Season 3 of CW’s time-traveling, paradox-inducing superhero drama starts right off where where season 2 left off, with Barry Allen exploring this new biz-Arrow-verse he’s created, guest-starring Barry’s welling eyes and goofy grin. A consequence of last season’s finale, Flash’s decision to choose saving his mother over the preordained continuity of the timeline has had dramatic effects on the new Earth 1, like Wally West having the Flash’s powers, Barry’s parents still being alive, and Joe West showing up late for work.

Many of the changes on display are fairly predictable and mostly centered around Barry’s personal life, but we do get a glimpse of what season 3’s villain topography may look like, with the black-clad speedster Rival taking up a few fight scenes before effectively getting a “next time on…” toward the end of the episode. Wally gets a little more lively dialogue than his usually reserved lines last season, and it’s interesting getting to see a bit of conversation between Barry and his parents, who are concerned about their son’s sudden urge to hug everyone and tearfully tell them how important they are to him.

Cynicism aside, this is a fun episode, though it does struggle to live up to the high bar set by the last two seasons and the unbearable hype of a live-action Flashpoint adaptation. Many conversations rush by, and Iris’s advice to Barry feels like it applies to the episode as a whole: “You should try talking just a little bit slower.” Still, alternate versions of established characters are fun to see, and a more charismatic, jovial Wally West is something this show could use more of.

Notably, Harrison Wells is completely absent from this episode, but we get plenty of the real Eobard Thawne to make up for it. All throughout the episode, underpinning Barry’s overwhelming sense of uncanny contentment at this new world is a visceral side effect of this timeline meddling: Barry begins to forget pieces of his life. His friends, his family conversations, and experiences all stolen in what manifests itself much like a panic attack or other sudden, jarring medical emergency.

When Barry confesses this to Reverse Flash, now his captive, the contained speedster laughs, sharing the revelation that Flash’s memory loss is tied to his speed; the more he uses his speed, the more of his memories disappear, and the only solution is to return things to the way they are. Barry now has to again choose between fleeting, idyllic happiness and the memories and insight that make him able to appreciate this manufactured dream he’s fought so hard for.

The final push happens when Barry and Wally, or Flash and Kid Flash (which was AMAZING to see on-screen in any capacity) take on Rival, and Wally’s self-assured approach gets him mortally wounded and without rapid healing to save him. Barry sees this as his responsibility and reluctantly agrees to release Thawne and return to the night of his mother’s death to return the timeline to its original state…

Or so it seems. Thawne hints that something may be amiss, and tells Barry he’ll be seeing him soon. With that, he speeds off, and Barry emotionally reunites with the Wally and Joe West he’s known all this time. It’s then that he learns, through one mechanism or another, Iris is no longer part of the picture.

Grade

C+

Conclusion

A dizzying first episode back, with some fun, some sentiment, and a whole lot of questions. Whether The Flash will follow Arrow’s trend of declining in its third season remains to be seen, but this is a perplexing start.

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