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Greetings, speedsters! How was everyone’s Christmas? Barry Allen’s was probably terrible given that he accidentally travelled to the future and saw his girlfriend get murdered, and for most of us, things weren’t all that peachy given the political scene. On the bright side, Meredith is now in charge of the Speed Force itself, so I’ll be writing about The Flash full-time as Barry and co. figure out how to prevent the worst possible outcome. Not everything needs to come back to American politics, but the idea that we can alter a terrible future set into motion feels pertinent regardless.
After several seasons of Barry keeping secrets from the women in his life, “Borrowing Problems From The Future” opens pretty much the same way; Barry has a nightmare about Savitar murdering Iris and wakes up screaming in their apartment and refuses to share the information with her. This time it’s more than just a secret about his identity, but by the episode’s end he finally figures telling her and the rest of the team is the right thing to do. Having Iris in on information always gives Candice Patton more to work with (not to mention that it’s less dramatically repetitive), but it also ensures The Flash continues its trend of not wasting any time setting up some radical plot threads. Despite its proclivity for dramatic wheel-spinning, you can’t deny that the show at least has a penchant for offering up interesting new scenarios.
Central City, home to The Flash, is now Kid Flash’s playground. He’s learning the ropes from Barry and he’s getting noticed too, but his strategy of not jumping into danger headfirst rubs a few people the wrong way; one cop in particular played by Greg Grunberg, who Wally later overhears while meeting up with Joe. Wally’s Flash-inferiority complex was subsiding (along with the parallel complex of being a lesser son), but its return could not have come at a less opportune time for Barry. During his future excursion, Barry noticed a news report mentioning the conviction of Plunder, an eye-patched jewel thief who he encounters in this present timeline. What’s more, Plunder has an all-purpose anti-Flash gun, and he uses it while Barry is distracted by thoughts of what may come to pass should he lock up the bad guy.
Wally tags along during the second Plunder encounter and successfully captures the armed looter by breaking protocol. Barry, angered at the idea that this may cement future events, loses his cool with his young protégé without revealing his concerns. It’s the most interesting kind of inter-Flash conflict, because rather than having a go directly at each other, Wally and Barry are simply rubbing each other the wrong way by circumstance while trying to do the right thing.
That’s where the best intra-Team Flash drama tends to stem from, and it’s absolutely true for this episode. When Caitlyn seeks out Julian’s expertise to help her get rid of her powers, he shuts her down rudely (to be fair, she did kidnap him while she wasn’t quite herself), but she also sees how lonely he is. Ever the sweetheart, she tries to get Julian to help out at STAR Labs to get him over his survivor’s guilt, despite significant resistance from the team (to be fair, he did kill people when he wasn’t quite himself). At the same time, H.R. tries to make himself useful by opening a STAR Labs museum so that the team can have a steady revenue stream as they continue fighting crime, but Cisco insists that the hands-on science is far more important. Everyone just wants to do their part.
Of course, where there’s intra-Team Flash conflict, there’s opportunity for intra-Team Flash humour, specifically the kind stemming from Tom Cavanagh. His eccentric Harry “H.R.” Wells rolls around on a Segway and insists on caffeinating everyone around him at all times (that explains his own hyperactivity, I suppose) and he even makes a virtual museum tour guide out of Cisco’s likeness! His physical likeness anyway; as far as I recall, Cisco has never yelled the word “SCIENCE!” at anyone. Though of course, where there’s intra-Team conflict, there’s opportunity for intra-Team resolution, and what would this show be without it? Cisco comes around to H.R.’s puppy-dog pursuit for recognition and tells him to take his time while trying to achieve greatness, and even helps him out with the virtual guide by the end. It’s hardly a “consequential” thread in the grand scheme of things, but it’s one of those minute details that makes The Flash so joyful.
The meat of the episode comes from Barry coming clean about the future he witnessed. To Iris, who’s finally been given a say in her own destiny, and to the rest of the team. Of course on a micro level this means a mutual understanding between the Flashes, but it also means a vast undertaking by the entire ensemble to try and change the future. Cisco Vibes himself and Barry back to the moment in question, and along the way they stop to watch the news report of Plunder’s conviction. They also make sure to take in the news scroll, which by an absolutely mega-coincidence all happen to relate to various members of the team: Joe West honoured at City Hall. STAR Labs Museum closes. Killer Frost still at large. It’s an unusual happenstance, but also the kind of device that ingeniously sets up the remainder of the season. Will Joe West be honoured in life or in death? Will the team have to close shop? Will Caitlyn lose herself once again?
Will Barry be able to save Iris?
The future may be fixed. It may be set in stone. No one’s really certain, least of all us fans (we’ve been given conflicting information on these shows, but each instance makes sense in the given dramatic context), so it’s through fandom that this mystery is explained, specifically the various fan theories surrounding H.R.’s romantic sci-fi novels. As Barry’s trip to the future shows, events can most likely be altered (H.R. himself is now part of the scenario when he wasn’t before), but the question remains: can someone cause their own destiny while trying to prevent it?
The only minor plot gripe I have with this episode is the outright exclamation that H.R.’s presence in the scenario means the future has, without a shadow of doubt, been altered. Less because of the possibility that Barry just didn’t notice him before (that would be a nitpick) and more because the rest of the episode focuses on Barry trying to change one small element of the future to prove to Iris that it can be changed. A noble goal, and an establishment of the mechanics of how the remainder of this season will function, but one where the stakes are sort of undercut because we already know the answer.
And yet, it still works because of the larger dramatic context. Plunder needs to be stopped. Wally needs to prove himself a worthy hero to the city. Barry needs to change the headline about The Flash capturing Plunder. Iris needs to believe that her heroes can change her destiny. Barry needs to learn to trust his fellow Flash. The answer is obvious: Kid Flash needs to be the one to stop Plunder, and boy do he and Barry look great doing it, running down the street side-by-side while dodging a whole host of comicbook weaponry. And while all this does place Iris’ narrative in the hands of the men in her life (a recurring problem that the show solves once or twice a season before immediately falling back on), she does at least get to make the decision of who is or isn’t let in on the plan, specifically with regards to Joe.
It’s a fun episode all-in-all, one that ends with an interesting stinger involving someone hopping over from an alternate universe to find the newly redeemed H.R., and despite its minute slip-ups and massive coincidences, it serves the purpose of setting the rest of the season into motion. What’s more, it essentially does it without a big bad Speedster looming over the whole thing, placing the character dynamics front & center. There was a point where I believed trying to change the future would take Barry a step back towards him selfishly trying to change the past, but I’m glad to have been proved wrong. This one’s going to be a team effort, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
Note: since Legends of Tomorrow airs Tuesdays now, we thought we’d dedicate the “Coolest moments this week” section to our time-travelling misfits on the Waverider:
Rip Hunter, now trapped in 1967, has had his memory erased, but the events of season one are buried deep his recesses and manifest as creative inspiration, so he makes a Legends of Tomorrow movie. His prop-master? A young George Lucas!
The Legion of Doom tracks The Lance of Longinus to a film set in Los Angeles, where the Legends accidentally make George Lucas drop out of film school.
Lucas never makes Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Arc, the movies that inspire Ray and Nate to follow their chosen careers.
Amaya, who’s never seen those movies either since she’s from 1945, saves reality itself by reminding Lucas why he wants to be a director – to inspire dummies like Ray and Nate – while they’re all trapped inside a trash compactor!