The Flash S3 E1: Flashpoint #TheCW
Yup, I am Recapping #TheFlash for Season 3
As long promised, here is my very first #TheFlash recap. I am excited to be jumping in. A few things you should know:
I am a Marvel guy in general (although I did read a bunch of Batman as a kid). I never read The Flash when I was younger. However, I have seen every episode of the first two seasons of the show and I have written about it before (more on that in a few minutes). This summer, I did try to become more informed about the likely "rivals" for season 3.
I am writing because I find the series interesting, not because I am an expert in the comic book (I knew a lot about Vinyl's subject matter and a lot about Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, and Mr. Robot). So, this is new territory for me. Hopefully, it will be fun!
As always, if you have not watched The Flash S3 E1: Flashpoint * Spoiler Alert *
The Flash's "Friendly Fascism" Problem
Look, I know that part of the fun of The Flash is that it is a decidedly less dark and brooding superhero show (even much lighter than Arrow).
But, when Barry Allen decided, at the end of Season 2, to save his Mother's life by stopping "reverse-flash" aka Eobard Thawne (Matt Letscher) it highlighted one of the major character flaws of all of the members of "Team Flash."
In almost every instance in the first two seasons, when "Team Flash" was faced with a security threat (to themselves of society) they always opted for a solution that ignored or abused any notion of due process or the rule of law (this despite the fact that they admitted at times that there was a facility in the 'central city' area that was designed to hold metahumans.
Tonight's episode offered a particularly stark proof of the lack of difference between the "good team" and the "bad teams" on the show. If you remember during last season's battles with Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears) the 'cells' Garrick kept people in on Earth 2 were virtually identical to the cell Barry Allen was keeping Eobard in tonight.
To be 100% clear, the cells in Star labs (where the majority of meta's were housed over the first two seasons) were actually even smaller than the cell Eobard was in. And let us not forget, that as near as anyone could tell, all of the meta's were kept without any Due Process of Law, Legal Assistance, or any kind of trials (not even a military tribunal).
In fact, it appeared they were left in those cells 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
Without taking this in too political a direction, if you were to substitute terrorists for meta's you might consider what was happening on The Flash as being a form of fantasy fulfillment similar to the role Rambo or Rocky 4 played toward the end of America's war with the Soviet Union.
What is even more devastating is that this fascism was enabled and being carried out with the explicit support of one of the nicest characters on television Barry Allen (Grant Gustin).
One might actually wonder, after watching a few episodes, how anyone as nice as Barry could ever do anything improper. The first two seasons seemed to intentionally play out Bertram Gross's famous book "Friendly Fascism" which suggested something that we all know very well now, that people with the best intentions can do some truly awful things.
I think it was been hard to tell if behind the "fun" of the first two seasons of The Flash was an intentional nod to a smooth and seamless fascism or if they were planting the seeds of what would make the character grow in depth and complexity later in the series.
In fact, my biggest concern about the show was that it was cost-free, fun, fascist ideology. I was very excited to see these tendencies problematized at the end of last season. For good or for ill, the three reasons I decided to cover the show were:
1) The writers put Barry in some really interesting positions in regards to timelines, alternate worlds, theoretical physics, and philosophy.
2) The writers are starting to consider the implications of the decisions "Team Flash" has been making. It seems like they might be reflexive about the moral implications of the choices Barry has made.
3) The Flash is a surprisingly fun show. My whole worry was that it was so fun that it might become easily swallowed ideology.
I am thrilled to see the writers choosing to focus on Barry's mistakes at the beginning of season 3 (and not because I think the show should become more serious).
I am thrilled to see it because it means that The Flash is unlikely to become a "festival of sameness" like virtually every show on the CBS Network (where the characters are mostly perfect and the drama only comes from external events or imposed illnesses or catastrophes imposed upon them and not from inner-struggles).
"Has Anybody Seen Detective West?"
So, obviously, I explained much of this in my article at the end of last season when I talked about Barry's decision to create the Flashpoint timeline.
I was pleasantly surprised at how reflexive the episode forced Barry to be. I am hopeful that it portends great drama growing out of the moral complexities of the choices Barry and other members of Team Flash have made to date or that they will make.
At the beginning of Season 3, Barry finds himself living in an "uncanny valley" version of his former life.
In this version of his life, both of his parents are alive and Iris (Candice Patton) is totally available, interested, and with none of the baggage of her memories of Eddie (Rick Cosnett) or of her history with Barry.
Except for three problems:
1) His parents have turned into Stepford Parents. They are an insane "lithium" level of happy but something is clearly off.
Barry's Mom (Michelle Harrison) and Dad (John Wesley Shipp) seem to be a 1950's sitcom level of ecstatic but also appear inwardly vacant (only capable of smiling and providing appropriate greetings and platitudes).
I imagine, to Barry, this has to seem both haunting and mystifying (to finally have everything you want but in a way that he cannot enjoy as if he has been put in the position of the Tantalus of Greek Mythology).
2) What "happiness" Barry is experiencing seems to be coming at the expense of the happiness of everyone else he cares about (and I would argue, if you watch the episode carefully, Barry seems more committed to being ecstatic then he was actually thrilled by his ideal world, almost a defensive posture).
It has always been my suspicion that adopting Barry filled the void in Joe's life that opened when his wife Francine (Vanessa Williams) abandoned Joe (Jesse L. Martin) and Iris (someone who knows more about the comic book backstory can fill me in if I am wrong).
Regardless of the reason, Joe is a mess, Iris and Wally are working together as Team "Kid Flash" but incapable or too inexperienced to face down the problems Central City is experiencing, and Cisco (Carlos Valdez) is now the richest man on earth but ethically checked out. Later in the episode, we even find out that Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) is just an ophthalmologist (no offense to ophthalmologists).
In addition, the people he cares about in the timeline themselves feel hollow and if something is missing as if their own memories are hollow like the implanted memories in the replicants from Blade Runner (Memories that are agitating instead of soothing).
By the end of the episode, Wally is near death, Joe is still a wreck, and there is one other major problem...
3) Barry is losing his memories of his past in other timelines - In a nod to Back to the Future, apparently "Time" heals itself in The Flash universe by erasing the memory of any alternate timelines that are inconsistent or paradoxical with the dominant timeline. In another cool twist, the more Barry uses his powers, the faster his memories disappear.
I have to tip my cap (again) to the writer's of The Flash for coming up with such an elegant solution to the incredible mess that Barry's arrogant choice (to save his Mother) created for the Flash's multiverse.
All of this plays out against the backdrop of the battle between Kid Flash (Keiynan Lonsdale) and Edward Clariss aka The Rival (Todd Lasance).
Also, Barry defeats "The Rival" after Kid Flash is critically wounded after trying to win without Barry's help. But only after Barry almost loses the fight because he started to forget that he was actually The Flash. It took Iris reminding him ("Remember, you are The Flash) through his earpiece for him to get it together and kick The Rival's butt.
So, Barry (with "help" from his prisoner, Eobard), decides to reset the timeline. Because Eobard is a terrible human being, he requires Barry to officially ask him to kill his own Mother (sigh).
My only small complaint about the episode is that this would have been to have allowed Eobard a bit more exposition about what drove him to become a willing murderer in order to get back to his own timeline etc. Given how important Eobard has been, even when absent, it would have been nice to have learned a bit more about him.
On the good side, both Grant Gustin and especially Candice Patton were amazing in this episode. They had to convey a surprising amount of complexity in a short amount of time and did an amazing job.
Anyway, at the end of the day, I believe Barry chooses to erase the "Flashpoint" because he sees that this entire "Flashpoint" universe is powered almost entirely by his own ego. His friends are only hollow and haunted versions of the people that he knows and loves, his family is almost robotically happy with nothing to offer but empty platitudes, and he realizes that he will soon be trapped in a hollow universe populated by the empty calories of his own unchecked ego and desires.
But just like in Back to the Future, the decisions he made that generated paradox result in changing his original timeline (you can't go home again). When he goes "back in time" he finds out the Iris and Joe are no longer talking to each other (suggesting everything is not how he remembers).
We will see how this all plays out. But, I am very glad that The Flash writers did not take the easy way out and that they are building meaningful character arcs on the show.
So Where Does That Leave Us?
So, at the end of the episode, we are introduced to the suggestion of Dr. Alchemy (Tobin Bell of Saw fame). My understanding is that he is a bit like Batman's two-face but with actual powers (transmutation). The rumor has also been that Alchemy will be, in some capacity, working for Savitar.
Some speculation suggests that they exist in the original Flash timeline because of Flashpoint. We will have to wait and see.
Anyway, I hope that the Flash continues to combine the sometimes carefree superhero fun with engaging with the consequences of Barry's often questionable, but probably well-intentioned, decision making.
Hope you enjoyed my very first Flash recap!
What did you think of the Flashpoint episode?
Do you think they stayed in Flashpoint the right amount of time?
How do you think Dr. Alchemy and Savitar will work their way into the plot?
Will we see Wally as Kid Flash again anytime soon?
Let me know what you think, leave a comment!