The Flash Paradox: A Season Two Check-Up

At the end of Flash’s first season, I provided an in-depth breakdown of the potential consequences presented by the events of the finale. Today, now that we’re a few episodes into season two, I thought I’d go back over those notes.

The season two opener started us off in an interesting place; Barry is still Flashing, but he’s cut himself off from everyone at Star Labs. He’s doing all of his work himself; avoiding everyone except Joe in the course of his regular police work. It’s an interesting thing, because it sort of echoes the Flash’s role in Kingdom Come; the aging Scarlet Speedster in that story has devoted himself full-time to crime-fighting and is nothing but a constant blur on Central City’s streets, living a life of complete isolation.

flash patrols central city

Thankfully, TV Barry hasn’t gone that far, or we wouldn’t have much of a show.

Over the course of the first episode, the events of the singularity are revealed; short version, Firestorm stopped the singularity using some questionable TV science, and Ronnie is missing/presumed dead. Again. Only, this time, Professor Stein is still around, and he can’t feel him! That might lend an air of legitimacy to proceedings, if we didn’t already know that Firestorm will be in Legends of Tomorrow.

In my last piece, I dug deep, establishing all of the different timelines that the Flash created, explaining out the fracture points that spawned each, and what the potential consequences of all of those were. Those events, specifically the death of Eddie Thawne and the erasure of Eobard, stood a significant chance of causing a major shift of the Flash’s world, based on the evidence presented by the Tsunami events from prior in season one. Basically, because Eddie died and never had ancestors, Eobard never existed, which means he could never have travelled back in time, killed Barry’s mother or Professor Wells, and could never have kickstarted the chain of events that occurred throughout that season.

reverse flash kickstarter

Kickstarted! Get it?

What surprised me, coming into season two, was the way the show completely ignored that plot point. Barry’s mom was still murdered by Eobard, and everyone still remembers that fact, despite the fact that Eobard was now never born. Then, I thought about it some more, and I realized that wasn’t true; the show didn’t ignore that plot point—they averted it. The singularity closed first when Caitlin and Cisco shut down the generators to foil Eobard’s plan, then reopened when Eddie killed himself. At this point it was tied directly to the removal of Eobard as a causal event; essentially, history was attempting to rewrite itself to compensate for this change.

We’ve seen this before; when Barry went back in time to prevent the tsunami, he altered the future, and the timeline where the tsunami occurred ceased to exist, resulting in Cisco’s (and many other Central City citizens’) survival. We can assume that, when Barry performed this act, that timeline was swallowed up by the same sort of singularity. However, in the case of Eobard’s erasure, Barry was able to prevent this from happening, thus creating some sort of weird timeline wherein Eobard never existed, except he used to because everybody remembers him.

Confused yet? Let’s break this down. First, let’s go back to our handy little timeline chart, updated for better visibility:

the flash season two timelines

Given these facts, we’re left with a series of problems.

  • There should have been two Barrys in the Splinter Timeline, and yet there was only one (I actually missed this the first time around, thanks to Chris for pointing it out).
  • That one was actually the Barry from the Original Season One Timeline, because he specifically traveled there to stop the tsunami, and is aware of the events that transpired then. What happened to the Splinter Timeline Flash is unknown.
  • Because the OSOT Barry was in the Splinter Timeline, it’s reasonable to assume that the OSOT timeline collapsed, and because of the events we later see in the finale, it’s also reasonable to assume that such a collapse occurred via a singularity (it’s possible that Firestorm was still able to save that timeline, but unlikely, what with the tsunami as well).
  • Similarly, the singularity that Firestorm prevented as shown in the season two opener was the impending collapse of the Splinter Timeline. In preventing that collapse, what Firestorm actually prevented was the restoration of the Original Flash Timeline.
  • The new timeline that springs from this is the one we’re seeing in Season Two; one wherein Eobard never existed, and yet still traveled back in time, succeeded in killing Barry’s mother, assuming Harrison Wells’ identity, and switching on the particle accelerator six years early, which means that this timeline is, essentially, operating on a paradox.

So, that’s where we’re at. We know that Eobard Thawne was from the Original Flash Timeline. Similarly, we know that Splinter Timeline Eddie’s suicide successfully erased Eobard despite the fact that it was Original Timeline Eddie who was his ancestor. This creates another paradox which props up the current timeline; had Firestorm not prevented the singularity, we’d have been left with the restored Original timeline, wherein Eddie would likely still be alive. However, Eddie being alive means that Eobard is still alive as well. Eobard being alive means that the cycle potentially repeats itself, although it’s hard to confirm that, as the timeline is different; the Particle Accelerator is switched on in 2020, instead of 2014, which is six whole years for people to be born, or die, or simply move away from Central City.

What we need, in order for the whole shebang to make sense, is a world where all of these contradictory facts are true. We need a world where Splinter Timeline Eddie’s actions can affect Original Timeline Eobard, and a world where Original Season One Timeline Flash can exist comfortably in the Splinter Timeline without encountering himself. Fortunately for us, there is a model of the DC Universe that exists which can allow for exactly this sort of thing to occur, although it’s not been in use for some time.

What we need is Hypertime.

Hypertime, if you’re not a comics reader, is a concept introduced in the DC Universe in the 90s; DC had collapsed their multiverse into a single universe, but needed a set of rules to allow for alternate stories, both for modern conventions and so that they had a convenient way to keep some older stuff relevant.

It’s going to get a little esoteric here for a moment, but imagine a river, flowing where it will. The current and direction of the river remain relatively constant; there are eddies and offshoots, pools and lakes, but overall the river keeps going until it finds somewhere to let out into. Sometimes those offshoots end abruptly, sometimes they form their own rivers, and sometimes they even loop back to rejoin the original river they split from. This is the most common analogy for Hypertime as a concept that you’ll find; it’s an elegant, simple solution to a complex problem presented by a consistent story told by hundreds of creators over the span of decades.

flash all speedsters

It’s essentially the concept that there is a core truth that remains constant, and that other things–events, side characters, costume details—are mutable. I touched on this idea a little bit in the first paradox piece with the idea that there must always be The Flash. The existence of the Flash is a narrative constant that is necessary in the world; it’s the name of the TV show, after all, so there must be one.

What is not constant is everything surrounding him. The Flash can be Barry Allen, or it can be Wally West, or it can be Bart Allen or John Fox or, as the show’s introduced, Jay Garrick. The Flash can wear a red head-to-toe running suit, or he can wear blue and red with a Mercury helmet. All of these things are true at some point or another; sometimes they are true at the same time as one another. Hypertime becomes somewhat of a complicated thing to explain in-universe, but outside of the DC Universe, it’s relatively simple: Fiction is mutable, so accept whatever it is at the moment.

Like all good and eternally relevant things in comics, Hypertime did not last long. It was shunted away soon after it appeared, as new creators took the helms of books at DC and decided they had their own way of making things work. The multiverse came back, then it went away again, then it came back again.

Because of this, I doubt that The Flash will namecheck it directly. However, it remains the most consistent model to explain what the show has accomplished; it accounts comprehensively for every conundrum and paradox that would otherwise exist. Eobard is remembered, his events consistent, because they have already happened; though he has been removed, the Flash has prevented the event that would have wiped the memory of those events from existence.  There is only one Flash ni the Splinter timeline because the only real constant is that The Flash must exist—there doesn’t have to be two. Because there is actually only one timeline, the events of which are mutable, these paradoxes do not fold in on themselves necessarily; they are allowed to exist in conflict with each other because of that mutability itself.

It’s a sort of closed loop that allows for the existence of narrative conceit. Things happen because creators say they did, and those events don’t destroy a timeline because the creators said that they didn’t. Comics creators have played with this concept many, many times over the years (witness the Fantastic Four meeting “The Creator” in a story, a deity type figure who just happens to look like their creator, Jack Kirby), and while I doubt the TV show will overtly do so, they certainly appear to at least be dipping their toes into the same pool. It’s a neat thing to see, and if anything, it only enhances my love of the show even more.

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’s written several articles for us in the past including this one about the Flash season 1 finale paradoxes.