‘The Flash’ Season 4 Review: Holding Out for a Hero

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In a recent interview, Grant Gustin revealed that he has been excited for season five of The Flash since the beginning of season four. Now that this season has come to an end, I can’t help but agree with the implication. I, too, am more excited about the fifth season than I was about its generally middling-at-best fourth. It was more a year to get through than a solid season of television – though it had some high moments, it had more than its share of low ones. So let’s talk about what worked and didn’t in season four of The Flash.

Overall Impression

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As I review the season as a whole in order to write this review, what strikes me the most is how…forgettable the bulk of it has been. The Flash has been one of my favorite shows since it first hit the air, but this season was overall fairly “meh.” I had to struggle to recall the plot of more than one episode. There were moments I loved and moments I hated, but more than either, I have entire episodes I simply struggle to recall at all. And in the end, I’m not sure if that’s not the most damning thing about this season.

However, while the finale that did not have the traditional cliffhanger, it managed to leave me excited for next year. And since I think there has been some obvious course-correction in the show since the change in show runners, I am hopeful that the flaws of this season (and, to be honest, those before it) will no longer be an issue going into the future.

What Worked

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The West-Allen family has been the heart of the show from the very beginning. This was no less true in season four (and promises to be true in season five). From Barry’s emotional scenes with Henry and Joe in the first season to interacting with Nora’s speed force ghost in the second season to the proposal(s) in the third season, The Flash consistently knocks its emotional beats out of the park.

This season had some truly touching emotional moments for the West-Allen family. The main villain’s plot of the season may have become more about Ralph than Barry, in the end. (More on that later.) But the scenes in the courthouse and jail between Iris and Barry in the first half of the season were absolutely wrenching.

There were some other lovely emotional moments this season. Joe and Cecile had some touching scenes in their pregnancy storyline (though I would have liked to see them as individuals in their jobs more, as well). I fell in love with Cisco and Cynthia together last year, and so I enjoyed every moment of them together this year. Sadly, it seems unlikely I will get the chance to enjoy any more scenes of the two of them together.

Until the final third or so of the season, I even enjoyed Clifford and Marlize DeVoe together. True, they were the Big Bads of the season, but the show did a good job of establishing their love for each other. That is, until Clifford became corrupted, controlling, manipulative, and cruel.

Clifford’s plan also ended up being a little silly, with enough plot holes to drive a truck through. However, it was nice to get a villain who wasn’t a speedster. It was refreshing to have a villain who wasn’t just after Barry’s speed for Reasons. DeVoe’s story may not have lived up to my hopes or aspirations, but it was nice to take a break from the usual mold.

The villain wasn’t the only area where the show tried – with varying levels of success – to fix past mistakes. They tried to bring some humor back to the show. At times, they tried too hard to bring humor back to the show. Particularly with the character of Ralph; that humor too often was juvenile and forced, but there were some genuinely funny moments through the season.

They also tried to make sense of Killer Frost’s story, which has sadly been contradictory and confusing since her introduction. There is some hope they will focus on Iris’s role as a reporter more next season, as well. It may be that season four’s greatest strengths were in setting the groundwork for The Flash’s fifth season. And that’s not even getting into what looks to be an intriguing storyline in the appearance of Nora Allen, Barry and Iris’s daughter from the future.

What Didn’t Work

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That said, there was plenty that didn’t work this year. Most of it could be summed up in two words: Ralph Dibny. Their attempts at humor with the character tended to be juvenile and gross, when they weren’t overtly misogynistic. The focus on his character even came to eclipse their titular hero. That his character waffled back and forth every episode didn’t help. One week, he’d decide he wanted to be a hero. The next week, he’d decide he didn’t want to be a hero. The next week, he was a hero again. Then he was hiding out in the lab, willing to let everyone else risk their lives to save him. Then he was talking about how they meant more to him than his own life again.

The actor seems charming and I think he could have portrayed a really endearing character. Sadly, the Ralph we got was a drag on the show. That he’s likely returning has to be the thing I’m looking forward to the least next year.

Speaking of messes, Killer Frost is a character that has been an inconsistent mess since she was introduced. That remained true for a good chunk of this season. The contrived excuses for her to sit out on the action or be knocked out in three seconds (often so Ralph could shine) didn’t help. Of course, everyone knows The CW doesn’t have the CGI budget of bigger networks. However, if they have to sideline characters because they don’t have the budget for all the effects, maybe they should cut back on the number of metas on the team.

But even when she was in on the action, her story had issues. Caitlin and Killer Frost both worked for Amunet over the summer hiatus. Amunet was unapologetically a human trafficker, which Caitlin must have known. And yet she chose to work for her anyway. While certainly problematic, this could have led to an interesting character arc. If they’d chosen to address it. Even in the end, when Caitlin volunteered to have Killer Frost do “one more job” – no questions or stipulations asked – for Amunet’s help, nobody even batted an eye at the potential job she might be asked to do.

The last few episodes of the season were a (potential) silver lining. Killer Frost is apparently getting a reboot. It isn’t her first, but one can hope it will be her last.

At least in part, this season’s biggest issues may have been due to what may politely be referred to as “production problems” behind the scenes. This year also saw the firing of show runner Andrew J. Kreisberg. And rightly so. One of my first articles for Fangirlish discussed the problematic treatment of their female characters. The allegations against Kreisberg put those issues in rather more disturbing context.

Hopefully, with Kreisberg gone and a new show runner in charge, The Flash’s fifth season will fix the problems in its past and make it the show it has always had the potential to be.

Speaking of disservices in The Flash, I could go into the disservice paid to their story and characters with the way the wedding was handled this year. But that could be entire article in and of itself. Suffice it to say, that pivotal moment could (and should) have been handled better.

What We Wanted to See More Of

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If the biggest failing in the series has consistently been its villains, its refusal to flesh out the characters and expand the world has to be a close second. I know many think S.T.A.R. Labs needs to be destroyed. I don’t think the lab needs to be removed entirely, but I do think they need to remove the crutch of it for at least a half a season. Too many episodes have revolved around the same characters standing in the same sets having the same conversations. The episode’s villain makes an appearance, they stand around in the lab until the solutions is found, and then the villain is neutralized.

I want to see more of these characters outside of the lab. What do Cisco and Caitlin and whatever version of Harrison Wells we have do when they aren’t solving the problem of the week? Frankly, I’d love it if they all got jobs outside of the lab, so that we could see them juggle their personal lives and their roles as team members.

Also, giving them lives outside of the lab would help to expand the world. In a show like The Flash, the city itself should be a character. That character has been ignored more than any other for far too long. We need to see how Flash affects the lives of the people around him. Doing so would give the threats he faces more weight, his struggles more impact.

Towards the end of the season, Caitlin got more of a story, in the reboot of the Killer Frost story. However, Cisco’s story this year seemed to revolve around his love life and his newfound role as Harry’s babysitter. There is more to his character than either role, and it’s a great disservice to him to pretend otherwise.

What We Wanted to See Less Of

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Do. I. Even. Need. To. Say. The. Words.

Favorite Episodes

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“Luck Be a Lady” (Episode 4×03) – I love it when comic book shows embrace the fun of their source material. This was one such example. Plus, we got to see the team hanging out and having fun outside of the lab for the first (and quite possibly last) time this season.

“The Trial of the Flash” (Episode 4×10) – As an attorney, I’ll confess this episode caused me a certain amount of pain. Cecile…honey…you should be written to be a better attorney than this. But there was some good tension. The acting was spot on. And the moment in Flashtime was one of the most beautiful scenes in the season.

“Enter Flashtime” (Episode 4×15) – Even if I loved nothing else about the show this year (and I did), that episode had to be the best of the entire series. It was everything an episode of a show about superheroes should be. It had drama, tension, and heart. The focus was on Barry as the hero, as it should be. And it established Iris as Barry’s lightning rod – something fans have been waiting years to see.

“Run, Iris, Run” (Episode 4×16) – Another episode that embraced the wacky fun of the show’s source material, so it should be no surprise that it made it into my list of favorites. I adore Iris as she is, but comic stories where a human gets superpowers for a day are often fun. This was no exception. That it laid some groundwork for Nora’s reveal at the end of the season was just the icing on the cake.

Least Favorite Episodes

Not to beat a dead horse, but every episode that centered around Ralph was a definite low for me. And there were entirely too many of those this season for me to list. That sadly includes Kevin Smith’s episode of the year, “Null and Annoyed.” Since he directed “The Runaway Dinosaur” – which has long been a favorite episode of mine – I hope they give him more solid material to work with next year.

Best Quotes

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“Yes it’s zappy, it’s stupid, it’s smoopy, but there is something about you that makes me want to do stupid smoopy things. And I hate the word smoopy and people who use it.” “Wow, that is the sweetest and angriest thing you have ever said to me!”

– Cynthia Reynolds and Cisco Ramon, Season 4 Episode 2: Mixed Signals

“If everyone knew my secret, we would never stop running.” “I would rather run forever with you than stand alone without you.”

– Barry Allen and Iris West-Allen, Season 4 Episode 10: The Trial of the Flash

“They call me a man who elongates now.” “Hm, they should call you pathetic.”

– Ralph Dibny and Killer Frost, Season 4 Episode 13: True Colors

“Do you know what makes a great speedster? It isn’t their speed. It’s being the light that everyone needs when the world grows dark. It’s the kind of person they are. The kind of person that always wants to help. That’s why being the Flash is your destiny. It’s your way of helping others. But it isn’t mine. This is.”

Iris West-Allen, Season 4 Episode 16: Run, Iris, Run

Season Finale Impression

For the most part, it was…fine. In a season of ups and downs, it more or less did what it needed to do. It wrapped up the Thinker’s storyline…and unfortunately brought back Ralph. However, it also left us with a happy, carefree Flash – a first for a season finale in this show.

It did finally answer the question of the season: Who is the mystery girl? The fact that she’s Barry and Iris’s daughter from the future could hardly be called a surprise. But that doesn’t make it any less satisfying. I can’t wait to see where the story goes next season.

I’m also curious to know who the Big Bad of season five will be, since that tease was apparently cut from the episode.

Next Season Speculation

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Since the tease of the Big Bad was cut, it’s a little harder than usual to speculate on what next season might bring. We don’t really have any idea which villain Barry and the team might face. Right now, the only thing we really know about season five is that various generations of the West-Allen family will be at the heart of it.

Of course, we’re going to have to find out what brought Nora to our time – and what mistake she made when she was here. We will supposedly find out why she came to the specific periods she did. It’s possible Barry died when she was young, and she came to the past to save him. Her avoidance of Iris will undoubtedly be significant. Iris knows better than most the consequences of time travel. I’m sure she was wanting to avoid the very time changes it seems Nora unintentionally made.

As for what those changes are, we don’t really have enough information to speculate accurately. Since she has a twin in the comics that we haven’t seen yet on the show, her actions could have accidentally unwritten him from existence. I’m not sure I’m totally sold on that theory. It’s hard to get the casual audience invested in a character they’ve never met, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they went another way.

But if family is the theme of next year, that theme will likely be present in the plots for the other characters, as well.I had the feeling this year that Caitlin’s father would be integral to her Killer Frost plot next year. I’m still banking on that being true. Killer Frost will undoubtedly return, but will it be as friend or foe? That Nora claimed not to have met her before suggests the latter. Either way, she will undoubtedly be redeemed by the end of the season.

With Dante gone, it’s unclear how – or if – Cisco’s story will integrate his family. I can only hope that his character has a better story next season than his nearly-nonexistent one this year.

Since we don’t know what version of Wells we will get next year, it’s impossible to speculate on what his story may bring. As for Ralph…I couldn’t possibly care less.

We may not know much about next year, but the knowledge it will introduce Barry’s future lineage of speedsters makes me excited enough to make this summer hiatus seem interminable already.

The Flash will return Fall 2018 on The CW.

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