I have a soft spot for the human characters in superhero stories, so I’ve always been a fan of Iris West on The Flash. But from the beginning, it’s been impossible to ignore that The Flash keeps failing Iris’s character. Her character (and all the female characters, really) have deserved better than the treatment that they have too often been afforded. Fans have hardly been quiet on this issue over the years, pointing out that the narrative fails Iris when it neglects to give her a voice in her own story. Which makes it even more frustrating that it keeps happening.
The Importance of Perspective
Several years ago, I wrote an article for another site called “The Importance of Proper Perspective.” The site is no longer available, but in the article, I argued that The Flash failed Iris West by neglecting to give her a voice in her own narrative.
As of Flash’s [season 2] episode 2, each character has been given a major source of pain, which, if seen through their eyes, has impacted them and helps contextualize their actions. Barry feels guilt over the deaths of Eddie and Ronnie and betrayal at Wells’s actions. Cisco has fear of his new abilities and distrust that Wells may be the cause. Jay is sad and concerned about the loss of his powers, his defeat at the hands of Zoom, and the growing threat to this world. Patty is angry at metahumans for the death of her father and wants revenge. Caitlin is sad about Ronnie’s death but attracted to Jay. Iris lost Eddie so…? But…? And…?“The Importance of Proper Perspective” – Doc Brown TV
It was a problem that was sadly not unique, even that early in the show. Throughout the first season, fans were frustrated with the lack of perspective afforded to Iris’s character. She confessed her feelings to Barry, for example, but after that moment was unwritten, we weren’t really allowed insight into her thoughts or (romantic) feelings for her best friend. The show failed to contextualize her decisions from that point forward. We knew she had feelings for Barry because we knew (though she didn’t) that she’d confessed to them. So was she just scared of moving forward with him at that point? Was she feeling doubt about her feelings for Eddie? If so, how did she reconcile that within herself? Did she simply not realize her feelings for Barry were romantic in nature, without the catalyst of a near-death experience to force her to face them fully? Fans had to fill in the gaps, as they had before and as they continue to do subsequently.
Then and Now
Eddie’s death has been mentioned twice – both times in regards to Barry’s guilt with no corresponding attention on Iris’s response. No attention has been given to her independent journalism arc. Her support of Barry is admirable, but her own reaction to recent events shouldn’t be ignored.“The Importance of Proper Perspective” – Doc Brown TV
I wrote this five years ago, and the italicized portion is too often as applicable today as it was back then. Iris may participate in the narrative, but her thoughts and feelings about the narrative are frequently overlooked. There are numerous examples. When it seemed Iris would die by Savitar’s hand, Iris was allowed to panic. Briefly. But for the most part, her role in that arc (outside of future victim) was to remind Barry not to lose sight of who he was. To comfort Barry over what the future would hold. And to point out that Barry needed to save Caitlin from being the villainous Killer Frost.
In a perhaps even more glaring example, The Flash spent the first several years of show building to Crisis on Infinite Earths – a key storyline for the Flash family in the comics. Everyone knew that Barry would supposedly die (or at least disappear forever) in the multiverse event. However, leading up to the actual crossover, characters were given episodes to explore their reaction to the Scarlet Speedster’s seemingly fated demise. Except Iris. His best friend from childhood. His wife. She was not afforded the same opportunity.
It’s a strange choice, and one I can’t imagine any other show making. Yet for The Flash, it was par for the course. It was just another one of many examples of Iris West being denied a voice. So I honestly can’t say it’s surprising that Iris wasn’t part of this week’s episode of the show, which featured a significant (false) pregnancy storyline. It would almost have been more shocking if they’d actually included her in a storyline that was significantly about her.
Now, to be fair, there is potentially a real-world reason why actress Candice Patton couldn’t participate in the episode. Fans have suggested that she was in quarantine – either following a brief trip back to the States or following a possible exposure to COVID-19. Alternatively, they have suggested she might have ill and thus unable to film. And yes, it should have been possible to work around a mandatory social distancing, if the need to do so was the result of a trip back home. However, if she faced quarantine following potential exposure to COVID, the show may not have so easily performed a last-minute pivot.
But if I’m being honest, it really doesn’t matter why she missed the episode. It doesn’t matter if this oversight of her involvement in the narrative was avoidable or not. The fact of the matter is, this isn’t the first time Iris West should have been part of a story and wasn’t. It also isn’t the first time the show has dropped the ball on a story about motherhood.
Since the beginning, The Flash has had a problem with its treatment of mothers. Nora-the-Elder exists to die in the story. (Her speed force counterpart seems to exist to…help Flash but also not help Flash but love him but also want to kill him? It’s been a very confusing series of events.) Iris’s mother, Francine, was written with a series of…we’ll say troubling tropes. She didn’t even get to share a scene with Wally, the son she supposedly raised. Other mothers mentioned on the show (such as Jesse Quick’s mother and Harry Wells’s wife) weren’t even given names. Caitlin’s mother has not always been the sort you necessarily want to invite to Thanksgiving if you want to bask in the glow of hearth and home. And the Iris/XS storyline was…
I do not have enough time to go into all the problems with that storyline.
But the point is, if there have been positive motherhood storylines on the show, they’ve been few and far between. (Cecile hasn’t necessarily failed as a mother, so much as the show generally forgets her children exist.) Compared with the treatment of fathers on the show – particularly Barry and his dad Henry, as well as Joe’s paternal relationship with Barry), the disparity has been glaring. Not every father/child moment – or relationship – has been positive, to be sure. But the writers have taken greater care to write father/child relationships in a good light than the alternative. Even when Nora-the-Younger was on the show, the focus was predominately upon her relationship with her father. Their relationship was depicted in a largely positive light, until the brief fall-out toward the end of her arc. Whereas for a significant part of her arc, most of her interactions with Iris, her mother, were filled with anger and resentment. Largely stemming from her own manufactured memories of Iris being a cold and unfeeling mother.
So it also doesn’t feel off-brand for The Flash to air a storyline about the titular character (possibly) becoming a dad and leaving the mother entirely out of the equation. It makes it hard not to wonder if the show couldn’t pivot or adapt to account for an unexpected quarantine. Or if they just didn’t choose to. Because those are two entirely different things.
I suppose there’s a silver lining in that Iris wasn’t actually pregnant this week. But that silver lining is so faint, fans have to squint hard to see it. Because as likely as it is that Iris will become pregnant this year, it’s unlikely that they would rehash these pivotal moments to include her. Even if granting Iris those moments was at all important to them.
From the writers’ perspective, they’ve already shown the uncertainty and excitement surrounding a possible pregnancy. (Barry told Iris she might be pregnant! On the phone!) They’ve shown the hope and eagerness to keep it a secret. (Barry told Iris! On the phone!) They’ve shown others’ reactions to the possible pregnancy. (Cecile found out! Before Iris! And Chester was super excited!) They’ve even allowed Barry to express the speculation every future parent has about what his future child will be like. (He had a nice conversation about it with Cecile!)
As anyone who’s had a child will tell you, these are all huge moments in a pregnancy. Particularly a first pregnancy, when everything new and exciting and more than a little bit scary. And particularly when the child is very much wanted. These are huge, exciting milestones that parents want to share. With each other, ideally, before involving their friends and colleagues.
So yes, Iris should be given those moments in equal measure, but her treatment on the series to date makes it unlikely the writers view that as a priority. What could they explore in the future that they won’t feel they’ve already covered this episode? Iris’s baby shower? We need only look at her bachelorette party to see how that storyline might e handled. Iris (and maybe Barry) telling Joe she’s going to be a mom? Possibly…if the show was consistent about giving the Joe/Iris relationship its due. Or if, when they did write such scenes, they didn’t end up on the cutting room floor.
At the end of my article about the importance of giving Iris West her own perspective, I wrote:
It is vital that the writers stop leaving it to the audience to fill in the gaps and provide [Iris] her voice. Hopefully, this oversight will be addressed within the next couple of episodes. For many fans, over half a season is already long enough to wait for something that should never have been overlooked in the first place.“The Importance of Proper Perspective” – Doc Brown TV
Like so many – too many – things, those words are sadly every bit as applicable today as they were then. The Flash keeps failing Iris West. And she still deserves better.