Ever since the “Mixed Signals” episode of this season’s The Flash, there have been people (calling some of them “fans” verges on overstatement) who have taken exception to Iris’s line: “You aren’t the Flash, Barry. We are.” For the past few months, I’ve happily ignored these detractors with little more than rolled eyes. However, while eagerly awaiting a new episode of one of my favorite shows on television, these complaints have arisen again – exacerbated by a lot of pretty ridiculous assumptions about what these next few episodes will bring. And so I feel it is time to clear the air about this line, to speak to its meaning and the theme it represents. And perhaps to point out some pretty glaring hypocrisy in fandom. (I know – hypocrisy in fandom? Who would have thought?)
Welcome to Metaphors!
So what was the purpose of this line? Was Iris trying to take credit for everything Barry has done as the Flash? Indicating to Barry that she’s the bigger hero? Perhaps telling him he wouldn’t be a hero without her? Was she demanding he hand over his mask and let her do the dirty work from now on?
Better questions: Given that any of the above is a direct contradiction to everything Iris has ever said and done, why would anyone attribute that meaning? And if anyone thinks any of those might be what was happening, are they actually watching the show? As a follow-up since the obvious answer to that question is no, why are they spending so much time online talking about a show they clearly aren’t even watching?
Iris’s words were – quite clearly – a metaphor. What is a metaphor? It’s a figure of speech that describes something in a way that isn’t literally true but helps explain the idea. It equates two things not because those things are truly the same but for the sake of symbolism. It is done to make a point – or for colorful language – but not as a statement of fact.
“He’s the black sheep in his family.” “She was boiling mad.” “He is the light of her life.” “There is a block of ice where her heart should be.” “You aren’t the Flash, Barry. We are.” “I can’t believe I have to explain that ‘We are the Flash’ is a metaphor.”
All of the above are metaphors. Except for the last. That one’s just me.
All snark aside, Iris was using a metaphor as a way to make a point to Barry. The simple reality is that Barry isn’t alone. His actions, his choices, do not just impact him. They impact everyone around him, but particularly her. This is true, even in the real world, where superheroes are all too hard to come by. Ask anyone in a serious, committed relationship, and if their relationship is halfway decent and healthy, they’ll say that, when you are in such a relationship, it isn’t just about you anymore.
Marriage requires communication, taking your partner’s opinions into account. Or at least being aware that your decisions impact them. Should you take that promotion that means more money but also long hours and travel away from your spouse and eight precocious but adorable children two weeks per month? Can you just drop everything and go on a six week long overseas vacation? Should you pursue your dream of becoming a logger? All are issues you would discuss with your spouse or significant other in the real world. The first would mean seriously readjusting your family dynamic. The second would probably impact the family budget. Even if not, if you don’t tell your spouse your plans, you’re likely to come home to search parties combing the woods for your dead body because your spouse assumed the worst. And since logging is currently ranked as the most dangerous job in America, there is apparently a reasonable chance it would cost you your life, and that’s certainly the kind of information your significant other should have.
Iris’s words were clearly a metaphor to remind Barry that he isn’t an island unto himself. He isn’t alone. His decisions impact him. And her. (And Cisco. Caitlin. Harry. And occasionally random people on the street, for that matter.)
How do I know for a fact that this is what the writers intended when Iris delivered that line? Because they flat-out told us that’s what they meant the two previous sentences! “When I put this ring on my finger, it wasn’t just about you or me anymore. It was about us. You are not the Flash, Barry. We are.”
I honestly don’t know how they could have made it any more clear than that, short of having Barry respond directly to the camera with, “And that’s a metaphor, folks.”
A Theme By Any Other Name Would Still Be a Theme
Now let’s talk about the purpose of this line in the theme of the show. This season has been making a clear parallel between the Westallen relationship and the relationship between Clifford and Marlize DeVoe. Part of setting up that parallel has been highlighting that Barry and Iris are as tied to each other, their decisions having as much impact on each other, as the DeVoes.
It was the reason he didn’t run when he was framed for murder. Running in that moment would mean he would always have to run. He would never be able to stop looking over his shoulder long enough to have a future with his friends or with the woman he loves. And since he would have to leave everyone he cares about behind (and would have to continue doing so every time the law got too close), it would mean a life of solitude and loneliness. But because he is not alone – and doesn’t want to be – he stayed and allowed himself to be arrested for a murder he didn’t commit. Trusting that they would find a way through it together.
As we head into the second half of the season, the fact that Barry is not alone is even more paramount. I expect that we will find that this is one challenge he will not be able to face by himself. He will need Iris by his side, just as he will need the support of his friends and loved ones. It was at the very least implied that Henry Allen was abandoned when he went to jail for Nora’s murder. He had lost the woman he loved. Barry was the only one who believed he was innocent, and he was too young to offer much help. It seems unlikely that he had a posse of friends at his back, ready to fight to prove his innocence and gain him his freedom.
I would be astonished if the series didn’t draw parallels between Henry’s story and Barry’s. (The fact DeVoe caused his body’s death via stabbing in the Allens’ living room is unlikely sheer coincidence.) However, the key difference will be that Henry was alone when he faced his accusations. Barry won’t be.
The theme of Barry depending on the woman he loves is still the theme, even if you don’t like the romance the show runners have chosen to tell – or the woman they’re telling it with.
Wanna Know How I Got These Scars?
With all of the above being…pretty darn obvious, I think, one who has not been involved in fandom before might well ask why it needs to be said in the first place. Why are some willing to ignore actual stated dialogue and clear purpose to attribute dark ulterior motives? Why did these same people assume Iris would physically abuse Barry a week after their wedding? (Spoiler alert: She didn’t. Marlize slapped him. As anyone paying attention would have guessed.) Why would they jump to the conclusion that Iris is about to defy his wishes and reveal his secret to the world for what they also assume to be selfish purposes?
Let’s be honest. When Iris sucks in a breath, there are some who are ready to accuse her of depleting the world’s oxygen supply for selfish purposes. Undoubtedly in some way specifically abusive to Barry. Writing about all the stupid and illogical things people find to hate Iris for would take an entire series of articles. You could choose to write about one a week, and you’d still have plenty of articles to post long after the series is done.
Instead, I just want to touch on the hypocrisy of fandom. These same fans who want to burn Iris in effigy for transgressions real and imagined (Or assumed and imagined. But mostly imagined.) write post after post and tweet after tweet about how much they want more Team Flash. Rather, they want “Original Team Flash” which is the shorthand version of “Team Flash Before Iris Was Allowed Into It Because We Don’t Like Her Touching Our Stuff Or Being Close to Barry Or Even Being In The Show At All.” OTF is just quicker and easier to write.
They complain about the lack of OTF scenes because they credit Cisco and Caitlin with at best helping him be the hero he is today and at times making him said hero. (They tend to forget or ignore the fact that Harribard was more than a little instrumental and all but catapulted him into hero-dom.) “He couldn’t do it without them!” “Barry needs them; he doesn’t need Iris!” “Where would he be without them?” “They were the ones who made him a hero and are the only reasons he’s still alive today!”
I am, for the purposes of this argument, pretending that they give Cisco and Caitlin equal credit and argue as vehemently for both. For the record, however, they are not treated equally, and one-half of that duo is all too often remembered only insofar as necessary to decry shipping motivations to fandom outrage.
I think every character has had their place on the show. (You can take Cisco from me when you pry him from my cold, dead hands.) I understand where fans are coming from when they complain that the writers dumb down Barry to justify the existence of Team Flash. However, I don’t think the one necessitates the other. Very good superhero shows have been written around solo heroes who didn’t really have a so-called “team.” (Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman for one.) Good shows have been written around solo heroes who come equipped with plucky support systems. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes immediately to mind.) It can be done very well either way. The Flash has not always handled the team aspect as well as one might wish. There is a finite number of times a person whose only superpower is speed can be told to run before one wonders why he can’t think of that solution himself. That number has been surpassed quite handily on this show.
But the point is that you can’t attribute Iris with the intent to indicate that the Flash can’t be a hero by himself, decry and vilify her for that assumed intention, and then turn around and celebrate “OTF” because “Barry couldn’t be a hero without them.”
You. Just. Can’t.
“You are not the Flash, Barry. We are.” Iris’s words to Barry were a metaphor. Just as Barry’s words were last season when he said, “You’re my life. Both of you. And Wally, and Caitlin, and Cisco.”
If you vilified Iris for the former but celebrated when Barry said the latter? You clearly know what metaphors are. You just need to check your blatant and glaring hypocrisy at the door.