The Flash: Out of Time

Posted on March 18, 2015

gustinflashGrant Gustin in The CW’s “The Flash.”

 

Coming roaring back from its brief hiatus with an episode that literally had our hearts racing and our asses on the edges of our seats, this episode has us ready to call it: The Flash is the greatest superhero adaptation in the history of television. Perfectly capturing both the angst and the insane and unique energy at the heart of the genre (not to mention the inherent charm), The Flash is to TV what The Avengers was to film; the purest distillation of superhero comics for the medium in which it’s being presented. Part of the reason – some would say the main reason – The Avengers became the phenomenon it did was because almost all the characters and their personal storylines had been established in previous films, allowing them to explode all over the place once they all got together under one cinematic roof, so to speak. What we’re seeing now is the televisual equivalent, as the creators of this show start pulling all the various strings of previous episodes tight, playing on all the relationships and markers in the show’s storyline to get it to this point – and to clearly push it beyond everything it’s done up to this point – to offer up the closest approximation to reading a really fun comic book that television has ever managed.

When Harrison killed Cisco and Barry unmasked (0r to be more accurate about it, masked) in front of Iris, all in the space of a couple of minutes, we actually had to catch our breath for a moment. “Wow,” we thought. “They’re really not fooling around anymore, are they?” It’s to the show’s credit that, even though time travel had already been set up as part of the show’s mythology – and even got referenced in this very episode with the side-by-side Barrys – we didn’t see where things were headed until just before the big twist came. Of course a bunch of insane story developments all happened at once. The writers were seconds away from pulling the trigger on time travel, which means you can do anything you want. Kill and cripple people left and right, give away your secrets and even kiss the girl. All you have to do is rewind time and everything goes back to status quo. It’s the ending to the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie all over again – except really well deployed and in the most entertaining manner possible. Come on. BARRY FOUGHT A TSUNAMI. That is some serious comic bookery.

Even better than the fact of the tsunami (as well as the fact that it looked so cool) were the emotional reasons for the tsunami, because that’s something the creators of this show get on a very pure and simple level. In the world of comic books, disasters like tsunamis don’t just happen. They happen because someone is bad or someone is mad or someone is crazy or someone has a plan. Bad things always happen for a reason, even the weather. You can take the less charitable interpretation and develop a televisual world of immature thinking and child-like morality around this essentially comicbooky idea, or you can go the more sophisticated route, indulge in this thinking and use disasters as external reflections of emotional states. How upset and crazy is Mark Mardon over the death of his brother? How bad a person is he? Tsunami bad. That’s as bad as it gets in superherodom. It’s both simple and elegant – and also a lot of fun to watch when it’s handled as well as it is here.

Having said that, the creators of this show are also indulging in some of the oldest female supporting character tropes in the superhero genre. That’s not so fun. You can tell Candice Patton is trying to play Iris as a warm, intelligent, bright young woman but she’s constantly doing battle with the actual scripts, which force her to act dumb or manipulative, depending on the scene. Girl, you do NOT wipe ketchup off another woman’s man’s mouth. Stitch that on a throw pillow if you need reminding.

And that’s the worst part, that Barry’s now in this “Betty vs. Veronica” situation with Iris and Linda, which tends to make everyone involved look a little bit like an asshole. Not that we think Linda doesn’t have reason to be angry or annoyed, but that’s literally all she ever gets to be as a character. The reason Eddie’s the only one who comes out decent in this tiresome quadrangle is because they’ve established him as a full character outside this one story element. This is why it was so exciting to see Barry unmask (or yes, “mask.” In the words of Titus Andromedon, “Give it a rest, nerds!”) for Iris. We honestly thought for a second that they’d just jettisoned all the retrograde sexual politics of the relationship for something that felt a little more modern. But alas, if we want Cisco back (and we do, because this character has grown by leaps and bounds to be our favorite in the supporting cast) and we want Captain Singh to walk again (and we do, because his weepy fiance was just so cute), then Barry’s gonna have to prevent everything from happening again, which includes the part about moving his relationship with Iris forward. Like we said, it’s the Christopher Reeve Superman films all over again – and this part does mildly disappoint us, we have to admit. Any emotional growth or movement is going to be undone now.

One final thing about the women on this show. Two words, actually. Bechdel Test. Between Iris, Linda and Caitlin “Ronnie, did I mention Ronnie?” Snow, there’s a serious problem with boy-crazy women. Even the one female supervillain was boyfriend-obsessed. Let’s bring the gender stuff into the 21st Century, shall we?

And finally, when it comes to unmasking (or “MASKING,” OKAY?) moments, nothing beats Harrison Wells letting the veil drop for pure heart-in-the-throat drama. Kudos to Tom Cavanaugh for selling the hell out of “Forgive me, but you’ve been dead for centuries” line. The creep and shock factor went through the roof at that moment. We don’t know where the story’s going (other than the assumption that it’s going to undo all or most of the major developments this episode), but we are bouncing in our seats with anticipation for the season finale. If this is what they can do in late mid-season, imagine what they’re going to do for a wrap-up.
 

 
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[Photo Credit: CW]

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