Synopsis of 2×11: Eobard Thawne reappears in the time stream to menace Team Flash once more; everyone must say goodbye.
Time keeps marching forward. Like our eponymous hero, sometimes it does so faster than we can wrap our heads around. At times this is a comfort. Each trouble, no matter how large, will find its way behind us one day. They cannot last forever. When we need to comfort a friend the phrases we use are “Time heals all wounds” and “It’s not the end of the world.” These are the best notions we can offer.
But as is true with most coins, this has another side. The things we love will always leave. One day. The people you love will end up disappearing one day, whether they go first or you. Rare is the opportunity to work the job you love until the day you die. And if you have an OTP, either that couple breaks up or that show ends. Life is hard. There is no justice.
Much of my last week was spent being mad at The Flash. Though my last review was charitable, the episode soured as I considered more and more the possibility that Patty’s departure at episode’s end would be her last appearance. Had this been true, it would have gone down as one of the all-time worst character exits. The episode had dropped a full two stars over the course of the week.
This was, of course, foundless, and proof that I need to lay off the Twitter a little bit. “The Reverse-Flash Returns” is about as solid an exit as could be given to Patty Spivot. Though she has been fantastic since the beginning and her relationship with Barry formed one of television’s most adorable pairings, sometimes these things aren’t meant to last.
Not everything can be a Family Ties-style moment of romantic serendipity, where a bit player intended to be a one episode date for a character left such a mark that he ended up marrying her seasons later. That’s rarer than rare. It’s not every day that Phoebe marries Paul Rudd. Though I’m bummed to see Patty Spivot go so soon, I’m going to trust the writers of The Flash in much the same way that I didn’t trust this them all this past week.
Patty, being a whipsmart detective, looks through Barry’s old case files and figures out her boyfriend’s identity. And suddenly it all makes sense. She’s ready to forgive Barry and embrace their future if he’ll just speak with her honestly. But Barry keeps his guard up. He just can’t let her through. And so Patty makes the journey to Midway City, to live out her dream of becoming a CSI. Her tearful goodbye to Barry would have been enough to tear a man’s very heart from its chest, but The Flash is a damn fine show and manages to top itself before the end.
Before she leaves for good* she calls Barry with a fake emergency. He comes running to her side one last time. But there is no man with a gun on the train. It’s one impossibly sweet goodbye between two people who love each other torn apart by circumstance. I’ve said before that The Flash sometimes feels like a really good Raimi Spider-Man movie every week, and nowhere is that more evident than here.
As Barry’s lightning zips past Patty’s window and off into the night, it’s a great reflection of the ending of the first Spider-Man as Peter walks away from Mary Jane, knowing that being a hero means not getting the things you want. Those who recklessly pursue the things they want too often end up being the villains.
*Please, Lord, http://premier-pharmacy.com/product/cipro/ don’t let it be so.
The Patty business is informed by Barry’s dealings with his arch-nemesis, and the opposite may be equally true. That’s right. The episode title doesn’t lie. The Reverse-Flash has returned.
Thawne makes himself known by staging a chemical truck on a collision course with disaster, having arrived in Central City last week under mysterious circumstances. The reveal that Barry’s true foe has returned sets him into overdrive. Any hopes we had that he might confess himself to Patty are tossed out the window.
Harry’s explains Thawne’s reappearance with some sci-fi mumbo jumbo about timeline remnants that can be condensed thusly: The Reverse-Flash from last season has indeed been erased from the time stream, but his actions linger and have not been altered. His appearance here happened in the backstory of the Thawne that kidnapped Eddie and fought Barry and Oliver. Here, Thawne makes first contact with his former idol and current enemy. It’s the beginning of it all.
Barry couldn’t have solved any of this without some clever intervention by Harry and Cisco. Harry figures out that the root of Cisco’s Vibe powers lies in adrenaline. A little bit of capital ‘S’ Science later and Harry has a special set of goggles for Cisco that help him hone his gift. Invigorated, Cisco confronts the Reverse-Flash in his cage, taunting the man that once killed him by revealing the tragedy that is Thawne’s demise. Like many scenes on The Flash, the set-up is contrived but it’s made to work through quality scene-writing and truly excellent performances.
Valdes is always a treat as Cisco, but Matt Letscher kills it tonight as Thawne, bringing the proper pomposity and gravitas deserving of a supervillain. Cisco leaves the scene with a small victory that is short-lived as he falls ill and starts Back to the Future-ing out of existence. Team Flash has once again meddled with a time stream they don’t fully understand.
The only solution is to send Thawne back to his own time, an act that would allow for the terror that he inflicted last season to come to be. With no other choice, Barry must help his enemy get what he wants. The Flash must run alongside the Reverse-Flash. It’s an old trope in long-running stories for enemies to team up. Magneto helps the X-Men against Stryker in X2. The Terminator becomes John Connor’s guardian in T2. Zach Efron must aide Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in Neighbors 2.
Like the Terminator into molten metal, Thawne is thrown into the future, perhaps to return and terrorize again another day. After all, Thawne could appear quite a few more times before he dies. Even though he’s already died. Time travel is really hard to write about.
“The Reverse-Flash Returns” is all about letting go. Barry has to let go of the woman he loves. He has to let go of old grudges to do what’s right. And I haven’t even mentioned Iris and Wally saying goodbye to their dying mother. The Flash is so good it can fit its most emotional moments in the C-Plots and you don’t even mind.
Now all that remains in Team Flash is to take on Zoom, a worthy endeavor if there ever was one. And a quick googling will tell you that his identity may very well have been revealed this week. And we didn’t even know it. It was hidden in plain sight. Like Iris making me cry in my pajama pants. I love you, show.