Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Review: On 'The Flash', the 'Flashpoint' hype is misguided

Over the summer - and even immediately following the second season finale - much of the talk surrounding The Flash has been in regards to the impending use of the Flashpoint storyline from the comics. I've not read nor do I know anything about (beyond what I've read in articles and on social media over the hiatus) Flashpoint, but I am aware that it's a substantial story on the page.

So why, then, has The Flash treated it in such a haphazardly speedy manner?

Really, the overwhelmingly obvious explanation for its introduction and swift removal of the Flashpoint universe is simple: The Flash cannot possibly sustain an alternate universe where everything is different because it would affect both Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. And if you dare to dive into that territory, not only will you alienate viewers of the other shows that don't watch Flash but would temporarily render their previous storylines moot - or worse, change them entirely (*). That means that things needed to revert to normal, and they needed to do so fast.

(*) The death of Barry's mother has impacted on Arrow more crucially than might be assumed. Namely, Barry's curiosity surrounding mysterious crimes due to the circumstances of his mother's death leads him to visit Starling City in December 2014 - a visit that results in him saving Oliver's life. With his mother alive and well, Barry almost certainly doesn't go, and Oliver dies.

There was a moment about 15 minutes through the premiere, around the time that Barry began losing memories, that I audibly predicted the timeline would be reset before the hour was up. Lo and behold, by the time the credits roll, Barry's back in his normal life, and the hour winds up feeling similar to Earth-2, just on a less affecting level.

Ultimately, it seems that the show's intention was to do some sort of major shake-up in the timeline we know. Iris and Joe not being on speaking terms is an interesting idea - though my initial assumption from Joe's reaction was something much more permanent - but The Flash has now put a great deal of pressure on itself to deliver a strong arc here. If, over the course of the season, the show can make the conflict there feel earned and provide not only a competent explanation of why they don't speak but also one for why they continue to/reunite, then maybe the premiere won't feel as much like wasted time as it currently does. That's almost entirely a direct result of the hype and anticipation created by the idea of Flashpoint, and though that usually wouldn't impact my opinions, the curveball in last season's final scene (and, in fact, the brainlessness of Barry's decision) means that really, the ramifications should have had more weight than they currently do.

And it's a shame, because the premiere was, by and large, a strong episode if you ignore the wider context of it all. Aside from the hastily and relatively lazily included sub-plot of alt-Iris finding herself loving Barry having known her all of five minutes, watching Barry interact with all those he knows and loves but without their awareness of their connection was a lot of fun. And the show clearly had a lot of fun putting these characters into slightly different roles: Cisco as the selfish, 'I'm not interested in helping' billionaire genius who hates new people; Caitlin as an ophthalmologist who may or may not have been kidnapped; Joe as an alcoholic; Iris as a reporter who secretly works alongside Wally, who is the new (Kid) Flash; and, of course, Barry's parents, whom we see together for I believe the first time. That last one hit some new emotional beats inaccessible to this point, thanks to the inclusion of only one at a time during the series' to-date run, and Barry having hugged his mother every day for the three months he's been in this world doesn't show us anything new about him, but does remind us how warm-hearted he is. Indeed, his goodbye was perhaps the scene of the episode, Gustin hitting all the right notes to display the suppressed grief of a man about to lose his parents for the... well, we're at about four times now, I think?

Though both the requirement of choice and choice itself were predictable - particularly once Reverse Flash told Barry the consequences of his memory losses - Barry having to sacrifice his parents yet again was a powerful moment. That being said, The Flash has used that trick to its limit by this point. Given all of the time and alternate universe shenanigans the show likes to pull, we may see both Nora and Henry back at some point, in some form. Should that happen, another farewell would feel excessive and as though the show is manipulating us purely for the sake of manipulation; there's only so much Gustin's sad puppy dog eyes can do before the whole thing begins to fade into nothingness, a monotonous blend of a half-dozen scenes just like it that wind up meaning something only until the next time it happens.

Finally, the introduction of Doctor Alchemy - another thing that will excite the comic fans but means nothing to me - was entirely fine. From what I can gather, he isn't a speedster, which should provide a welcome change of pace in terms of villain.

We're still yet to see the full spectrum of what's changed in the original timeline - assuming that Joe's detachment from Iris isn't the only thing that's changed - but things are back to normal. Hopefully, The Flash can move past this whole Flashpoint episode quickly - Joe and Iris' relationship excepted - and get back to its best.

What did everyone think of the premiere? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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