One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
Whenever a season finale ends on a jaw-dropping cliffhanger, the challenge to pay it off in a satisfying way can often be too much for any given show to bear. When Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) traveled back in time in The Flash‘s season 2 finale to save his mother (Michelle Harrison) from the Reverse-Flash (Matt Letscher), longtime fans of DC Comics knew exactly what was coming next: the show’s version of the popular 2011 Geoff Johns/Andy Kubert comic Flashpoint. Once it was announced that The Flash season 3 would indeed premiere with an episode bearing that very same title, discussion then turned to exactly what elements The CW series would take from the comics and how it would serve the story at hand.
For those unfamiliar, Flashpoint (the comic, not the TV episode) sees The Flash rescue his mother during his childhood and inadvertently create an apocalyptic alternate timeline wherein the planet is torn apart by a war between Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Stripped of his powers, Barry reaches out to Thomas Wayne – who now bears the title of Batman instead of his son – to unite the disparate members of the Justice League and restore the original timeline before disaster strikes. Of course, “Flashpoint” (the TV episode now) is limited by the absence of these other iconic DC heroes, but regardless, it adheres pretty closely to the initial setup of a world affected by Barry’s decision to alter time.
However, that’s pretty much the only part of the story that the show takes from its source material. Rather than finding himself in a horrific new timeline, Barry actually discovers a world that somewhat resembles the one he remembers – in this time, however, his mother and father (John Wesley Shipp) are both still alive and deeply in love. Iris (Candice Patton) and Joe (Jesse L. Martin) still work as journalist and detective, respectively, and this alternate Central City even has its own superhero, in the shape of Iris’s brother Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale).
Don’t worry: fan favorites like Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) still have roles to play as well, though the latter is only playfully thrown into the plot. (Still, there’s no sign of whichever version of Harrison Wells actor Tom Cavanaugh will be tackling this season.)
In a way, The Flash actually flips the whole Flashpoint premise on its head, presenting its titular hero with a near-perfect world. The only trouble is that Barry must sacrifice the life he knew in order to fully embrace this one. As Eobard Thawne points out, this alternate reality is little more than “a mirage.” The scenes between him and Barry are easily the highlight of the episode, with the rivalry between these two mortal enemies remaining the over-arching emotional through-line of the series.
Letscher in particular really comes into his own in this episode, at last freeing himself from comparisons to Cavanaugh’s portrayal of Wells/Thawne in season 1. So far, it remains unclear if the Reverse-Flash will remain a lingering threat this season, but the episode’s final moments indicate that the showrunners have another classic DC supervillain in mind to serve as this year’s “Big Bad.”
As usual, the entire cast of The Flash is on point here, and “Flashpoint” wisely leans heavily into the long-simmering romance between Barry and Iris to keep audiences connected. What doesn’t work as well is a subplot in which Wally’s Flash – jokingly called Kid Flash in the episode in reference to the comics – is faced with a mysterious baddie known only as The Rival (Todd Lasance).
Make no mistake about it, seeing a fully powered Wally protecting Central City is great fun, but the villain himself is so bland that this entire story comes across as pure filler. Instead, the show should have used this opportunity to reinvent one of its many recurring characters, as “Flash Back” did for Hartley Rathaway last season. Then perhaps the showdown would have carried more gravitas and propelled the episode forward in a more satisfying way.
Although “Flashpoint” might disappoint fans who were hoping that the show might try something a bit more ambitious upfront, it does set up what could turn out to be a standout season for The Flash. Barry’s foray into an alternate timeline will most certainly yield lasting consequences for future episodes, and with any luck, those will include the introduction of a certain female Kryptonian, who’s finally set to join The CW’s “Arrowverse” this fall.
So far, The Flash season 3 continues the show’s tradition of essentially rebooting certain elements of its own universe each year in an effort to keep the narrative fresh. Considering that this batch of episodes kicks off with “Flashpoint,” it’s fitting that only time will tell whether the experiment can pay off a third time.