The Flash – Season 6 Episode 11
“Love is a Battlefield”
The Flash delivers a Valentine’s themed episode with relationship strife both in the criminal underworld and within Team Flash.
I’m sure it’ll be apparent to those who regularly read these reviews that I don’t like Katee Sackhoff’s Amunet Black. It’s very much personal taste on my part as she is written and performed in a way that’s probably exactly as intended but I personally find the character irritating and any episode she appears in a chore to watch. This is unfortunately no exception as it makes for a near perfect example of why I don’t like episodes with her in it.
One major issue I have with Amunet Black being a recurring presence on the show is that Barry and the rest of Team Flash don’t seriously work to bring her to justice. Barry makes a half baked effort to arrest her when she shows up at a restaurant but quickly backs down when she threatens to reveal his identity should she be brought in. At this point it shouldn’t really be something he’s all that worried about given how many people he casually reveals his identity to but I feel like the trope is something that consistently happens in the show without the characters actually being aware of how frequently it happens. It’s a constant problem as it runs counter to what Barry’s principles are supposed to be since he allows a dangerous criminal capable of murder to run around freely in Central City without doing anything about it.
In this case he agrees to leave her alone as The Flash because she will retaliate if he doesn’t. It makes no sense but enables the Fake Iris centric plot to take place as she technically wasn’t forbidden from taking action. Ultimately the point of this episode is to explore the issues that exist between Barry and Iris in the wake of Crisis and explore the impact it has on their relationship. The fact that the episode uses Fake Iris to do that is an interesting choice as she seems to have all of the real Iris’ memories and feelings but just goes about expressing them differently. As an aside I’ll refer to Fake Iris as simply Iris from this point on because it’s clear to me that Fake Iris is voicing thoughts and feelings the real Iris has been keeping buried.
The Fake Iris plot works because it’s perfectly reasonable that Iris would be tired of being defined as the superhero’s wife by so many because it ignores her own growth and achievements. Iris rightly points out that she runs her own team, deals with situations that have nothing to do with Barry and has proven herself to be more than capable of dealing with dangerous situations. Barry can’t help but be constantly worried about her placing herself in danger to the point that he assumes she won’t be able to handle it. This does come from a place of love on his part but it’s easy to see how it would be seen as insulting as he still thinks of her as the helpless damsel in need of rescue.
Iris also points out that Iris spent the last few months preparing for life without Barry and found an inner strength that she didn’t know she had that led her to discover her own identity independent of Barry. This is something that has been needed for a very long time with Iris so it’s great that it’s finally happening though having it explored through strife between her and Barry isn’t the most ideal choice as it automatically defines her self realisation through conflict. Barry’s natural instinct is to protect those he cares about and a certain reading of that might be that he unconsciously doesn’t trust people to take care of themselves which would be something interesting to play with if the writers chose to expand on it. Unfortunately they don’t so it never gets beyond the point of there being two sides to Iris’ self actualisation with Barry being made out to look like the bad guy in the whole situation.
It’s entirely possible that he has unwittingly become a barrier to Iris asserting her own identity outside of her relationship with him and that seems to be what the writers are going for here. The framing of the episode suggests that Iris’ point of view is the correct one and that Barry’s arc is around accepting what his wife is becoming though it does come across as if he should get out of her way rather than finding a way to support her, at least in the beginning. If there had been a slight shift in how this particular difference of opinion had been portrayed then this could have been something great. What actually plays out is fine and another great showcase for Candice Patton but makes the issue feel somewhat one sided.
Barry’s point of view is represented to a lesser extent. He does ultimately realise how capable Iris is and how much she has been changed by recent events but also struggled with feeling that they aren’t clicking as a couple. On some level he feels like he’s losing her and that there’s nothing he can do about it. What actually seems to be happening is that he’s misinterpreting what it means for Iris to grow as a person. He thinks it means that she’s grown apart from him but a “Joe Speech” is exactly what he needs to shift his perception of the situation. Joe compares marriage to a tree where the branches spread out and move away from the foundation but it doesn’t mean that the foundation disappears. It’s an interesting metaphor for Joe’s perception of marriage as something that keeps growing stronger. The idea that the roots mirror the branches shows that all growth is positive and the fact that the two sides of the marriage growing in different directions ends up strengthening it is a really optimistic outlook around the importance of individuality within a healthy relationship. It’s interesting to hear Joe talk this way considering his personal experience with marriage but also perfectly within character for him to constantly look for the silver lining.
Barry and Iris’ issues all stem from a lack of proper communication. Even Barry is forced to admit that he didn’t pay enough attention to what Iris was going through because he was so wrapped up in Crisis that he failed to truly consider how it was impacting those around him. This experience helps Barry realise what he has failed to notice and the episode ends with a greater sense of understanding from Barry as to what his wife has become outside of her life with him. Of course the Iris he interacts with in this episode isn’t the real Iris but the lesson is real and that will hopefully carry over into future episodes.
Starting the episode knowing that this isn’t the real Iris and ending with a reminder of this is an interesting choice especially when she is the focus. I can believe that the real Iris was feeling this way and was very close to expressing it to Barry but if it ends up with the real Iris returning and reverting back to what she was before then the whole thing will have been a waste. It would have been better to have the emotional arc play out in this way with the real Iris but enough work goes into confirming that the fake Iris has the same thoughts and feelings so it still works. How the duplicate works and what that means for the real Iris is unknown at this time but the choices made in this episode have to be impactful otherwise there’s no point to any of this. The real Iris witnessing everything that her duplicate does is encouraging as it means she can learn something from this too.
The theme of communication in relationships feeds into the villain story. I’ve already mentioned how tedious I find Amunet Black and the same can be said for any showcase of Central City’s criminal underground. Other Arrowverse shows like Arrow, Batwoman and Black Lightning do a much better job of portraying a criminal element that is an important part of what makes the city work. The Flash is very haphazard in its approach and makes it feel more farcical than threatening. Having two gangs fighting it out with Central City as their battleground because their relationship ended and they both have feelings they’re unable to deal with in a healthy way is just the sort of ridiculous that could work really well if executed well but it’s awkwardly handled and features characters that aren’t all that engaging. The episode does very little with their relationship and tries to mine any of their interactions for comedy in a way that diminishes the very real threat associated with two gangs at War for such a petty reason. It is resolved by the end of the episode by having them temporarily linked telepathically so that their true feelings can become known therefore ending this conflict by forcing open communication between them. This does technically link to the Barry/Iris plot on a thematic level but the execution is poor.
Frost decides to spend her first Valentine’s Day as a matchmaker. It’s another example of a “Frost learns a life lesson” plot though the difference here is that she isn’t applying the lesson to herself. I feel like the approach here was the wrong one as it might have been interesting to see Frost try to go on a first date with some poor hapless man she met somehow. Her lack of social skills and tendency to be brutally honest has created some amusing situations before so it may have been fun to see her fail to understand dating etiquette. Then again it could have been badly executed but I found myself wanting to see that more than what we got.
Allegra is a good character with a lot to bring to the various dynamics that exist within the show. Up until this point she has served a particular purpose and has been mainly used to compliment whatever character -or characters- she interacts with in a given episode. Her backstory is an interesting one and the redemptive arc that is playing out in the background works well enough for the most part. This episode attempts to deliver some insight into a different side of her by exploring her love life. She is fixated on an ex boyfriend that she ghosted shortly after getting her powers and is ashamed of how she behaved. Now that she is becoming more comfortable in her own skin and has found purpose in her life she is starting to think about the mistakes she made and consider how she can have a more normal life now that she can control her powers.
Frost attempts to force Allegra to reconcile with her ex which only leads to heartache when she sees that he has moved on. The focus shifts at this point to Frost and her inability to understand how people work. She feels bad that it gets in the way of truly relating to people and she sees her failure to help Allegra to be a failure of her as a person. Nash helps her see this situation differently and encourages her to change her approach. His view is that Allegra has a binary outlook on life which means that she either succeeds or fails but she has to learn that the grey area needs to be embraced. It’s a lesson that Frost can also learn as she doesn’t see the nuance that makes up social situations. This gives her what she needs to relate to Allegra and understand why she has such trouble reconnecting with her ex. Frost gets a lot further when she takes a step back and works to understand the full story before becoming involved. She helps Allegra understand that there are more ways for her to connect with her ex than a romantic relationship. Her viewpoint is it’s either a relationship or nothing but Frost helps her see that friendship is a viable alternative because it means she still has him in her life.
None of this is bad though the shift in focus away from Allegra is confusing as it was a real opportunity to understand more how she thinks. Having her problem resolved off screen is immensely unsatisfying as well and there’s an inconsistency around Frost’s ability to understand other people. She needs to be told that life isn’t black or white but interprets Nash’ advice as being parental in nature which clues her in on what Nash is hiding. The particulars of his connection to Allegra are still a mystery though it’s likely that a version of her was his daughter on another Earth and he’s unsure how to deal with seeing someone that reminds him so much of his own daughter without actually being that person. It’s a lingering mystery that I can take or leave. As a vehicle for Frost learning another lesson about Humanity this plot is mixed because it isn’t sure what to focus on which is a shame as there was real potential there.
An uneven episode that has a strong Iris plot that continues to craft an identity for her outside of Barry but is brought down by a farcical villain story and a Frost/Allegra subplot that narrowly misses the mark. Iris has been growing a great deal this season in particular which has been great for her. Having the Iris in this episode be a fake that seems to have all of her feelings and memories could have been disastrous but ends up working really well as everything she says fits in with how she has been developing and the conflict created in the Barry/Iris marriage is meaningful. Barry ends up understanding his misplaced belief that Iris someone he needs to protect. She makes it clear that she has forged an identity independent of him and doesn’t want him to see her as the damsel in need of rescuing. It’s something that Barry does unconsciously and it’s easy to see how that might be read as well as how he is misinterpreting her personal growth. He’s worried that they’re growing apart but the “Joe Speech” helps him understand that people in a marriage don’t always grow in the same way. It’s a really optimistic spin on individual growth in marriage and helps Barry realise where he has been going wrong. This lesson is well learned and will hopefully carry into future episodes. Iris witnessing the actions of her duplicate means that she can learn from this as well though it’s unclear exactly how the duplicate works.
Amunet Black is a character that I personally don’t like and this episode serves as a pretty solid reminder of why that is. Once again she is allowed to roam free for nonsensical reasons and the gang War she enters into with Goldface where Central City serves as the background plays out as more of a farce than a meaningful threat. Their conflict does technically connect to Barry and Iris on a thematic level as they are forced into communicating their true feelings by the end of the episode but it’s very tedious to watch and serves as a reminder of how poorly developed the criminal underworld is in this show. Frost’s latest lesson in Humanity is more than a little unfocused as it starts as if poised to reveal something about Allegra and then shifts to Frost in a really awkward way. Her understanding of how Nash’ advice comes across contradicts her inability to understand and relate to people. There was real potential here that is somewhat squandered by a few shifts in what the purpose of the subplot is.
- the focus on how much Iris has grown and how that has changed her
- the exploration of how those changes impact her relationship with Barry
- Barry’s realisation that he has misunderstood what Iris’ independent growth is
- using the Fake Iris to voice the Real Iris’ innermost thoughts and feelings
- another great “Joe Speech”
- some insight into Allegra’s insecurities
- Amunet Black being allowed to roam freely for nonsensical reasons
- no threat value attached to the supposedly devastating gang war
- the tedious Amunet Black/Goldface relationship
- the shifting focus of the Frost subplot taking away from its purpose
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