The Flash, His Wife and the Trouble with Time Loops
I am not ready for The Flash to end. True, many of my favorite DCTV shows have taken their final bows over the past few years, but The Flash is different. It’s been around since 2014, and in some ways it’s kind of comforting to still see it on. But ironically, its long run (no pun intended) has caused me to take it for granted. It got to the point where it felt like it would always be around.
In some ways, the season nine premiere episode presents a world where The Flash never has to end. Barry and Iris get caught in a time loop, forcing them to repeat the same Wednesday over and over again. This is a world where major decisions can be procrastinated, mistakes can be undone, and nothing ever has to end. In other words, if you’re stuck in a time loop, then a superhero television drama you enjoy will never have to air its final episode.
Of course, time loops are not sustainable. As human beings we continue to learn and grow and things change whether we want them to or not. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil tonight’s episode for you, but I think it’s interesting to see how Barry and Iris each deal with this concept. Iris seems to embrace the unknown, rolling with the punches along the way. That’s why she’s a great reporter, and a valuable asset to Team Flash.
Barry is another story. He doesn’t want any surprises, and needs to know every step of his future. In fact, he becomes quite obsessive over making sure the future plays out according to plan. I can’t say I blame him. His time-traveling has screwed up the universe before, and the whole thing has probably given him a complex. However, there is more going on inside Barry’s head that we might be overlooking.
The Flash is an upbeat show, and Grant Gustin plays Barry Allen as a generally well-adjusted guy. In fact, it’s easy to forget all the trauma Barry has been through since the series began. As a young boy he lost his mother and had his father framed for the murder. Imagine how traumatic that would be for a child.
As an adult, Barry was able to clear his father’s name, only to have Zoom murder him a few months later. Then Flashpoint happened, which forced him to experience his mother’s death all over again. There’s more I could go into, but you get the point. The Flash might not be as moody as Batman, but he has experienced just as much loss as him—if not more.
Therefore, it makes perfect sense that Barry is obsessively trying to follow a predetermined future. He’s lost so much, and this is his way of holding on tightly to his happy ending. He knows there is a future where he and Iris have children. He knows when the kids will be born.
Any deviation from that timeline calls his happy ending into question. And if that future isn’t certain, then nothing is. It means he could lose Iris or his future children. For a man who has experienced death at every turn, these are very real fears for him. He knows that keeping the future on its predetermined path is a surefire way to prevent this from happening. So naturally, he’s holding on as tight as he can.
Getting stuck in a Groundhog Day-style time loop is the perfect way to confront these issues. Time loops can seem fun and they make for a good narrative conceit because they give you a chance to pause, fix your mistakes and live in the moment. And of course, if I was stuck in a time loop, then I wouldn’t have to say goodbye to The Flash later this year when it concludes.
But this episode teaches us something important about time loops and about letting go. The future might be uncertain, and that’s okay. We can try to follow a plan down to the minute like Barry, or we can take things as they come like Iris. We can do either of those things, but the one thing we can’t do is remain paused. We don’t get time loops, and time goes forward whether we want it to or not.
And that’s why The Flash is ending. No television series runs (heh) forever. We’re getting a sure-to-be-spectacular ninth season to close out the show, and that’s something to be excited about. Maybe I’m not ready for The Flash to end, but that’s okay. Time loops might not be real, but reruns, DVDs and streaming all are. The Flash has begun his final lap, and right now, in this moment, we’re along for the ride.
The Flash airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW. Looking to keep pace with Barry Allen in the home stretch? Be sure to visit our official Flash series page!
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, “Gotham Gazette.” Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.