The Flash – Season 4 Episode 1
“The Flash Reborn”
The Flash returns for a fourth season and quickly works to resolve the cliffhanger of Barry being trapped in the Speed Force from last season.
I mentioned on a recent podcast the wealth of opportunities having Barry absent from the show brings for the rest of the cast. With him out of the picture temporarily it leaves the door open to develop the other characters in really interesting ways as they are forced to step up and define themselves without Barry around.
Another fact is that Grant Gustin is the lead on this show so he won’t be missing for any length of time. Arrow had the luxury of the flashback story structure to allow for an extended arc where Oliver Queen was separated from the team but The Flash has a more traditional structure so isn’t able to do that. So, I knew what I wanted but was also aware of what I would get and the latter is what was supplied.
There is at least an attempt to show how the characters are coping without Barry in the first half of the episode. Team Flash has been cut to the bone with Wally and Cisco bringing down threats to the city in the field while Iris reads the screens back at S.T.A.R. Labs. It’s actually a really fun dynamic that has a lot more to offer than the show is willing or able to explore.
Cisco and Wally bounce off each other well and it’s clear that they have figured out a way to work well together in the 6 months they have been protecting the city together. Combining his Vibe powers and Wally’s super speed is no easy task but they are able to combine effectively and bring down Peek-A-Boo together.
Wally is clearly having a blast being the city’s only Speedster and Keiynan Lonsdale rises to the challenge of taking a more central role for the short time he is allowed to do so. He and Cisco interact differently to Cisco and Barry but it’s just as valid a connection and clearly has a lot to offer. How Wally feels about Barry’s disappearance sadly isn’t explored though the show never did a good job establishing their relationship beyond what was required for a specific scene.
Cisco’s seems to have accepted Barry’s disappearance other than regret filled statements about the team being a man down and a generally morbid demeanour. He’s putting a brave face on the situation and Carlos Valdes’ performance suggests that his resolve is crumbling which definitely seems to be the case. Working on bringing Barry back is what gives him the strength to carry on. He is so sure that he will succeed that he has made a new suit -which I like- showing his unswerving belief that Barry will return to wear it.
Iris has taken a more assertive role in the show and it’s great to see. Candice Patton was horribly underused last season so there’s plenty of ground to make up there. The Iris character has always worked best when she is able to be more proactive and empowered which is exactly what she gets here. Her growth over the 6 months she has captained Team Flash is clearly exponential as she demonstrates a keen ability to manage a situation and get the best out of the two super powered people at her disposal.
Her growth has definitely come at a cost. The loss of Barry has affected her on a profound and visceral level as she is completely unable to take any joy from life. Her focus on the work is laser sharp and she clearly has no time for anything else. If the five stages of grief are applied to her then she is still stuck in the denial phase as she refuses to take any time to reflect on the fact that Barry is no longer around. She sleeps on the couch in the apartment they used to share and has turned a picture of them face down so that she doesn’t have to look at him. It’s really interesting to see her characterised like this and Candice Patton’s performance is excellent.
Despite their best efforts the current configuration of Team Flash are apparently less effective than they should be. Iris reminds them that the capture of Peek-a-Boo is a rarity for them as three other metahumans have escaped. Wally remains optimistic that they’ll be caught eventually which seems to make him ignorant to all of the damage they could do in the mean-time. Iris is a cruel taskmaster and forces Wally to spend hours training in order to bring him up to the standard required to protect the city.
When a robot Samurai -eventually dubbed Samuroid by Cisco- attacks the city looking to fight the real Flash it gives Cisco the excuse he was waiting for to unveil his plan to bring Barry back. The details of it are boring but it involves some technobabble nonsense and the Speed Force Bazooka. Iris refuses to let him try because a failed attempt would break her completely so she doesn’t even want to take the risk but Cisco goes behind her back to try it anyway.
He seeks out Caitlin who is now working in a dive bar and seems to have solved her Killer Frost problem. I found this disappointing as the season 3 finale suggested that Caitlin had been forever changed by her ordeal and now identified as neither Caitlin or Killer Frost. Maybe the writers thought they would figure something out but never did so reverted her back to something more familiar. More on Caitlin later in the review though.
Their attempt to free Barry from the Speed Force appears to fail but it turns out that he is just let out elsewhere and arrives relatively safe and sound. I say relatively because Barry isn’t completely intact when he returns. He scribbles incomprehensible symbols on any flat surface he can find and speaks constant gibberish. Cisco believes that Barry is trying to tell them something but can’t get his brain to connect the message with some kind of delivery method so he gets to work trying to decode it. He refuses to believe that his attempt failed and that his friend can’t be rescued so he works relentlessly on trying to figure it out. For the moment it turns out to be nonsense but I wouldn’t rule out it becoming important later in the season considering the effort that went into making the symbols visually distinctive.
Barry’s return knocks the team off balance. This particularly applies to Iris and Joe who struggle to resolve how glad they are to have him back and how upset they are at his current mental state. Grant Gustin does a fine job playing Barry in his altered state and the scenes he appears in are more about the rest of the team reacting to his presence rather than him being the focus. This was the smart decision as the episode is more about the void he has left than anything else so it makes sense to keep focusing on the people in his life dealing with the fact that he isn’t really back.
No scene handles this better than the intimate Joe and Iris scene where Joe talks about how important faith is. It’s a long conversation where attending church is discussed and what lessons to take away from that. Iris has been focusing on strength and nothing else while Joe has learned to let faith back in his life. This isn’t so much in a religious sense but definitely in a spiritual one and he uses the anecdote to tell Iris that having faith is just as important as being strong. Joe never gave up hope on seeing Barry again as he gives the reason for his absence as being on sabbatical rather than being dead.
Iris takes Joe’s advice and offers herself up as a hostage for the Samuroid because her capture usually lures the Flash. She has faith that her being in mortal danger will be just what Barry needs to snap out of his current state. Turns out that it works and Barry runs into action reaching speeds he hasn’t come close to before and easily dispatching the Samuroid.
After this point the episode wraps up with Team Flash seemingly back together and Barry having a more positive outlook on life. He mentions that he feels like he has been reborn and his general tone is very light which suggests that the show will return to its roots of being about a fun loving superhero rather than the dreariness that defined the previous season. Cisco is over the moon to have his friend back, Caitlin seems ready to return to the team and Iris seems happy though will require some adjustment. Wally may also be happy but he is pretty much forgotten once Barry returns as he so often was last season.
This makes me wonder why Wally is in the show at all. It’s clear that the writers don’t know what to do with him and don’t really have a place for him. An absent Barry is the perfect opportunity for Wally to shine and he does for a few minutes before that plot line is resolved. Now he’s back in the background making no measurable impact on anything that goes on.
I still have an issue with bringing Barry back as it makes the story of him disappearing into the Speed Force feel like pointless cliffhanger bait. It’s obvious that he will return but the writers don’t seem to have the confidence to let the other characters come into their own. This show has limitless possibilities when it comes to plotting thanks to the characters having access to the multiverse. What was to stop them having Earth-2 Barry stand in for Earth-1 Barry for appearances sake while the team worked out a way to save the city without him? It’d be a good way to have Grant Gustin playing a significant role in the show without Barry Allen actually returning. The opening arc of the season could be building up to his return while enriching the other characters in the process.
Hopefully there will be consequences to Cisco trying to trick the Speed Force. It’s a sentient entity so I imagine the trick won’t work for long and something will happen later on that puts Barry’s freedom in jeopardy. It’s clear that our villain for the season, Clifford DeVoe aka the Thinker (Neil Sandilands) has manipulated the situation in some way and I’m interested to find out what his plan for the Flash will be. I’m also glad that the main villain isn’t another Speedster.
I suspect that the Thinker also acts as the villain factory for the season as well. It’s a nice touch that this can be taken almost literally as he actually built the Samuroid which literally existed to fulfil it’s purpose of being an antagonist and nothing else. It’s one way around the persistent problem of giving villains of the week development certainly.
Back to Caitlin as promised. The end of the episode shows that she isn’t as free of Killer Frost as she said she was and there’s clearly an internal conflict still raging there. She also seems to be surprised that this is happening again so maybe this is her first incident in months. I can only hope we don’t go back to the relentless keeping of secrets to draw out the drama of this reveal.
The real question is over whether I liked this episode or not and I find myself divided. On one level it had a lot to offer with Team Flash dealing with fighting crime without Barry around and Iris stepping into a leadership role but on another Barry was brought back far too quickly. The dynamic between the remainder of Team Flash didn’t have enough time to develop and was abandoned at a point where there was still a lot to offer. Iris could have had an arc involving her accepting Barry’s disappearance only to have to deal with his return soon after but all of that potential is gone.
On a visual level the episode really impresses. The set piece moments are excellent with Barry’s return to lucidity being a notable standout. I also really liked what I saw of the Thinker; he already seems to be a formidable presence who has a lot to offer and having him literally manufacture villains of the week could be a nice touch if it doesn’t become too repetitive. At the very least the tone seems to be returning to something resembling what it was in season 1 so if the show becomes fun again then that’s something I’d be very interested in seeing.
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