The Flash – Season 7 Episode 4
“Central City Strong”
The Flash focuses on rebuilding and refocusing after recent events have impacted everyone in uniquely significant ways.
This being an action adventure driven superhero series means that by design it’s set up for the characters to deal with constant difficult situations. Every week there’s a problem to solve and every season there’s a larger issue building in the background that has to be dealt with. One thing that doesn’t come up as often as it should is the emotional fallout of the onslaught of traumatic situations. Barry has seen people close to him die -some more than once-, Iris spent a long period of time in fear of her seemingly inevitable death, Caitlin wrestled with having a murderous villain hiding behind her typically stoic personality, Cisco has mourned losses of his own and so many other horrific things that would cripple even the strongest of people. Typically the emotional weight lands on a character or two for a while before being neatly resolved with the right speech or a burst of optimism but lingering trauma is rare.
“Central City Strong” is set apart in that regard as it is built on the idea that time needs to be taken to process the enormity of recent events. Iris spent months trapped in the Mirrorverse watching Barry cohabitate with a duplicate of her and not notice the difference for a very long time. She witnessed the duplicate live her life, insert itself into her most meaningful connection and try to tear it apart from the inside out. Something like that can’t be swept away with a passionate speech. It doesn’t look like the interrogation on Iris’ personality and being able to learn something from watching her duplicate will happen but this in interesting consequence nonetheless.
As the episode begins Iris is in denial around how she has been impacted by the experience. This is evident in her interactions with Barry as well as her going through the motions in her work at the Citizen. She starts off being unable to process her trauma so finds it difficult to find a way to move forward. Previous traumatic events were processed by getting right back to work and focusing on the next problem but that doesn’t do the trick here as so much went on that isn’t easy to internalise. The barrier between Barry and Iris is interesting to watch as it frames their relationship in a way not often seen. There’s a tangible difficulty in communicating the reality of their feelings with Barry choosing to overcompensate in an effort to make up for failing to notice the imposter in his life for so long. Iris isn’t actively blaming him for that but her own emotional issues are forcing a distance between them that they initially lack the understanding to bridge. Barry defaulting to grand gestures in the wake of having his speed back is definitely the wrong approach but also an understandable reaction to the guilt he feels over living his life with an imposter for so long.
Eventually they do find a way to vocalise how they feel and find their own ways to start to deal with what they’ve been through. This is something they need to do together and apart which makes for a surprisingly complex exploration of their specific issues while offering some growth to their relationship that is rarely seen. When the work is put in their connection can be an engaging one and the strides towards Iris defining herself outside of her connection to Barry and Team Flash really help with this. The female centric Central City Citizen setting gives Iris a strong individual identity and interests to pursue outside of the usual Team Flash exploits so it’s good that this is coupled with a desire to add depth to her character.
One of her important steps forward is when she finds the courage to stand up in front of the socially distanced Mirrorverse support group and admit that she’s struggling with the fallout of everything associated with her experiences surrounding that. The hardest thing to do is admit that you need help and Iris finding that within herself is really transformative. Having Allegra push her towards that by providing cutting feedback on an article she wrote was a nice touch as it highlights the importance of the Citizen as a growth opportunity for Iris as well as showcasing Allegra as a necessary voice to challenge her complacency. Allegra is rewarded by being granted status as a staff writer for the Citizen therefore acknowledging her worth to Iris as well as the show on the whole.
Outside of the emotional distance he has with Iris, Barry is actively working to bring hope to the city overall. Taking the time to show a literal rebuild happening with volunteers from key businesses within the city fosters a sense of community that is rarely seen. It doesn’t quite make Central City a realistic setting but it goes some way towards making it more than a playground for Barry to run around in. There have been many catastrophic events that threaten the city without any real exploration of how that impacts the people who live there outside of a drink in Jitters being named after a new hero or villain. Details like the support group or the general sense that the latest invasion is a blow that the city needs to recover from adds texture to Central City and having Barry appear in costume to address the people on the news in order to help bring them hope brings it to life that he’s their hero. The show should do more of this as it really helps with worldbuilding.
Unfortunately periods of calm never last long and Abra Kadabra makes an unwelcome appearance with a plan to destroy the city using an antimatter bomb. His previous appearance didn’t exactly set him up as an antagonist that the show needed to use again but he actually worked out well here because of the detail behind his actions. His motivation is an easily understandable one and does successfully frame him in a tragic light. Gaining access to his pre-Crisis memories of having a family that don’t exist in the new timeline would definitely be difficult to deal with. In his pain, Abra Kadabra has opted to blame The Flash and thinks that destroying Central City might restore the timeline that features his family. It’s not a conclusion he arrives at rationally nor is his plan well thought out but as a desperate act in the face of overwhelming pain it makes sense. It also ties into the overall theme of processing trauma that fills this episode.
Barry defeating Abra Kadabra with empathy rather than force reinforces the need to find a healthy way to move forward. He talks about losing Oliver during the events of Crisis and the need to accept that loss rather than be consumed by it. Instead of dwelling on it Barry works every day to honour that sacrifice and do his part to build a better world. He encourages Abra Kadabra to do the same and it’s enough to talk him down from his horrific plan. Chester’s comment about Barry not needing big fists because he has a big heart is painfully on the nose but given the focus on love and empathy here and in the previous episode I wonder if this is a theme that will drive this season. The concept is never far from coverage on this show but a specific focus on it as something the season will champion in a particular way could be interesting. The appearance of the hulking CGI monstrosity following Abra Kadabra’s empathetic defeat offers a distinct opposition to that idea as it’s an antagonist that appears to be driven by pure instinct so can’t be reasoned with. Of course this could be completely off base but based on what is presented here it seems to be what is being set up.
The episode also features a subplot involving Caitlin and Frost both complaining about a headache that culminates in them somehow separated from one another. This is the next logical step for these characters rather than having one transform into the other periodically though it’s not clear what difference it will make since there is still only one Danielle Panabaker so she can only play one character at a time unless they’re committing to some complicated editing in order to continually present both characters in a specific scene. This way Caitlin and Frost could be involved in completely different plots within the same episode which would put extra demands on Danielle Panabaker’s work on the show though in theory it does open up the possibility of more varied storytelling.
Some elements still feel extraneous such as Chester. He’s always around to deliver a pop culture reference and offer his tech expertise but beyond that it’s not clear what he offers to the show that isn’t already provided by Cisco. He is another voice on Team Flash but not a terribly distinct one so far. It is early days for his character but so far there’s no clear place for him. Similarly Cisco basically becoming Vibe again except aided by technology instead of super powers is a confusing development given his previous strong desire to walk away from the Vibe identity as well as his powers.
A good episode that offers a meaningful exploration of the fallout of recent events in ways that offer major growth for both Barry and Iris. Taking time to process events isn’t something this show tends to do a lot of so it really stands out when it does. Barry overcompensating with grand gestures as Iris fails to articulate how she feels about the imposter that stole her life without him noticing for a long time creates a compelling distance between them that they have to figure out how to deal with both separately and together. Iris working her way up to talking openly to the socially distanced support group was well done and Allegra helping her get to that point following some cutting feedback to point out that she’s going through the motions. Barry working to bring hope to the city overall helps add texture to Central City as a setting while showcasing that people are impacted by the routine catastrophic events that put them at risk. Abra Kadabra is used well as a villain here with motivations that make sense. Barry using empathy to defeat him continues to set up an ongoing theme for this season that can be focused on while the arrival of a CGI monstrosity that can’t be reasoned with is reasonable opposition to this idea.
The subplot involving Caitlin and Frost suffering headaches before eventually being separated from one another isn’t that interesting by itself but opens up both characters to more varied storytelling in the future. while also being the next logical step for this connected pair. Chester still doesn’t have a defined place on the team that separates him from Cisco in any meaningful way. It is early days but so far he doesn’t bring anything unique to the team dynamic. Cisco essentially becoming Vibe again but using technology instead of powers is a confusing development considering how much focus was given to his desire to walk away from the role and his powers.
- taking the time to process the enormity of recent events
- the emotional distance between Barry and Iris
- their individual coping mechanisms
- Iris taking the important step to stand up and admit her difficulties
- Barry actively working to bring hope to the city
- adding texture to Central City by showcasing the impact recent events have on the people in the city
- Abda Kadabra’s understandable motivations
- Barry using empathy to defeat him
- Chester not having a distinct role within the overall team dynamic
- Cisco becoming Vibe again with tech instead of powers making for a confusing development
- the Caitlin/Frost headache subplot
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