MASSIVE SPOILER WARNING: For every episode of The Flash after 3×09: “The Present,” continue on with this post at your own risk.
After a rather disappointing start to Season 3 of The Flash with their rather flippant treatment of the classic storyline that is The Flashpoint Paradox, the second half of the season took a turn towards building its own temporal puzzle that spanned over a dozen episodes.
Just one week after its own contribution to the highly anticipated four-part crossover (technically three since Supergirl’s contribution was only about 30 seconds at the end of the episode), The Flash aired it’s midseason finale.
We discover who Doctor Alchemy is (yeah, it seems forever since we were on that arc), see Jay Garrick again, and we start feeling the beginnings of the paradox that would be the entire second half of the season.
Before I launch into that, I would like to take a moment and praise The Flash‘sproduction team for their rather ambitious idea of doing this arc over an entire half of a season and basically telling us what’s ahead for the season in the way they did.
Using Julian (who I hope we get to see a bit more of), they manage to talk to Savitar who gives them a prophecy.
- One will die
- One will betray them
- One will suffer a fate worse than death.
Trying to eliminate Savitar, Jay and Barry throw the box containing the Philosopher’s Stone into the Speed Force but the backlash sends Barry five months into the future, where he sees Savitar killing Iris.
The is a first for The Flash. Until this point, any time travel that has been done is usually one direction–backwards. Until he is launched into the future, Barry Allen has never visited it.
And so the stage is set for the second half of the season.
There’s a reason that most of the laws of time have to do with you not crossing your own timeline and why most established time travelers actively avoid trying to see their own future.
Season three’s second half shows what happens when someone sees something in their own future that they wish to change.
Before I go much further, I’m going to take a second to define some terms for the sake of letting you know where I am coming from as we continue on with this article.
I might alternate between this term and its other name, Bootstrap Paradox. This is when a person or object is sent back through time and discovered by another person who’s actions set it up to be sent back in time.
It happens because it happened.
The cause leads to the effect which leads to the initial cause. It’s a loop.
You can’t kill your grandfather before your parents are born because then you wouldn’t be born and wouldn’t be there to kill your grandfather in the first place.
Now that we are concluding “Paradoxes and their Definitions” Time with Mary Helen, let’s go back to The Flash.
I’ll have to admit, I sat at my computer and stared at the screen for a second as I wrote this, trying to figure out the best way to explain this and try to remotely make sense.
Initially, this looks to be a form of a bootstrap paradox. Barry going forward five months sets the events in motion that will lead to Iris’ death.
This idea is supported by Cisco vibing what Barry saw so that they can pick out anything and everything to see what they can use to try and stop what Barry saw. In a nutshell, in the first or second episode of the second half of the season, they mapped out everything that he saw, thus mapping out everything between then and the finale.
As we make our way through the season, Barry and Wally train to try and see if they can find a way to beat Savitar and save Iris. Barry proposes: he didn’t see a ring on her finger in the future so maybe that change can butterfly it out.
All these little things, pushing forward to try and change the future.
Caitlin ends up turning into Killer Frost after it is revealed that she kept a piece of the Philosopher’s Stone to find a way to stop herself from becoming Killer Frost. She gets injured and ends up crashing; in an effort to save her, Julian and Cisco turn her into Killer Frost.
In that sense, the theory is that Caitlin fulfilled all three parts of the prophecy.
- One of you will die: she did die, they tried to bring her back
- One of you will betray the others: she lied, and kept part of the philosopher’s stone.
- One of you will suffer a fate worse than death: She considered turning into Killer Frost a fate worse than death.
Killer Frost teams up with Savitar to help him with his plan. Shortly thereafter, we learn that Savitar is a time remnant of Barry that had been created to help defeat Savitar and survived (spared because Savitar wasn’t going to kill his past self).
Thus another layer to this paradox. A form of the grandfather paradox. Savitar would have to go back in time to make sure that the pieces to have him kill Iris are in place. Because he kills Iris, Barry goes down the dark path of revenge and creates Savitar.
Savitar exists because Savitar exists. It’s also an ontological paradox.
Barry even goes to the future, to get insight and see if he can figure out where they failed, then return and try something different. Future-Barry tells him about a scientist called Dr. Tracey Brandt who designed the device that trapped Savitar.
They find her early and luckily she’d already begun the research that they needed.
We come to the penultimate episode. It begins telling us we’ve 16 hours ’til Iris dies. In all reality, they’re no closer than when they started. Though Tracey does make the device and they find something to power it, with an assist from Captain Cold.
But the clock is ticking and, especially in the penultimate, the writers do a fantastic job of making you feel that paradox close in. Finally, we’re about an hour form the time and we see how the last few pieces fall into place.
Iris gives her ring to her dad to hold onto, just in case. HR (yes, another Wells. Can we take a moment here to sing the praises of Tom Cavanagh who flawlessly seems to play so many different version of the same character – sometimes multiple ones in one episode?) accidentally tells Savitar (who poses as Barry) where Iris is. After taking care of Wally so he can’t help, Savitar takes Iris and sets the stage.
Less than three minutes left in the episode, we find ourselves in a familiar scene. One we all saw five months earlier.
Or so we thought…
Last chance to leave before I start talking about the finale.
The finale picks up where the penultimate left off. But instead of Iris, we learn that HR used technology from his Earth to switch places with her and die in her place.
The Flash broke a grandfather paradox.
What does that mean?
Well, we’re going to have to play a game where I tell you what should have happened. And then, I’ll have to tell you what actually happened.
If we get overly technical, this isn’t the first time that The Flash has ignored the ramifications of a grandfather paradox. Eobard Thawne’s existence was erased thus his actions should have been.
But they weren’t. They pretended everything was peachy and moved on from the crisis.
The same applies here. Iris doesn’t die, thus the events that created Savitar don’t happen. Thus Savitar doesn’t go back in time. Thus he never exists. Thus Barry can’t go to the future to see him kill Iris cause he doesn’t exist. Thus, Barry doesn’t stop him.
But no, like before, we ignore the implications.
And unlike with Eddie and Eobard, Savitar takes the rest of the episode to disappear. I can maybe justify it because technically Savitar is a time remnant and it could take longer for that to catch up with him.
But Savitar does what he can to save himself. He plans to disperse himself into the Speed Force and all throughout time. Every moment, every hour.
Luckily, he decided to trust Cisco to help them by holding Cisco hostage and threatening to kill Caitlin and/or Killer Frost. Cisco decides to double cross him and makes the device actually free Jay Garrick from the prison that was built to hold Savitar.
After a battle sequence that quite frankly was rather anti-climatic, the paradox catches up to Savitar and he disappears.
HR broke the paradox by switching places with Iris. By Iris not dying in that moment, Barry isn’t sent down the dark path that causes him to create time remnants to battle Savitar which means that Savitar doesn’t spare his past self. Since he’s not there to save his past self, his past self can’t go back in time and create his own mythology and lead Julian to find the philosopher’s stone and bring it to Central City.
Technically, Kid Flash cannot exist because Savitar cannot posses Julian thus creating Doctor Alchemy who gives Wally West his powers.
He doesn’t confront The Flash causing The Flash to try and stop him by chucking said philosopher’s stone into the speed force thus launching him into the future to see Iris die.
So when’s that paradox catching up to them? About the time the fact that Barry’s mom couldn’t have been killed by Eobard Thawne since technically, Eobard was never born?
The fact is, I called that the finale was going to disappointment me the second I saw the penultimate. I just hate being right.
The cliffhanger isn’t technically temporally related. Since they got Jay Garrick out of the prison that was meant for Savitar, another speedster needs to go in. Barry decides that only he can do it.
Which, is technically an easy enough fix. Get Tracey to figure out a way to break the prison that she would have created were it not for the paradox.
Also, there is the option that the paradox might not exist after all since the prison won’t be built because there is no Savitar. But after they’ve treated both The Flashpoint Paradox and the one of their own making this season, I don’t have a lot of faith that that is the option they’re going to go with.
Season 3 has reached it’s end with more paradoxes than when it entered. I doubt they’ll get resolved, because the show can’t function if they do. But it is what it is.
I’m just curious which show is going to manage to break the multiverse first, The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow?
Only time will tell.