Television

'The Flash': The CW's New Superhero Show is Complex, So Far

Just under the surface, the earnest Barry Allen suppresses his darkness in the hope of freeing his wrongly convicted father.


The Flash

Airtime: Tuesdays, 8pm ET
Cast: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Rick Cosnett, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: CW
Creator: Greg Berlanti
Air date: 2014-10-07
Website
Trailer
Amazon

I had an opinion about The Flash after seeing the pilot on 7 October, but I know pilots don’t always represent series very well. So I had to wait for the second episode to confirm. And then the third.

I’m used to the dark underbelly reveled by recent superhero flicks and shows, you know, the post-Frank Miller, brooding good guy filled with hate, revenge, regret or some other (or other worldly) motivation. It's the underbelly revealed by almost every superhero show that isn’t written by Joss Whedon.

And so I wasn’t prepared for a character who is so, well, earnest. The Flash’s Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) is earnest. Barry is a somewhat naïve nerd, working a nerd job in the Central City Police Department's forensics lab. This Quincy wannabe is bright with little more than young adult angst to color his daily routine.

Barry Allen's story became less routine when S.T.A.R. Labs launched their new particle accelerator and an “accident” occurred and the uncontrolled reaction sent some kind of energy through Central City. Allen was hit by “lightning” from this energy and gained mental and physical super-speed, as well as one hell of a metabolism and an appetite to match.

There is darkness to be had here. Early in young Barry’s life, his mother was killed in front of him by something that can only be described as a Flash-like being swirling around his living room. Barry’s father, Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp), was convicted of the murder and has since served 20 years in prison. Not the ideal life for a kid, but the child Barry (Logan Williams) was adopted by Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and raised with his daughter, Iris West (played by Amina Elkatib as a child, Candice Patton as an adult), in what is apparently a single parent household.

Both Barry and Iris seem well adjusted, with the exception of his understandable attraction to the beautiful and sister-like Iris. This tension is brought into clear view in the episode titled “Going Rogue” where Arrow’s Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) makes an appearance, nearly throwing herself at Barry, who met her previously, during a guest appearance on Arrow. After he literally chases her down on a train, they share a conversation about how perfect they would be for each other if they weren’t pining for other people. I recall a similar conversation when I was Allen’s age. I’m sure I’m not alone. The writing here is earnest.

There is darkness to be had here too. Tom Cavanagh’s perpetually calm and smiling Dr. Harrison Wells, the former head of S.T.A.R. Labs, is a murderer and a liar, this we know so far. And he is probably worse. There are hints that he not only created the event that transformed Barry into the speedster, but also that he did so with Barry in mind. It isn’t clear yet if the peripheral fallouts of various other “metahumans”, those who also gained powers through the “accident”, were expected or not. Their existence seems to intrigue Wells, who is now collecting them in the amazingly clean remains of his particle accelerator.

Just under the surface, the earnest Barry suppresses his darkness in the hope of freeing his wrongly convicted father. The equally earnest Joe West's darkness emerges occasionally in his guilt over being the lead detective responsible for convicting the elder Allen. Wells' darkness is less submerged, visible in well-timed revelations designed to intrigue viewers with a complex character who is just starting to show his true colors.

There is darkness as well n the metahumans transformed, and in those humans who gain leverage through S.T.A.R. Labs. For all of its earnest good-will toward Allen, and Dr. Wells’ oft repeated admonition that this is all to protect Barry Allen, S.T.A.R. Labs and its creator are the source of all things evil so far. The meta-humans created the night of the “accident” as well as the human, now called Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), who stole, then applied, a freezing ray gun from S.T.A.R. star Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes). Ramon and S.T.A.R. teammate Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) make up what remains of S.T.A.R. Labs post-accident brain trust.

As with any good show, you can see the train wreck coming but you can’t know exactly how the cars will fall (please note this is a metaphorical train wreck, not the train wreck in episode four from which Allen saved everyone before being temporarily frozen out by Captain Cold).

There is darkness here in the minds of the earnest writers (Greg Berlanti, Gardner Fox, Grainne Godfree, Geoff Johns, Andrew Kreisberg, Harry Lampert, Alison Schapker and Kai Wu, so far). They must remain earnest to keep this show balanced between darkness and light on that knife’s edge. That is its charm and its attraction. Sure, we watch for the impending train wreck, but if the writers can keep the show balanced on the edge just before the train wreck, in that blurry shockwave of unstable chaos that arrives before the first car derails, then they will keep me and many others watching.

There is light amid the darkness. The Flash sports a great cast, visually well-designed sets and effects, and the pace and atmosphere reflect the deft hands of directors and crew. But a superhero show can’t live on those elements alone. As Stan Lee discovered in the '60s, the modern superhero needs to be complex, even vulnerable, and his fictional world needs to be as messy as our world. Comic books have become increasingly non-escapist commentary on modern life. Television shows get lost when networks push to resolve things too early, to make things too easy to understand, to eliminate conflict and turn down the darkness.

There is darkness here in my fear that the CW will try to make The Flash too earnest, too mass appealy as its characters evolve. The Flash should never become Gotham, but it does need all that darkness just under the surface. Darkness is the engine that will keep this show running.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.