I didn’t want to love The Flash. Even after seeing Grant Gustin’s infectious performance on two episodes of mothership Arrow, I greeted the many promos for the show’s debut with a shrug or an eye roll. But I tuned in anyway, and that first season was something no superhero show had been since I was a kid watching OG Wonder Woman Lynda Carter swing her golden lasso: fun. A ridiculous amount of fun, in fact. Season 1 The Flash eschewed all the grimdark portentousness of the DC universe, instead imbuing a science-positive coming of age story with a lightning-fast touch. The writers packed all the thrills and excitement of the show into one simple line: “Run, Barry, run!”
Season 2 had some stumbles, but stayed the course, delivering a solid show with a great villain in Zoom, not to mention the epic crossovers with Arrow. But the season finale saw Barry make a huge mistake in initiating Flashpoint, a move that seemed motivated more by the writers’ manipulations than the character’s personality. Season 3 has had moments that returned to form–the Arrowverse crossover, episodes like “The Present” and “Dead or Alive”–but continues to suffer from some potentially fatal flaws, alienating the audience with inconsistent character motivations, some very retro morals, and angst for the sake of angst.
If it weren’t for the strength of the cast, led by outstanding turns by Gustin, Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin, and Carlos Valdes, I would have turned out long ago. But I just can’t quit the characters I’ve loved for three seasons. The show still has so much potential and, as we’ve seen with Arrow this year, the writers can still turn things around.
And I’ve got five (humble) suggestions for how to drag this show out of the Speed Force and back to Earth 1…
No more keeping secrets, period. I get it. Secret identities are a superhero show’s bread and butter. But The Flash has washed-rinsed-repeated this particular trope too many times to count. A character learns something that will upset someone else/the group. He/she hides this for several episodes, until the truth is finally forced out. Everyone gets angry. The team splinters. Bad things happen. They come together to learn the valuable lesson that they are stronger as a team when they are honest with each other.
But the lesson never sticks. It’s gotten so absurd that almost every week someone is keeping something vital and life-shattering from someone else, leading the show to go through the same emotional beats over and over again. Imagine the drama that could be wrought from them being upfront and honest with each other. The truth can be terrifying. Loving someone but deeply disagreeing with them can be heart-wrenching. Actually earning one another’s trust and having it stick, having them act as a team and still lose–that’s real drama. Regardless, there are so many other ways to create drama and conflict between the characters. Writers, it’s time to dig another well (but no more Wells’s, please).
Retire the speedster villains. First it was Reverse Flash. Then Zoom. Now Savitar. I think we’ve exhausted the speedster rogues’ gallery. (Alas, I know that’s not really true. But comic books are not TV shows, and you need to change it up, stat.) Doctor Alchemy had a different skill set, but he’s done now. Maybe part of the reason the plots keep recycling is that the villains are too similar and how the heroes defeat them is starting to have a same-y quality. For season 4, please challenge the team in a new way.
Give the supporting characters stronger storylines. Nobody ever does their job on this show, unless, like Cisco and Caitlin, their job is “support The Flash”. We haven’t seen Joe genuinely investigate anything as a detective since season 1. Iris got one episode where she did some investigative reporting this season, but it was coupled with her going against Barry and Joe’s wishes. Julian and Barry have both ceased to be crime scene techs altogether, and I don’t even think Wally has a job. Why does every story have to involve the whole Flash team and take place in Star Labs? Why not give Joe a spotlight episode based on an actual crime? Have Caitlin called somewhere to use her doctoring talents? Have an old friend approach Cisco to design him something amazing and have it go horribly wrong? You have one of the strongest ensembles on TV. Give them more to do.
Stop fridging and stereotyping the female characters. It’s getting kind of gross, to be honest, the way Iris has almost entirely given up her life–and might literally sacrifice it–since she and Barry got together. The writers have never really known how to use her and, while the WestAllen romance has increased her screen time, it’s given rise to such 1950s-esque moments as Joe chiding Barry for not asking his permission before he proposed to Iris, and then Iris chiding Barry for the exact same thing! Because God forbid Iris decide for herself who she wants to marry, or put her job before her relationship, or push back against the helicopter parenting/boyfriending of the two main men in her life. Not to mention the fact that the entire season hinges on Barry’s vision of her being killed, which we have to see over and over, as the various men figure out how to save her. Wouldn’t it be great if, in the end, Iris saves herself.
I’m equally baffled by the Caitlin storyline this year. I don’t think we ever got an explanation why her getting powers means she automatically has to fight this inner evil twin that constantly threatens to overtake her life. Way to promote the idea that women + power = evil, writers. Earth 1 Caitlin has never been evil–why would getting powers make her so? Why is Killer Frost written like a second identity/possessing demon? I understand wanting her to struggle to come to terms with her powers; I don’t understand why that struggle has to be against an ‘evil’ persona, or why she has to restrain herself when Wally is getting training for his new powers (women + power = danger!), or why it’s always a man who manages to bring her back to herself. “I’m scared of this thing inside of me” can be an effective plot, but there’s too much gender-loaded baggage here.
It would also be nice if, you know, the two women on the show were friends. Take a page from Riverdale, The Flash.
Barry needs to stop being such a dick. In the hands of a lesser actor, a lot of people would have tapped out on Barry by now. Grant Gustin is a jewel, and they need to pay him all the money for how he salvages their mediocre, repetitive storylines and selfish version of Barry. The show falls over itself to underline what a great leader Barry is without providing a shred of evidence to prove it. Every time Barry is challenged in the slightest way by someone on the team, he pulls ranks and acts out like a cranky toddler. Every time he’s tried to teach Wally or Jesse or someone about their powers and they make a mistake, he flips out on them and tries to fix everything himself. He regularly goes into “bullying jock” mode when threatened. He is a horrible teacher. He keeps essential, life-threatening secrets from his team. He makes decisions based on personal griefs, which screws things up catastrophically for everyone else, then sulks about it when someone points it out. These are not the actions of a capable leader. They are the reactions of a guy still maturing into adulthood. Which would be fine, if the narrative acknowledged that Barry is still on his journey to adulthood. Yet time and again, we’re told how great Barry is, quite a lot of evidence to the contrary. I mean, the guy proposed to his girlfriend just to change the future! Classic dick move. The only place we really get to see this wise and capable Barry is in the crossovers, when he’s dealing with Oliver/Green Arrow or Supergirl. I wish that Barry was the star of The Flash. Now he’s a guy I would follow anywhere.
Everything I’ve said here come from a place of love. I don’t want to tune out. I want The Flash to be awesome again. I know this is the family show in the Arrowverse, but that doesn’t mean it has to be repetitive, inconsistent, or flirt with sexism. And while we’re at it, how about some serious LGBTQ representation? There are currently three straight couples on the show. And the POCs often get shoved into their own marginalized subplots, away from the main action.
I criticize because I love, The Flash. Because we need a hero with Barry Allen’s spirit and optimism in these troubled times. He’s a speedster, after all–nothing wrong with keeping him on his toes.