It was with an immense sigh of relief that audiences received The Flash when it premeired back in October. Confirmation that yes, not only was this show going to do well by its superhero character, but also that it could potentially live up to the high standards set up by Arrow in its second season. Indeed, if anything it’s proven to us that executive producers Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, and Greg Berlanti definitely know what they’re doing with our beloved DC properties.
And while the show has been well and entertaining throughout the first 9 episodes of the season, there’s still room from improvements. Arenas in which the series needs to not only move further away from superhero tropes, but also in more than once case where it could stand to take a few more cues from its older sibling Arrow.
At the top, one of the biggest issues troubling the series are the characters of Iris and Eddie. While it’s understandable why so many superhero stories like to go this route, there’s still too much of a “been there, done that” feel that highlights how far the series how to go to find its true voice. A childhood best friend for whom our superhero has unrequited feelings that he’s just too afraid to express? And then she becomes involved with another man all the while secretly becoming obsessed with the superhero figure (not realizing that it’s really her childhood best friend)? At a certain point, it’s just become something of a waiting game until Iris starts berating Barry on a weekly basis for seemingly selfish behavior that’s really just him out saving people (like MJ, Lana, and Rachel before her) while Eddie inevitably emerges as a major supervillain for our hero (like Lex, Harvey Dent, and Harry Osborn before him).
It’s to the credit of Candice Patton and Rick Cosnett that Iris and Eddie are likeable at all, because the way the show is currently utilizing them, it’s not doing them any favors. One of the most promising periods for Eddie’s character was when he went through the paces of helping Barry deal with his childhood bully problem, even discussing that he himself had suffered the same thing once. It made him into something other than Barry’s rival, and opened up the possibility of the type that he’s currently filling into something beyond “romantic rival.”
Sadly, Iris has had no such similar moments, and it’s bringing down what should otherwise be a fun character. Given the kindness and somewhat free spiritedness that informs her behavior, she could easily become one of the most likeable and endearing characters on the show, if it would just let her.
In second season of Arrow, Roy, Thea, and Laurel all became a part of peripheral storylines that were only somewhat related to Team Arrow – demonstrating that storylines don’t have to explicitly involved with our hero in order to be engaging and relevant. One can’t help but wonder if this is a fear should Eddie and Iris be released from their duties as unrequited love interest and romantic rival – but if the writers are smart, there’s plenty of different ways both characters can be used that will maintain their relevance to the show’s main premise.
The plotting of the show has also left something to be desired, as have most of the resulting villains. With the exception of Captain Cold and the Clock King, pretty much every villain is a mutant meta-human that, for reasons that have to be adequately explored, always wind up utilizing their newfound powers for selfish gain. And since they all result from the same place (the particle accelerator) then there’s little suspense and a bit too much redundancy.
This was a problem that dogged the early years of Smallville, where most every plot boiled down to yet another Kryptonite freak that decided to use their new gifts for nefarious purposes usually involving Lana Lang. At least the one thing we can be grateful for is that The Flash hasn’t contrived to have all the meta-humans target Iris.
But at the same time, there’s much more variety that can and should be found on a show like this, and 9 episodes in, we’re already talking about too much re-use of the same story. Prior to the crossover event, the strongest episode of the season was Power Outage where the meta-human-of-the-week was used to direct the story toward the show’s most interesting character in Harrison Wells. Add in the reappearance of
Colossus Tony Woodward from the week before, and the show wisely used the meta-human conceit as a launching point for a more compelling story. Hopefully from here on out, the show won’t find itself so limited by its story ideas.
Finally, it’s immensely important that the show accomplish more growth for the character of Barry. He gets by as likeable as he is primarily because Grant Gustin is having so much fun in the role, and it’s hard to root against someone who is so earnestly wanting to do good for the world.
At the same time, his character could use more dimensions.
One thing made clear by the producers regarding Arrow is that the reason it isn’t called The Green Arrow is because Oliver isn’t The Green Arrow yet. He hasn’t earned that title, and the show is about tracking his journey to becoming the superhero. The Flash clearly desires to (and should) be the same thing. Though we’re already calling him “The Flash” (it would be too complicated trying to go with anything else) Barry similarly hasn’t yet earned the full title. As Arrow repeatedly makes clear, it’s about more than just skills/powers and intent.
But it took them until Flash vs Arrow to address this in any kind of way – when Oliver wisely informed Barry that he needs to be growing and adapting, and then criticized some of his complacency. And this kind of thing should be addressed more often: the series has been still been acting a little too much like Barry already earned the title.
What’s more, Barry is getting cocky about what his powers give him, and it’s troubling in that the show has yet to acknowledge it. What he really needs is what the writers gave to Oliver in Diggle (and additionally in Felicity): someone who can act as equal parts confidante and a challenge to them in their actions when they may potentially be in the wrong. Such individuals are vital to keeping our heroes grounded, as the (super)hero persona can divorce them from reality in potentially dangerous ways.
Caitlin and Cisco are both too young and naive, Wells has too much his own murky agenda, and Joe, Iris, and Eddie are busy filling out other specific roles on the show. Which is to say, it would be of benefit to both Barry’s character and the show itself if they could provide for him a Diggle; otherwise, it’s not unjust to worry that he might get too arrogant to the point of becoming unlikeable.
None of this is to say that the show is bad by any measure. More just that – like a lot of series when they start out – it still has a lot of ground to cover, and a lot that still needs to be accomplished. And given not only its heritage in Arrow, as well as their sharing of executive producers, then it’s fair to call what Arrow and The Flash have already achieved a success.