The Flash hasn’t been good since the end of the first season. There, I said it. It’s a hard thing to admit, having slogged through the second season and its many ups and downs. It was sometimes great (*cough* Kevin Smith’s “The Runaway Dinosaur” episode *cough*) but never hit that level consistently.
Granted, it was also never quite terrible all the way through. It mostly just struggled to launch an entirely new series in Legends of Tomorrow, which might be the most interesting of the DC television lineup this year, and bumble its way through a conclusion that was more a mishmash of haphazard character motivations than anything else. The setup (read: most of the preceding 20ish episodes) was great, but it sped as fast as Barry Allen himself into careless conflict and resolution.
While admittedly the very final act of Barry initiating the Flashpoint arc was remarkably potent, showcasing finely the swirling and nightmarish conflict within him, that methodology continued somehow into the start of the third season. The original comic run (and the animated adaptation) did a fine job of exploring what it meant to futz with time and act as a nearly omnipotent agent with not even a little bit of omniscience, but this episode just sort of gestured vaguely at this ideas and then wiped it all away just as quickly and carelessly.
It was great that we didn’t have to delve too deep into a timeline that obviously wasn’t going to stick (and forcing Barry to rely on Reverse-Flash for survival was topnotch), but the superficial exploration of it was as uninteresting as it could have been. It’s mostly acceptable, though, since it mostly served to create complications for the team to solve back home. The real problem is that the fractured timeline caused by Barry’s return is as inconsequential as the Flashpoint timeline.
The entire premise feels contrived to solely justify the new slew of bad guys. All the resulting personal drama, including the absolute and fantastic shattering of the foundation of Barry’s home life and a key piece to his masked life, gets resolved simply by Barry, I dunno, existing? Being Barry? I guess he’s such a charming and affable guy that you just kind of have to give up on a lifetime (or a lifetime’s worth of debilitating strife, in Cisco’s case, bundled tightly into a single traumatizing event) as soon as he explains your entire life is a fabrication of his selfish actions.
There’s obviously a lot of meat there that they could have ripped from the bone and played into a much darker and dramatic series, but that’s not what this show is about. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have weight pushing it along. That’s what made the first season so compelling. There was a lot of superhero ramp-up action, sure, but it was all based on two extraordinarily engaging and personal stories that unfolded into each other in unexpected ways. This season just sort of faffed its way back into an all too familiar rhythm and called it day.
The biggest problem was the biggest problem of the tail end of the second season: everyone became selfish assholes for no particular reason. You understand (but detest) Barry’s decision to save his mother as the whole show has been built around this idea, but now everyone’s personal vendettas are emerging. We get it, Wally, you want to be a Speedster; you’re one-dimensional af now. Iris, you’re a terrible person holding a relationship hostage to get what you want. And you’re doing the same thing, Cisco, albeit not intentionally.
I’m not saying any of it wasn’t justified, but there’s no lessons learned here and no payoff. The writers took facets of the characters, extrapolated them into complications based on time travel shenanigans, and then showed them off like toys a kid happily discovered in the cereal box before shoving them off with a timeless Grant Gustin smile. Even the unattached intrigue of Earth-2 Wells and Jesse is rather bland.
That is, however, up until this week’s episode “Monster.” The structure is admittedly the same as it ever was (another bad guy shows up for seemingly no reason even though we know the reason and the Flash takes it down), but the ancillary events in the wings are fantastic. Caitlin is finally getting into both her past and her powers, a cool (puns!) turn that we’ve been asking ourselves “what if?” about since we saw Killer Frost last season.
And then there’s H.R., who introduces a new dynamic between Cisco and this other Harrison. This alternate Wells shakes up the lab with good and myriad reasons and just enough mystery to make it worthwhile. And we finally see Tom Felton’s Julian Albert go beyond an oddity and a potential point of distress for Barry’s Flash activities. He becomes a genuine character.
Like, he has his own thoughts that feelings that are born from the world of the show. His internal conflict of what it means to be part of the police while so much of what is truly affecting his city is far out of his hands is the depth the character needed. Not only that, but it is fueling his decisions, the consequences of which will surely come back to bite the team as the season goes on. He just become the most fully fleshed out person on the show.
It also doesn’t hurt that Doctor Alchemy isn’t even really a part of the episode since he’s kind of an impotent, amorphous bad guy. But the point is that this show still has some life in it. This is enough to keep me going for a while now, pushing aside that crutch of waiting for another Kevin Smith-directed episode. Here’s hoping this is a real Flashpoint for the season. (And that the movie gets it shit together.)