so he's lost his powers because he's got cybernetic hands now. Killer Frost was caught, but she's imprisoned and Julian is apparently spending his time studying her and still trying to figure out how to get Caitlyn back. Wally went apeshit after his sister died and tried to take on Savitar by himself, and whatever happened, he had a broken spine and ended up in a vegetative state afterwards.

Y u do this to us, Flash? :(
And Joe West... if none of this other stuff has caused you to cry, the sight of Joe West placing a few sad flowers at Iris' grave will break you. Jesse L. Martin's performance is nothing short of amazing here, especially when 2017 Barry finds him at the grave, and Joe asks him why he's there now, after so long of not being there.

I just can't with this scene, it's heartbreaking...
Despite having to sit through all this sadness, Barry doesn't even get what he's there for. His future self doesn't know Savitar's identity, and he tells him to go back and enjoy the last remaining moments with Iris, because he will fail to save her no matter what. And while Killer Frost admits that she knows Savitar's real identity, she is clearly not going to tell him. So after much sad, Barry decides he needs to get the hell out of there and go back to his own time, because goddamn we need some sunshine. But Cisco, sad lonely desperate Cisco, prevents him from doing so, begging him to fix things in 2024.

Despite the fact that if he does change the future, the darkest timeline won't even happen, 2017 Barry decides he can't abandon these people like 2024 Barry did. He gets the team back together so that they can help him defeat Top and Mirror Man, and ultimately even 2024 Barry is moved enough to help.

Sidenote: I kind of hate HR Wells in this. He's the only one who seems to be thriving in 2024. He owns Jitters now, and he's a bestselling romance novelist. He is busy doing a reading while a bunch of beautiful women throw themselves at him. I'm glad when 2017 Barry cockblocks his threesome by whisking him away to STAR Labs to rejoin Team Flash. Wells initially complains about how Flash just interrupted "every man's greatest desire" aka the threesome, which actually seemed like a pretty gross line to me. Honestly, Wells and Julian do precisely jack shit to help either Flash defeat Top and Mirror Man, so maybe Barry should have left HR to his thing. I guess I'm also just salty that everyone else on the team is super sad and messed up and damaged, but somehow this clown is successful and glowing.

Epic slimeball
Sidenote: there are various fan theories out there that HR is actually Savitar, which I call bullshit on because there's a future vision where Wells is on the rooftop while Savitar stabs Iris. There's a more plausible (to me anyway) theory out there that HR is actually Abra Kadabra, who folks are speculating may be next season's big bad. While Wells-is-secretly-evil has been done before (and probably better, with Eobard Thawne), I'd be ok with HR being a villain, since I am kind of tired of him being around. They need to find a better character for Tom Cavanagh.

Anyway, after Team Double Flash take out Top and Mirror Man pretty easily, 2024 Barry reveals the identity of the physicist who helps him trap Savitar in the speed force four years after Iris dies. He also gives 2017 Barry a thing that apparently contains the physicist's notes and schematics for whatever it is they use to defeat Savitar. So in theory, Barry can track down this scientist in 2017 and maybe defeat Savitar early enough to save Iris.

Back in 2017, Killer Frost and Savitar meet up, and we get the reveal that Savitar's armor is just that: armor. Someone steps out of the armor, and the minute Killer Frost sees who it is (which of course, we don't), she's ready to trust him implicitly. Let the fan theories run wild, because the number of people Caitlyn trusts that easily are very few. The top theories I've seen out there is that Savitar is either Ronnie Raymond (which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me), or some version of Harrison Wells (based on the fact that Savitar calls Killer Frost "my child," which is an awfully paternal thing to say).

Soooo, there you have it. The darkest timeline.

Let's discuss Iris.

I'm pretty sure that The Flash isn't going to kill her off this season, but we had to deal with her being fridged anyway in this episode, in order to explore all the manpain you can possibly handle and truly develop Barry's character. In fact, the existence of this episode suggests that she definitely won't be killed off, because the show desperately wanted to fridge her in some way so we can explore manpain, but they manage to cheat with time travel shenanigans so they don't actually have to kill her. They are getting the mainpain development for Barry & Co. out of the way right now. I suppose I should be grateful that they aren't going to kill her off for realsies.

I don't mean to suggest this episode is terrible. In fact, it's actually phenomenally well-acted, and Jesse L. Martin (Joe West) is particularly poignant, rivaled only by Carlos Valdez's (Cisco) performance. But as a feminist and a woman, it's hard not to roll my eyes at yet another use of the tired fridging trope. Across all fiction, across all genres, male character development very often comes at the expense of a woman's life, and usually gives her a gruesome death on top of that, for maximum manpain. Candice Patton was barely on the screen at all this episode, and neither was Danielle Panabaker, because while Killer Frost is apparently relatively important to the main plot, we still get very little of her.

So overall, a strong episode and one that moves the plot along nicely, and it was definitely fascinating to see this dark future, and heart-warming that 2017 Barry is still infused with enough light in his soul to reignite the hopes of the battered team in 2024.

One of my few complaints, besides the whole Iris thing, was the missed opportunity to make a Terminator reference out of 2024 Cisco's hands. But hey, I guess not even Cisco can laugh about the darkest timeline...

The Flash airs on Tuesdays at 8/7c on the CW.

Ivonne Martin is a writer, gamer, and avid consumer of all things geek—and is probably entirely too verbose for her own good.