When I first watched “Fast Enough,” the Flash Season One finale, I was relieved that they weren’t jumping into Flashpoint, and that they weren’t wiping out an entire season’s worth of stories (not to mention elements of Arrow). There’s only so far you can take a reset button without removing tension or basically creating a new show.
But as the summer has gone on, the storytelling logic feels less important, and I’ve looked at the characters’ actions from an in-universe perspective (spoilers ahead):
- Barry Allen turned down a chance to save his mother’s life out of fear of the unknown.
- The Flash backed away from repairing history.
(And of course there’s that other storytelling logic where Nora Allen’s been killed for the sole purpose of motivating/punishing Barry.)
Changing the Past…or the Future?
There’s always an ethical dilemma to changing the past: Could you make things worse? Sure…but then we’re always changing the future with every action, unable to know for sure whether the consequences will be good or bad. In a sense, it’s Barry’s perspective coming from the future that makes the choice suspect.
Imagine: someone travels 16 years forward in time, then returns home and decides to prevent that future from happening. I think most of us would agree that the ethics are a lot simpler. We see this story all the time and nobody bats an eye. They’re not altering history, they’re changing the future…just like Eddie Thawne did in 2015.
Ever wonder what else Eddie changed by removing an entire family line from the next few centuries?
Arguably, Eddie preventing Eobard Thawne from being born should restore the original timeline anyway, unless you take the premise that changes only move forward from the altered moment, and don’t loop back around.
Oh yeah, did I mention the original timeline? That’s important.
Nora did not die in the original timeline. Rescuing her isn’t changing history so much as repairing it. Incompletely, but there’s still a window to catch Eobard before he kills Wells and Morgan and takes over Wells’ life.
Let’s say Barry repairs the damage. His mom stays alive, his dad stays out of jail, and no doubt Dr. Henry Allen saves a bunch of lives over the course of 15 years. Harrison Wells and Tess Morgan build the particle accelerator more slowly, but collaborate more with the greater scientific community, leading to related discoveries. All the deaths, injuries and property damage from the particle accelerator explosion don’t happen. Real Wells is probably also a lot less chummy with Eiling before their falling out, so Grodd gets treated more humanely. (Also, metahumans don’t come into existence for another five years.)
There are going to be unexpected consequences, but there always are with any decision. There are a lot of definite pluses, not just for Barry personally…and again, we’re talking about restoring history, not creating a new one.
(Consider Back to the Future. Marty McFly isn’t trying to change history to improve his parents’ lives, he’s trying to fix the damage he did accidentally. The fact that he makes things so much better for his family feels like a karmic reward, not the result of improper use of a time machine. Compare Biff’s use of the sports almanac in part two.)
So there’s a strong case that Barry should have gone through with it, that he wouldn’t have simply been acting selfishly or recklessly. Even though from a storytelling perspective it might have left the audience feeling cheated.
But what about Flashpoint? In the comics, the actual mechanism by which we get to the nightmare reality is a bit fuzzy, but it comes down to precision: Thawne is able to use time travel like a scalpel, but Barry’s lack of expertise manages to damage the structure of time. This leads to crazy things like Frankenstein killing Hitler a half-century earlier.
It also leaves open the possibility of an older, more experienced Barry Allen finally putting right what once went wrong.
Sure, Barry could screw things up by trying to fix the past, but it’s far from certain, and it’s much safer to put history back on its original course than to try charting a new one that he thinks will be better.