Barry and Linda end up on an awkward double date with Eddie and Iris. Mark Mardon aka The Weather Wizard appears in Central City intent on avenging his brother Clyde’s death, and sets his sights on Joe, who shot Clyde back in the pilot episode. When Mardon attacks Joe and Barry, Barry is able to super-speed them to safety but Mardon gets away. Mardon incapacitates Captain Singh, potentially paralyzing him. Barry warns Joe not to go after a meta-human alone but Joe doesn’t listen and ends up in grave danger. Meanwhile, Cisco looks into the night the team captured the Reverse Flash and realizes something doesn’t add up and begins to wonder whether Joe was right about Dr. Wells. He realizes that the Reverse Flash was a hologram displayed in the forcefield that night, and Wells used a type of speed mirage to make it look as if he was beaten by the Reverse Flash. Wells realizes that Cisco has discovered his secret, and confronts Cisco, revealing that his is named Eobard Thawne and comes from the future. He tried to kill Barry in the past, and when he failed, his second attempt is making Barry fast enough to use his speed to send him back to the future. He also reveals that Eddie Thawne is his ancestor. Wells tells Cisco he is like a son to him, and kills him. Meanwhile, Mardon causes a tsunami, and after Iris and Barry share a kiss and Barry reveals his secret identity, he tries to use his speed to stop the tsunami, instead going so fast that he is shot back to the beginning of the day.
Time travel, right? It makes it so easy to throw out all the most insane plot points — or in The Flash’s case, basically have everything expected to happen in its season finale — without having to deal with the aftermath. “Out of Time” is incredibly indulgent in its last quarter, smartly pretending that all of this could stick before everything hits the fan. There are obvious hints at the beginning, of course; the mirror Flash appearance, the random events from bystanders that make no impact on the scene other than making it memorable when we inevitably revisit the scene, and the title of the episode literally being called “Out of Time.” But outside of those little bits, enough happens in between the hints and the actual time travel that it becomes rather easy to forget that’s where we’d be heading.
It’s not uncommon for shows to throw out all their big guns when any kind of time travel or memory wipe is involved, and it’s easy to turn the reset button into a crutch. Remember how many times every character learned Clark’s secret in Smallville only to forget it because of a reset button? “Out of Time” hits many of the same story beats of Smallville‘s 100th episode, “Reckoning”, in fact, but it’s looking like the outcome will be less focused on tragedy and more on screwing with time in general. And Tru Calling (which I’m bringing up because there’s an ongoing flashback for it happening on KSiteTV) hit the reset button on a weekly basis; just peering into that series alone is a good showcase of both the successes and pitfalls of do-overs. It’s easy to get overindulgent with throwing out big stuff because you know it won’t matter. But it’s also a unique way to showcase a specific character trait or give more information to the audience without hurting the narrative. The key is making sure there’s a reason those scenes happened in the first place, and more importantly, why they’re still relevant now even if they didn’t happen in the new timeline of the show.
What matters, then, is how the show proceeds with the undone information. Perhaps it’s a parallel to events in the new timeline to better display how much better or worse things are now. In this timeline, Iris and Barry stop hiding their feelings, Barry reveals his secret identity to her, and STAR Labs is finally onto Wells (the good), while Cisco is dead, Joe very well might be dead, Captain Singh is paralyzed and maybe worse, and that “triumphant” kiss shows that Barry and Iris’ current significant others are second best (the bad.) Chances are the events will be flipped in the new timeline, because all the good things are pretty clearly not going to happen again.
More importantly, though — and what many shows often have a hard time doing well — is that this time line should ultimately give us a new perspective on these characters moving forward now that we know what they’re capable of. We can judge what they do next in the new timeline based on what we know they did on an alternate one, which provides a whole new shade to characterization we could only get by a plot as out-there as this one.
The clearest example of this is Dr. Wells, AKA Eobard Thawne. In one brief monologue we get just about every answer laid right out to us, and then a clear answer to “is he good or is he evil” — evil, evil, evil. No misguided intentions, no ends justify the means. He’s just a selfish guy who wants to get home by any means necessary, and by doing “good” to keep Flash alive and getting strong, that’s his way of doing it. On one hand, it’s a little disappointing that a character as potentially rich and complex as Wells is now explicitly a bad guy, even if he’s one so expertly played by Tom Cavanaugh. But it’s also satisfying to just get a freakin’ answer already; the way the Wells mystery had been tapered out recently was an improvement over the oft-grating end tags of the early episodes, but it’s still a mystery that has only made baby steps in 15 episodes. That’s not explicitly a criticism, though; the slower unraveling of Wells’ identity has led to an incredibly engaging first season mystery. It also means that when such a huge exposition dump happens practically out of nowhere, we’re even more taken aback given how slowly the answers had been leaking out before.
“Out of Time” also shows how, despite being the resident weirdo, Cisco is probably the smartest character on the show in terms of common sense. He vehemently denies the accusations that Wells is a bad guy, as a good friend should, but he isn’t blinded by loyalty; in both cases, he checked out the suspicions to confirm or deny them. Really, it makes total sense to investigate his friend, because if he really is innocent, it’d only prove that everything is okay and the accusations are wrong. Cisco has been completely sensible in this situation; he might have made mistakes before, like letting Pied Piper out, but his more clever contributions outnumber his mistakes by this point.
That makes his death scene so much more poignant now than it would have weeks ago. It’s frustrating and tense to an uncomfortable level – in a good, intentional dramatic way – to have someone finally make headway on the ongoing Wells mystery, only to be struck down immediately. Cisco had a hard time clicking as a character initially; he had funny lines and his shirts were great, but the show had a hard time integrating him into a dramatic story or letting him feel like a real person. The past few weeks have done wonderful work letting Cisco flourish as a character, and has given Carlos Valdes so much more to do. Valdes does his best work this week, which isn’t a surprise, jumping from his typical comic side to the more obsessively suspicious version, to the emotionally destroyed person in his death scene. This scene wouldn’t have worked earlier in the show, nor would it have worked if Valdes didn’t imbue Cisco with a deeper humanity.
Joe gets second place for having some of the best material. Most of the memorable action doesn’t happen until the last ten minutes of the episode, but it’s worth remembering how relentless the build-up is throughout the hour, at least in terms of Joe’s story. Bringing in the new/real Weather Wizard, whose powers are honestly more interesting than his brother’s, yields a potentially fun recurring villain for Joe personally. Jesse L. Martin gets to be on edge for the entire hour, and Martin’s very good at making Joe as realistically stressed as possible. Joe’s fatherly side is his biggest character beat, and he sells it well. It’s also got some of the bigger emotional pathos of the episode outside of the Cisco scene, with the paralyzing of Captain Singh. We haven’t seen much of that character, and his incapacitation is used more for the sake of pushing Joe to his brink, but the inclusion of Singh’s fiance at least brings in quick weight to the plot point. It’s another thing that will likely be undone in the new timeline since Barry is fully aware of it, which is probably good, since killing/damaging a sexual minority character for the sake of straight characters’ development could become a problematic trend, no matter how well it’s handled.
It’s hard to hate this episode even from the most cynical “ugh a reset button” point of view, so even its weaknesses probably only bump it down from an A to an A-. But this is not an episode that hits the ground running, with much time spent on the love rhombus between Barry, Iris, Linda, and Eddie. Romantic entanglements are a valid and often necessary part of dramatic storytelling, especially operatic superhero stories, and so far The Flash hasn’t really been that bad about handling them. Iris has been hard to pin down as a relevant character sometimes, but Candice Patton has been a delightful enough presence that things have at least stayed fun to watch. The awkward bowling date and even more awkward aftermath is just a slog to get through much of the time, for no other reason than it’s material we’ve already tread to an extent. We’ve already seen Linda and Iris be uncomfortable with each other, or Linda jealous of Iris, or Barry and Iris having too special of a connection by lying to each other about it.
It’s worse this time, because now Eddie is starting to jump on the jealousy bandwagon — for good reason, really, considering he’s been nothing but a decent guy throughout all of this. Eddie now officially has potential to be more since we know for sure he’s an ancestor of Wells, but at this moment, he’s pretty much squarely a victim of Barry and Iris’s frustrating game. It’s not as if it’s been poorly handled throughout the entire season — it’s actually been one of the least frustrating superhero TV romances up until recently — but it’s starting to tread on too many typical tired notes. With the awkward sibling stuff between Iris and Barry pretty much settled, it’s now become frustrating to see them still in such denial. Granted, much of the stuff in “Out of Time” is set-up to make the big kiss between Barry and Iris more powerful. Near-death experiences have a knack for bringing out true feelings, but it has the unfortunate effect of making them also seem pretty awful to their significant others, which isn’t good.
But it’s the big stuff that’s now being undone that everyone is talking about. And that’s for good reason; regardless of where things go from here, “Out of Time” is extremely fun, as The Flash is at its best. It’s an episode that feels dire, with the tension gradually building throughout its entire running time, and the weaker relationship material doesn’t stop the momentum. Even if most of the events of this episode no longer exist, the episode it not at all a waste of time.
Odds & Ends
- Man, the trailers kind of ruined this one, didn’t it? We’d seen the scenes of Wells revealing himself to Cisco and Caitlin spotting the empty wheelchair in the episode previews, and the sizzle reel very clearly had Cisco doing memorable stuff that made it pretty clear his death would get undone. Yeah, all of that got me excited for the rest of the show’s run, I’ll give it that. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it affected my investment in the big Cisco/Wells scene.
- The scene when Barry saves Joe from the isolated lightning storm is awesome.
- “In many ways, you have shown me what it’s like to have a son. Forgive me, but to me, you’ve been dead for centuries.” – Killer line, but what a downer.