Between excursions to Earth 2, and the time loops of last season, alternate realities are something The Flash has been playing with far too much. On one level, it’s simply confusing, but beyond that, it’s hard to consider anything they do to be character development when we’re just looking at different versions of the same people.
Flash’s season premier gave a nod to Wally West as Kid Flash this week, and I like seeing the writers of these shows going back to the source material. This episode had a lot of the same feel to it that’s made the show successful in the past, and that’s what I hoped to see after an up-and-down season 2.
The alternate timeline versions of these characters didn’t do a lot for me. Particularly, seeing Cisco as a tech billionaire, and kind of a jerk, didn’t have much of an impact after seeing his Earth 2 supervillain doppelganger. We’ve also seen an Earth 2 Joe West that disliked Barry, so this alternate timeline where he was more or less a stranger wasn’t really a shock to the system.
The big emotional payoff to this episode came when Barry had to ask Reverse Flash to set the timeline right again. Him forcing Barry to say the words, to actually ask him to kill his mother did something to make us hate him, and that was effective. However, seeing Barry return to his own timeline, but with the caveat that for some reason, Iris doesn’t speak to Joe feels like we may be in for more of the same with this shifting reality nonsense.
It’s clear to me that Thawne as Reverse Flash has the potential to be an excellent villain for the show, and the more the focus is on that part of the story, the better. Iris and Barry’s love story has been stale for a while, and I’d like to see the show settle on a setting and run with it.
The Flash using its source material isn’t a surprise. Geoff Johns (Flash’s executive producer) got his start on the Kid Flash and Flash books, his favorite comic book character is The Flash, and the story arcs The Flash covers are based primarily on Johns’ work. If Flash’s writers didn’t use the source material, they’d be on unemployment.
I do agree with Jim that character building is important, and The Flash struggles to do that. After all its Earth hopping and time warps, I’m not even sure who some of these characters are anymore, but The Flash battles with another basic element of fiction: conflict. The Flashpoint event was successful (in the comics) because the universe was going to implode (man versus environment), Justice Leaguers battled each other, tearing apart cities and killing people (man versus man), and Barry had to face the fact that he was responsible for this and was, in this instance, the world’s greatest villain and had to allow his mother to die (man versus himself). None of that existed.
Sure. Reverse-Flash said, “Who’s the villain now, Flash?” but that was a throwaway line because the only negative thing that occurred in “Flashpoint” was Barry forgetting his friends (his memory of the previous timeline vanishing). But he reunited with his friends. With the selfish Barry we met in “Flashpoint” I figured he had come out ahead with living parents and slightly more dickish buddies. Cisco was a billionaire. Party!
Okay, Wally was dying—for some reason—and Barry spent half a second with choosing to save him, so that internal conflict—if there was any—didn’t have time to build. None of the “conflicts” worked, and when there’s no real conflict, there’s no story.
Lack of conflict isn’t a new thing. Flash’s time-traveling/Earth-jumping nonsense deflates tension and a lack of tension leads to a lack of rising action. There’s a lot going on in The Flash, but few conflicts are given the chance to grow.
Speaking of growing, let’s talk about something I’ve been warning folks about for years and it looks like it’ll boil over this season. Jim has wanted to get rid of the villain-of-the-week format; I’ve said that The Flash needed to revamp how it handled its villain-of-the-week and go with recurring villains. I agree that the show is at its strongest when there’s a central villain–and Reverse-Flash shows promise–but we can still get three or four episodes a season with Pied Piper, Mirror Master, Gorilla Grodd, Weather Wizard, and the like, and the reason why I say this is that Geoff Johns—you know, the executive producer and one-time Flash scribe—never wrote a Flash story arc without at least three Flash villains. The Rogues are coming.
I’m not saying that 10 or 12 villains in a single episode is a good idea—there’s that problem I mention often of limited screen time for too many characters—but had Flash developed recurring villains, we’d at least know who these people are and Flash could have a series of episodes with three or four villains teaming up, a tip of the hat to Johns. Flash has twice as many enemies as Batman.
Good luck identifying everyone, non-Flash readers. Doctor Alchemy was teased at the end of “Flashpoint,” and the person whispering to him was Mirror Master, so multiple villain episodes will happen. I geeked out over the closing moment. Jim didn’t even catch that it was Mirror Master whispering to Doctor Alchemy until I pointed out that “Alchemy” was written on a mirror. Imagine if every Flash viewer had met Mirror Master and knew who he was from the previous two seasons. Every Flash fan would’ve been geeking out over that moment.
I still enjoy Flash and I’m hopeful it’ll get better over the coming months, but there are countless missed opportunities.
Mirror Master’s powers involve generating mirror worlds and pocket realities, so the West family drama might not be an echo from the Flashpoint. Mirror Master–and not Reverse-Flash–could also be this season’s main villain.