There have been two sides to The Flash this season. The first side has been the one that has showed great promise and emotional depth that has reminded me of the reason why I fell in love with The Flash in the first place. The second side has been the one of wasted potential and frustrating narrative where it appears the focus is on comic elements instead of the universe that has been created for television.
While it’s perfectly fine to explore the comic roots of our dear Barry Allen, including one of his biggest rivals in Gorilla Grodd, there’s also a limit that you need to be aware of. You don’t want to oversaturate your audience – most of whom probably haven’t read the comics – with too many comic book elements that waver from the universe that you’ve spent three seasons cultivating.
I also understand that it’s hard to fill a 23-episode season with one or two main foes and storylines. I understand that there are filler episodes because of this. I understand that filler episodes are an opportunity to bring these comic book elements to the forefront. But these episodes are also an opportunity to focus on the characters and storylines that you don’t usually have time for during our big season-ending storyline.
I’ll be the first to admit (and you can read my review for “Attack on Gorilla City”) that I enjoyed last week’s episode. It wasn’t my favorite, but I enjoyed the brief departure into some really serious comic book stuff that non-comics fans were probably surprised by. But I also remember writing that I wasn’t sure how I would respond to the second part of this “Gorilla City” two-episode event because – for all intents and purposes – it felt like the story had been wrapped up.
To be honest, that was my biggest problem with the overall focus on “Attack on Central City.” It felt like a pointless continuation of a story that had appeared to have been wrapped up. It felt like an opportunity to drag out a story because of the infamous name attached to our villain. I don’t mind these episodes that really get their comic book on – in fact, I love them. But I only love them when it makes sense. There wasn’t any sense to tonight’s overall focus on Grodd.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said – “I don’t watch these superhero shows for the action, I watch for the characters” – then I’d be a damn millionaire right now. Sure, the action and effects can be cool as hell. But I’m not tuning in weekly for that alone. I’m watching live because I care about these characters that this show has introduced to me. Emotions are the heart of what it means to be human. We thrive off of those emotions in our real lives and when we take a break from reality with some fiction. Those emotions allow us to care; those emotions make these fictional universes feel real; those emotions are what allows these shows to continue to exist.
That’s what I want. That’s why I tune in every week. Those are the episodes – the ones heavily focused on characters – that I rave about. Those are the episodes that I choose to celebrate. Those are the episodes that stick with your audience.
Let’s break this down:
A Variety of Heroes
Something that has always annoyed me throughout this DC universe on The CW is how certain heroes are credited as “more heroic” than others based on their actions. Case in point, The Flash when compared with the Green Arrow. Sure, I’ll be the first to tell you that this season the Green Arrow is not at his finest. But looking at things in the grand scheme of things, a hero isn’t defined merely by their flaws. A hero is defined by the good they do in spite of the bad.
Heroes aren’t perfect. This Arrowverse has shown us that. Whether it’s Green Arrow or Supergirl or White Canary or The Flash. Each hero has their unique set of flaws that reminds that heroes – real life heroes – can still be heroes even when they mess up. But it’s how they choose to respond to adversity that is the true test of character.
In “Attack on Central City,” Barry was struggling with how to handle Grodd. Every time that Barry and Team Flash have faced him, they have defeated him. But every time they’ve defeated him, he has come back even stronger and smarter. There was a sense of hopelessness on Barry’s part as he was trying to wrack his brain to find a way – any way – to defeat Grodd. It was then that Barry realized that the only way to defeat Grodd once and for all was to kill him.
Now, we know that Barry isn’t a killer. We know other heroes that are – Green Arrow and White Canary to name a few. But not being a killer doesn’t make Barry any more a hero than Green Arrow or White Canary. It’s not right (obviously), but each of these heroes have been shaped by their pasts and the way they play hero is an example of that. Some thrive on the “kill or be killed” mentality and some thrive with the “there’s always another way” mentality.
One is not greater than the other as far as heroes are concerned. The single greatest thing that a hero can do is protect the innocent. Sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to kill a threat – if there’s no other way and the threat poses a serious danger. But sometimes there is another way than killing. Barry struggled with that in this episode.
Barry Allen has always been the optimist of the Arrowverse, along with Kara Danvers. They are the types of heroes that tend to look for the good because that’s how they were raised. So the fact that Barry was contemplating killing Grodd was a big deal. But that’s not what bothered me. What bothered me is that it was – once again – inferred that Barry is a superior hero because he doesn’t need to kill. When that’s not the case.
Look, I appreciate Barry for the hero he is, but I’m over this constant pitting heroes against each other to figure out who’s the best hero. That’s for everyone as an individual to decide with themselves. These heroes are friends. They wouldn’t appreciate the constant competition of who is the better hero. All they care about is that they’re out there saving people.
Where Has Iris West, the Individual, Gone?
I understand that The Flash is about Barry Allen. I know that. But at the same time, it isn’t. The Flash has established itself as a show that widens the scope to include all of the people in Barry’s life. For as we know – with heroes or people in general – we are shaped by the people in our lives. It only makes sense to make them a part of the story. Not only a part of the story, but a significant part, which includes storylines away from Team Flash.
Next to Barry Allen, Iris West is the second most important character on this show, which is what the narrative has told us. Her story and her journey are just as important to this story as Barry’s. For as his true love the things that happen to her affect him. But just because Iris is Barry’s “true love” doesn’t mean that she has to be confined to that singular space.
My biggest issue on – not only The Flash but all superhero shows not named Supergirl or Legends of Tomorrow has been that these female characters aren’t given the space or privilege of existing without some involvement by a man, whether that’s romantically or not. It’s not that we don’t get glimpses of these females getting that focus (we do), but there’s a lack on consistency which makes those brief glimpses feel like a dream.
Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love Westallen, but that’s not all that Iris is. I love getting to see those moments between Barry and Iris; I love getting to see her bring out the best in him. But I also want to see the woman behind the love interest. I want to see the woman that our hero fell in love with. And I don’t feel like The Flash is allowing me to do that.
With the shocking midseason finale revelation that Savitar kills Iris in the future, there was this renewed sense of hope that I felt regarding Iris’ character. We got to see her respond to that adversity. More than that, we got to see the promise of her vowing to leave her mark in this world in case that moment really was her final moment in this world.
There’s nothing like the promise of death to wake you the hell up and motivate you to do the things that you want to in this world. Does that include spending time with the person you love (for Iris, Barry)? Sure. But that’s not everything. Iris herself revealed that her fear was leaving this world and not having left an impact. It’s something that we can all relate to. What will our legacy look like? We don’t get to choose our legacy. Our legacy is how others remember us. But what we can control is what we choose to do in the present that helps shape that legacy. For Iris, that included being this renowned journalist that left a mark with the written word.
I remember watching “Dead or Alive” because at that moment I found myself wondering: Could this be the moment where we get to see this incredibly strong, powerful, and passionate woman fight to leave her mark on the world that has nothing to do with being The Flash’s girlfriend? I remember thinking that perhaps this is the moment where The Flash stops focusing so much on how the other characters respond to Barry and started focusing some on how Barry responds to them.
But that feeling lasted all but a couple of episodes as Iris has been recemented as Barry Allen’s cheerleader and nothing more. For two episodes, Iris was allowed to have substance. But then the writers stole it from her. And I fell for it. There needs to be a consistency with a storyline like this. You don’t just make it a huge deal for two episodes and then pretend like it doesn’t exist. Show me that you care. Because at this point I don’t believe you do. Sure, we got a mention of Iris having to submit a story for work. But I want you to show me. Don’t tell me.
Iris West is a courageous, empowered, independent badass that has never needed a man to stand on her own. “Sometimes a girl’s gotta be her own hero.” Remember that Iris? Where has she gone? When The Flash relegates Iris to being just a love interest it plays into the belief that female characters can’t be in a relationship and have a life outside of that relationship. Honestly, I just want Iris West to be respected. Let Iris be Iris.
To be honest, I don’t give a rat’s ass about two episodes of Gorilla Grodd when that time could be spent on some real character development. It’s moments when The Flash gets lost in its own comic book mythology that makes me wonder if The Flash will ever rediscover the recipe that made it such a brilliant success in its freshman season? Will The Flash ever learn to truly appreciate its female characters? Will The Flash ever let Iris West just be Iris West and not just Barry Allen’s girlfriend/fiancée/wife?
Pump the Breaks, Barry
Barry and Iris own a piece of my heart. I cannot rave enough about these two and their beautiful relationship. But at the same time, I won’t be easily distracted by shiny objects that attempt to mask a glitch in storytelling. (I learned that from Arrow with Olicity.)
So when Iris walked into her and Barry’s loft; when Iris saw the candles; when Barry some beautiful words; when Barry then knelt on one knee and proposed to Iris, I of course – being the Westallen fan I am – freaked for a moment at what was happening. But then realization dawned on me as I realized what we happening. Barry and Iris had just started dating this season. They only moved in with each other three months ago. Now all of a sudden Barry is proposing to Iris.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Pump the breaks, Barry.
I understand Barry’s reasoning behind it; I understand the writers’ reasoning behind it. Barry and Iris are faced with this uncertain future where Iris could possibly die at the hands of Savitar in only three months. There’s a feeling of “living in the moment” that is very present in this story. It’s not about fawning over the possibility of what could be so much as it is living in the present. So why not? Why not seal their love with a proposal?
Look, we all know Iris is not going to die. I’m sorry, Flash, but you’re not fooling anyone. Except maybe Barry, Iris, and the rest of the characters on your show. So I guess we have the presence of dramatic irony among us. Anyway, there’s no need for Barry and Iris to get engaged so soon.
For the most part, we’ve gotten to see Barry and Iris in pure bliss. There hasn’t been any conflict in their relationship. I know they’ve known each other forever, but things change when you’re romantically involved and sharing a life together. There are going to be issues. If there aren’t any issues then something is wrong. That’s what this living together stage is all about. It’s about figuring out what works and what doesn’t and adapting to it.
Barry and Iris’ relationship has felt very forced. I don’t know if it’s because of this storyline with Iris “dying” in the future and playing with that possibility, but I feel like The Flash is going 85 mph in a school zone. It needs to slow down. I understand that this is The Flash, but come on!
The best part about these romances on television is getting to experience these moments that help mold these relationships we know, love, and obsess over. I don’t want someone to tell me what happened, I want to experience it myself. Isn’t that the point of television? To live a false reality as if it were reality?
I understand why Barry proposed. I understand why Iris is probably going to say yes. But I’m praying that The Flash handles Barry and Iris with respect. I don’t want to see this end badly. Or worse, I don’t want to see their relationship dampened.
Part of me is hoping that Iris comes to the realization that Barry is doing this only because he believes she’s going to die. I want Iris – the real Iris – to step back and really examine the situation. It would be easy to say “yes.” It would be easy to be engaged and live this fantasy. But I want Iris – the reporter – to question this situation. I want her to realize that it’s not as meaningful when there’s a clock running. I want her to tell Barry, “I love you, and I want to marry you. But not like this.” I want Barry and co. to defeat Savitar. I want Barry and Iris to continue to grow in their relationship. I want Barry to – in time – propose to Iris when the moment is right and when they’re both ready.
But, let’s be honest, that’s probably not going to happen.
It’s not about the end result, it’s about the journey. Sure, I want to see Barry and Iris living in bliss. But then that’s where their story ends. I want to see what happened in between the moment they got together and the moment they lived happily ever after. I want to know their story. I want to see the good moments. I want to see the struggles. I want to see them working through their issues. I want to appreciate their journey. Please, Flash, let me do that.
- As much as I want to be happy about Barry proposing to Iris, it’s just too damn fast. I understand that Barry is terrified about losing Iris and wants to live life right now, but don’t give up. And take a damn chill pill. Or 30.
- This whole “Gorilla City” two-episode event only needed to be one episode. While the sub plots carried along, this whole Grodd storyline was dragged out too much for my liking. I get it, it’s cool when you can bring big comic book names to your show. But don’t overdo it at the expense of that character.
- The moment Joe West almost took a bullet to a head, I almost died. Like screw Grodd for bringing us the closest we’ve ever been to Joe West dying. I can’t. I won’t. DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN, FLASH.
- Where has Iris West the reporter gone? She’s been confined to being Barry Allen’s cheerleader instead of the badass reporter that we all know she is. Look, I love Westallen, but not at the expense of Iris’ character.
- Is Savitar’s return right on schedule? Or has the future changed? We know that Savitar is slated to “kill” Iris in late May (our season finale), but I can’t help but wonder if his return is at the right time? We still have two months to go. I’m nervous here.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.