The Flash: Season 1 Overview
By Louis Rabinowitz.
When Arrow premiered, it was the only superhero show on TV – free from a lack of comparison to other current shows, Arrow soon creatively flourished and, by the end of season two, had become a great show in its own right. Arrow’s new spin-off, The Flash, had a little more to accomplish, debuting in a season where no less than seven comic book shows, including Netflix’s record-breaking Daredevil, were all fighting for space.
Despite the tough competition, The Flash managed to rapidly forge an identity of its own, and surpass almost all of the other comic book shows in terms of fan acclaim, also becoming network the CW’s biggest hit of all time. So, how did The Flash overcome the usual first season wobbles and deliver such a strong first season?
Particularly in the opening half of the season, The Flash was pretty remarkable for its consistency – though the show bungled a couple of key episodes later on in the season, no episode was genuinely bad; even The Flash’s worst efforts were entertaining enough hours of television. Out of the 23 episodes of The Flash’s first season, however, there were two real standouts – the only two episodes to which I gave full marks. These two episodes were episode 15, Out of Time, and the finale, Fast Enough – episodes where every element slotted together to create something quite special.
Out of Time, for the first two-thirds, was a solidly enjoyable villain-of-the-week episode, with Liam McIntyre on villain duties as above-average foe the Weather Wizard. However, it’s the final act that pretty much defined Out of Time – a terrifically crafted, mildly terrifying flurry of revelations and shocks, topped off with the resetting of the entire episode through the introduction of time travel. It was a shining example of how ruthless The Flash’s pacing can be when compared to almost every other show on TV, and set the benchmark for utterly unexpected gut-punches with Cisco’s temporary death. Let’s just ignore how they followed it up.
Fast Enough, like Out of Time, finishes on an utterly bananas final act that rips up the status quo and features a completely unexpected character death. However, unlike Out of Time, the rest of Fast Enough is pretty fantastic in its own right, with a set of superb emotional pay-offs to every character’s development across the first season, and packing an emotional heft that’s unrivalled by any other episode this season, along with a cliffhanger that leaves the very premise of season two as a complete mystery.
Other season highlights included Flash vs Arrow (more on that below), The Man in the Yellow Suit (a fantastic introduction to the Reverse Flash) and The Trap (an unexpected game-changer that set up the season’s final act in style).
Grant Gustin made an entertaining debut in Arrow season two, but some were uncertain if he could carry a whole series. Thankfully, Gustin’s first year in the role has been accomplished from start to finish – bringing an endearingly perky sense of fun to Barry Allen that harkened back to Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man, and stands in stark contrast to the brooding lead heroes that populate the rest of DC’s live-action adaptations at the moment, both on the big screen and on TV. Gustin also proved himself as more than capable with the weightier and more emotional material, with his reunion with his dying mother in the finale acting as a great showcase of Gustin’s considerable talent. Another heavyweight was Jesse L Martin’s Joe West – debuting as a fairly standard ‘tough dad’, but developing into one of the most sympathetic and likeable characters on the show, with Martin putting considerable heart and empathy into every one of the dozens of emotional heart-to-hearts between Joe and Iris or Barry across the season. The remaining members of the STAR Labs crew, Caitlin and Cisco, also became enjoyable and relatively nuanced characters across the season – while Caitlin became a much more engaging character than she first appeared to be in the pilot, it was Cisco who often stole the show, with a constant flow of movie references and the sheer, unbridled joy that he brought to Barry’s crime-fighting quest combining to make Cisco a firm favourite.
However, The Flash did have issues with some of its main cast – chief among these ‘problem characters’ was Iris, the weakest element of the first season. The issue was that the writers often promised new and intriguing storylines for Iris (her journalism, her new hatred of the Flash) that would finally make her something more than a slightly dull superhero love interest, but never really followed through on them, therefore consistently failing to resolve the issues with the character. The choice to keep Iris oblivious about Barry’s identity for so long was also a poor one, with the parts of the season where pretty much every main character aside from Iris was in on the secret marking the irritating nadir for Iris’ character. However, to the writers’ credit, Iris’ discovery of Barry’s identity gave the character second wind, finally cementing Iris’ importance to the show, and allowing her to have a much more active role in events as the season came to a conclusion, so it’s quite possible that the issues with Iris could be left in season one.
The Flash started off with a trio of thoroughly uninspiring, obscure villains of the week who didn’t exactly suggest a promising future for the show on the villain front. However, as the season progressed, the villains improved and the writers began to play around a little with the freak-of-the-week format, with generally encouraging results. Dull cardboard cutout villains like the Mist gave way to colourful and exciting foes like the Trickster, played by Mark Hamill, who delivered a gleefully hammy performance and created a lively and engaging villain in the space of one episode.
Generally, however, The Flash’s greatest villainous creations were perhaps the three most high profile foes from the Scarlet Speedster’s rogues gallery. Tom Cavanagh’s Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne was a consistently compelling presence, with Cavanagh expertly mixing Thawne’s spiteful, egotistical side with a healthy dollop of sympathy to create a multi-faceted foe with enough complexity to rival Daredevil’s masterful portrayal of Wilson Fisk. Captain Cold was also an excellent recurring villain, with Wentworth Miller delivering a classically theatrical performance as the head of the Rogues, and the Cold was effectively portrayed as a worthy foe to Barry by essentially securing victory over the Flash in pretty much all of his appearances (the only time he was arrested, he broke out five minutes later). The build-up to the full formation of the Rogues has been fairly enjoyable, even if Cold’s partner in crime, Heat Wave, suffers from a vaguely cringe-worthy and overly cartoonish performance from Dominic Purcell.
And of course, there was Gorilla Grodd – at the start of the season, when Grodd’s cage was revealed to be empty, most people, including myself, doubted that The Flash would be able to do justice to Grodd on a TV budget. However, Grodd’s first full appearance in Grodd Lives managed to prove the doubters wrong, with a conservative approach with the villain’s screen-time that allowed tensions to slowly mount, before letting loose with a short but extremely impressive fight sequence between Grodd and Barry, with strong CGI and a great portrayal of Grodd’s power.
Taking full advantage of the CW’s newly minted shared superhero universe with Arrow, The Flash crossed over with Arrow no less than five times across the season, alongside a couple of minor appearances from former Arrow villains the Clock King and Deathbolt.
The main event itself, Flash vs Arrow, was, predictably, a thorough success, benefiting from a refreshingly light and breezy take on the world of the often overly gloomy Arrow, and an excellent centrepiece fight between the two heroes that almost served as a taster for the other major match-up of DC heroes next year. Who is Harrison Wells? also showed the potential for crossovers between the two shows outside the big ‘event’ crossover exploited well, integrating Arrow characters Captain Lance and Laurel into the ongoing Flash story arc seamlessly, with a brief but meaningful contrast between Lance and Joe that clearly showed the benefits of the shared universe by naturally using elements of Arrow as a counterpoint to the events that were currently going on in The Flash.
In retrospect, Felicity’s appearance in the front half of the season was merely a sample of the larger and more exciting crossovers to come, but it was still an enjoyably seamless way to close off some lingering plot threads from Barry’s appearance on Arrow. The final crossover of the season, as Oliver popped in to help fight the Reverse Flash in Rogue Air, might have been a little out of the blue and created a pretty huge continuity mix-up with Arrow, as it was nearly impossible to reconcile with the events over on Arrow, but superhero team-ups are almost always enjoyable (see below for the rare instance where a team up wasn’t quite all star), and it was pretty fun for Oliver to take on the Batman role and defeat Thawne with only his wits and some nifty gadgets.
However, there was one instance where the crossovers weren’t quite as enjoyable or seamless. All Star Team Up featured an appearance from Ray Palmer that never really added anything to the episode itself or the season’s arc in general, with Ray only having a minimal role in events before jetting off again. As the only truly failed crossover between the two shows, it’s an anomaly, but it does prove that crossovers can often be a little gratuitous – certainly, in this case, it was a crossover for the sake of having a crossover (and while that’s fine when it’s actually Oliver Queen, in an early part of the season, it’s not so good when it’s just a supporting character).
Predictions & Hopes for Season 2
Thanks to the enormous cliffhanger at the end of the finale that left quite literally everything in flux, it’s pretty hard tell what The Flash’s sophomore season will look like. However, thanks to Grant Gustin’s comments in an interview, it’s safe to assume that the head-spinning world of parallel universes will come into play. Fans and journalists alike have speculated that this might lead to the introduction of either Jay Garrick or Wally West, two other speedsters who took on the mantle of the Flash before and after Barry – and it would certainly be pretty fun to see Barry teaming up with another Flash in some form. Of the two, Garrick is more likely, given his lack of connection to Barry’s world (Wally West is Iris’ nephew in the comics, so things could get a little knotty if he was introduced) – Garrick was the precursor to Barry’s Flash in the comics, so it’s possible that he could fill something of a mentor role (the one Harrison Wells unfortunately vacated) to Barry if he’s introduced into the show.
Another plot element that’s pretty likely for season two is the emergence of Cisco and Caitlin’s alter egos, Vibe and Killer Frost. Both were heavily foreshadowed in the season finale (we know now that Cisco is a meta-human with the same powers that Vibe had in the comics, and of course, supervillain Killer Frost was briefly glimpsed during Barry’s Speed Force trip), so it’s likely that both Cisco and Caitlin will suit up in the second season. The real question is – why will Caitlin become a villain?
And of course, there’s Wells – Tom Cavanagh will be back for season two (phew!), but there’s a question mark over whom Cavanagh will be playing. This writer’s bet is on the real Harrison Wells, brought back from the dead after Eobard Thawne (who took his face) was erased from time. The real Wells seemed like a nice guy, raising the intriguing possibility of Cavanagh flexing his acting muscles as a completely different character to the villainous Eobard Thawne. However, it’s hard to imagine that the Reverse Flash is gone forever, unless the Hunter Zolomon version is introduced – but if Thawne returns, how exactly would he make it back from being erased from existence? If so, will it be Matt Letscher, the actor who portrayed the ‘real’ Eobard Thawne, playing the villain this time? Questions, questions – but no answers, until October…