So the Season 2 finale of The Flash aired last night and there’s a lot of talk about how Barry Allen is one of the dumbest superheroes around.
A lot of that disappointment stems from how Barry is supposed to be a smart man. He is an intelligent man, but intelligence doesn’t always mean one makes good decisions.
More importantly, one needs to understand why Barry would keep making bad decisions. I think we can easily illustrate this by examining how Barry was supposed to turn out in the “original timeline” Eobard Thawne alluded to in Season 1.
Spoilers for the Season 2 finale are discussed, so don’t continue reading if you don’t want to know more.
If you will recall, in the Season 1 finale of The Flash, Eobard Thawne explained that Barry Allen still became The Flash in the “original timeline” before he went back in time to try to kill Barry as a child. There are some things we know are true about the “original” Barry Allen and some things that are possible though not proven (not yet, anyway).
Truths: Barry Allen became The Flash because the “original” Harrison Wells launched the particle accelerator. Barry’s mother never died when he was young and his father was never sent to prison and Barry and Iris West got married.
Possible but not yet proven: Barry met up with Wells at some point and Wells served as a mentor. Some of Wells’ staff may have done the same, and it’s possible that the likes of Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon were among them. In fact, for all we know, Barry might have been working for Wells at the time the accident happened.
The key about the events we know to be true is they allowed Barry to have some stability in his life. If we were to assume that Wells did become a mentor to Barry, that’s more stability because Wells isn’t working with Barry to pursue a bigger agenda, but to truly help him. (We see this with Earth-2 Wells, who is distant at first but, over time, learns to work with Barry and provide him with guidance.)
So what happened when Eobard Thawne went back in time, tried to kill young Barry and, failing that, killed his mother?
The stability that the “original” Barry Allen had was no longer there. His mother was dead. His father was in prison. And now he’s living in the same house with the girl he had a crush on, so he doesn’t feel comfortable about asking her out on a date.
On top of that, Thawne kills the “original” Harrison Wells and poses as him, then starts acting as a “mentor” to Barry, even as Thawne is pursuing a bigger agenda. Consequently, Barry’s “mentor” isn’t really acting in Barry’s best interests.
After things are resolved with Thawne, along comes Earth-2 Hunter Zolomon, posing as Jay Garrick and acting as a “mentor” to Barry. Now we have the second time someone has acted like he’s giving Barry guidance, but really has a bigger, selfish agenda on his mind.
It’s not difficult to see that an intelligent person who has lost his parents for part of his childhood (one to death, the other to prison unjustly) and is later manipulated by two people each pretending to be a mentor, is going to have some major issues with not acting impulsively. And when one is impulsive, one sometimes makes bad decisions.
This is particularly true after Barry watches his father die at Zolomon’s hands and doesn’t know how to deal with it. Throw in Barry learning that the real Jay Garrick is a doppelganger of Barry’s father and it’s not hard to see it can be difficult for even the most intelligent person to come to grips with that.
In other words, the Barry Allen who Eobard Thawne originally set out to destroy, and the Barry Allen that is the main focus of the TV show, are not exactly the same. The “original” Barry didn’t have tragedy in his early life that impacted how his personality would unfold and learned to properly use his powers not only because he was older when he got them, but because of the possibility that others who gave him guidance did so because they honestly wanted to help, not to serve some grand scheme, and certainly not because they intended to kill people close to Barry.
This is not the case with the Barry Allen who has been the focus of the show. As a result, he is not going to act like the “original” Barry Allen just because he has intelligence. Life events have made him a different person and he acts accordingly.
Is it possible that the Barry Allen who is the focus of the show stops making dumb decisions? Sure, it’s possible. But that comes from learning and finding the right people to guide him and he hasn’t reached that point yet.
I suspect Barry will learn more from whatever are the effects of him going back in time to save his mother (and actually doing it rather than wanting to but not acting after a directive from his older self) and, from there, learning to accept Jay Garrick as a mentor, one who wants to help him for the right reasons. Additionally, I believe Harrison Wells will be involved somehow (whether it’s the “original” Wells somehow being restored or the Earth-2 version returning) and thus giving Barry another person who can get him on the right path.
It may be frustrating to see the current Barry Allen making bad decisions, but we must remember it’s still early in this version of Barry learning how he should really use his powers and finding someone who can be the proper mentor. In the Season 2 finale, you could see hints that those proper mentors could fall into place; the only question is what happens with Barry’s latest attempt at changing the timeline and how that gets resolved.
But to understand why Barry is making bad decisions, one must remember that, when Eobard Thawne went back in time, he changed history in more ways than just what’s obvious to the viewer.