When it first debuted in 2014, The Flash established itself early on as one of TV’s most exhilaratingly fun superhero shows. Its first season was a joy to watch, as we got a lighter, more comic book-y alternative to the increasingly grimmer Arrow. More than that, it’s traditionally been a series unafraid to dive headfirst into the crazier parts of its source material. Hell, we saw Gorilla-freaking-Grodd show up in Season 1, and it’s not every TV series that leads with a giant psychic primate in its early episodes. It’s in The Flash’s second season though that we began to see some significant problems crop up, and in Season 3’s premiere things didn’t quite improve.
1. It’s getting harder and harder to believe in Barry Allen
The best superhero shows are the ones where our hero is presented as someone who’s less than perfect, but always aspires to be a hero. That’s what made Season 1 such a treat, as we watched Barry Allen slowly learn how to embody what the Flash represents. Season 3 kicked off with a premise that makes him eminently difficult to like as a person. At the end of Season 2, Barry went back in time to save his mother from Reverse Flash, effectively altering the entire fabric of space and time just to sate his own grief.
Notwithstanding the fact that rewriting time for your own wants and needs is insanely selfish, he then proceeds to spend three whole months living in his newly altered timeline. He does this without stopping for one second to consider the consequences for everybody else in his life, until it begins to affect him directly and delete his memories of the previous timeline. This represents a massive step backwards after two seasons of character development. As io9 put it in their review of the premiere:
What made Flash’s season one finale so heartbreaking was that Barry had grown enough as a hero that when offered the temptation of saving his mother, he refused it. Backtracking on that growth feels like less of an intriguing storytelling opportunity and more like a rehash of the same mistakes we’ve seen Barry make time and time again.
2. Time travel is no longer helping the story
When time travel was first introduced as a plot device on The Flash, it served a purpose. It was the catalyst for much of Season 1’s conflict, with Reverse Flash traveling back in time to kill Barry’s mother. In the finale, Barry travels back to stop him, but eventually chooses not to fundamentally alter the fabric of space and time. Season 2 sees him go back on this decision, and Season 3 shows us the consequences. The third season premiere then has him going back in time again to undo his mistakes in Season 2, before traveling back to his original timeline to find out that he’s still messed everything up.
It’s one thing to have a story centered around a single moment in time. It’s entirely another to watch as our hero mucks up time thanks to his own questionable decision-making. It’s why most of us spent the whole premiere hoping beyond hope that we wouldn’t be spending all of Season 3 in the new, altered timeline, and mercifully we won’t. Even so, it’s clear that Barry still hasn’t learned that changing the past is a supremely bad idea.
3. The Flash still has an Iris problem
Throughout two plus seasons of The Flash, the show’s writers haven’t yet figured out what to do with Iris West. As Barry’s de facto love interest, she’s functioned primarily as just “that girl who our hero is in love with,” with little else to do in the meantime. She started the series as a barista, was then given a job at a local newspaper despite zero previous experience, and soon after that found herself the last person to figure out that Barry was the Flash. Past that, a large swathe of her time on-screen nowadays is spent giving Barry a weekly pep talk about how he should believe in himself because she loves him. All of DC’s various superhero TV shows have struggled to properly write for their female characters, and Iris is the worst offender.
Season 3 managed only to continue The Flash‘s Iris problem. In the alternate timeline Barry creates, she functions once again as a love interest. Barry then re-alters the timeline to set things right, only to find that Iris isn’t even around anymore. When the solution to problematic writing for a character is to take them out of the equation entirely, you begin to see the cracks.
4. The Flash may very well have bitten off more than it can chew
The Flash‘s greatest strength also has been its greatest weakness in recent episodes: its comic source material. The comic book version of the Scarlet Speedster features some of the craziest storylines in the medium. That goes double for the 61-issue Flashpoint series, which served as the inspiration for Season 3. The basic story is monumentally difficult to adapt into a TV format, focusing on a collection of alternate timelines and realities, as well as multiple versions of iconic DC heroes. Converting Flashpoint into a single TV season is a tall order for anybody. Asking The CW to do just that could end up being too much for a series that’s already struggled to keep its narrative balanced and logical.
5. The Flash‘s problems are a symptom of DC’s larger issues on TV right now
The more crowded DC’s superhero universe has gotten on The CW, the more problems we’ve seen it encounter. Legends of Tomorrow, while initially promising, was a massive slog by the time it moved into its latter episodes in Season 1. Supergirl will continue the relative overcrowding this season too, having officially moved over to The CW from CBS.
Greg Berlanti and company have too many balls in the air right now, and it’s showing in the subsequent seasons for each series. Arrow left its best episodes behind way back in its first and second seasons, something we’re seeing happen all over again with The Flash. More and more, it’s becoming clear that quantity doesn’t equal quality, even for a superhero saga as successful as this one.
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