Grant Gustin in The CW’s “The Flash.”
There’s something so wonderfully unapologetic about this show. Despite the proliferation of superhero stories we find ourselves collectively drowning in as a culture, television and film adaptations of the classic comic book characters have a history of being somewhat sheepish about the true nature of the genre. Sure, the major tropes have transferred from one medium to the other fairly effectively, thanks to some smart adaptations. Most of the public knows that superheroes generally have torturous personal lives, unrequited loves, dead parents and an array of psychos ready to threaten their city. But no adaptation since the Adam West Batman series of the 1960s has been this gleeful about showing off every bit of colorful insanity you’ll find tucked away in most superhero tales. There’s no embarrassment here that a ridiculous character like The Trickster exists, nor is there an attempt to make him edgier or darker. Sure, they layered a somewhat campy Hannibal Lecter-style characterization over him to make him seem more dangerous, but for the most part, he’s just a lunatic who likes colorful costumes and outrageously complicated criminal schemes. Why? Who cares why? Also: Barry can vibrate through solid matter now? How? The “speed force,” that’s how. Drink your milk and stop asking questions. And let’s not pretend it’s a coincidence that the “speed force” got introduced to the show right as Mark Hamill entered the picture for a scenery-chewing guest shot.
In fact, that’s what made this episode so much fun for us: the sheer nerditry on display and how little the show cares if it all sounds silly. After all, this is a show with a telepathic gorilla mastermind waiting in the wings. Mark Hamill played the Trickster in all his post-’80s neon-colored glory in the short-lived Flash TV series of 1990, starring John Wesley Shipp (who now plays Barry’s father) in the title role. The entire episode was a tip of the hat to something only the hardest of hardcore nerds would have even cared about and as such, we didn’t go into the episode with high expectations. We remember the OG Flash series as a well-intentioned attempt that was too mired in the Tim Burton aesthetic most superhero adaptations were saddled with in the early ’90s. This version of The Flash nails his essence exactly and has such fun doing it that we weren’t really sure why the show wanted to pay homage to a lesser version that’s barely remembered. Turns out, they had the best reasons of all for doing it: because it’s fun.
Look, the schemes and even the costumes were more than a bit silly this time around (although we have a fondness for Trickster Jr.’s togs, mainly because they look like gay Club Kid clothes), but when Mark Hamill intoned “I AM YOUR FATHER” it was kind of impossible for us not to have a bit of a nerdgasm right then and there. Kudos to him for having so much fun with this role. We laughed out loud at the “That wasn’t very sanitary” line reading and clapped our hands with glee at the whole ridiculously complicated scheme that required not only poisoning a hundred people at a party, but also making sure each Champagne flute had a sticker under it with a Swiss bank account number, and devising a “speed” bomb to keep Barry occupied. Christopher Nolan would’ve taken two hours to painstakingly explain why such measures were needed and how they indicate how tortured and dangerously insane our antagonist is. This show? Not so concerned with such things. He’s a colorful nutjob who likes the attention. Enough said.
In other news, the story of the Reverse Flash and Harrison Wells just got more interesting – and more tragic. There was a part of us hoping that the real Wells was somewhere to be found inside Eobard Thawne, but he appears to be well and truly dead, leaving us only with his evil, murderous doppelganger. This surprises us a bit because it renders the character of “Harrison” as pretty much irredeemable going forward, which would imply that at some point Tom Cavanagh will have to leave the regular cast rotation after his character is defeated. That would be a shame, because up until now – and even after seeing him kill Cisco – there was a sense that there might be something good inside him. Maybe that’s true and pure comic booky-science will allow the mind of the real Harrison to return inside Thawne’s body, but we’re probably getting far too ahead of ourselves. The important thing is JESUS CHRIST THAT HIGH-SPEED FIGHT SCENE OPENING THE EPISODE WAS A THING OF INTENSE BEAUTY. Little nerd tears shot out of our eyes. Once again, we found ourselves watching this show and muttering in awe “They really did it. They actually made this all look incredible.”
But it wasn’t all good, unfortunately. And the one bad part reveals the show’s one major weakness. Like we said (many times now), The Flash is very good at exploring and adapting all the major and minor tropes of superhero tales – and that includes the annoying and somewhat idiotic girlfriend character. You have to remember that when most classic superhero stories were written, they were being written mostly for ten-year-old boys, which means the romance stuff tended to be of the “girls are icky and ruin everything” variety. That’s cute in 1960 when your audience is little boys, but it’s decidedly problematic in 2015 when you’re trying to appeal to a mass audience of mostly adults. Iris isn’t dumb or icky, but with Eddie now privvy to Barry’s secret, she’s the only person in the considerably sized cast who has no idea of the truth. Every man in her life is working in tandem to keep a fairly important secret from her – and one that, at this point, she has a definite right to know. The condescending paternalism of every man in the cast just shot through the roof, making them all look like assholes and making her look kind of wifty and out of it for being so easy to fool. This is something that needs to be rectified pronto. We realize the writers probably want to draw out the secret identity thing for a while longer because it creates classic sexual tension, but they’ve written themselves into a corner now. This is the one major mistake in the writing and it really needs to be fixed soon because it’s ruining characters the longer it goes on. Girlfriend needs to tell all these men in her life to go to hell and go find herself a nice boy who gets her motor running and doesn’t think lying is an acceptable form of communication. At this point, we’d cheer her on if she decided to become a supervillain. Put her in spandex and have her lower all those lying men in her life into a vat of acid or something. She’d be justified.
For more discussion on your favorite shows, check out our TV & Film forum.