The Flash has been an absolute highlight of the fall viewing season. It’s funny, it’s heroic, it has well-developed characters, and in case anyone forgot, there’s also a telepathic super-gorilla. The season finale was no less adventurous as the rest of the season’s been, even going so far as to give us another long-running Flash trope: a bonafide time paradox. Because I’m just the sort of sucker who eats that up, I spent a significant portion of a morning breaking down exactly what that paradox is!
Before we begin, it’s important to note that TIME IS NOT REAL. If you’ve spent more than a few minutes discussing time travel at any point in your life, this has probably come up, and it’s true. Time is a construct–it’s not something that actually exists, it’s a frame of reference we created in order to better understand and explore the nature of cause and effect (though whether or not we knew that’s what we were doing at the time is a matter open for debate).
Another thing to note before we begin is that SPOILERS FOLLOW. Spoilery spoilers.
So, that established, let’s look at what we’re dealing with here.
Eobard Thawne, as he exists in this show, is an artifact of the Original Timeline. In that timeline, Eddie Thawne gets married and has children at some point in his life, leading to descendants, leading to Eobard. However in the splinter timeline, Eddie’s death apparently erases Eobard from existence, positing the following problems:
- If Eddie’s death effects the erasure of an Eobard from the Original Timeline, that means that divergent timelines are not possible, that we are looking at one specific timeline that is mutable.
- The presence of the Original Timeline Flash in the past and the Original Timeline Eobard in the present proves that point one is not possible, and therefore the erasure of that Eobard should also not be possible. Eddie’s death would prevent the birth of Eobard in the splinter timeline only.
- However, Eddie’s death did cause the erasure of the original Eobard, which creates a paradox. Because Eddie died, and Eobard never existed, he never traveled back in time to kill Barry, he never killed Barry’s mother, he never killed Harrison Wells, and he never built the particle accelerator.
- This, obviously, creates problems. Whether the subsequent vortex is meant to represent the timeline collapsing under this paradox, we have no way of knowing until next season.
Because evidence for divergent timelines (and thus, a multiverse) already exists within the show, Eddie’s actions affecting Eobard could mean either that a) he plays some sort of multiversal lynchpin role or b) that the showrunners/writers got themselves confused by their own multiple timelines. Since the latter would never happen (right?), we must assume that the internal logic of the show is consistent. The only other possible theory is that rather than the timelines being divergent, there is only one, and that one is mutable. Again, the presence of two Flashes in the past and an alternate timeline Eobard in the present disproves this.
So, those details all accounted for, let’s take a look at the four timelines that have been created in only the first season of The Flash:
1. THE ORIGINAL FLASH TIMELINE.
This is not the timeline that we’ve witnessed during season 1 of the Flash show. This is the timeline that existed before those events. Barry Allen grew up, became the Flash, and at some point went to the future and fought the Reverse Flash many times. He wore a much cooler looking suit. These are the (Flash) facts we know. We also know (from “Tricksters”) that the particle accelerator was not built by the actual Harrison Wells until 2020. This means that the Flash that we have seen from this timeline has been active for four years (he disappears in 2024).
2. THE ORIGINAL FLASH SEASON ONE TIMELINE.
This is the timeline we began viewing at the start of season one. This timeline comprises all of the episodes up until “Out of Time” and “Rogue Time”, at which point Barry does his first Time Warp, and erases the events leading up to the tsunami created by the second Weather Wizard (not to mention the death of Cisco), and was created by Eobard Thawne when he traveled back to kill a young Barry Allen. Eobard Thawne then further altered this timeline by building the particle accelerator five years early.
3. THE FLASH SEASON ONE SPLINTER TIMELINE.
This timeline comprises everything that exists post-“Out of Time”—Flash’s deal with Captain Cold, his fight with the Tricksters, Grodd, and eventually his discovery of and capture of the Reverse Flash. The most notable temporal event so far in this timeline occurs in the finale, when Eddie Thawne shoots himself, leading to the apparent demise of Eobard Thawne.
4. THE NEW TIMELINE.
This timeline is created by the premature death of Eddie Thawne. We have seen nothing from it yet, and have no evidence that it exists apart from Eddie’s death erasing Eobard from the timestream. That act creates a potential timeline wherein Barry has both parents and either does become the Flash in 2020 without Eobard’s meddling, or does not become the Flash, because he never has his mother’s murder and his father’s conviction to spur his development into a Police Scientist.
OTHER NOTABLE EVENTS:
- Eobard constructing the particle accelerator six years early means that the Flash becomes active earlier than he would have prior. Eobard’s further training of Flash means potentially that he is also achieving milestones in his speed at a faster rate. It also means that, whatever the “Crisis” is in 2024, Barry will have ten years of experience under his belt instead of four. Now taking bets on The Flash running ten seasons and ending in a closed loop where he travels back in time to stop Thawne.
- Flash’s presence at the death of his mother creates a closed loop wherein, even if the Original Timeline Flash had not been there, Cisco and Joe would have been able to detect his presence in the house, because now the Splinter Timeline Flash has also been there. This point has no bearing or relevance on the rest of the information presented here, it’s just a neat aside.
- A large point of the finale is that if Barry goes through with his plan to save his mother, he will not remember any of the events of either the Original Season One Timeline or the Splinter Timeline. This is stated multiples times during the course of the episode, despite it being demonstrably false, evidenced by a) the presence of Eobard, who fully remembers the timeline that he came from, despite his having changed it, and b) the fact that Barry remembers the events of the Original Season One Timeline from before he splintered it (I should clarify that to mean the tsunami and Iris’ declaration of love—he was not aware of Cisco’s death until after the Splinter Timeline was created).
- If the singularity that reformed at the end of the finale is meant to signal the collapse of the Splinter Timeline, then what are we left with? Eobard having never existed also alters the Original Timeline, because he was never there to fight the Flash, and was therefore never able to travel back to attempt to kill a young Barry.
- Original Timeline Flash stops New Flash from saving his mother. Externally, this is notable, because Barry saving his mother in the comics is the impetus for the storyline “Flashpoint” and the subsequent “New 52”. Internally, it’s notable because it implies that Original Timeline Flash knows something about the consequences of that action (which further implies yet another timeline).
WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN?
A paradox (possibly several) exists right now, and the presence of a time-hopping super team in the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow certainly implies that the production crew is certainly aware of the troubles of time travel as a narrative device. That team, of course, creates its own paradoxical issues, but that’s a topic for another time. That that show will exist, however, leads me to believe that there are some temporal constants in effect, no matter what changes:
- Barry’s mother has to die. Eobard Thawne doesn’t necessarily have to kill her, but I suspect that her death is one of those constants—no matter how the timeline is changed, it’s the originating point of the Flash. Barry will learn this in the near future (likely over the course of season 2).
- Alternately, Barry’s mother doesn’t have to die, but someone does (possibly his father). See above.
- The Particle Accelerator must be built, and must explode. Metahumans in DC Comics was their answer to Marvel’s concept of mutants, though it never had quite the same appeal. In the universe of the shows, the Particle Accelerator is the originating event of the world’s supply of metahumans.
- It follows from those points that Barry Allen must be the Flash. I suspect, given the departure of Fake Wells/Eobard for now, that Jay Garrick will enter the show, and fill in as the new mentor figure.
By temporal constants, I mean specifically that these events must occur in order for the timestream to remain intact. If they fail, well…boom, I guess? I dunno, I haven’t yet nailed down my doctorate in fictional paradoxes. As for what it means for the next season of The Flash? I HAVE NO IDEA. Let’s hear your theories!
This post was written by guest writer Pete Pfau. Pete is a writer and collector and you can follow his musings on his twitter. He previously wrote for us about Marvel Legends figures that Marvel should make.