Beware of spoilers below if you haven't yet watched The Flash's midseason premiere, titled "The Trial of The Flash."
Barry Allen is heading to a jail cell for the second time in Season 4, and while some fans may be worried about what'll happen to him in there, it's entirely possible that it doesn't matter what he goes through in Iron Heights. Why not? Because this reality might not even exist. That's right, I'm positing the initially ridiculous theory that Barry never actually escaped the Speed Force and that what we're witnessing is actually Barry's highly personalized imprisonment.
We'll go over the problems with this theory later, don't worry, but let's start off with the Season 4 premiere, which introduced a bearded and memory-muddled Barry Allen. Barry wasn't able to remember much of what had happened to him inside the Speed Force, and he currently doesn't remember the seemingly random phrases he uttered while drawing weird symbols over the walls. ("This house is bitchin'" and the like.) That seems suspect. It has already been theorized that Barry experienced a constant time-loop while inside the Speed Force, so what if that loop just hasn't actually ended yet?
The Speed Force isn't known for causing its visitors to forget anything, and the only time we've seen Barry lose his memories happened in Season 3, when Team Flash botched an attempt to thwart Savitar's foreknowledge. But one of the things that we do know about the Speed Force is that it doesn't react kindly to speedsters who distort timelines for their own benefit, and that its particular form of torture involves forcing its prisoners to relive through their worst moments. So what if Barry's current reality is just the Speed Force preying on his insecurities and his most tragic memories by forcing him to live them out in real time?
Just think about it: we watched Barry fail to win a trial and get sentenced to Iron Heights for a murder he did not commit, which sounds very familiar to something Barry has already lived through on the other side of the bars. His father Henry Allen suffered this fate after Eobard Thawne killed Nora Allen, something that Barry tried to prevent in the failed Flashpoint timeline. And if that connection seems arbitrary to you, let's not forget that The Flash actually has Barry locked up in the very same cell that Henry Allen was kept in, as learned through the wall-carved message. That's too ridiculous to be real, right? Well, not in this show, but the coincidence is still mighty suspicious. Plus, the judge angrily depicted Barry as an immoral monster, which isn't a reasonable Barry description at all, especially when he was just sitting there the whole time. (Except for when he left.)
The concept of reliving past events (and re-forgetting past memories) isn't just tethered to his life sentence, and I'd point to his "Girls Night Out" drunken night in the slammer as narrative foreshadowing. Through Clifford DeVoe's life story, audiences also relived the events behind the particle accelerator explosion, and in general, Season 4 has mirrored Season 1 in several ways, from the lightened tone to the use of the brand-new metahumans giving Central City problems. The creation of all those new metahumans, perfectly timed to Barry's Speed Force escape, also comes off as weird to me, since it's basically the same form of threat that Barry faced when he first became The Flash.
Which leads us to DeVoe, The Thinker, himself. A brilliant educator whose plans to further evolve humanity are thwarted by his physical degradation, DeVoe is basically the opposite of Barry, a physically enhanced hero whose plans to keep humanity safe are often thwarted by his bad decisions. After three seasons of battling fast-footed baddies, one of them even being a future version of himself, Barry is pretty locked into the idea that he's the most powerful speedster in the multi-verse. So what better way to usurp that confidence than to pit him against someone who seemingly cannot be taken out by speed alone? Similar to how things have generally gone for Barry in the past, each one of his attempts to shakedown DeVoe has ended in Barry getting outsmarted, and usually with public humiliation involved. It's Barry's worst nightmare, and also might explain why The Thinker's actual goals are been hidden so far.
Plus, wouldn't it be awesome if that random woman from Barry and Iris' wedding was indeed Barry and Iris' speedster daughter from the future who figured out a way to "break into" Barry's Speed Force situation in order to offer a clue about how to get out of it? I'm not sure how saying "I do" to Iris would do that, but someone can find a way. That's not the only loose thread here, though.
As it was previously hinted at, this is not a theory without its own inherent problems. If this is all one big Speed Force delusion meant to make Barry suffer, then why are viewers able to see what Cisco and Harry are doing whenever Barry is nowhere around? It would mean that Katee Sackhoff's villain isn't real, and, it wouldn't exactly explain how the entire Earth-X crossover happened, which would possibly mean that Stein isn't actually dead. Although since this is The Flash, the Speed Force possibly has the ability to mirror real-world events through the prism of Barry's mind, Christmas Carol-style.
Suffice to say, if this theory ends up coming true, the writers will figure out a way to explain things, and if the theory isn't true, the writers will find a way to explain all the weirdness mentioned above. And so goes another week of The Flash, one of TV's most fun-to-contemplate dramas.
The Flash airs Tuesday nights on The CW at 8:00 p.m. ET, as followed by the network's newest ass-kicker, Black Lightning. Head to our 2018 Superhero TV schedule to see all the other powered programming coming soon, and then bookmark our midseason premiere schedule for all your other TV-viewing needs.