Like a character in a Robert Frost poem, The Flash has promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps.

Inspired by his recent run-in with a villain from the distant future who knew all about Savitar, Barry’s determined to visit the future himself–2024, to be exact. But he promises Iris he’ll be there for the rest of the West family should he prove ultimately unsuccessful in saving her.

Meanwhile, the newly resurrected Caitlin–or rather Killer Frost–is turning S.T.A.R. Labs into the worst Disney Frozen theme park ever as she tries to kill Cisco, H.R., and Julian. Barry shows up in time to save them, but Killer Frost escapes. Despite the new crisis, Barry is determined to make his trip now. Since he’s going to return only moments after he’s left, he won’t lose any time on the hunt to find Caitlin. Of course Barry can’t make the journey on his own. He needs Wally’s help to propel him even faster, and it works.

Fast Forward

No sooner does Barry arrive in 2024 than he’s attacked by Mirror Master and his girlfriend, Top, with vertigo-inducing powers. The pair haven’t seen Flash in years.

Barry escapes, however, and finds Future Cisco, who also hasn’t seen Barry in ages. Cisco catches Barry up as they tour the abandoned S.T.A.R. Labs. Future H.R. shut down the museum while Future Barry shut down Team Flash and walked away after Iris died. Cisco takes Barry to Future Barry who still doesn’t know Savitar’s identity. Barry tries to return to his own time empty-handed but fails.

Cisco says he tried to get the team back together after Barry left but lost his hands in a battle with Killer Frost, and with them, his vibing abilities. But he and Barry visit the rest of the team one by one. First, there’s Julian who has Killer Frost locked in a cell. She’d allied herself with Savitar and even knows his identity, but says she’ll never tell. Then there’s Wally. Savitar broke his spine and he’s now catatonic in a wheelchair. We find Joe at the cemetery visiting Iris. He wants nothing to do with Barry because he’d abandoned Joe after the tragedies.

Future Barry says he eventually did imprison Savitar in the speed force forever but only after losing everything. Cisco tells off our Barry for again trying to abandon the team, and that’s when Barry figures out Cisco’s the one preventing him from returning to 2017. Cisco admits it and says he didn’t want to lose his friend again.

Getting the Band Back Together

Barry kidnaps the members their former team that aren’t now supervillains. The team comes together once more and defeats Mirror Master and Top with two Flashes for the price of one.

Before Barry returns to 2017, Future Barry apologizes to the team for breaking his promise. He wants to be a family and a team again. Everyone reenlists and Future Barry gives his past self some potentially critical information. He only defeated Savitar because of technology developed by a particular physicist four years ago. Gifting his past self with all the data he has on that physicist, he tasks our Barry with trying to find her in 2017 to hopefully get a head start on defeating Savitar.

Barry returns to 2017 instantly after he originally left, now prepared to commit to his promise to Iris to be there for everyone this time if she should die.

Cut to Killer Frost meeting Savitar. She’s unwilling to trust him until Savitar’s metal suit opens and he reveals his true identity…to her, not to us. Upon seeing who Savitar really is, Killer Frost immediately accepts his call for an alliance.

The Verdict

Where this episode succeeds is the human drama of seeing our team broken and its members a shadow of their former selves followed by Barry and Cisco getting the band back together.

Where the episode suffers is in the annoying larger story decisions the writers have committed to and can’t turn back from now. A Caitlin Snow who is just evil when her powers fully manifest just for the sake of being evil is a poor decision. It robs the character of any real agency and violates a cardinal rule of drama. Drama is built on people making choices, often difficult, even impossible choices. Inexplicably evil Caitlin robs actress Danielle Panabaker of the opportunity to deliver an interesting and conflicted character whose decisions are actually motivated by circumstance.

Then there’s the ongoing mystery of Savitar, who he is and what his motivation is? Similar to the Caitlin problem, a villain who’s kept a total mystery till the end is not interesting. And, at least until now, there didn’t even seem to be a reason for all the secrecy. Of course, if Savitar turns out to be a very familiar face–as the show is now clearly intimating–it means the secrecy was all for the sake of a twist ending. AGAIN! Savitar is not only the third speedster season-long big bad in a show with only three seasons; he also seems to be the third speedster season-long big bad who is secretly possibly a member of Team Flash. As a result, it all feels "been there, done that." An actual villain we could get to know whose motivations are clear from the start seems far more preferable to what seems like the now inevitable gotcha twist the writers have in store for us.

And, at this point, if I had to guess, my money is on Future Cisco being Savitar. I’ve already suspected Barry’s accidentally killing Cisco’s brother with Flashpoint would precipitate a larger rivalry and showdown at the end of this season, so I feel like they could use it to motivate him to become Savitar. And the Future Cisco we met in this week’s installment seemed far too pleasant. There’s even a moment where the camera lingers as Barry shakes Future Cisco’s hand before returning to 2017. I don’t trust that guy.

One other super annoying thing about the episode: Why does everyone in the future need to have Barry’s mission explained to them when they were there when he traveled to the future and returned from that trip eight years ago? Even Future Barry seems to have no memory of this trip. As a fan of time travel stories, that bothered me.

Season 3, Episode 19 "The Once and Future Flash"
Is it good?
This episode succeeds in showing the human drama of seeing our team broken, but falters in the annoying larger story decisions the writers have committed to and can't turn back from now.
Showing the stakes if our heroes fail
The future team coming together again
Caitlin evil for no real reason
Dragging out Savitar mystery
7.5
Good