This The Flash review contains spoilers, but only down at the bottom in the Flash Facts section!
The Flash Season 3 Episode 1
If you’re a regular reader of my Flash-centric ramblings, you’ll know that I wasn’t particularly in love with The Flash season two. I found it uneven, and a number of the twists felt contrived, particularly how Earth 2 simply became an excuse to get everyone to essentially be the goatee-wearing mirror universe eeeevil versions of themselves. It got old, and it didn’t leave enough room for the kind of smart sci-fi that this show is often capable of.
While everything (mostly) worked out by the season finale, you might also remember that I was ambivalent about Barry’s decision to alter the past and save his mother. In particular, I questioned the wisdom of going to the “Flashpoint” well relatively early in the series’ history, and I worried that they were quickly going to dig another hole, with more gimmick-y alternate universe/timeline versions of familiar characters and situations.
Well, after watching The Flash season 3 premiere episode, “Flashpoint,” I am pleased to report that my fears weren’t just unfounded, they were really frakkin’ unfounded. “Flashpoint” is a wonderful return to form for the series, the best episode since the first half of season two, and right up there with some of the best in the show’s history.
Here’s a quick Flash Fact (well, it’s a Mike Fact, but whatever) for you: I never particularly cared for the comic story that this is loosely based on. The comic book version of “Flashpoint” was needlessly dark, and was so interested in showing off a DC Universe gone wild that a lot of the impact of Barry’s actual emotional story was lost.
Well, that doesn’t happen here. While in the comics, Barry’s actions rewrote the whole world with some bizarre and disastrous consequences, here, things are far more subtle, and the focus stays on the people who bring us back week after week. As we’ve seen in the trailers, Barry’s relationships with Iris, Joe, and Cisco have changed dramatically (and yes, Cisco is in a very different place than he is in “our” timeline), none of it is an excuse to go off the rails. Is it possible that I just missed these characters and this world, and that’s coloring my perception? Maybe. But it says so much about this cast and the solid foundations the show has built that they settle so comfortably into these new dynamics and it all feels completely believable and natural.
Last year, I took the controversial position that Matt Letscher’s Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash had the potential to become the definitive version of the character. I wasn’t taking anything away from the brilliant Tom Cavanagh (I’m still not), but Cavanagh was Thawne-in-disguise, while Letscher is playing a purer version of the character, one who has a history with Barry that we have yet to even see or understand. I am certain that any doubters will be converted by his performance in “Flashpoint” and the implications of his presence going forward (he’s going to be a regular presence on Legends of Tomorrow this year, too).
And yes, even though this is very much a character-first installment, there’s still superhero action to be had. There are some speedster slugfests that might be the very best the show has ever produced, and Keiynan Lonsdale settles so naturally into the role of Kid Flash (and that costume looks terrific in action) that you absolutely believe he’s already got a couple of years of crimefighting experience under his belt. But superhero action isn’t what’s gonna solve any problems this time around, and “Flashpoint” ends up having more in common with an episode of The Twilight Zone than it does with an issue of Justice League before the hour is up.
Now, let’s get into the spoiler stuff…
– So, as you’ve had shouted at you ad nauseum on the internet all summer long, this is loosely based on a comic book story called…Flashpoint!
This is a much more scaled-back version compared to what we had in the comics, which involved an entire world gone mad with things like the Amazons at war with Atlantis, a Superman who never saw the sun, and ummm…some really weird stuff with Batman.
I’ll be honest, the show’s version is better.
– Kid Flash, as if you didn’t know, first appeared in The Flash #110 in 1959. The comics wasted no time between Wally West’s introduction and his transformation into speedster kid sidekick. At first he wore an identical red version of Barry’s suit, which made the two of them look kind of ridiculous when hanging out together, but he eventually got his much cooler yellow suit.
Of course, over time, Wally became one of the single most important characters in the entire DC Universe, and one of the first sidekicks in history to graduate from sidekick to taking over the actual mantle of his mentor. And that wasn’t just a stunt, either. Wally was the DC Universe’s primary Flash for over 20 years worth of publication.
By the way, while Wally hating the name “Kid Flash” is becoming a current superhero TV/movie cliche (never call me that!) it kind of makes sense in this context. For one thing, Kid Flash was always a stupid name. For another, I’m pretty sure the comic book Wally agrees. I have this vague memory (possibly from a comic written by Mark Waid? Somebody help me out, please!) of Wally saying that the name “Kid Flash” sounded like something more suited to an old-timey boxer than a superhero. I’m not sure where I’m pulling this memory, though.
Also, Kid Flash’s origin story in this is far more sensible than his comic book one, which involved (I shit you not), Barry showing young Wally how he got his powers…right down to actually arranging the same chemicals on the shelf…before lightning miraculously struck twice.
ALSO: Wally’s “what were you expecting, a fortress?” could be taken as a little Superman reference.
– The Rival is a pretty minor Flash villain, although he does have the odd distinction of having his first (and practically only) appearance as the villain in what was almost the last Jay Garrick story ever, in Flash Comics #104 in 1949. I wrote a little bit more about the (brief) history of the comic book version of Rival right here.
– Unless my ears deceive me, a Rival/Kid Flash throwdown took place at The Wertham Building. Fredric Wertham was a psychiatrist who believed that there was a link between comic book reading and juvenile delinquency. His book, Seduction of the Innocent, was published in 1954, and the backlash was so severe that it led to the comics industries self-censorying Comics Code Authority. Anyway, screw this guy.
– The fact that Cisco “remembers” having a vibrating hand shoved through him indicates that he’s still “vibing” in stuff from other universes and timelines.
– The immediate connection that Barry and Iris have is kind of indicative of the whole “the love of your life is a speedster’s lightning rod” thing from the comics.
– Holy moley, that’s Alex Desert as Captain Julio Mendez! Alex Desert played Julio Mendez on the original The Flash TV series in 1990.
– Barry brings Eobard a bag of Big Belly Burger for lunch.
– “The you I know from the future isn’t this stupid.” I can’t go on enough about how much I love the way they’re handling Reverse-Flash on this show. Other than season one, when Barry fought Eobard/Harrison, he’s only actually met Eobard Thawne one other time, during season two’s “The Reverse-Flash Returns.” But Eobard has already fought Barry dozens of times. I love this.
– There’s a street mentioned that’s “Williamson.” This is a bit of a reach, but Al Williamson never drew The Flash, but he was a legendary Flash Gordon artist!
– The mission ends with a great parallel with the first episode of the series, with Joe shooting a villain in the back during a cyclone (not to mention Cisco’s earlier “Weather Wizard” crack).
– And, of course, that ending sets up this season’s big bad, Doctor Alchemy…but I’ll have more on him in a future installment.
Seriously, it’s good to be back in Central City. Looking forward to talking CW superhero stuff with you all again! Feel free to hit me up on Twitter!