One hundred episodes is a milestone for any series, but trying to wrap up the convoluted timey-wimey storytelling of 100 episodes worth of The Flash is a particularly difficult task. “What’s Past Is Prologue” elevated the idea of the clip show to a Speed Force race through the series’ greatest hits, seemingly under the guise of Nora seeing the truth behind what The Flash museum has told her. Barry wasn’t always confident (in fact, he rarely is — and when he is he’s usually wrong), Iris played a bigger roll than she’s been given credit for, and Eobard Thawne was in fact responsible for the murder of Nora Allen. But “What’s Past Is Prologue” was really about, ultimately, was traveling through The Flash’s various versions of Harrison Wells, a man who will again play an integral role in the show moving forward.
There were essentially three endings to the midseason finale / 100th episode, none of which were the ones viewers were hoping to see. One was expected, of course: setting up the “Elseworlds” crossover with the introduction of The Monitor and the revival of John Wesley Shipp’s Flash on Earth-90 (a callback to Shipp playing the character in the 1990 series). It was also nice that the episode wasn’t beholden to setting up the crossover like Arrow did for its 100th, although it did replay the same stinger as Supergirl ….
Another ending was a genuinely cute moment between Barry and Nora, as she light-heartedly challenged him to a speedster race after they spent a moment watching Barry’s parents together in happier times (these emotional moments have always been the core of the series). However, a third ending revealed that Nora’s Speed Force language has been about communicating with a future Eobard Thawne in 2049, one who is still mostly wearing the face of Tom Cavanagh’s Harrison Wells, but now has the blonde hair of Matt Letscher.
More on that in a moment, but first, we need to address the ending we didn’t get to see. “What’s Past is Prologue” used the idea of going back in time to collect dark matter artifacts as a way to defeat Cicada (and give us a clip show). We know his origins now, why he’s so angry, and his “kill all metas!” plan (including ultimately killing himself). It seemed like a great time to actually defeat him, with all of Team Flash there working together with the plan that Barry and Nora raced through time to execute. It would close the book on this first half of the season, while also beginning a new Eobard-led story to finish things out.
But no! After all of that work to get Cicada’s dagger out of his hands, he just recalled it from space and took off to battle Team Flash another day. What that moment did do was bring back Killer Frost, who is not (as we now know) the result of the Particle Accelerator Explosion, and therefore able to surprise Cicada with her powers. And that’s … fine? But it still feels like a majorly missed opportunity to not drag this villain out through the rest of the season.
As for Eobard Thawne, well, this was really Tom Cavanagh’s episode. He directed it, and also played double-duty as a variety of Wells Through Time. It was truly chilling to see the return of Wellsobard (i.e. Wells 1.0) knowing who he is, and him able to “feel” the disturbance in the Speed Force as Barry and Nora entered his timeline. It was also nice to see Harry (i.e. the Wells of Earth 2.0), another very compelling iteration of the character who, like Wellsobard, mostly acts as an unfortunate reminder that the last few Wells, particularly Sherloque, have been unnecessary and even unfortunate additions to the team. (Basically, remember when the Wellses were really interesting and not just characters based on an accent?)
Some of the reminders of The Flash‘s past were great, particularly seeing Teddy Sears again (in what seemed like new footage?) But the return of Thawne, along with several other time-travel elements of the midseason finale, also brought up some uncomfortable questions about the show’s logic. For one, suits don’t seem necessary as a protective measure for that rate of speed that allows for time travel (and remember when Barry actually had to eat a ton to counteract that amount of Speed Force usage on his body?). Secondly, and more egregiously, the West-Allens are pretty much immune to Time Wraiths. Nora can spend as much time as she wants in the past, much like Barry did in Flashpoint, without any fear of wraiths. But if Zoom (who was still terrifying!) decides to overstep his own time boundaries, well, zap!
Speaking of logic and Time Wraiths, those who watch Legends of Tomorrow will remember how Eobard Thawne was a member of The Legion of Doom in Legends Season 2, to great effect, and was eventually destroyed by a Time Wraith in spectacular fashion. It erased him from the timeline completely … or it was meant to. I can’t wait (I can totally wait forever) for The Flash to explain not only how he’s back, but why he’s a bizarre melding of Tom Cavanagh and Matt Letscher now. And yes I know, it’s useless being pedantic about the logic of a superhero show about time travel (believe me, I overlook plenty in the name of just enjoying it!) but the series broke its own rules pretty flagrantly in this episode, to the point where it has to be mentioned — all the way down to the fact that Team Flash decided to suddenly mess with time again with their “maybe this time it’s just crazy enough to work!” thinking.
But back to Eobard Thawne — like most Wellsian moments of the show, there is both good and bad here. Wellsobard is still the best Wells, and it might be great to have him back, especially with Nora acting as his naive agent and the eventually emotional explosion it will cause when Barry and Iris find out. He’s a fantastic villain, one the show is probably right to come back to (even though Legends used him to great effect in between), although it remains to be seen how his return is explained besides “time travel is so weird!”
And yet, as the show has tried to get away from evil speedsters as villains after the problems with Savitar in particular (what a mess that was!), it seems like we’re right back in it. The series’ fifth season has course-corrected a lot of its previous issues to good effect, but “What’s Past Is Prologue” was not its finest hour. One has to ask, at what point will we have enough Wells? The legacy of The Flash, per its 100th episode, is less about Barry defeating a host of dangerous villains thanks to the Team Flash family, or learning to competently harness his powers (he still hasn’t really learned that), but about the impact various Wells through time have had on things. Having Wellsobard return is promising, if only because it reminds us of the show’s wonderful first season. But are we just chasing a ghost? Maybe now is a good time for a Time Wraith to remind us that we can’t go back.