The Flash’s winter finale, “The Present,” left a lot of fans reeling. Besides Savitar revealing a prophecy that we’ll see play out in the latter half of The CW show’s third season, we watched, horrified, as Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) was thrust into the near future and forced to watch as Iris West (Candice Patton) was killed by Savitar. It was an unexpected turn of events to say the least. It’s clear that by showing us Iris’ death, the writers have set up a great storyline and one with a thorough emotional impact for the remainder of the season. This story has also opened up the door for further exploration of the nature of death, its use as a catalyst in the superhero genre and, more importantly, how the revelation of Iris’ potential death further reveals her connection to the speed force and to time travel.
Death isn’t unfamiliar territory in the superhero genre. The plot device has often been used as the catalyst to further the hero’s development, to graduate him to the person he was always meant to be and set him on his heroic journey. On The Flash, this has already happened by way of Barry’s mother’s (Michelle Harrison) murder. As a young boy, this event impacted his life indirectly–from preventing himself from revealing long-hidden feelings, to becoming a CSI–and set him on the path to eventually become Central City’s Scarlet Speedster. In the show’s second season, Barry’s father, Henry (John Wesley Shipp), was also killed and on a parallel Earth, Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), another paternal figure in Barry’s life, also met his end. All of these deaths brought a sense of loss, guilt, and have shaped Barry in many ways. Now with the threat of Iris’ murder hanging over the superhero’s head, it’s not hard to see how the deaths of those closest to the titular hero have become an unfortunate, and distasteful, trend on the show.
With a death having occurred every season so far, it’s practically become like clockwork. The closer the season nears its end, the more anxious we become. Who will be the next to die? But why does someone have to die at all? For all its supposed shock value, death has become the least shocking thing on TV. In the superhero genre, audiences have come to expect it and, in the case of The Flash, the question of who could die in Iris’ place has already been asked and speculated upon. It’s clear that the writers won’t kill off Iris–unless their intent is to change the tone of the show and turn Barry from a likable superhero to perhaps a much darker one, which is doubtful. Other superhero shows, like Arrow and Supergirl, have also killed people who have been close to the title characters. But death and a grim outlook on the future don’t have to be used to further a story. There are other ways to have an impact. For example, by showing us the future, Iris’ potential death serves as a big motivator for Barry to step up, while also furthering both characters’ story and the plot without actually harming her.
Iris has been central to Barry’s story since day one. She’s also been shown to have a direct connection to the speed force and, by extension, to time travel. It has been established that the speed force is the source of Barry’s powers. In the season one episode, “Out of Time,” Barry time travels to the past for the first time after he and Iris share their first kiss. In “The Present,” Barry was thrown into the future for the first time, becoming a witness to her death, and she was the reason why. Was the speed force showing him her death so he could prevent it? We know that time always seems to correct itself somehow and so by knowing Barry will try everything in his power to prevent Iris’ murder, the speed force perhaps threw him into the future so that he could stop it from happening.
By doing this, time would be able to course-correct itself after Barry’s last time travelling adventures created a slightly altered timeline called “Flashpoint.” Prior to this, Iris’ newspaper byline remained unchanged in the future and so the speed force seems intent on keeping it that way. The connection Iris seems to have to time and to Barry’s powers seems to be powerful and shouldn’t be looked at as mere coincidence. By foreseeing the future, Barry can prevent Iris’ death and through its preview, perhaps Barry can also find the key to defeating Savitar. It could also help Barry further his understanding of the speed force as well.
With Flashpoint seemingly behind everyone, people may be worried that Barry’s insistence to change the future he saw would negate the hard lessons he learned after traveling back in time to save his mom. However, attempting to alter the future is not the same as changing past events. The past is something that has already happened. Anything that’s changed affects the present and future. But, the future doesn’t exist yet and, as Jay Garrick stated: “There are infinite possibilities to the future. It’s always bending, always changing.” This means Iris’ death isn’t set in stone. Nothing really is. Flashpoint created Savitar and is also the reason behind Iris’ altered future. Barry being witness to this future and his attempt to save her from this fate is like his way of fixing the timeline he broke to begin with. And with Iris being the first one on the show whose death has been foreseen, it can be prevented, time can heal itself, and Savitar can be stopped.
Positive influences in Barry’s life, like his relationship with Iris and the potential to mentor Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) and Jesse (Violett Beane), have proven to be better motivators than death. Being with Iris romantically brings Barry happiness and the speed force has been known to favor the speedster even in its disappointment (i.e. “The Runaway Dinosaur”). And since this is the only time thus far that The Flash has prophesied a death prior to its occurrence, the fact that it’s chosen Iris is an important factor. She’s the one person Barry will truly go to great lengths to save. Iris’ possible future has already opened up the gates to the exploration of how certain aspects of time work on The Flash and her “death” may actually change the outcome of season three rather than solidify what people already expect to happen. Knowing the show won’t go there, The Flash, being a more light-hearted show with only touches of darkness, can perhaps surprise everyone by breaking the mold and not kill anyone at all.