#The Flash S2 Finale - Power, Friendly Fascism, and Hubris
Why Pick On #TheFlash
I mean I just finished watching the first season of Netflix "Jessica Jones," for example, and while I enjoyed the show, that is some dark superhero writing (people were cutting arms off and trying to literally enact deaths "of a million cuts" etc.).
Grant Gustin (The Flash) and Tom Cavanagh (Eobald Thawne, Dr. Harrison Wells) in particular, are outstanding on the show (Cavanagh was amazing in Season 1). So, please take all that I am about to say in the context that I watch the show every single week and truly love it.
Call it constructive criticism.
Oh, and if you have not watched the show or the Season 2 Finale yet, *SPOILER ALERT*
Season One and Friendly Fascism
See if this sounds familiar to you,
A catastrophic event happens in a city center creating massive casualties and the emergence of a large number of new enemies. The magnitude of the catastrophic event and pending danger creates a mandate for fighting and rounding those enemies up through whatever means are necessary.
These new enemies do not play by the traditional rules of the game and as such pose existential threat to the cities way of life.
As the new enemies are rounded up, they are rarely afforded trials and extra-judiciously placed into systems of control that seems to violate every known standard of human care (even for criminals).
The extraordinary nature of the threat these enemies pose is used to justify this indefinite, cruel, and often extra-judicial) internment.
Yup, what I just described was Season One of The Flash.
As near as I can tell, the large number of "meta-humans" rounded up by The Flash after the particle accelerator accident at Star Labs are kept in isolation cells a little bit bigger than the table I am sitting at right now as I type this in Starbucks.
There does not seem to be any entertainment of space to exercise, no bathroom facilities of privacy seem possible, and I am not even sure how these people get food. There were no trials, the people who did the rounding up are not even official agents of any Government (in fact, one of the people doing the rounding up was responsible for the accident in the first place and turns out to be a far bigger problem than any of the detainees), and most of them are never heard from again.
I know, this is all in good fun. This is entertainment not political. But, is it?
If the "good guys" on Law and Order start extra-judiciously executing alleged criminals, would it still just be "entertainment?" Most likely, The Flash, and other shows like it ARE a reflection of our times and of our current morality.
We don't question why it is okay for The Flash and his team of vigilantes to be the judges, juries, and sometimes the executioners of Meta's in "Central City" precisely because:
A) We like and trust The Flash
B) "Central City is us". We have, mostly, allowed this same thing to happen in the Post 9/11 world of our own country.
If most of you feel that team Flash was right to do what they have done, that is entirely in tune with our countries feelings about safety vs. civil liberties.
And maybe (although obviously I disagree) this Meta-Human Gitmo is necessary for Central City and safety is, at least "fictionally," more important than the ethics involved in the manufacture of safety.
But, maybe what should also concern us is how likability functions to make fascism more palatable. In other words, we should be concerned that because we like the protagonist (in this case The Flash) we have not questioned his actions, blamed him for his mistakes, or held him or anyone else responsible for the collateral damage caused be his actions (maybe I am referring to something specific?).
The Season 2 Finale And Hubris
It is more than just a bit odd that one day after I wrote about "time paradoxes" in Westeros and referenced the multiple worlds on The Flash, Barry Allen went full-scale "Time Bandits" and stole history.
Anyway, the problem with friendly fascism isn't just the bad things that happen at the beginning. Oh no, fascism gets worse, it becomes infused with hubris. Once someone knows that they can get away with controlling people's lives without cost, even as well-intentioned as they might be, they become unreflective and dangerous.
Once you believe your actions are always inherently just, and that you do not need permission to exercise your power on others, you stop sweating the small stuff until eventually everything becomes small stuff to you. You are always the hammer of justice and anything you don't like always turns into the nails of evil-doing.
I realize that the show, even in that moment, saw what Barry did as problematic. But I am skeptical they will give full weight to how ethically problematic his timeline erasure really was.
Basically, Barry went back and saved his Mother from Eobald Thawne (The killing of Barry's mother was the inciting event of his entire character arc resulting in his Father's imprisonment and in his being adopted by Joe).
So, by using the same speedster skills that Eobald used to kill Barry's Mom to save his Mom from Eobald Barry erased/altered the entire timeline the show has inhabited for the last two seasons.
To be 100% honest, it is not even entirely clear how The Flash did not erase himself as "The Flash" be committing this act (The reactor "accident" that created The Flash was instigated by Thawne to help him use another speedster's powers to get back to his own timeline).
But more important ethically, by saving his Mom, he just erased/altered every other life in the timeline he had been inhabiting. Now, this is not murder per se, most of those people would still exist in the newly created timeline (the one where Barry's Mom is still alive) but they would be the same beings living very different lives.
Think of it like this, you have invested a lot of energy in the life you have now and you have earned your memories through experience. What if one guy, because he is powerful enough to do it (and because he is sad his Mom is dead), just decided to potentially erase everything that you had experienced in the last ten years. But not just everything you had experienced in that decade, everything everyone on your planet had experienced.
Barry Allen might not have murdered people but he just potentially murdered a decade of every single person on his planet's memories. The memories of births, deaths, victories, and defeats. Maybe things happened in the same way for many of those people in the new timeline, but maybe they did not. He will never know, we would never know, nobody would know.
Just imagine Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), who adopted Barry after his Mom was killed and his Dad was sent to prison for her murder. In the new timeline, only Barry knows that ever happened. Joe will never again know those things he did as Barry's surrogate Father or have any of those memories that he earned the right to keep. Joe will still exist in the new timeline and will not have any idea what memories he lost in the transaction, but does Barry have the right to remove Joe's experiences?
If you shoot me in the head, and I survived but did not remember that you shot me (or much of anything else about my life before being shot in the head), does that absolve you from responsibility for having shot me?
Of course not.
And why would anyone have the right to do this? Especially not on a whim, in the passion of the moment (with great power comes great responsibility). In this instance, we could have used more of a brooding Daredevil or Batman and less of an impulsive Flash.
He did this on his own solely because he could.
This is the problem with power, not that you think you have embraced evil but because you stop seeing the possibility of evil in your well-intentioned attempts to do good. Your power breeds hubris.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Who knows what all of the unintended results of the chaos unleashed by restoring one life might be? Both of the Crichton Jurassic Park books were really about Chaos and Catastrophe theories and the laws of unintended consequences. To Barry, what he did might have seemed to have moral clarity, but if the writers are honest, what he did was morally problematic on a worldwide scale.
My point is not that the show is in any way wrong for presenting this possibility, my point is that maybe we should think more deeply about what our uncritical embrace of the show says about us (I also might be suggesting something about valuing charisma above other more morally grounded characteristics).
And trust me, I know we face no time paradoxes (although we do face some catastrophic planet-wide changes of our own).
It will be interesting to see where both #GameofThrones and #TheFlash take us now that they have both opened Pandora's Time Paradox Box.
What did you think of The Flash Season 2 Finale? What do you think about Barry erasing the timeline to save his Mom? What are the implications morally? Let me know what you think, leave a comment!