The Flash – Season 4 Episode 16
“Run, Iris, Run”
The Flash does a power swapping story when an encounter with a meta with the ability to transfer abilities moves Barry’s powers into Iris.
Power swapping is a fairly common comic book trope as it has the potential to create a fun dynamic shift between the characters. It has all the drama associated with the hero losing their powers coupled with the origin story concept as someone gains new powers. Throwing those two ideas in a blender often leads to mixed results but it’s something that most superhero stories get around to sooner or later.
In many ways an episode like this is long overdue for Iris. I’ve made no secret of the fact that she is far from my favourite character but that’s all down to the way the writers choose to handle her. It has nothing to do with Candice Patton’s performance as she is often charming and charismatic when delivering material that isn’t good. Letting her have the spotlight and truly exploring how she feels about her life at this point is something this show should definitely do more of rather than constantly defining her through her relationship with Barry.
Once she gains Barry’s powers there’s a short scene where she realises how fun it is to move that fast. This lets her understand why Barry values his abilities so much and lets Iris have some fun for once. Candice Patton’s performance in this scene is giddy which is the perfect reaction to suddenly gaining super powers. Barry is hanging around on the sidelines feeling sorry for himself because he has lost them but still works at being supportive because he knows what it’s like to get used to the changes that come with gaining super powers.
The story beats of this episode are really predictable and that’s the biggest problem it has. Iris starts with loving her new reality, realises that being a hero isn’t all fun and games and finally overcomes her fears to bring the villain down. In fairness it’s difficult to do much more than that in a single episode but the predictability of the plot made me disengage with it on several occasions because I knew exactly what was coming next. We’ve seen variations of this with Barry and Jesse on this very show and it’s a common structure in superhero origin stories in both film and television so making no attempt to deliver anything that could be considered new or interesting is a definite problem.
Despite that this episode does excellently on the character front. Iris’ terror at being in the field works really well and I enjoyed little touches like her running up the stairs of a burning building to save the people rather than attempting running up the wall. Power swap episodes often give whoever didn’t have the powers before access to the full range of them which often makes no sense as entire episodes were devoted to the hero learning how to control a particular power or aspect of their powers. In the case of wall running Barry couldn’t do that right away so had to learn. Iris is the same so I like that it was considered. It is confusing that her lightning is purple and nobody remarks on it especially considering this show has made a big deal out of lightning colours in the past.
Her inexperience ends up being her greatest enemy in this episode. Trying to put out the fire in a building is something Barry can do on autopilot but Iris struggles with it because she doesn’t have his experience or his confidence. Barry’s inept coaching skills return when he’s unable to give her advice that will help her solve the problem. It makes sense that he might not be able to explain how to do something that comes so naturally to him and training Wally last season proved that he’s just not very good at it. His ineptness when it comes to helping Iris understand what she needs to do isn’t a flaw in the episode but it’s a flaw with Barry which I like because flawed characters are more interesting. If there was more time this might have been a good excuse to bring Jay Garrick in as it seems like he has the ability to train others in a way that helps them understand what they need to do. There definitely wasn’t time to do that in this episode but it should at least have come up.
Iris overcoming her terror to stop the fire wielding meta was good on a conceptual level but clumsily handled. It basically amounted to her standing there next to temperatures as hot as lava while the rest of the team debated what her next move should be. Apparently the meta was on pause while everyone figured out a way to stop him. This is a fairly common occurrence in this show and it’s just as awkward in this episode. Periodically cutting back to Iris doing her best to move people out of the way or dodge an attack or two would have largely fixed this problem. Having her use her speed to cause a tidal wave seems like a really stupid solution but the spirit of it was clear as it was geared to show that Iris has the ability to take control of the situation and the self confidence necessary to push herself to solve the problem.
Outside of having powers this episode takes the opportunity to explore Iris as a person; something that hasn’t been done in a long time. The fact that she used to have a life outside of Team Flash is finally addressed as well as all she has given up in order to help protect people. It’s perfectly reasonable that she would have some semblance of regret because her life choices have moved her in a very particular and often lonely direction. She has Barry and the other members of the team but there’s nothing in her life that she can truly call her own and it’s clear that this experience has awakened a desire to be more than the leader of Team Flash who is also married to the Flash. In the early days of this show Iris was pursuing a career in journalism and started a blog about all the meta activity in Central City with focus on the Flash as the hero they should all look up to. The last thing she does in this episode is start writing once again showing that her passion for it has been reawakened. Interestingly this also makes her the team historian as well as the leader which certainly creates some storytelling possibilities that will likely never be made use of.
Her skills as a leader are also developed in terms of how she handles the rest of the team. The approach she takes to Barry losing his powers is full of empathy as she understands how much they mean to him and the effect losing them will have on him. She supports him as his wife but the leadership angle comes in when she recognises that it’s a complete shift in the team and it’s her job as the leader to help people adjust as much as possible.
Iris’ approach to dealing with Ralph shows that she has leadership skills as well. At first she’s upset by him accusing her of playing it safe by staying in S.T.A.R. Labs and ordering people around rather than getting in the field herself. She feels that there’s an element of truth to it and immediately sets out to prove him wrong. This is definitely the incorrect approach as she shouldn’t let Ralph dictate her worth to the team. The fact that he gets to her means that she fails to notice exactly what’s going on with Ralph who is projecting his own fears onto her. He’s the one afraid to leave because he knows DeVoe is after him and largely wants to prevent people from noticing that so tries to shift attention to Iris.
This both works and doesn’t. I’ve criticised the handling of Ralph in the past because he learns pretty much the same lesson every week which appears to be a continuation of Team Flash in general failing to learn simple lessons in previous seasons. The end of “Subject 9” characterised Ralph as someone ready to do the right thing and prevent DeVoe from getting to the other Bus-Metas but this episode resets him to directionless and terrified and this character assassination only serves the function of making a point. It’s not a great point either but it does allow further insight into Iris as a character.
Her advice to him about not letting the fear of death stop him living his life is very poignant because we can extrapolate that she experienced the same fear he did and came to that conclusion. We have to ignore for a moment that season 3 made almost no attempt to explore Iris’ reaction to the knowledge of her upcoming death as it’s reasonable to assume that coming to such a conclusion would help her deal with it. Her advice is delivered at the right time for Ralph who seems to take it on board though there’s every chance he’ll forget it by next week as usual.
The episode does suffer from some missed opportunities. I’ve never found the Barry and Iris relationship compelling because the show still hasn’t defined what it is they even like about one another beyond them exchanging over the top platitudes detailing how much they apparently love one another. Iris showing Barry empathy for losing his powers is good but there could have been more to it than that. It wouldn’t have taken much more than an extra scene or two to explore what makes them work as a couple especially in moments of hardship such as this one. The episode is more focused on the broader plot and fleshing out Iris as an individual which is certainly great but the supposed core relationship still feels clunky and unnatural.
In terms of villains the episode is simultaneously weak and strong. The weakness is the usual lack of development for those villains meaning that they are little more than human shaped obstacles but the actors portraying them are do a really good job with them. Oliver Rice as Erik Frye, the first wielder of the fire powers makes an impression thanks to his arrogant attitude and Max Adler leans delightfully into the cheese as Jaco Birch the second wielder of the powers.
The connecting tissue to all of this is Matthew Kim aka Melting Point (Leonardo Nam). Not much is known about him other than his ability to steal powers from metahumans and give them to someone else. He’s also clearly a good person based on his attempt to diffuse two tense situations and appeal to the better natures of the attacking metahumans.
There’s plenty of opportunity to develop him as he will be at least a temporary addition to Team Flash as the latest in a long line of assets that might help them defeat DeVoe but won’t. We’re probably looking at the source of further tragedy in the next couple of episodes but Leonardo Nam at least appears to be an engaging presence that may fit in well with Team Flash.
Harry tries to channel his frustration at his inability to out-think DeVoe in a practical direction by trying to beat him at his own game. His theory is that he can build a device similar to the one that gave DeVoe his powers and do the same to himself therefore levelling the brain power playing field.
Cisco thinks this is a terrible idea for lots of reasons. His most immediate concern is that Harry isn’t exactly the most rational of human beings most of the time so worries that he will go the same way DeVoe did. Eventually he resolves to help Harry on the condition that the situation is carefully monitored. The idea that Harry could become a villain when trying to stop DeVoe is an interesting possibility that would create consequences affecting Team Flash greatly while establishing a clear price for victory.
This ties back to Savitar mentioning that nobody ever hurt Barry like DeVoe did but we don’t know why that is. Considering this is now an alternate timeline we may never know.
A strong episode that gives Iris some overdue development outside of her relationship with Barry. There is still no sense of realising to that relationship but it’s good to see that how much of her life has been given up to benefit Team Flash is addressed and that she decides to get back into her writing at the end of the episode. Attention is given to her leadership style in a really interesting way as well.
In terms of plot the episode is very predictable and makes no attempt to surprise the audience. It’s not especially bad and seeing Iris deal with her own fears works really well but the plot itself has no surprises. Outside of this Ralph repeats yet another lesson which is frustrating though Iris handling it as a leader makes for a strong scene. Harry’s attempt to beat DeVoe at his own game by making himself smarter is interesting in how it is approached with the potential for Harry to become corrupted by it.
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