The Flash – Season 7 Episode 10
“Family Matters Part 1”
The Flash focuses on family as the team tries to reach the people inside the Forces in order to deal with the ongoing threat.
A big problem with the Forces plot is how confusing it is. The show can’t seem to arrive at a definitive position on what they actually are due to the contradictory information associated with them. Nora/the Speed Force has existed since the dawn of time and has taken the form of Barry’s dead mother when interacting with the physical world as we understand it. That in itself isn’t an issue in a science fiction show as manifestations of higher powers are common in this genre, it’s where the other forces are concerned that things get confusing.
Frequent reference is made to the remaining three being created through the efforts of Team Flash to restore Barry’s speed. My earliest assumption is that the Forces had been released from somewhere or tethered to the physical world by their efforts but the idea of them being created makes very little sense. There’s no ambiguity around them being literal forces of nature so the audience is being expected to accept that Team Flash are capable of accidentally creating forces of nature through the power of Barry and Iris’ love for one another. Emotion as fuel is not a new idea in this show and not a lot of work would need to be done in order to make this more palatable for audiences but the inconsistencies are difficult to parse.
In theory forces of nature exist in a delicate balance that allows reality to work as it does so the Speed, Strength, Still and Sage forces contribute to some sort of cosmic balance that keeps reality ticking along as understood by the characters. A plot detailing them being tethered to the physical world and acting as antagonists that are more powerful than anything faced before due to what they are has merit. Having people unwittingly host them naturally adds personal stakes and puts a more relatable spin on the threat. The creation side of it is the issue as Barry, Iris and Team Flash definitely didn’t create the Speed Force so it doesn’t track that they could have created the others.
I suspect the writers have defined it in this way in order to force the familial connection in order to tell the story that they want to tell around that. Positioning Barry and Iris as parents of these dangerous forces so that they can struggle with feeling responsible for them in the same way parents feel responsible for the upbringing of their children does make sense in terms of how clearly that has been established but the background details don’t work which heavily detracts from what the show is trying to achieve.
One of the focal points of this emotional connection is Alexa who is terrified of what is within her because of how dangerous it is. This points to another irritating inconsistency that I’ll point out later in the review but for the purposes of Alexa it’s a Bruce Banner/Hulk situation. She fears what she considers to be a monster that exists within her and can break out at any time to endanger people. Barry’s solution to that is to train her to control that so that she no longer fears it. Controlling Fuerza also provides a powerful ally against Nora so there’s a lot of interest in making sure Alexa overcomes her fear and takes charge of her own potential. As a recovered addict it’s a really strong sentiment as she already has inner demons that she struggles with every day so Fuerza amounts to a physical manifestation of a part of herself she had great difficulty controlling.
Barry exhibits his trademark awful leadership skills in his attempts to train Alexa. Instead of empathising with her he ignores her reluctance to release this thing she has no control over. She is clearly terrified and Barry takes no notice of this, instead resolving to force Fuerza to come out which gets Cisco hurt. Barry’s terrible leadership skills and lack of ability to train people effectively is a consistent character trait by this point but the most frustrating thing is that he consistently fails to learn from his past mistakes. There are examples of him realising he was wrong in his approach in prior instances but the next time someone is in need of training he reverts to type and the process repeats itself. Characters learning and forgetting the same lessons over and over again is a consistent problem The Flash has suffered from for a long time now and it’s immensely frustrating to see it continue. The characters are devalued in order to manufacture tension so it’s entirely plot driven rather than character driven.
It’s unfortunate in this case because Alexa is an engaging character. Her history with addiction and having this burden forced -pun intended- on her all help establish her as a tragic character constantly on shaky terms with her own inner strength. There’s a real sense that she had trouble beating her addiction and still struggles with it. Having her be the host for the Strength Force sets up a clear victory where controlling what lives within her would be a literal manifestation of embracing her inner strength. All of that works and is organically portrayed but Barry’s role within that shifts the focus to his failures as a leader and a trainer.
Barry’s failure provides Caitlin and opportunity to step in and Alexa’s situation is a lot like hers as she once had a being within her that she couldn’t control and was afraid of. Rather than wasting time with Barry’s ineffective training techniques more time could have been spent exploring this connection and exploiting Caitlin’s experience to help Alexa deal with her anxieties. The Mental Activity Dampener allowing Alexa to address Fuerza directly results in them being in sync and Team Flash having a fully fledged ally in the combined might of Alexa and the Strength Force. It’s an earned resolution and Caitlin’s role in helping Alexa achieve that is well used but relegating it to a single conversation while wasting time on Barry’s ill advised plan was absolutely the wrong call.
Letting Caitlin take charge doesn’t fit with the narrative of parental responsibility. In this case it doesn’t work because Alexa had a life before being possessed by Fuerza so presumably has -or at least had- her own family ties. She isn’t entirely prepared to accept that Barry and Iris are her parents but having them unironically refer to Alexa and the other Forces as their children is more laughable than anything else. It would be enough for them to feel responsible for them being a threat that needs to be dealt with rather than the explicit familial connection. The episode doesn’t do all that much with the parental side of it as the solution for Alexa comes from Caitlin’s influence.
The other main plot centres around Iris trying to track down Psyche. The host has a name, Bashir Malik (Ennis Esmer) and he spends his time systematically tracking down the members of a rich persons society because they wronged him when his own family lost their fortune. It’s a standard revenge narrative and it makes sense in context but it’s not overly strong in terms of how it’s executed. The main thing to note is that Iris initially tries the parental angle which fails because Bashir deeply resents his parents so is less than receptive to someone else trying to reach him on that level so Iris approaches it as a journalist. She investigates and learns why Bashir is so resentful in order to use that to appeal to his better nature. This is more successful as it gets to the root of his pain. Amusingly her empathetic approach is the opposite to how Barry handles Alexa though at least the episode makes it clear that Barry’s approach is wrong.
Barry does somewhat come around to that way of thinking though he has to literally be fed what to say by Iris which suggests that he doesn’t really learn that lesson. Iris tells him to appeal to Bashir’s better nature by telling him that his friends never gave up on him. Alexa finishes off the appeal by talking about her own dark past and how alone she was when at her lowest point. She tells him that she has learned that letting people in is necessary in order to heal and offers to be the family that he no longer haves. Found family has been a consistent theme in this show so it’s great to see Alexa appealing to Bashir on that basis. Real family are those who want to be there for people as evidenced by the effort being made to show him that he can belong somewhere. Of course it works and Bashir agrees to -temporarily- join the team. His standoffish attitude even following this acceptance freshens up the usually harmonious Team Flash dynamic with a contrarian voice which allow for some engaging and unconventional interactions.
Another inconsistency in how the Forces work exists with Bashir/Psyche. There doesn’t appear to be an alternate persona associated with Psyche. In his case the Force has amplified feelings that already existed and provided him the means to enact the revenge he desires but there’s no visible different personality. There’s no explanation as to why this is the case for Fuerza and not Psyche other than it’s a more convenient detail to exploit for character development. The same applies to Deon who appears to simply be himself with Alexa/Fuerza being the only split personality that exists among them.
Nora enlists Deon to help her bring down Team Flash and the other Forces. She changes her mind from trying to kill Deon loosely because of that familial connection that is being forced -pun intended again- in. Nora is fuelled by resentment caused by her feeling like Barry rejected her. It doesn’t really work as a motivation because it feels so forced -pun always intended- at this point with the reasoning being so poorly justified. Deon does reluctantly join her which gives her a distinct advantage when she goes after Team Flash and the other Forces. By exploiting Deon’s ability she appears to kill them along with Iris. It’s a limp cliffhanger because it clearly won’t be the case especially since we’ve already seen Alexa be resurrected though it does serve as an indicator of how far gone Nora currently is and raises the question over whether she can be reasoned with. Deon is filled with regret so definitely can be reasoned with but Nora is a different story at present. The ongoing narrative being promoted is that empathy is the best weapon Team Flash have in their arsenal so there’s a strong chance they’ll find a way to reach Nora. Her actions in this episode are very two dimensional though a lot of that has to do with the weaknesses associated with the plot and the forcing in of the familial angle where it doesn’t really work.
Further strides are made towards Kamilla and Cisco leaving Central City through Cisco having doubts over whether he wants to commit to this decision. His reluctance is based on fear of what he will do next because STAR Labs and Team Flash have been part of his life for so long. He reveals that the nightmare scenario shown to him by Psyche was being the only one left at STAR Labs when everyone else had moved on. His concern is that he will become stuck and end up being left behind by those he cares about. His trepidation is relatable especially with him spending a lot of time over the past couple of seasons re-evaluating his life and his place in the world. Taking such a big step for his own reasons feels right for him in a lot of ways but he still has no idea what he will do next. By contrast Kamilla has lots of ideas on the direction she wants her future to take which intensifies his anxiety. Once she understands Cisco’s feelings she resolves not to push him and give him the time he needs to figure out his next move.
Kramer and Joe have a major disagreement over the handling of Metahumans in the city. She wants to force the cure on them to remove the threat altogether because she sees it as a major problem plaguing the city. Joe naturally has a problem with this as she’s talking about infringing on the rights of people because she believes that having powers is dangerous. A recent episode dealt with this idea in more detail where this one is more focused on Joe’s views on the matter being in opposition to Kramer’s. There’s a whole extra debate to be had about identity, consent, what powers actually mean to those that have them and a whole host of other ethical as well as social issues. It’s unfortunate that there’s no time to actually explore this debate though Joe making the moral choice to resign from CCPD once he learns that the Governor is backing Kramer on this is true to his character. He can’t be part of such a corrupt plan so removes himself from the situation. Whether this is for the best is up for debate as there’s no real coverage of whether Joe could influence change. There’s also questions to be asked about Metahuman cases that were quietly buried because the Metahuman in question ended up reforming in some way. An opportunity existed to deal with this extensively with Frost but it remains largely untouched. The Flash in a nutshell is lots of potential with very little follow through.
An underwhelming episode that fails to be consistent in its handling of the central story and forces in familial connections that make very little sense. The Forces plot is very confusing because of how inconsistently it’s handled. It makes no sense that Team Flash would be able to create forces of nature and that idea doesn’t match up with the Speed Force existing since the dawn of time. The same should apply to the other Forces so it stands out that there are such major differences. Another problem is the human host concept as the Speed Force has taken the form of Barry’s dead mother where the other Forces are inhabiting people. There are also inconsistencies across the people the Forces inhabit with Alexa/Fuerza being the only one with a dual personality where the others have their own traits amplified. Alexa remains an interesting character because of her history with addiction linking to her literally having a being within her that she can’t control. Gaining control of the Strength Force equates to her finding her own inner strength so that makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately Barry’s teaching methods leave a lot to be desired as always as he is constantly pushing her despite her clear reluctance. Caitlin stepping in because she understands what it’s like to be afraid of a separate being living within her is a natural connection that is used well though doesn’t receive the time it should have due to wasting time on the forced parental angle with Barry. Alexa reasoning with Fuerza and having them be in sync is a satisfying conclusion that works but the steps taken to get there were meandering.
The familial angle is very forced especially when considering that established people are hosts for the Forces. They had lives prior to being inhabited but the show continues to work on the assumption that Barry and Iris are their parents which doesn’t work in the way it needs to. Iris’ decision to approach Bashir as a journalist rather than a mother meant that she could get to the root of his issues and work out the best way to deal with them. She feeds Barry the necessary lines and Alexa appeals to his better nature because she understands what it’s like to desire isolation. Found family has been an ongoing theme on this show and it’s deployed well enough here because of Alexa’s well established experience. Bashir as a presence on Team Flash is engaging so far because he’s more standoffish than the other characters which creates many interaction opportunities. Nora being fuelled by resentment doesn’t really work because there’s no grounding for it and her convincing Deon to join her is similarly underdeveloped. Deon’s regret suggests that he can be reasoned with but Nora appears to be a different story though there’s a shift to empathy being the most powerful weapon in Team Flash’s arsenal so there’s a strong chance they’ll find a way to reach Nora. The apparent death of Iris and the other Forces is a very weak cliffhanger as it’s obvious it won’t be permanent. Cisco questioning the decision to leave Central City because he’s unsure what he’ll do next with his life. Revealing that his nightmare scenario was being the only one stuck at STAR Labs after everyone had moved on was a nice touch and Kamilla allowing him all the time he needs was a reasonable conclusion to this. Kramer and Joe’s disagreement over forcing the Metahuman cure on criminals draws attention to a number of issues the show doesn’t seem prepared to cover but Joe’s decision to leave from an ethical standpoint makes sense for his character.
- Alexa continuing to be an engaging character
- Fuerza being directly tied to her own quest for inner strength
- using her experience to get through to Bashir and appealing to his need for family
- Caitlin being the one to appeal to Alexa because of her direct experience of what she is dealing with
- Bashir having potential as a standoffish presence on the team
- Joe staying true to his character
- the real of Cisco’s nightmare scenario
- widespread inconsistencies around what the Forces are and how they work
- Barry’s inability to learn from his consistently awful leadership and teaching ability
- the forced familial connection that doesn’t make a lot of sense
- not taking more time with the Caitlin/Alexa connection
- Nora’s motivation making very little sense
- the lack of interest in addressing any of the wider issues raised through the Kramer/Joe disagreement 7
- an uninteresting revenge plot for Psyche
- a weak cliffhanger
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