The Flash – Season 6 Episode 1
“Into the Void”
The Flash returns for a sixth season to pick up the pieces from the previous season and set things up for the season ahead as well as the upcoming crossover.
Loss weighs heavily on Team Flash after Nora’s sacrifice at the end of last season. As the episode begins Barry and Iris are in denial about their own grief having convinced themselves that Nora’s loss is only a temporary setback as the will see her again once they have a child. Of course it’s more complicated than that because the various changes to the timeline means that there’s no guarantee that Nora will be conceived and even if she is she won’t be the one they lost. Part of the point of this episode is for Barry and Iris to accept this and begin the healing process.
There are hints that neither of them are entirely convinced of their own justification for trying to put the loss of Nora behind them. The most striking is Iris going out of her way to make sure the purple jacket she will one day gift to Nora is saved from the city dump after Joe accidentally throws it out. Her visit to the dump happens to coincide with the opening of a black hole that claims the jacket and almost claims her at the same time. Later she admits that she was ready to die rather than lose the jacket which makes for a really impactful scene and a realistic representation of how all consuming grief can be to the point that your own safety becomes less of a priority. Barry does end up saving the jacket which gives them a memorial to Nora that replaces the destroyed message and they clearly take a great deal of comfort knowing that there is something physical that represents that loss.
Barry does what he usually does when grieving and has thrown himself into his work. There is mention of the amount of crime he has stopped as The Flash and there’s a real clarity to Grant Gustin’s performance indicating that Barry is fully focused on whatever situation is occurring at that point. The episode plays into the fact that his mindset isn’t a healthy one as exemplified by Cisco talking about work-life balance when Barry is pressuring him to continue work on his next great invention. Cisco comes across as far less burdened by his sense of responsibility and is working towards finding a balance in his life that works for him as well as the rest of the team. I suspect that it won’t prove quite so easy as the threats inevitably escalate but it’s good to see this lighter version of Cisco.
Loss also feeds into the villain story. Ramsey Rosso (Sendhil Ramamurthy) is introduced speaking at his mother’s funeral. As a doctor and scientist he was working tirelessly to find a way to save her and managed to do so when it was too late to actually do anything about it. His determination to not end up the same way causes him to cut corners and use a dangerous experimental cure on himself which works out exactly as it always does in comic book stories. It’s amazing how many scientists who should know better end up mutated because they didn’t bother to conduct the tests they know they should. In this case grief plays some part in it but the impatience doesn’t entirely work.
Ramsey is an interesting enough character so far but he might have benefited from a little more time spent developing him as a person before moving into the villainous phase. His introduction reveals a personal connection to Caitlin who went to medical school with him. His mother was also her mentor who helped her get her start at STAR labs so their connection is an extensive one and the episode doesn’t entirely sell it due to limited time. The scene they share in Jitters under the pretence of catching up had promise but quickly devolves into exposition and manufactured plot movement. It was filled with clumsy dialogue meant to deliver information about how deep their connection is without taking into account that they both know this information so have absolutely no reason to discuss it. Despite the rushed nature of the plot and the clumsiness of the setup, Sendhil Ramamurthy plays the character in a sympathetic light and the history he has with Caitlin could make him a villain worth investing in. Time will tell if he ends up like most of the big bads in this show.
Caitlin has been having Killer Frost flare-ups that she can’t explain and it takes Ralph to figure out what the problem is. He forced Killer Frost to appear so that he can have a discussion with her about what she wants and it turns out that she wants a life of her own that isn’t defined by only appearing during a crisis situation. It’s a logical next step for this split personality narrative and could have some legs to it though it suffers from being an extension of the poorly thought out Caitlin/Killer Frost story that we’ve had to endure up until now. It’s good to see Danielle Panabaker given the opportunity to add some layers to Killer Frost by showing a greater sense of vulnerability to her but the Caitlin character has been sidelined for so long now that this feels like something of a step in the wrong direction. I wonder if the time has come to somehow separate the characters into different bodies as it would solve this particular problem quite elegantly while still keeping the dynamic that has been created between them.
Something I found really refreshing about this episode is that the problem wasn’t caused by a villain in the traditional sense. The Black Holes cropping up around the city are the result of an accident following an experiment by YouTuber Chester P. Runk (Brandon McKnight). This adds a tragic edge to the situation as it looks apparent early on that the Team Flash won’t be able to stop the Black Holes without ending Chester’s life. Barry refuses to even entertain this idea because he’s determined not to lose anyone else which ties into him failing to properly process his grief while also remaining consistent with him being a Hero who always looks for another solution no matter how outlandish it may be. It’s bizarre for Cisco to be so quick to write Chester off even if it is an example of bigger picture thinking considering the city itself could be destroyed. The major difference in terms of how the team have to deal with this problem is that Chester isn’t someone who needs to be stopped, he’s someone who needs to be helped and that shifts the approach somewhat in a way that makes this stand out from the abundance of villains of the week the show has had.
Framing the problem in this different light leans into something the show used to do more often. Early on The Flash would often lean into the science fiction side of being a superhero which did set it apart from its contemporaries as there was a more scientific approach to solving problems. It is still full of made up comic book physics and technobabble but it also shows that there are different ways to help people rather than punching villains all the time. This is a particularly good example of that sort of storytelling and a showcase of how Barry’s powers can be used to achieve a wide variety of things. The sequence where he enters the Black Hole to rescue the lost part of Chester is really exciting and wonderfully punctuated by the needle drop music cue of “Flash” by Queen even if the suction power of the Black Hole was woefully inconsistent; apparently it can suck up cars with no problem but people are largely fine especially after they have been saved initially. Apparently this is the one time Cisco felt it appropriate to use this song and I choose not to debate this point as it greatly enhanced the sequence and injected a natural sense of humour into a really tense moment. It was perfectly timed to heighten the tension at the right moment and underscored the sequence perfectly.
Chester isn’t well developed as a character though I doubt this is the last we’ll see of him as his ability is a really interesting one and he ends the episode still recovering in STAR Labs so it looks as if he will factor into the ongoing story in some way. Even at that getting a better sense of who he is beyond online personality would have made for a stronger emotional connection to this plot.
The upcoming “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover is already being seeded in this episode though not in a way that does much to build anticipation. There’s nothing particularly enticing about The Monitor’s appearance here as all he does is remind Barry that the Crisis is something he will have to deal with and tells him that the timetable has been moved up significantly to December of 2019. Barry now knows that he has a lot less time than he thought but beyond that there’s very little new to work with other than Barry catching up to where the audience already were. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of Crisis teases to come as there’s a massive difference between furthering a story and reminding the audience that there is a story. The latter is far less interesting.
A fun and confident opening to the season that has a strong emotional throughline and delivers a refreshing approach to the problem that needs solved. The impact the loss of Nora has on Barry and Iris plays out in a realistic way and has a great payoff through the conversation Iris has with Barry where she confesses that she was willing to die rather than lose the jacket she will one day gift to Nora. Barry deals with the loss by throwing himself into his work and failing to recognise that he doesn’t have the balance in his life that he needs. Essentially both Barry and Iris need to take the time to process the loss and find a way to deal with it. This further manifests when Barry refuses to let Chester die to save the city which forces Cisco to remind him that a choice might need to be made. It’s a good moment for Barry as it reinforces his constantly heroic attitude even if it is bizarre for Cisco to occupy the other position. The situation that Team Flash need to deal with being the result of an accident rather than a villain makes for a refreshing change and acts as more of a science fiction story than a traditional hero vs. villain narrative. It frames the problem in a different way as Chester is someone who needs to be saved rather than stopped. The sequence where Barry has to run into the Black Hole being set to to “Flash” by Queen was an excellent touch that complimented the sequence perfectly.
Ramsey isn’t an uninteresting character. Sendhil Ramamurthy plays him in a sympathetic light and the history he has with Caitlin will hopefully make him more layered as a villain but his introduction would have benefited from more time spent developing him as a person before moving onto the villainous phase. His dialogue with Caitlin is really clumsy and his development feels rushed. The Caitlin/Killer Frost plot continues to be uninteresting though there is potential in seeing Killer Frost starting to build her own life. It entirely depends where this leads but it’s the next logical step for them. The tease for “Crisis on Infinite Earths” failed to muster much in the way of excitement as it was simply a reminder of what the viewers already know and only serves to catch Barry up to that fact. Reminders are always less interesting than meaningful development.
- a realistic approach to Barry and Iris’ grief
- well written and acted emotional moments between Barry and Iris
- a refreshing science fiction problem rather than a villain of the week
- Chester needing to be saved rather than stopped
- potential in Ramsey’s history with Caitlin
- the Caitlin/Killer Frost angle still failing to be interesting
- too much exposition around Ramsey and not enough time spent developing him before sending him down the path to villainy
- a weak tease for “Crisis on Infinite Earths”
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