There is one question on the lips of everyone who has been watching the CW’s goofy yet sweet new superhero drama The Flash : Who is Harrison Wells? The first episode ends with the genius physicist turned pariah, played by Tom Cavanagh, slipping into a secret hideaway in S.T.A.R. Labs. He stands up from his wheelchair and walks toward a holographic newspaper dated 2024 with a bold headline reading, “Flash Missing Vanishes In Crisis.” It was a striking moment that infused an otherwise fun if weightless pilot with a sense of mystery and immediately set fans into a speculating frenzy about what he's hiding. One common theory? That Harrison Wells is Barry Allen from the future.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter regarding the true nature behind Harrison Wells, executive producer Geoff Johns says, "Harrison Wells is a new character that was created. The name obviously is brand-new. I don't think we can say anything else about it." Obviously that hasn't stopped fans of the show from theorizing to the contrary. What's fascinating is how many directions the show can take with Wells. Most fans' money seems to be on Wells being Professor Zoom, aka Reverse-Flash. That theory is kind of muddled by Detective Eddie Thawne sharing the last name of the man behind that villain, which can still be a red herring. But I think the theory that Harrison Wells is The Flash himself just gains more traction the longer you think about it.
Reading some commentary on a recent io9 article helped cement the theory that Wells is actually Barry's future self, which I am not the first to bring up. In an early scene when a young Barry witnesses his mother's death, the yellow streak rampaging through the living room suggests the presence of Reverse-Flash. But it looks like there are two men, one clad in yellow and the other in red, encircling Nora Allen. Which made me start to think, what if Barry, after years of being a superhero, realizes the cost is too much to bear. Maybe he makes a mistake that sets off this sense of regret. So, Barry decides to go back in time. Reverse-Flash wouldn't let things be that easy for Barry, so he gets the appropriately villainous idea to kill Barry's mother, thus starting an obsession in young Barry. Future Barry gets his younger self out of the way, but he isn't able to stop Reverse-Flash from killing his mother in time and somehow gets stuck in the past. He decides to correct his future mistakes by mentoring and protecting his younger self. Which makes Wells killing a man like Simon Stagg (William Sadler) take on a whole new light.
Wells seems to know a lot about Barry, a bit too much for this to be the first time meeting him. He seems to have a pretty good idea about how Barry's powers developed and knows their limits, even as Barry is afraid to push them. When he speaks to Barry's adoptive father, Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), about the sense of doubt holding the fledgling superhero back, it's remarkably intuitive. Part of this is how Cavanagh carries himself like a man hollowed out by failure, which can be linked to what happened at S.T.A.R. Labs. But I feel it goes even deeper than that. In the same THR interview, Flash star Grant Gustin says:
The coolest thing about that moment [in the premiere] to me is they're setting up the fact that the Flashpoint storyline [from the comics] could potentially happen — that Speed Force could be an aspect, and time travel is potentially a part of the show.
The Flashpoint storyline greatly involves The Flash and Reverse-Flash. The whole debacle of a vastly changed alternate timeline happens because of The Flash deciding to go back in time to stop Reverse-Flash from killing his mother, creating an immense paradox. While I agree with io9 that there is no way in the cosmos we're getting Crisis on Infinite Earths (or any other major comic arc like Flashpoint) on television because of the budget constraints and importance of lending the narrative to film, I can see the writers hinting at certain game-changing storylines or working with their ideas on a smaller scale.
Time travel is important to The Flash mythos, so it isn't surprising that a character like Wells has already made his way to the show. Could Wells be another speed-based superhero from the comics like Max Mercury or Jay Garrick? Could he just be working with someone from the future? This early on in the show it can be hard to come up with a conclusive answer. For every clue that has popped up to make me think Wells may really be Barry from the future, another appears to counter that.
Yet, there is something powerful to the idea of a future Barry coming back to his past to make sure he doesn't make the same mistakes. But this is the kind of reveal that needs to be earned and built up to. One of the most wonderful things about comic books, which I've cherished since childhood, are their immense possibilities. Stage magicians use real magic. Alternate universes are plentiful. There are hyperintelligent telepathic gorillas, time travel, monsters, and mayhem. It will be fascinating to see The Flash reveal the truth behind Harrison Wells and balance the fantastical possibilities of the source material with emotional integrity.
Images: Cate Cameron/The CW (2); Giphy