The Flash Season 3 has focused on the complex issues regarding time travel and their impact on the Arrowverse. Thanks to Barry traveling back in time and creating Flashpoint, the timeline has been altered, which has released the worst foe Team Flash has ever faced: Savitar.
Warning: Spoilers for The Flash Season 3 Episode 21 below.
During The Flash Season 3 Episode 20, titled ‘I Know Who You Are’, Savitar was revealed to be a future version of Barry Allen. We learned in following the episode, ‘Cause and Effect’, that this scarred version of Barry was a “temporal duplicate” that Barry creates in the future during his battle with #Savitar.
Savitar’s origin story is confusing, but Cisco explained that Savitar and Scarred Barry both exist within a “closed loop”. We have seen this sort of time travel logic before in The Terminator, where it's revealed that Kyle Reese is John Connor’s father. However, when Barry loses his memory in 'Cause and Effect', The Flash changed the time travel rules they had already established, irrevocably messing up their own rules of time travel.
The Flash's Time Travel Error
During the episode ‘Cause and Effect,' Team Flash learned that Scarred Barry has the same memories as Barry Allen. In response, Team Flash scrambled to find a way to stop Barry from creating new memories, so that they can limit the amount of knowledge that Savitar has. Cisco came up with the bright idea to use a piece of tech that inhibits Barry’s short term memory.
Something went wrong, and Barry lost all his memories. At the same time, we learned that Savitar has lost all his memories as well. The incident served the plot's purpose, and allowed #KillerFrost to interact with Team Flash, but it made no sense in accordance with the set of rules that The Flash has already established.
Why Does Savitar Losing His Memory Contradict The Flash's Time Travel Rules?
When it comes to film and television, there are three separate types of time travel. We have seen each in different films, and they are as follows:
- Fixed Timeline – Parties can travel back in time, but they cannot change the past. This theory supports predetermination, and the idea that whatever happened, happened. (Lost, The Terminator, Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban, 12 Monkeys)
- Dynamic Timeline – Parties can change the past, but to do so might put their future or the future of the world in jeopardy. Paradoxes exist in this theory, and they are bad news. (Back to the Future, The Butterfly Effect)
- The Multiverse – There is an infinite number of universes, and any change to the past diverges into a different timeline, but the original timeline still exists. Due to the divergence in the timeline, paradoxes do not exist. (Terminator 2, Terminator 3, Misfits, Star Trek)
We know that all of the #Arrowverse shows follow the rules of the multiverse, because the show has explored multiple Earths and timelines. However, Savitar’s timeline exists in a closed loop, which coincides with a fixed timeline – whatever happened, happened, and Scarred Barry will always become Savitar. The closed loop explanation is then contradicted, when Barry Allen and Savitar lose their memories at the exact same time. First off, when Barry erased his memory, one of two things should have happened:
- In a dynamic timeline, Savitar should have ceased to be, because Barry would never create Scarred Barry, and he wouldn't go on to become Savitar.
- In a fixed closed loop timeline or a multiverse, Savitar should have remained unaffected, as the two Barrys are simply the same person at different points in the same timeline, not psychically linked beings.
Instead of either of the two logical outcomes listed, Savitar loses his memory. This incident suggests that the two are psychically linked, rather than being the same person at two separate points in time. Sure, The Flash is a show based on a comic book that has many science fiction themes, but it is warping its own established rules, which makes it even more confusing for audiences.
The Flash Keeps Changing Its Time Travel Logic
This isn't the first time that The Flash's timeline tomfoolery contradicted itself. Back in The Flash Season 1, Eddie Thawne sacrificed himself to save Team Flash from Eobard Thawne. Once Eddie is dead, Eobard was magically vaporized, because Eddie was a distant ancestor of Eobard — if he died before having children, Eobard would never be born. This was all fine and dandy at the time; however, it suggests that the show exists in a dynamic timeline – with paradoxes galore.
In retrospect, Eddie sacrificing himself created a paradox, and that makes no sense based on the established rules. In the multiverse, when Eddie killed himself, the timeline should have diverged with a timeline where Eobard never existed. However, that's not quite what happened— the Eobard in that exact moment was "vaporized," but he continued to exist at other points in the timeline as a time remnant. If present-moment Eobard was vaporized, why weren't all the other Eobards running around the timeline vaporized too? We know that #ReverseFlash still exists in some capacity. The Flash tried to explained away as a by-product of his connection to the #SpeedForce – but it is still very confusing.
In fairness, The Flash tried to explain away the jumbled time travel logic, when Savitar responded to Barry's question about cause and effect:
“Cause and effects a tricky thing. It didn't work out so well for Eddie, did it? He shot himself in the chest and Thawne is still kicking around. See, that's the thing about time travel Barry: the more you do it, the less the rules apply to you”.
Sure, The Flash hung a lantern on the problems with their time travel logic, but it doesn't make it any less confusing. With any work of fiction, there must be rules that limit or explain the fantastic events that happen in the world. Rules help the audience stay grounded, and it makes the story easier to follow. The Flash seems to establish rules, and then break them later down the line. At this point on The Flash, all three theories of time travel exist in the same universe, and that has led to a convoluted and dense narrative.
By the end of Season 3, hopefully The Flash will work out all bugs of portraying time travel, and It can get back to the greatness of the first two seasons. Whatever the case, the inconsistent rule of time travel has not discouraged fans from enjoying all the madness of The Flash Season 3.
Make sure you see how the rest of The Flash Season 3 plays out Tuesdays 8PM/ET on The CW.
Do you think The Flash's time travel rules make sense?
(Poll Image Credit: The CW)