written by Becky Shire
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
My initial reaction to the end of Season One of The Flash was oh, thank the DC Holy Trinity they didn’t do Flashpoint.
Of course, I laugh now because Episode 3×01 is a thing that happened, but back when Season One ended, my biggest sigh of relief was that we’d sidestepped some of the biggest narrative problems which had made me want to scream at the comics version of the Flashpoint story – the name of which at least half the comic book Flash fans will curse. There are just not many good reasons to subject an audience to that mess, particularly one new to the Flash mythos.
What the season ultimately ended on was Barry traveling back in time to stop himself, realizing he shouldn’t change history because the consequences aren’t worth it, and he wouldn’t be who he is without his past. Comics Flashpoint was used to upend a long and tangled comics history for the potential of a fresh start. It was a method of rebooting a universe bogged down with too many (often conflicting) storylines. It wasn’t something the writers needed to subject a brand-new universe to.
By the way, hi folks! I’m Kevin’s occasionally-referenced “Flash Guru”, stepping in to do a Season One wrap-up review. I’ve been a DC Comics fan for a long time now, and particularly a fan of the Flash legacy and Mark Waid’s work with it. For me, the Flash is a special superhero amongst his peers because more than most, the legacy is built with a focus on hope, fun, cheerfulness, and the family aspect of superheroing. The Flashes are one big extended family, even the ones not related by blood. Some of the best Flash comics are when there are anywhere from four to seven speedsters all working together, along with their families and best friends – their “lightning rods” who keep them grounded. No city loves and interacts with its superheroes in quite the way Keystone and Central City interact with their Flashes. Their Rogues have an almost friendly (but still antagonistic) relationship with them, a Flash’s civilian identity is frequently public knowledge, and the cities maintain a Flash Museum and annual Flash Day. It’s unique.
The TV show overall really delivered on what makes a great Flash story. The family connections, both biological and not, were the most important parts of the story. Jesse L. Martin (Joe West, a.k.a. Cop Dad), John Wesley Shipp (Henry Allen, a.k.a. Jail Dad) and Tom Cavanagh (Harrison Wells, a.k.a. Eobard Thawne, a.k.a. Evil Science Dad) all delivered amazing performances with a lot of depth. They demonstrated various kinds of family connections – the adoptive father, the biological father, and the mentor father-figure.
While it was very cool to have Shipp – who played Barry Allen in the ’90s Flash TV show – return as Henry Allen, and his character moments were vitally important, his part was probably the least memorable of the three dads. Martin as the adoptive father had the most emotional and compelling interactions with Barry, as well as some of the best story points, reinforcing the strength and importance of families which are built and chosen as equal as genetic families. It’s the Flash legacy in a nutshell: to have the people you choose as family be the closest and most important people in your life. The actors and writers really delivered on that with Joe and Barry. I never expected for a TV-invented character to become such a favorite.
Harrison Wells is something else entirely. He transforms from Science Goals to Science Dad to the Big Bad over the course of the season, and Cavanagh pulls off the complexities of the character with impressive skill. There were a lot of complaints throughout the season that it took too long to get to the reveal of Harrison being the Reverse-Flash, and I both agree and disagree with that assessment. For the audience, his real intentions were obvious for far too long before the rest of the characters caught on. We knew Harrison was bad news from early on, yet the rest of the Flash Family didn’t really catch up until the episode count was nearly in the twenties. That makes for a great example of dramatic irony, but as a viewer, it can be frustrating to watch. From the in-story narrative, however, it made sense that no one knew. We knew Harrison was bad from scenes, information, and subtle gestures that the other characters largely weren’t privy to. Even when they started to suspect, Harrison showed his skills as a master manipulator to keep them uncertain if not completely loyal. (I wrote about his manipulation tactics in detail for the Hartley Rathaway episode “The Sound and the Fury”.) They didn’t have all the info to realistically be ready to jump to the conclusion that the man they had trusted for so long was an enemy, not until the evidence was irrefutable. However, it was a failing of the show to have the audience ready to turn on Harrison for so long before the other characters were. The reveals should have started later, or been doled out more slowly or with less certainty to prevent this sort of audience frustration.
Iris West’s story was admittedly a source of both triumph and frustration. Her actress (Candice Patton) is skilled, and Iris was allowed her fully justified anger in the narrative, but there was never really a good reason to keep her in the dark for so long. Plus, it was very un-Flash-like to me. The Flashes aren’t like Batman, keeping secrets to protect the people in their lives. They communicate. Even though most of the DC speedsters are men, the women connected to the Flash family are generally the heads of the family. They are the leaders, the investigators, and the planners. It’s very matriarchal in its own way, and in the comics, Iris West-Allen – investigative reporter, wife, grandmother, lawbreaker, enemy-maker, and general badass – has long been the head of the Flash family, even more so than Barry. The boys colluding to keep her in the dark felt like a deep betrayal of the Flash mythos, doing it out of some misplaced intention to protect her, even though the lack of knowledge repeatedly put her in danger. That was just adding insult to injury. (I’m happy to say we’re finally seeing Iris starting to step into her comics role in later seasons.)
I can’t avoid comparing the TV show to the comics. For longtime Flash fans, the experience of watching the TV show is very different. Almost nothing and no one shows up on-screen without carrying with them implications and biases from the moment they’re given their comics names. Every villain of the week comes with decades of baggage that the show may or may not use. I think the show did a good job of incorporating easter eggs (Ferris Air, Palmer Technology, Blackhawk Squad Security, Mercury Labs, Beatriz da Costa, Ralph Dibny, etc.) that were meaningful for fans without making new fans feel like they were missing something vital. The show also incorporated things not typically related to the Flash, or sometimes it broke from comics canon to make cleaner storylines not bogged down by fifty-plus years of continuity. Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon aren’t traditionally Flash-related characters (although Cisco’s powers were related more closely to the Speed Force in the nu52 Vibe series), but they did a wonderful job of incorporating them into the show and making them feel like they belonged there. It was great to see a woman and a Latino man as key heroic characters and scientific experts. They each had their own story arcs and character development which felt almost as central as Barry’s own. I want to see more of the canonically gay Captain David Singh and Hartley Rathaway in the future. While it’s a bit sad to not see David and Hartley together, it’s probably best to show explicitly non-straight characters as heroic and villainous completely unrelated to their sexuality (the scrapped pilot script which had Hartley as one of the good guys will always make me a bit sad, though).
Which brings me to Eddie Thawne. He was a gigantic red herring for anyone who knows the Flash mythos. Thawnes and Allens are kind of the Hatfields and McCoys of the Flash mythos, except that 90% of the animosity is from the Thawne side. The Thawne name is synonymous with “villain” for Flash fans. No matter how good he was, I spent most of the season waiting for the reveal that Harrison was a false flag, that Eddie either was the Reverse-Flash or was ordering him around, or that Eddie was the secret long-lost twin of Barry Allen who became Cobalt Blue and originated the entire Thawne/Allen thousand-year feud. (~COMICS!~) There were only two Thawnes I ever liked and trusted: Meloni Thawne, who had a child with Barry’s son Don Allen 1000 years in the future; and their son, time-travelling speedster ball of sunshine Bart Allen. Not only did the show not go the expected route with Eddie, but he never did the “unreasonably jealous asshole boyfriend” thing, he argued with Joe and Barry on not sharing Barry’s secret with Iris, he supported the Flash, he became Barry’s friend, he stood up to torture and manipulation by a man who successfully manipulated everyone at S.T.A.R. Labs, and he sacrificed himself to save everyone else. The show made me love a Thawne, which is next to impossible to do for me. As much as I want Iris and Barry as a couple, I also want Eddie Thawne back, safe and sound. Kudos.
I do wish Season One hadn’t felt the need to focus on the Reverse-Flash as the primary villain. When later seasons keep using speedsters as the Big Bads, it starts to feel repetitive. They could have used the villain of the week formula to build up the Rogues as an organized team led by Captain Cold. Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell do brilliant jobs as unapologetic, scenery-chewing villains with a code, and a big showdown in the season finale being either Barry versus the Rogues or a Flash/Rogues team-up to stop a common enemy in Gorilla Grodd. After being antagonists for so long, that could have been a satisfying season finale, then capped with the “Harrison Wells is the Reverse-Flash” reveal to culminate smaller hints dropped all season and lead into Season Two. That would also have left the show with a go-to pool of charismatic regular villains to pull from and have drawn-out relationships with beyond just the Snart siblings and Mick Rory. However, they weren’t certain they’d be getting a Season Two, so I understand wanting to go big with the Reverse-Flash. I just worry we’ll never see a proper team of Rogues form in the TV show, as it might feel like a step down from universe-manipulating, time-traveling evil speedsters…but it’d be a shame to not see more of these actors in those roles.
Ultimately, The Flash accomplished the most important thing it needed to do. It gave us a superhero story in the television medium which was focused primarily on a positive take on a superhero. Barry has tragedy in his life, but he isn’t a hero out for vengeance. Barry is a hero because he wants to help people. Not to punish evil-doers. Even without powers, Barry is driven to help, because it’s not that having powers burdened him with the responsibility to act, but rather it just gave him a new way to do so. When we have so many less-cheerful takes on superheroes, one that is openly delighted to have powers and help people just because that’s who he is as a person, makes me believe The Flash is a superhero story we need more of.
The Flash airs Tuesdays on the CW at 8 ET/7 CT. Becky can be reached on Twitter @ElfGrove.