If the Season 3 opener was designed to shock the system with a whole new world, the follow-up episode “Paradox” represents the biggest shift in the THE FLASH universe for quite some time. Distinct from previous alternate realities, this episode doesn’t simply present us with subtly different characters and scenarios, but is asking the audience to go along with it and accept it as the new normal. It’s almost as if the series has a built-in mechanism to logically pull a Seaquest DSV every season and shake up the whole damn show on a whim, adding unpredictability to a genre that is sometimes stuck in a rut of weekly villains.
Having restored something close to his original timeline by allowing Reverse Flash to go back and time and kill his mother (again), Barry is now contending with a whole mess of new information. In addition to Iris and Joe being at loggerheads, Cisco is mad at Barry for not using his powers to stop his brother from dying. It’s clear from a warning from Earth-3 Flash Jay Garrick’s (John Wesley Shipp) warning that any more changes to the timeline would have disastrous results So when the villainous Alchemy restores Clariss’ (Todd Lasance) Speed Force powers, recreating the Rival from Flashpoint, the team must pull together to face the new threat.
It’s the little things that count. While Barry’s world has changed in big ways for him, and by extension the viewers, “Paradox” gives us just enough new detail to remix this already excellent series. The introduction of Barry’s new CSI partner, Julian Albert (Harry Potter‘s Tom Felton) as a character that has always been there might smack of the same weirdness that spawned Dawn in Buffy Season 5. However, Felton so effortlessly brings a variation on Draco Malfoy to Central City that it really does feel as though he belongs there. Maintaining the optimism of the show, in an episode where Barry runs back and forth playing “matchmaker” to his friends, the pleasant tone balances out with some of the darker elements introduced here.
The only real concern are some early signs of history repeating itself. The Big Bad has been established as another powerful being that is creating/controlling metahumans and sending them after The Flash. Coming so soon after Professor Zoom, it’s a little too close for comfort right now. Like Arrow attracting an endless supply of archers, the Rival represents yet another speedster villain for our hero. This is a minor quibble, as THE FLASH has worked this successful formula for the last two years, and is only going from strength to strength.