From Hero to Zero
Warning: Contains Spoilers for seasons 1-3 of The Flash and Seasons 4/6 of Arrow
It’s generally been a good year for the DC TV shows. Legends of Tomorrow, Gotham and Black Lightning have all had great seasons. Supergirl’s third season has so far been by far the strongest in the shows history. Even Arrow managed to have a strong end to an otherwise bland and uninspired run. But while reviewers have hit arrow hard, its arguably the Flash that deserves the most scorn.
The flash’s first season back in 2014/15 was one of the strongest the Arrowverse had ever delivered. The first half of season two kept that momentum going, but then things started to go downhill after the mid-season break. Zoom didn’t work as a lead villain once he took his mask off, and the Earth-2 dopplegangers were so thinly drawn and one-note I don’t know why they bothered with them. Still, while not a triumph, season 2 still had plenty of good to balance out one or two issues. Then season three happened. Flashpoint remains the moment the Flash lost something it could never recover: quality and fanbase goodwill. It was done TERRIBLY and made Barry far, FAR too unlikable. But that was only the tip of the iceberg.
Season 3 had a multitude of problems. H.R. was the least interesting Wells incarnation and took a long time to come into his own. Too many filler episodes were bland and were merely used to drag out the season’s main plot far longer than it deserved. The whole ‘Gorilla City’ two-parter ended on a whimper rather than an adrenaline rush. Jessie was completely wasted in a thankless role that mainly revolved around being Wally’s love interest, despite looking far more capable as a speedster than either Wally or Barry at times. The Killer Frost plotline was predictable, lacked nuance and was resolved far too easily in the season finale. And then we have Savitar. The reveal of his identity took far too long, which backfired as, by the time it happened, we’d all worked out who he was anyway. Not to mention he was the third speedster villain in a row, which led to a whole feeling of ‘really, again?’ about proceedings. Not to mention his grand plan made even less sense than Zoom’s, which is saying something. Don’t get me wrong, season 3 had some great episodes (The Present, Dead or Alive, The Wrath of Savitar, Duet and Infantino Street) but it also had a finale that sucked so badly, that I gave up on the show.
I kept an eye on reviews of season 4 to see if was worth giving the show another shot. The reviews seemed unanimous – no it wasn’t. Even though there were clearly some good episodes, clips I’ve seen and the plot summaries clearly show the key issues I have with the show are either still there or have got worse, and even Den of Geek, who defended Season 3, seem to have lost patience. Hence why for the first time, the Flash must be considered the worst DC show on TV. And this can be blamed on 5 separate issues:
1. The Quality of the Villains dropped.
The Flash did such a good job on its villains in Season 1 and 2 that it was always going to be hard to maintain that standard (Arrow has sometimes struggled with this as well but not to the same extent). Just think of S1 and S2’s villains: Reverse-Flash, Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, The Trickster, Gorilla Grodd. They were all great beyond measure. Sure, Zoom stopped being threatening the instant his mask came off, but he was an exception. Name one villain of the same quality in S3 or S4? Struggling? While Savitar and Devoe have clearly both had their moments, there wasn’t a single stand-out showing from the one-off or support villains. Mirror Master and Abracadabra disappointed, and the show seems to have run out of good villains from the comics to introduce. It’s not the showrunners fault that some of its best villains are no longer available (Snart’s become an anti-hero, the Reverse-Flash has been used too much for any major further appearances, Mark Hamill has been too busy with Star Wars to play the Trickster etc.) but its clear both that the Flash’s original villains have a tendency to run out of steam (Grodd’s S3 story was rubbish and he was beaten far too easily by Solivar) and that these villains work better on Legends of Tomorrow. I honestly don’t know how the Flash can fix this problem, but I’d have two main suggestions: 1. cut the episode number from 23 to 16/17 so there’s less weak filler episodes with throwaway villains. 2. Have more than one main villain per season. Then their plot won’t get stretched out so much.
2. Killer Frost has been severely mishandled
I wasn’t a fan of Earth-2 killer frost. She was a pretty one-note character who seemed to just be evil for the sake of it. So when Caitlin’s KF persona started manifesting on Earth-1, I hoped they might do it in a more nuanced way. While the first few episodes looked promising, once Killer Frost fully emerged she was exactly the same as her Earth-2 counterpart. This could still have worked if the show had shown the battle between the two personas in a more interesting way that just flicking between them when the plot called for it (for example, how Ed Nygma has struggled with his Riddler persona on Gotham). If Gotham has done a more convincing character arc than you, you know you’ve really f*cked this plotline up. Add in the predictable and all too easy change of heart Killer Frost had in the S3 finale, which was entirely unjustified (Arrow did a far better job of this in S6 with Black Siren, whose shifts in allegiance played out over several episodes and wasn’t always predictable). Again, if Arrow season 6 did something better than you… Season 4 hasn’t fixed the shows Killer Frost problem, and at this point I’m not sure they can – they made her too much of a pantomime/cartoon villain at the start for her to work effectively as a character now.
3. The show doesn’t use its supporting characters well
There’s a reason Wally buggered off to Legends of Tomorrow (where Keiynan Lonsdale has seemed far happier). He had so little to do since becoming a speedster other than back-up Barry, get beaten by Savitar and hang out with Jessie. The character was being wasted on the Flash, because the writers couldn’t figure out what to do with him. Jessie has had similarly short shift, appearing only in a few guest appearances that haven’t done her justice – her abilities as a speedster are clearly strong, so why they don’t bring her in more often (or at least let her be part of the crossovers) is beyond me. Again, the writers clearly don’t know what they’re doing with her character. It’s also becoming noticeable that the writers flat out refuse to ever kill one of the main cast (Barry, Iris, Joe, Cisco or Caitlin) so its always the supporting characters that get chopped, because the show clearly regards them as expendable (see Eddie, Ronnie, Henry Allen and H.R.). This leads to the supporting characters being chopped and changed too often for any of them to have a lasting impact or stronger character development. Even if they aren’t killed off, promising supporting characters are often written out despite being more interesting than the main cast (i.e. Patty and Julian, both of whom brought some fun and tension to the show that it badly needed but no longer possesses). I mean, I know Tom Felton probably has other things to do, but he was the best thing in season 3, so to lose him so quickly and without a proper send-off was downright annoying.
4. Barry has caused too much suffering to be a likeable lead anymore
The list of people who’ve died either for Barry or because of him is too long: – Eddie, his parents, Ronnie, H.R., Cisco’s brother. Not to mention all of the lives he impacted adversely with Flashpoint. Barry has never really paid the price for all that suffering, which is why season 3’s ending was so misguided. Had Barry lost Iris, it would have been the perfect reminder that Barry’s actions have consequences. It might have allowed the show to shake up the character in a big way. Instead, H.R. took the fall and Barry carried on as normal (his visible relief that it was H.R. not Iris REALLY pissed me off – that’s at least the 3rd person to sacrifice themselves to save you Barry, which is at least 2 too many). Barry doesn’t deserve a happy ending when so many others have lost theirs because of him. If Iris had died and he’d changed his ways (and then eventually gotten over it, perhaps ending up with Patty instead, it would have been far more interesting).
I deliberately left Iris till last so this article doesn’t just get dismissed as another Iris hate forum. But even hardcore fans of the show have to realise, Iris has driven away a LOT of the fanbase. Even Laurel and Felicity on Arrow aren’t this annoying. But at least Laurel and Felicity’s roles on Arrow have always made sense. Laurel was a kick-ass lawyer and eventually trained herself into becoming a somewhat capable vigilante, but not one who ever magically became anywhere near as capable as Roy, Diggle or Thea, who’d all had much better training. Felicity has always been the super-hacker the team needs to get sh*t done, as well as trying to be the (irritating but necessary) voice of reason who keeps the team together. Both characters become more annoying over time, but both had character arcs that made sense.
Iris’ character arc has never made sense. Her initial role as a journalist/Eddie’s girlfriend worked well enough, but the whole journalist thing was never embraced in a convincing way after S2 (say as Kara’s is on Supergirl, where her human job has played a significant role at times). Worse, while Iris had plenty of chemistry with Eddie, she has rarely had as much with Barry, which undermines their whole relationship (I’m not blaming the actors – Grant Gustin and Candice Patton do what they can, but it rarely convinces). Her becoming the leader of Team Flash was the nail in the coffin. It smacks of being a girl-power statement rather than making any narrative sense (and I’m all for girl-power – Legends and Supergirl both have it in spades, but the difference that Sara, Amaya, Kara and Alex have all earned their roles as Captain/Superheroes/Secret Agent. They own those roles and make sense in them. Iris doesn’t and has never justified her elevation to such a role). It also smacks of just giving the character something to do rather than just be Barry’s fiancé/wife, which is fine, but she really should have just focused on the journalism, which would have made a lot more sense.
Finally, the big problem with Iris stems from the fact that Barry literally has more chemistry with virtually every other female cast member on the Flash. Him and Patty were perfect, him and Caitlin had a spark in S1, him and Kara were adorable in the crossovers and even Felicity would have worked better as a love interest. You can’t credibly pair up Barry and Iris in this scenario – the writers have only done it to be in line with the comics, not because its what’s best for the series.
Ultimately, I doubt I’ll ever go back to the Flash at this point except for crossover episodes. Unless they bring Julian back or kill Iris off, neither of which I can see happening, I don’t see the show improving enough to be worth the effort. Arrow may be on thin ice at the moment, but the Flash has already sunk into the depths, which is a crying shame.