I’ve never done this before, but the time vault scene between 2017 Barry and 2024 Barry in “The Flash” episode, “The Once and Future Flash,” was just too good to pass up. I was going to call it a “cry of the week” and realized belatedly that the week was over. Anyway, this will be a brief breakdown of the scene, what I loved about it, and why it was the most important one in the episode.
I liked that we got to see a glimpse of a future that will never come to pass (at least in this timeline). It’s important for many reasons, but the primary ones being: 1.) seeing the aftermath of Iris’ death allows the show to give us broken Barry without ever having that define him like it does so many other superheroes (because of man pain and all), and 2.) it very clearly highlights Iris’ importance to Barry’s narrative, his deep love for her, and how her loss has permeated every aspect of his life to the point where he’s unrecognizable. I discussed in my review of the episode how the lack of Iris was heavily felt, and even though we didn’t get to see a lot of her, she was an indirect focus of this scene at least. (Side note: I never want an episode like this again where she’s barely featured.)
Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the scene in question. Playing opposite oneself is difficult and given that this is a very emotional scene, Grant Gustin nails the opposing Barrys quite wonderfully. Present Barry is full of shock over Future Barry’s actions, still in denial that Iris could actually die (even though he has visual evidence to the contrary), and is still hopeful that he can stop all of this. Future Barry, on the other hand, is the very opposite. He’s lost all hope, is broken beyond repair, and is in a continuous loop of despair. Take, for example, the way he looks. He’s let his hair grow out, there’s some stubble, it doesn’t look like he’s showered in a while. He walks like it physically pains him to do so, his footsteps heavy and his shoulders hunched, effectively shutting himself in.
When 2017 Barry barges into the time vault, 2024 Barry is leaning against a wall, staring at an old projected picture of him and Iris–the picture itself is well-lit, their clothes vibrant with color and their happy smiles breaking the somber tone the rest of the episode carries. One of Blake Neely’s themes for Barry and Iris, “Best Friends Since Childhood,” plays in the background at first before changing. Future Barry isn’t looking directly at the picture. He’s watching it out of the corner of his eyes, but not once does he face it in full view, as though coming face-to-face with it would be too difficult. Interestingly, as soon as he’s interrupted by his younger self, he looks startled. He spares the picture a brief glance before he goes to shut it off, movements akin to a deer caught in headlights. It’s almost as though he’s embarrassed to be seen like this, even if it’s by his past self.
When seeing his past self earlier in the episode, Future Barry simply seemed resigned. But as 2017 Barry hurtles accusations at him, he gets angry and then throws the harsh truth of what will happen to Iris in other Barry’s face. For a while, I questioned why 2024 Barry didn’t just give his past self the information he might need. After all, if there was any chance that it would help save Iris, he would have tried, right? But he was perhaps too far gone, lost in his own darkness that any sense of hope or optimism seemed pointless. Why dare to dream if it’ll only crush you even further? It also speaks to Barry’s past trauma. The fact that he wasn’t completely swallowed by grief, defeat, and failure because Iris had always been there for him in those moments after he lost both his mother and later, his father. Bolstered by the fact that he also knew she was going to die and he couldn’t stop it, couldn’t win, couldn’t save the most important person to him is like a gut punch over and over.
With that line of thinking in mind, the scene works even better and is even more saddening. The Flash, if anything, is essentially an optimistic, romantic hero so seeing him in this state is a low point. Afterwards, 2024 Barry’s anger deflates and his voice grows quieter. “She’s the love of your life, Barry,” he tells 2017 Barry. In this sentence, Past Barry should understand this pain. Future Barry needs him to understand. “She was the love of my life,” he says, turning away, his voice breaking. That’s when I completely lost it. His hand briefly touches the console he had only just shut off, like that’s all he physically has left of Iris. He also leans against it as he moves to the corner, head down, unable to hold himself up any longer. His legs, once the strongest part of his body, have failed him and he slides down the wall.
Later, the only reason Future Barry comes around is because he’s reminded by his younger self that Iris wouldn’t want this, even while not completely understanding the gravity of the situation. Past Barry still believes her death won’t come to pass. Coming back to the scene, it just has so much impact and is layered with so many different emotions played in different ways by the same actor. And it’s perfect. I don’t say that often, but this scene really is. So much of Iris was in that time vault scene as well and she wasn’t even there physically. Her presence was just as much of a ghost as the man 2024 Barry had become. Sorrow, defeat, hope, and denial clash with each other to create a highly emotional scene that made my heart hurt on so many levels.
I don’t have the full scene, but I’ll just leave you with the gifs below. Please feel free to cry.
Gifs credit: Tumblr