The Flash recap: A poignant (and twisty!) journey to the past worthy of 100 episodes
Celebrating 100 episodes doesn’t quite mean what it used to. Back in the day, when a show hit this landmark, it usually meant it was ready to get sold off into syndication. These days, however, it feels like more of a celebratory moment because fewer shows manage to make it that far. The Flash, the hopeful CW drama, is one of those lucky few, and it toasted this milestone with an hour that revisited some important moments in the show’s history. Directed by Tom Cavanagh, the “What’s Past is Prologue” was fun, poignant, and surprising in equal measure, which is what you want from an episode of The Flash. (Read my spoiler-filled postmortem interview with showrunner Todd Helbing about the episode here).
To be honest, the reason for the episode’s journey to the past does feel somewhat contrived, like the writers had to work backward in order to justify this nostalgia tour right as the Cicada storyline is heating up. Basically, now that Team Flash knows who Cicada is, they start working on figuring out a way to defeat him. The main challenge, however, is his dagger, which dampens their powers, so they need to find something to dampen the dagger’s power (dagger dampener? Dampening dagger dampener?). You’d think that would be easy, but for very scientific reasons they need very specific materials to make something that can pull the dagger away from Cicada. Leave it to clever Nora to come up with the idea. She points out that they’ve come across everything they need to make such a weapon in the past:
- A strong alloy = A piece of Savitar’s suit.
- Something to remove Dark Matter = Zoom’s Speed Force transmitter.
- A massive event that can infuse the shard with dark matter = The particle accelerator explosion.
You would think that Barry and Team Flash would have learned their lesson about messing with time travel, but they haven’t! At first, Barry is set on traveling to the past to collect the items by himself because doing so would mean revisiting some “crazy times,” but Iris convinces him that he should take Nora along for the ride. So, throwing caution to the wind, Barry and Nora head into the Speed Force — and Ralph throws on “Back in Time” by Huey Lewis and the News, because when else will you get an opportunity like that? The 100th episode was filled with so many funny touches like this, which I’m assuming is at least partially the result of Cavanagh directing the episode.
The duo’s first stop is the final battle against Savitar in the season 3 finale, during which Nora collects a piece of Savitar’s suit while Barry distracts a Time Wraith. Then, they jump back into the Speed Force and travel to season 2’s “Versus Zoom” to grab the Speed Force transmitter, which Zoom used to steal Barry’s speed and was left on the lab table. In this time, Nora has an opportunity to witness her mom comfort Past-Barry after he loses his speed, and it’s a truly touching and delicate moment that works as a statement on the strength of Barry and Iris’ relationship. Unfortunately, Zoom returns to the Cortex and chases Present-Barry and Nora back into the Speed Force, with a Time Wraith right on their tail once again.
Barry and Nora accidentally fall out of the Speed Force and land on the ground at the wrong time. And by “the wrong time,” I mean the time that Barry traveled back to in season 2’s “Flash Back.” Unfortunately, the Speed Force transmitter broke during the fall. Nora suggests that they simply ask Thawne to help them, but Barry assumes he won’t. Alas, it’s their only option.
NEXT: Nora’s other big secret is revealed
So cut to Barry and Nora phasing into the Time Vault, where Thawne-as-Wells has season 2 Barry cuffed to a chair. “Well, things just got a lot more complicated, didn’t they?” The ensuing scene was quite possibly my favorite moment in the entire episode because seeing Cavanagh as Thawne is always a blast. There’s a playfulness and charm in his performance as Wells teases them with knowledge of Cicada and Nora that feels like it was partially inspired by Matt Letscher’s performance as Thawne on Legends of Tomorrow (I loved Cavanagh’s hand motion when he wonders which Barry Allen this is), and Cavanagh and Gustin’s back-and-forth was funny, too. But the playfulness quickly disappears once Thawne realizes that he might not get to go home, and his despair is very affecting because we know how much he wanted to return to his time. Realizing he has no other option, Thawne decides to help them by fixing the Speed Force transmitter; however, it’s clear that, like Sherloque, Thawne senses something isn’t right when he learns that Nora came up with this idea to defeat Cicada. (Another funny moment in this time comes when Thawne makes fun of Savitar. “Hmm, you know what’s funny about your dad, Nora? Is he hates me, hates me with a passion, and yet a version of him as Savtiar was a much bigger jerk than I was. Did you see the pizza face?”). I think what makes this entire sequence work well, too, is that it’s a reminder of The Flash’s golden years.
With the Speed Force transmitter fixed, Nora and Barry head to the Time Vault on the night the particle accelerator exploded. While they wait for the explosion, Nora seems oddly fascinated by Reverse Flash’s suit, and Barry lets her in on the not-so-secret fact that Thawne murdered his mother, which is news to her. Meanwhile, outside of the Time Vault, Thawne and Cisco have a conversation that’s reminiscent of the time Thawne murdered Cisco in “Out of Time” — except this time around, Thawne extends his hand to shake Cisco’s instead of plunging it through his heart. However, the show undercuts the (justifiable) self-indulgence by having the two men fumble through the handshake, which is another comedic moment that’s nonetheless filled with tons of heart.
Thawne heads back to the Cortex and turns on the accelerator, and then the show treats us to a montage of every significant event that happened on that fateful night. Again, you could call the montage self-indulgent, but it’s earned because even though the show has had its ups and downs, it’s always been something special and that was evident from the pilot. It feels right to revisit the thing that started it all. With the Savitar shard supercharged with dark matter, Barry phases it into a pillar at the hospital and heads back to the present to handle business.
Team Flash heads to the hospital and lures Cicada out to play. The dagger dampening device they made works, and Cisco’s able to breach it into space. Unfortunately, it turns out that Cicada’s connection to the dagger stretches to outer space, and he draws it back down to Earth and shifts the tide of battle in his favor. Thankfully, Killer Frost was created by dark matter, so she uses her powers to force Cicada to escape.
The episode piles on multiple scenes as it nears its end. First, Nora decides to run back to the past and observe her grandparents from afar, and Barry shows up right behind her and the two of them share this touching father-daughter moment. Then, Nora returns to the present and uploads her Speed Force-coded notes — which Sherloque spent the episode trying to decode — to Gideon in the Time Vault. She starts to send a message along with them, but then she decides to deliver it herself. So, she runs to 2048 and visits Eobard Thawne, who is locked up in Iron Heights, and tells him they have a lot to talk about since, you know, she just found her grandmother’s killer. Now we know who gave Nora the idea to interfere on the night of the Enlightenment and who taught her how to use her speed. We also know why, in this episode, she was willing to share details with Past-Thawne and even ask for his help in the first place.
I think the Thawne twists work well because the show has been spreading bread crumbs all season long. We flashed to Thawne in the season premiere when Barry recited the Speed Force speech to Nora on the plane, and the show went on to reference him and more things from season 1 in subsequent episodes. Honestly, Thawne cast a shadow on every episode preceding this one, and now we know why. This is probably the best reveal the show has had since season 1.
Overall, I loved The Flash’s 100th episode. I think it successfully juggled taking the time to look back on how far the show has come while also pushing the season’s current storyline forward in a meaningful way. It brought the humor (Cavanagh, both in front and behind the camera), the heart (everything Nora learned about her father), and the spectacle (the Cicada fight and the Elseworlds tease), thus capturing what makes this show so special.
Wall of Weird:
- Sherloque used Cisco’s computer to decode some of Nora’s journal, and the one sentence it translated was “The timeline is malleable.”
- When Thawne meets Nora in the past, he assumes her name is Dawn. Clearly, there’s a timeline where Barry and Iris remain faithful to the source material, but I prefer it this way. Thawne also name drops several speedsters.
- The version of Gideo in the Time Vault on the night of the explosion mentions something about the Legion of Superheroes while sharing how much she knows about Nora.
- Another great moment: Nora tries to pet Grodd when they return to the night of the explosion, but Barry stops her.
- Here’s more information on what that awesome Earth-90 “Elseworlds” scene means.
- See you back here on Sunday for the first part of “Elseworlds” crossover, which begins with The Flash airing on a special night.
After the success of Arrow, Barry Allen (a.k.a. The Flash) gets his own CW treatment in this comic-themed spin-off.