The Flash faces his own darkness in season three (Photo Credit: CW Network).

‘The Flash’ Season Three Speeds Things Up With Higher Stakes and Darker Stories

The Flash season three shows what happens when mistakes unmake the universe.

It’s remarkably rare to see the hero of a television series make huge, lasting mistakes that impact the entire show. Naturally, one can point to protagonists of various shows who make terrible mistakes and do villainous things, but in most of these cases, these are the actions of anti-heroes, not actual good guys. When a show’s hero does have some kind of major failure, the issue is generally resolved by the time the closing credits roll, the hero apologizes, and we never speak or hear of it again.

This is definitely not the case with the third season of The Flash. While not quite as dark as its sister series Arrow, The Flash has always tackled complex moral questions. Villains like Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) can become close friends and erstwhile allies, while heroes like the Flash of Earth-2 prove to be some of the darkest characters of any universe. The fact that the series deals with multiple realities means the stakes on The Flash are much higher than those of Arrow and most other shows.

It’s hardly a spoiler to point out that the Flash of this Earth, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), takes matters into his own hands to improve his reality; he races back at the end of the second season to prevent the villainous Reverse Flash (Matt Letscher) from murdering his mother. What could possibly be wrong with such a noble goal?

In reality, this is the sort of thing supervillains do, not the heroic guys in tights we’re meant to root for. Playing God is the essence of tragic falls; Barry soon realizes that this separate reality he’s created is wrong for many reasons. Attempting to change things back is an imperfect solution and causes a backlash not only throughout the The Flash, but also related shows like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow.

It’s a risk having your superhero portrayed as an imperfect vessel who commits villain-like acts, but such is the maturity and complexity of The Flash. Gone are the days when predicaments had to be resolved in a couple of commercial breaks, with the hero all the better for it. The Flash‘s third season is mishap after mishap, the ramifications of which continue to reverberate.

As in other seasons, Flash has to face off with a growing and diverse rogues’ gallery, with the main villain being some sort of speedster equal to (or exceeding) Flash himself. How can the show top season two’s Zoom or season one’s Reverse Flash? Double them. Season three offers two speedster villains: Rival and Savitar. While Rival proves to be a short-lived, well, rival, Savitar is revealed as an evil god that may actually be the source of all speedster power. He also has a serious hate for Barry, and has no problem killing anyone — including Barry’s fiancée Iris (Candice Patton) — to get under Barry’s skin.

In addition to trying to prevent a dark future (without causing more damage to reality), Team Flash also faces the danger of this Earth becoming more like Flashpoint, the alternate reality Barry created with his meddling. Non-powered doppelgangers of powered heroes and villains from Flashpoint soon are facilitated with new powers courtesy of Savitar and his acolytes, expanding their roster of enemies, some of whom are former friends of Team Flash.

Luckily “Team Flash” becomes more than just a nickname for the hero’s support staff. Fan favorite Kid Flash appears as does alternate-reality speedster (and love interest for Kid Flash) Jesse Quick. The Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, even returns, portrayed by John Wesley Shipp (who portrayed Barry Allen/ The Flash in the 1990 series).

Some of the evolving story can seem heavy-handed. One result of Barry’s Flashpoint meddling is the sudden appearance of new officemate Julian Albert (Tom Felton, best known for his role in the Harry Potter films). Naturally the writers can’t help but take advantage of Felton’s casting by making snickering references to both Harry Potter and Planet of the Apes (which also featured Felton).

Yet the series ultimately proves itself to be transcendent. The ever-expanding roster of costumed heroes and villains — not to mention dimension-hopping psychic gorillas – should make The Flash feel relatively silly. Somehow, it never quite crosses that line. Part of this success is due to the acting. Gustin never portrays Barry Allen as a perfect vessel for super-speedy heroism; instead, he plays Barry as a confused and fallible man desperately trying to first recover his normal family life, then construct a new life to replace it. This isn’t a hero with all the answers; this is a guy trying hard to find his way. The addition of actors like Felton and Tom Cavanagh adds additional layers to an already accomplished cast, who are often called upon to portray numerous alternate versions of themselves.

Given the high level of crossover in the DC series, I noted in my previous reviews of season four of Arrow and season two of The Flash, that I’d been pleased that both Blu Ray sets featured a complete story: Arrow featured Flash‘s half of the crossover, and vice versa. Sadly, that’s not the case this time; the massive Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow four-part “Invasion!” storyline isn’t presented in its entirety: each collected Blu Ray set contains only that series’ single entry into the storyline. As the crossovers have gotten bigger, this is understandable; however, this does make for some disjointed viewing. It may be Warner Home Video’s plan to force viewers to buy all four boxed sets, yet most viewers would more likely opt to catch the episodes of their less-favored shows when they appear on Netflix.

The Flash also crossed over with Supergirl for the whimsical “Duet”. With Broadway veterans Victor Garber and Jesse L. Martin already in the cast (and both with excellent voices intact after all these years), fellow Broadway alum John Barrowman on loan from Arrow, and Melissa Benoist and Gustin — both of whom appeared in Glee — “Duet” is more than a novelty episode. With this many talented singers in the cast, it would be a missed opportunity not to feature something like this. Further, as The Flash’s tone has gotten darker; this lighter episode offers a welcome comedic/musical relief from season three’s bleakness. (Rent fans should also appreciate hearing Martin hit those high notes again.) Indeed, The Flash: The Complete Third Season is mostly high notes. When the show stumbles, the overarching story arc of the season keeps things going and keeps us interested.

Fans of the series might not want to wait for streaming video, considering the large number of extras the Blu Ray offers: a series of documentaries, deleted scenes, the 2016 Comic-Con panel, and a gag reel. (We might just need extra documentaries to keep all of the time travel and alternate worlds straight; even Supergirl comes from her own separate Earth.) The show remains interesting and fun enough — without being too lightweight — to sustain another season and another cliffhanger. Season three made it difficult to gauge what season four might offer, particularly since it showed there’s no limit to which characters might become villains. In the end, the Flash isn’t quite fast enough to escape his own darkness.

RATING 7 / 10
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