Running in Circles

Overthinking Eobard Thawne’s Return on CW’s The Flash

By Rodney Turner

Time travel, very few subjects are more interesting and more confusing. So fascinating is the concept that it has become a staple of science fiction. From H.G. Wells to today, writers have wrestled with the philosophical, technical, and moral problems associated with time travel.

The idea is at the forefront of my mind after watching recent episodes of Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash. It is the latter that really got my attention because it featured the return of Eobard Thawne, AKA The Reverse Flash. When the episode first came out, I saw a number of comments as to how he could have survived. I do enjoy these types of conundrums, so I am going to hurt Grant Morrison’s feelings a little and figure out who inflates the proverbial Batmobile’s tires.

Eobard Thawne exists in what is known as a causal loop. The most famous example is one of a pool ball being struck and sent into a time machine. The ball travels back in time and strikes its past self thus becoming the cause of it going back in time. Once this occurs, there is no original cause. In Thawne’s effort to destroy the Flash he gives rise to the Flash and also becomes the catalyst for his own ability to travel backward in time. Neither the Flash or the Reverse Flash can exist without this loop.

Detective Eddie Thawne, an ancestor of Eobard, kills himself in the finale of Season One and it appears that Eobard is destroyed. It is this action that seemingly breaks the causal loop and implies that Eddie was Eobard’s direct ancestor. However, the appearance of the Reverse Flash in Season Two suggests that this is not the case. We see an earlier version of Thawne, not too long after gaining his powers and discovering the abilty to use the Speed Force to travel back in time. The Flash confronts Thawne, not understanding that this is not yet the man he battled a year prior. Time travel…fun shit, right?

How can the Reverse Flash be wiped from the timeline and still part of the causal loop? Here is an interesting solution to what you may assume is poor writing. According to the Arrowverse wiki, Eobard Thawne was born in the year 2151. Season One of The Flash takes place in 2015, over a century before Eobard is born. It makes sense that Eddie Thawne is not Eobard’s direct ancestor, instead, Eddie is a possible direct ancestor. How would this work? Well, let us consider the idea that history is mutable. At some point in the past one’s existence is not a linear certainty but a fluid probability. Eobard never mentions that Eddie is his direct ancestor, he only belittles Eddie by stating that he doesn’t amount to much. This is not something you tell a man who plays a major part in your being alive.

We must also examine a point that is mentioned not only by the character Harrison Wells but is an important part of the new spinoff series, Legends of Tomorrow: Eobard Thawne is essential to the timeline. To put it simply, history is a great machine with a number of cogs. Many of these cogs are useless and can be removed with no ill effects. However, there are certain parts that are necessary for the machine to function, specific people must do specific things for a future status quo to exist. Thawne, in this case, is essential to the timeline because of the causal loop he has created. Without Thawne, there is no Flash. For any given individual to exist and fulfill their purpose, the mathematical chances of them coming into existence would be greater. Eddie Thawne does not eliminate the Reverse Flash from history, he removes himself from the pool of probable ancestors and destabilizes Eobard’s timeline.

Unfortunately, this means that Eddie’s sacrifice was, in the long run, useless. Nora Allen will always die. Barry will always become the Flash and Eddie will always die in front of those who love him. Maybe the consequence of time travel in regards to these types of narratives is the perspective of how little influence most actions actually have.

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