I love The Flash. I think it’s one of the most successful comic books TV shows of all time. That being said, I don’t love this season. It is starting to fall into a lot of the same traps that catch shows like this and ruin them. If you look at how Arrow progressed, there are a lot of similarities that really turned people off of what started as a really excellent show. I don’t want that to happen to The Flash. That is why instead of the usual episode recap, I want to address these issues here, while there is still time in the hopes that Season 3 will fix everything so that the show can become great again.
(And I will use Arrow as an example of how to do some things right and how to do others wrong. I want to make it clear that I also love Arrow and it has already addressed some of these issues and fixed them. Alright, let’s get to it.)
1. Stop killing characters that aren’t staying dead
This week’s episode ended with the least permanent cliffhanger death since Season 3 of Arrow. If you don’t remember, Arrow Season 3 featured the deaths of Sara Lance (brought back in Legends of Tomorrow), Ray Palmer (brought back in Legends of Tomorrow), Thea Queen (brought back in the next episode), and Oliver Queen (brought back in the next episode). In fact Roy Harper, though not technically dead, must hold the record for shortest perceived death on TV with a total death time of less than 10 minutes. There were less characters that didn’t die in Season 3 than did die and then came back to life. It is pretty obvious why that kind of thing never works.
Flash has to make sure not to start doing that. Robbie died in the first season and then came back to life. Harrison Wells died with Thawne at the end of Season 1, and while his character is technically a different guy, they act exactly the same and might as well be the same character. Now Barry has disintegrated in a particle accelerator explosion and he is definitely not dead. This week’s episode is the one directed by Kevin Smith, which gives me some confidence that there is a fulfilling narrative reason for killing Barry or absobring him into the speed force or whatever they did with him but it should probably be the last time the show kills him unless they are killing him for good.
Death is like a threat. If you keep making threats but don’t actually do what you are threatening to do, it doesn’t have any weight. The only Flash characters to die that haven’t come back are Nora Allen and Eddie Thawne and just think about how shitty it would be if they came back. Seasons of mourning would be rendered pointless. The Season 1 finale even had the sense to give Barry the option to save his mother but eventually forced Barry not to let her die. It is symbolic of a much bigger problem with telling stories about immensely popular characters. If Flash wants to keep people believing in the consequences of death, it has to make sure death continues to have consequences.
2. No more mirror villains
Arrow only really only runs into this problem every once in a while, but it’s still pretty dumb. Let’s take Season 1 for example. Oliver spends the entire season fighting a colorful assortment of villains and antiheroes from the Green Arrow’s comic history. Good examples are the Royal Flush Gang, Deadshot, and Count Vertigo. They were classic villains with their superpowers stripped away to create more grounded characters that fit into the Arrowverse. Awesome. Then why does the big villain of the season also turn out to be an archer? Why does a season filled with assassins, drug dealers, and bank robbers eventually devolve into a Who’s Better at Arrows contest? It just didn’t seem to fit. And then imagine if after all of that, Season 2’s central villain was another, even more accurate and ruthless archer. What is Starling City and Arrow’s obsession with archers?
Well that is where we currently are with The Flash. Barry Allen has the most colorful and diverse rogue’s gallery, next to Batman and Spider-Man, but both Flash seasons have devolved to the Flash facing off against another speedster who is even faster than the Flash. Why? If every villain is a speedster, Flash has to spend the majority of the season learning to run even faster than before to catch him. That gets old real quick. Why not have him fight literally anyone else? That way his character has to spend more time solving problems and less time figuring out different ways to increase his speed. And while it might seem dumb, speed is not the most interesting thing about the Flash. The most interesting thing about the Flash is how he uses the speed to beat villains ranging from an evil stage magician to a giant top.
3. Give the big bad a complicated plan and a simple motive
Slade Wilson AKA Deathstroke is widely believed to be the most fully realized Arrow antagonist. His season was clearly the most interesting and that was because from the mid season finale, we all understood what he was after. He believed Oliver was responsible for the death of Shado and wanted revenge. And while the motivation was simple, the plan to get that revenge was very complicated. He needed to create an army of super soldiers using a magical serum in conjunction with the secretly evil mayor of Starling City and the also secretly evil new board member and eventual CEO of Queen Consolidated.
Compare that to Zoom. Every week we find out a new Zoom motivation. First he wants to kill Barry. Then he wants his speed. Now he wants to take over Earth-1 and also make Caitlin fall in love with him. Fans don’t really connect with the season spanning plot because every time we think we understand it, there is some sort of major change to all of it. On the other hand, his machinations for actually getting what he wants are too simple. If he wants to conquer the world, he kills all the cops. If Zoom wants to kill Barry, he beats him up.
And maybe the problem with Zoom comes from The Flash’s obsession with keeping it’s villains identities a secret. Until you know who Zoom actually is, you don’t know what he wants. You can only guess what he wants based on what he is doing and that turns a fan base that used to be consumed with the drama of the season into a bunch of theorists relying on memes to keep themselves interested and that turns people off of the show very quickly.
4. Don’t listen to the internet
We don’t know what we want. Even now, in this very article it seems like I know what I want. I don’t. If I knew what I wanted to see on The Flash, why would I watch The Flash? The show can’t tell a better story for me than the story I have already written in my head. Steve Jobs said something along the lines of “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” He was right.
People will probably point to the Olicity relationship as a classic example of this kind of bad fan writing but I think a much better Arrow example is the fact that Malcolm Merlyn never stayed dead. Fans got so attached to him in Season 1 that Arrow had to bring him back in future seasons. And maybe the writers had a really good reason to resurrect Merlyn but in my opinion it never really worked. The show couldn’t move forward because the characters from the past wouldn’t go away.
Let’s say I love the concept of The Rogues and I really want to see them come together on the third season of The Flash. I could make you a list of the ones I do and don’t want on the squad. That list is Cold, Heatwave, Boomerang, Weather Wizard, Golden Glider, and Mirror Master. It’s pretty standard. Note that the list didn’t include other classic villains like Abra Kadabra or the Top. The fact that they aren’t on my list means they deserve to be on the show even more.
I have faith that the next season of The Flash will be better than this one in nearly every way. We are almost out of mirror villains for Barry to fight. It is unlikely that the third season’s villain will have a secret identity. Barry probably won’t die again. I just hope that in what has become a very crowded field, The Flash doesn’t lose what made it great because of problems that can easily be solved.
Matthew Nando Kelly is an incredibly cool and handsome Senior Staff Writer for Pop-Break who was allowed to write his own bio. Besides weekly Flash recaps, he focuses on film, television, music, and video games. Matthew also has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he discusses pop culture related brackets with fellow Pop-Break writer DJ Chapman. He has an unshakable love for U2, cats, and the New Orleans Saints. His twitter handle is @NationofNando. Did we mention how handsome he was?