The season two finale of CW's The Flash was everything I could have hoped for. Not only did the writers stick to a single, meaty narrative but they gave much needed closure to the series' most troubled characters. And then, in its final moments, Barry did something completely insane.
His actions will have far-reaching consequences for Central City, and potentially the entire televised DC multiverse.
The episode opened on Barry Allen's (Grant Gustin's) grief-stricken face, screaming and weeping as he watched Zoom (Teddy Sears) murder his father in cold blood.
"I told you family was a weakness," Zoom growls. "Use your anger, just like I did."
The ensuing battle between the two speedsters lasted a good few minutes, with both of them running up and down city streets and the side of buildings. At one point Zoom spawns a second time remnant, and that's when things start to get a little weird.
To drive home his point about focusing rage through the Speed Force, Zoom sneaks up and murders himself.
"See Barry," he says, before running off, "there could be two of you. You just have to be willing to kill yourself."
But Zoom isn't done terrorizing Barry. Not by a long shot. He shows up at his father's funeral luncheon to warn Barry that other loved ones will die unless he agrees to race him. Of course, everyone but Barry thinks it's a trap. So, everyone at STAR Labs agrees to perform a sort of superhero intervention.
With Barry blinded by rage, they reason he'll never be able to beat Zoom. They tranquilize Barry and lock him up in the basement, and then triangulate Zoom's position by homing in on the unique power signature of the magnetar he recently stole from Mercury Labs. With Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) acting as bait, the team at STAR Labs goes off to bring down Zoom on their own.
With the ambush set, Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) leaps out of the shadows with his trusty anti-metahuman collar launcher. But the gun jams! Joe rushes forward, tranquilizer darts held akimbo, and slams them down on Zoom's shoulders bringing the powerful speedster to his knees. Cisco opens a breach with his Vibe powers, and Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) shoots Zoom square in the chest with a laser rifle.
But as he falls backwards into the breach, Zoom reaches out to take Joe with him. Now he has another hostage to bargain with.
The one weakness of the episode comes in trying to make sense of the breaches once again. If Zoom can open them at will, what's to be gained by knocking him through one in the first place? Maybe it's just to give the team enough time to destroy the magnetar, which ends up being booby trapped anyway and impossible to destroy. But then couldn't Zoom go back in time to steal another one?
Further complicating things, it seems that everyone at STAR Labs signed a blood oath that they wouldn't open any more breaches after the plan, even if something went wrong. That means Joe is lost forever. When Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) learns of his father's fate he freaks out and releases Barry, who's obviously even more upset than when the episode started.
Still on a revenge-fuel rampage, Barry convinces his friends that the only way to end this is to submit to Zoom's demands to run the race. In the season's final confrontation everyone arrives outside the magnetar and refuses to leave until Barry wins, or Zoom kills them all.
Either Barry wins the race, or Zoom kills them all.
The ground rules are simple. 500 laps around a Ferris-wheel like ring will charge up the magnetar enough to create a pulse that will destroy every single one of the other infinite worlds in the multiverse, leaving only one Earth with Zoom as its master.
If Barry can stop Zoom before lap 500 he wins. Otherwise, it's Zoom who will triumph.
The speedsters take off running, but half-way through the race Flash spawns his own time remnant. While Flash Prime continues racing Zoom, Flash Actual leaps off the ring to free Joe. Zoom leaps down to attack Flash, while Flash's time remnant comes down off the ring and begins running a perpendicular ring on the ground to cancel out the magnetar's devastating pulse.
Flash Prime sacrifices himself, completely disintegrating in a burst of white light. The magnetar's energy is scattered, defusing the device and saving the multiverse — and everyone present. But the act of creating a time remnant has gotten the attention of the Speed Force, which suddenly sends two time wraiths after Zoom. The now-bloodied metahuman menace is carried off through a breach, his withered face a match for the mysterious apparitions who have taken him to his final reward.
Like I said, it was everything fans could have wanted. The end of Zoom. The ascension of Barry Allen as the most powerful speedster in the multiverse. Central City, Earth 1, Earth 2 and every other world saved. All in all, it's a job well done.
And, finally, everyone gets treated to the unveiling of the man in the iron mask who turns out to be ...
... a Jay Garrick from Earth 3, a speedster who himself is known as the Flash.
Unfortunately for Barry, Earth 3 Flash is also a doppelganger of his father, Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp). The revelation upends Barry's still fragile psyche, and leads him to do something impulsive and terrible.
In the closing moments of the show Barry, in a way, says goodbye to Iris West (Candice Patton).
"I'm going to wait for you," Iris says. "Wherever you need to go, whatever you need to do, do it. And I'll be here. I love you Barry."
"I love you too, Iris."
There on the porch of the West's home they both grew up in the two share a second, passionate kiss. Iris turns and goes back inside to the Wests' pizza party.
That's when Barry takes off, goes back in time to the moment when his mother was murdered and kills Reverse Flash instead.
A door opens, and Flash sees himself arriving from an alternate timeline. He smiles at himself, at his mother, and then fades away.
Barry Allen has irreversibly changed his own timeline. By saving his mother he has undone everything that has happened in season 2. It's a daring move by the show's writers, who seem willing to tear everything up and start again. The twist also mirrors the plotline of the DC Comics Flashpoint storyline, which set the stage for all the reboots and changes of the company's 2011 New 52 initiative — a storyline that's coming back with a vengeance this summer after reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.
But can The Flash's fandom take this kind of a beating? They were so close to seeing #WestAllen live happily, if not ever after, and now it's all been taken away.
Barry Allen has irreversibly changed his own timeline.
When season 3 begins later this year, everything will be different. How different is anyone's guess. Zoom could be alive. Joe West could have had a heart attack and died twelve years ago. Cisco could be running STAR Labs, or president of a Moon colony. And whether Iris has any recollection of the love she had allowed herself to feel for Barry is anyone's guess.
And, if Flashpoint is allowed to play out, only Barry Allen will know that anything has changed.
It's a tragedy that Henry Allen died, but it's a travesty that Nora Allen now lives. Somewhere inside Barry must know that, and he — as well as every fan of The Flash — will have to live with the consequences.
If anything though, the move is a godsend to CW's writers. More than once this season they've had to work themselves out of a narrative corner of their own design. With luck, season 3 will be better for having wiped the slate clean.