You don’t have to tell me that this review is waaay late. Or that Season 7 is playing right now, as we speak.
The truth is that I put the CW’s The Flash on a non-COVID-related hiatus after I watched the fifth season of the series. It’s not that I hated the season, because it was okay. Entertaining enough. The series and I both were beginning to feel fatigued. You know how it is when you’ve been good friends with someone for a while, and you start to hear the same stories told, time and again. That’s how I was beginning to feel in Season 5.
Not just with The Flash, but also with Supergirl and Arrow. I had previously stepped away from other DC shows, but DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Black Lightning‘s mutual “hiatus” is beginning to have the patina of age. I think I’m going back to both shows, but I won’t commit to it at this time.
Side note: I did return to Arrow earlier than the others because they had already announced their final season. I watched the final two seasons of that show before I began watching The Flash and Supergirl again. The upcoming season of Supergirl is slated to be its last as well; I’ll be watching. It’s that completist thing, the collector’s curse.
The temporary absence of this series in my life did indeed make my heart regain its fondness for Barry Allen and Iris West-Allen and the other citizens of Central City. Beginning to watch this season was a lot like reuniting with good friends after being away from them for a while.
It wasn’t just being away from the series that changed the way I felt, though. Season 6 does a better job at reestablishing an overall tone that more properly balances seriousness and levity. I would go as far as to say that this was the best season of the show since Season 2.
The first two seasons of this series were amazing. Moreso than Arrow, this series captured that comic-book feel from my grammar school days, when DC Comics were my drug of choice. I was already a fan of Ollie Queen and Team Arrow, but The Flash became my favorite DC-on-CW series almost immediately. Then Season 3 went dark. Real dark. Seasons 4 and 5 weren’t as dark, but weren’t as good—or as memorable—as 1 and 2. I remember storylines involving the Thinker and Cicada, and Barry and Iris’ daughter Nora West-Allen from the future. Ralph Dibny (Hartley Sawyer) and Cecile Horton (Danielle Nicolet) became new members of Team Flash. Some of the attempts at witty banter failed to hit the mark. The Flash was experiencing series fatigue, as I mentioned earlier.
Like most series that I enjoy, The Flash has always been largely about the importance of your found family. According to whatsyourgrief.com, your found family are “people who are not blood family, but who a person forges deep and meaningful bonds with based on things like shared values, mutual care and support, understanding, unconditional love, and positive regard.” We’ve all seen this trope before. It is the staple of ensemble shows. Buffy had her Scooby Gang (as did Scooby-Doo, now that you mention it). The employees and certain patrons of Cheers were probably together more than they were with their real families. Oliver Queen had Team Arrow, which changed over the course of the series. And, on this series, we had Team Flash.
The core of Team Flash was once Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), Iris West-Allen (Candice Patton), Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), and some version of Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanaugh). We’ve gradually been reducing the importance of Snow and Ramon, and even Joe West, as Cecile Horton became a more important character. Ralph Dibny became the Elongated Man with his own separate character goals, and former criminal Allegra Garcia (Kayla Compton) began treading a righteous path. While we can never return to the original dynamic of Team Flash, I could feel that sense of found family a bit more in Season 6.
In my neverending journey to understand myself, I’ve discovered that I prefer the types of stories involving a found family. I’m reading a David Gemmell fantasy novel now that features Jon Shannow, the Jerusalem Man, who is a lone-wolf hero character type by reputation. Still, Shannow soon finds himself in the company of other characters, bound together in a common cause. As I run my finger over the spines of the novels on my shelves, almost every one includes that found family theme. The same also seems to be true of most of the DVDs I own. I am, obviously, a team player.
For some reason, the fact that the characters are not related to each other makes a team seem even stronger, somehow. Okay, your found family can include the occasional blood relative as well. Joe West is Iris West’s father; I consider that the exception that proves the rule.
This season is effectively divided—not quite in half, but close—by the big crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earths. The main villain prior to the crossover is Bloodwork, an effectively scary bad guy played by a familiar actor from Heroes, Sendhil Ramamurthy. As you may recall, Barry Allen was fated to die in this crossover, similar to the way he did in that old comic book miniseries by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Minor spoiler: Barry—the Paragon of Love—does not die. It’s possible that the Pompatus of Love did, however.
Full disclosure: I didn’t watch all of the crossover episodes, but enough to get the gist of it. I watched the episodes from Supergirl, Arrow and The Flash, which means I missed out on Batwoman (a series I’ve yet to watch a single episode of) and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (still on semi-permanent hiatus). I’m still not completely sure about everything that changed after the Crisis, except that the Jon Cryer version of Lex Luthor is alive again and the versions of Earth for the different DC on CW series have been folded into the same universe, Earth Prime. This means Supergirl, Black Lightning, and Batwoman are now in the same reality as the late Green Arrow and Flash, so no breaching is involved in visiting each other now. In its way, the Crisis of the Berlantiverse fulfilled the same purpose as the comic-book version. One, it made the universe less complicated and brought all of our disparate heroes together in the same reality. Two, it messed up a lot of things that had already happened, storywise, on all of the shows.
For my tastes, this is too close to an “it was all just a dream” plot, a reminder that none of this really happened, threatening the willing suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy science-fiction stories about people who can run freakishly fast or fly or dress like bats.
Never mind all of that, though. The annual crossover event is only a single episode in this season. The build up to the event interferes with the story arcs of the season, in many ways, and alters the course of the story a bit after the event, but it is a separate thing. If you’ve been a fan of the DC shows, you understand what I mean. After Crisis, the Big Bad who emerges is Mirror Master. I’m not going to tell you this villain’s identity—although it will come as no surprise to you as you watch the season. Since our season was shortened to nineteen episodes by the COVID-19 pandemic, this story arc doesn’t wrap up until the beginning of Season 7 (which I’m watching now). There’s a whole dopplegänger/Mirror Universe thing (I guess all alternate dimensions were not eliminated by Crisis).
Chester P. Runk (Brandon McKnight), a thoroughly millenial scientific genius with Instagram followers, is initially saved by Team Flash, and later becomes a member of Barry’s found family. He’s a character type similar to Cisco. Not surprisingly, Cisco seems to fade into the background a bit, at least temporarily. Now that I think about it, Caitlin is also a similar character type, although she has a hero alter-ego as Frost, just like Cisco has/had Vibe. I’m confused about whether or not he’s Vibe once again, since he had once taken the metahuman “cure.” Seems like I just saw an episode where he was suited up once again. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. I would prefer that Caitlin and Cisco were both superheroes, if Chester is going to be our new person-in-the-chair. Every superhero found family needs at least one. Like Chester, Kamilla Hwang (Victoria Park) and Allegra Garcia become more important as characters in this season. Kamilla becomes Cisco’s girlfriend (a replacement for Gypsy) and begins to work for Iris West-Allen at The Central City Citizen, which I believe is an on-line only newspaper. Reformed criminal Allegra also works for Iris, and has some sort of connection to Nash Wells, this season’s flavor of Harrison Wells.
You haven’t heard me discuss the plot(s) of this season in great detail. I’m not going to get too far out in the weeds on this, because I don’t think it’s necessary. The first “story” involves stopping Bloodwork and preparing for Crisis. The second “story” after the crossover is about Mirror Master and some Illuminati-type organization known as Black Hole, and the attempt to save Barry’s waning powers by creating an Artificial Speed Force similar to Eobard Thawne’s. Mostly.
Like any long-running series, The Flash is beginning to struggle a bit beneath the weight of its own mythology and history. The cast of characters seems to be growing exponentially. I understand that actor Hartley Sawyer lost his job as Ralph Dibny because of some offensive social media posts in his past (this is the Way). I’m not using this as a platform to discuss whether or not I agree with his termination, but he may have done the series a favor. His subplot with Sue Dearbon (Natalie Dreyfuss) didn’t really do anything to push the main plot forward. I like the Elongated Man as a ridiculous character, but it looks like the plan is to cut him out of the show, not replace the actor.
The multiple story threads were beginning to grow too complicated. This series has made a few strides in the proper direction, although it’s expected for a new showrunner to put his personal stamp on the program, which often involves the introduction of new characters or overarching storylines. I’m confident that the plan is to get back to this series’ core strengths, which is focusing on whatever the current incarnation of Team Flash may be and the relationships between the characters. This is always more important than whatever episodic villain or impending disaster is presented to the viewer. The team size has to remain manageable, subplots need to remain subordinate, and the overall tone has to remain lighter than Arrow, as in The Flash‘s first two seasons. This tone is possible to achieve without sacrificing drama. This show proved that itself.
I liked this season. It didn’t blow me away, and it didn’t completely shed the darker tone we’ve had since Season 3, although I feel like it’s trying to. The Flash is still my favorite of the DC on CW shows. After Supergirl‘s final season, it will be the only one I’m still watching. As long as the positive trend continues.
Firewater’s Hmm-A-Disturbance-in-the-Speed-Force-You-Feel Report Card: B+