The Flash has a big problem this season—and it’s not the evil speedster Savitar, or the machinations of Doctor Alchemy. It’s Barry Allen himself. Last night, the show finally started addressing it, but too much damage may have already been done.
The problem with Barry Allen, and thus The Flash TV series, is that everything bad happening in season three is his fault. He’s the one who understandably but selfishly rewrote the timeline in the season two finale so he could enjoy a reality where both his parents were living, nicknamed “Flashpoint.” Unsurprisingly, that didn’t work out for him.
His attempt to duct tape space-time back together and fix his mistakes led to him going back into the past and creating a third timeline with its own problems: Cisco’s brother died in a drunk-driving accident, Caitlin has ice powers that are turning her into the evil Killer Frost, there’s a murderous bad guy on the loose named Dr. Alchemy who is giving bad guys the powers they had in the Flashpoint universe, and more. The overarching conflict of the season—fighting Dr. Alchemy and his minions—is 100 percent because of Barry’s selfish actions, which have also caused his closest friends loss and pain.
The show has been shockingly remiss in calling out Barry for his shockingly selfish decision; most of the time it’s simply carried on as if what Barry had done to his closest friends—and, like, most of existence—was in any way okay. That is, until last night.
“Killer Frost” might be one of the most pleasurably cathartic hours of television I’ve watched in recent memory. The story’s main plot focused on Caitlin, who, after having to use her frosty superpowers to save Barry from the asskicking of his life at the hands of big bad Savitar, is finally driven over the edge and unleashes her Killer Frost persona. While the petrified Caitlin goes on an icy rampage to find away to contact Dr. Alchemy and somehow cure herself of her powers, she takes the time to drop a whole lot of truth bombs on Barry: she is broken because of him. All the suffering she has gone through this season, the fear of becoming Killer Frost—as well as the suffering of people like Cisco too, who finally learns that Barry wiped out the timeline where his brother was happy and alive—rests solely on his selfish actions.
To finally actually have someone call Barry out for his bullshit is exactly what the show needed to do (although the episode later tried to frame it as Caitlin “didn’t mean what she said,” because she was under the evil influence of the Killer Frost persona). The Flash needed a character like Catilin or Cisco to come forward and tell Barry to his face that this is all his fault. It also needed, after Barry managed to pull his usual power of friendship schtick to bring Caitlin back from oblivion in the climax of the episode, for Cisco to tell Barry that he has no idea if their relationship together will be the same again:
For too much of this season Barry has had to face little in the way of true consequence for the damage he’s done to the people around him. It’s either been brushed off or outright ignored, an excuse for Barry to not have to accept responsibility for the damage he’s done and grow as a hero—or, in this case, a lesson he poignantly learned at the end of season one that the show has yet to let him really re-learn, which is infuriating as a viewer who’d like to see their heroes grow and evolve as characters, instead of regress and rehash dramas they’ve already overcome. Having Caitlin turn cold to him (sorry not sorry), despite the fact “Killer Frost” seemingly neatly wrapped up her grief over her powers for now, and having Cisco turn sour against his former best friend, are painful moments for Barry, but moments The Flash desperately needed to start setting Barry on a path of contemplation, and hopefully, redemption for his actions.
The unfortunate thing is that we don’t know if the show will continue on this path. It certainly won’t address it immediately, because next week is the big CW/DC crossover, and it’s practically mandatory that no one can be glum or not a go-getting member of the team when the living ray of sunshine that is Kara Zor-El is in their presence.
But after that, the show needs to keep holding Barry’s feet to the fire until he actually accepts his fuck-up and apologizes to the people he’s hurt. Thanks to last night’s episodes, he apologized to Joe for the whole “Your son’s in a weird speedster cocoon thing” situation, and tried to apologize to Cisco before Cisco cut him off. Baby steps!
The only way Barry can move on is by both the character—and the show itself—admitting that after everything he learned in the first season, that creating Flashpoint was a betrayal of all his friends, and, if not outright villainous, then the least heroic thing he’s ever done. He needs to learn for his mistakes, and actually atone for them. Only then can he get back on the path to being the hero he is season one—the hero he should always have been in the first place.