So, I have some thoughts, and I want to work through them here. You can find my reviews of the first 9 episodes of the season here; I never managed to review the subsequent episodes, sadly. Hopefully, I’ll get around to that at some point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was quite a while away.
Last year, the first season of The Flash was my favourite television show that was on at the time. It was genuinely fantastic – possibly one of the best superhero programmes on television, a wonderful blend of exciting action and moving emotional arcs, which all came together to create something truly compelling. The season finale, Fast Enough, is one of the best hours of television I’ve ever seen.
I don’t feel like Season 2 managed to hit the same highs.
That’s understandable, of course; it was a very high standard to meet, and a high bar to cross. Certainly, the series started well, and there were lots of fantastic elements throughout. To be entirely honest, my issues with the show were entirely idiosyncratic; I know for a lot of people, it still worked really well. But we’ll get to that in a minute, because first I do want to highlight the parts I enjoyed and think worked really well.
A few months before the season began, I wrote an article about the five things I’d like to see in the coming year. One of the most important, for me, was further development of Iris’ character; I’d always liked her across the first season, but I felt that she was a bit under utilised at times. Thankfully, this was remedied this year; I think Iris was quite well served as a character across this season. She’s really grown and developed, and I appreciate that a lot – it’s great to see Iris in STAR Labs, fitting in and helping out. Part of what I enjoyed, actually, was the fact that she gives a different perspective to the other characters; dramatically speaking, I think this works really well with the dynamic of the show. So, that was great.
And, you know, that’s generally true of all the characters, not just Iris. Something I mentioned in one of my earlier reviews (I think it was Enter Zoom, perhaps) was how much I loved the fact that The Flash still made the effort to include emotional scenes, and to develop their characters each week. It would have been very easy for them to drop the ball on that, and just focus on the action, but they never did; The Flash was always a program that was really grounded in making sure the characters would progress and move forward and change across the season.
Initially, I’d been quite sceptical of Zoom, because I wasn’t sure that featuring a speedster villain as the Big Bad again was the right idea. It felt a little too much like they’d be boxing themselves in, and setting a precedent that would only limit and constrain them in the future. It felt, to me, quite important that we had a villain who wasn’t a speedster as the Big Bad, not just to stop it from being repetitive, but also to demonstrate that there were still a variety of different tricks that the program could deploy.
But – at the start of the season, at least – Zoom worked really well! His first proper episode, Enter Zoom, set him up as a really powerful antagonist; it made great use of a narrative collapse to demonstrate quite how heavyweight a threat he was, and how significant he was as an individual. I was really impressed at quite how imposing they’d made him, and I had high hopes for the rest of the season.
Zoom, as an antagonist, ceased to work the moment they revealed him to be Jay Garrick, or Hunter Zolomon, or whoever. Immediately, there’s the fact that this twist was needlessly over complicated to the point that it was evident it was only for shock value, and the fact they could surprise us with “Jay Garrick is evil”. The explanation involving time remnants never quite worked, and the fact that Harry never recognised Jay as the extremely famous serial killer Hunter Zolomon despite his not wearing a mask is certainly something that stretches belief. Worse, this reveal also makes Zoom even more derivative of last year’s villain – not only was he a speedster, he was also Barry’s trusted mentor. It worked the first time; with Zoom, they hit a point of diminishing returns.
Further, though, it became readily apparent that he was just an extremely weak villain. A psychopath who’s obsessed with being the fastest is a starting point, yes, but it’s far from a particularly nuanced one. The writers tried to bring in that “we’re not so different, you and I” aspect to develop him somewhat, but does anyone really buy that anymore? The villain trying to convince the hero that they’re the same is not only a cliché, it’s also evidently untrue of Barry. What’s the point? Little was achieved with that.
(I am quite firmly of the mind that Zoom should, in fact, have been revealed to be Eddie Thawne. In fact, I’d begun typing up something of an explanation for that in this post, before realising that it would start to get a little too long winded. So, look forward to a separate post about that soon.)
Similarly, I was unimpressed at the relationship between Hunter and Caitlin – even when we all thought he was just Jay included. It was a little disappointing to me that the only character arc the writers seemed able to conceive of for Caitlin was to put her into a relationship again, and then to repeat the same grief plot once more. That was a shame, really, and the fact that Caitlin was sidelined generally didn’t help either. I know that in part this was because of Danielle Panabaker’s injury disrupting shooting schedules, but even in the latter half of the season, it felt like her involvement was being minimised. So, yeah, that wasn’t so great.
Towards the end of the season, it did start to become abundantly clear that they were lacking plot, and having to stretch it out to fit the full 23 episode order. It became evident as each story was increasingly dependent on the characters making bad choices for no apparent reason. That’s not mistakes, of course; I’ve no problem with something like that. But it was almost an example of the “idiot ball” trope – the characters ended up beginning to make choices that were completely ignorant of information already established in the program. (Why are you trying to send Zoom back to Earth 2, when you know he can open breaches of his own? Why are you giving up your speed to save Wally, if you’re already far faster than Zoom and can just grab Wally there and then?) There’s not even really the excuse that the characters weren’t aware, because of course they were the ones who had given us that exposition in the first place. Certainly, that was lacking in oversight, and needed a rewrite or to.
As for next year? I am tentatively worried. Flashpoint, to me, seems like a mistake. Primarily, there’s the fact that The Flash has been mining the Flashpoint story for a lot of imagery for a long time, taking different aspects and using them in the way that best suited the show at the time; Barry bringing Iris a video of Eddie, for example, or being electrocuted to regain his speed. That means that if they do try and use any of the more well known aspects of the Flashpoint story, then it’s going to come across as quite repetitive. (Then again, given how much of this series was just season one repackaged and repolished slightly, it’s possible that being repetitive isn’t a huge concern.)
More importantly, though, I feel like it’s moving backwards. Earlier, I mentioned how much I appreciated that The Flash was dedicated to developing each of the characters; one of the best episodes this year, The Runaway Dinosaur, was all about Barry getting past the death of his mother. It was a really poignant episode, and I think can be included as one of the best of the entire show, up there with the season one finale.
But then they threw that away just a few episodes later.
I have no doubt that next year will be an entertaining season of The Flash. And I really want to stress the fact that this was still a good season – “not as good as last year” is still pretty damn good, considering how fantastic The Flash was in its first season. Inarguably, it was better than Arrow in every conceivable way. There were lots of fantastic episodes and new concepts introduced; going to Earth-2 was giddyingly fun, seeing Tom Cavanagh create a new spin on Wells was compulsively watchable, and I really liked our new characters of Jessie and Wally this year. So, certainly, it was still really good television. That’s part of why I’m still hoping to get to do my individual episode reviews, just to provide a degree more nuance in my approach and make it clear how much I really did enjoy this season.
However, almost because of that, there’s something a little more disappointing about the areas in which this season fell down. The issues (or, issues as I saw them, from my own very idiosyncratic and personal perspective) were all ones that could have been very easily remedied. Fairly simple fixes applied throughout would have helped this year to be just as good, if not better, as last year.
Onto next season, then. I’m sure it’ll be here in a flash.