This The Flash review contains spoilers.
Every year when The Flash returns I say something along the lines of how good it is to have this cast back. I do genuinely miss this show during the offseason, even if it sometimes gets a little exhausting or frustrating during the post-midseason lull. But I really loved last season, although I realized over the summer that I appear to have been in the minority with that opinion. Still, I get the feeling that The Flash season 4 premiere will satisfy just about any Flash fan out there.
Why do I say this? Well, much has been made about the darkness of season three, particularly during its second half. While I thought that worked surprisingly well, I do get the criticism. And that was, at best, a bittersweet ending given the choice Barry made in the finale. All of this means that “The Flash Reborn” has some work to do. It has to both establish the new status quo (remember, these shows take place in roughly real time, so Barry has been gone for about five months from their lives as well as ours) and also, y’know, make sure that the old status quo is preserved in some way. That’s a hell of a balancing act.
Does it succeed? Mostly! “The Flash Reborn” isn’t a perfect episode, but really my only major issues here are the hand-wavey approach it takes to things like actually bringing Barry back, restoring his mind, and its approach to bringing Caitlin back into the fold. That’s an awful lot of work, and perhaps this would have been better served as a two-parter, because I really feel like we got some half-assed “the audience will go with this because they want us to get on with the show” vibes here and there. It’s not the end of the world or anything, but it’s definitely noticeable.
But before you think this is going to turn into a negative review, let me assure you this isn’t. I just need to point this stuff out. Despite my misgivings here and there, “The Flash Reborn” is a really enjoyable hour of TV, handily reminding everyone why we love these characters so much in the first place (Joe and Cisco are particular standouts in this regard) while maturing/evolving others in ways that are really satisfying (Iris and Wally are going to kick so much ass this season).
The episode kicks off with Vibe and Kid Flash in classic superhero team-up fashion, taking on forgettable/forgotten villain of the week, Peek-a-Boo. But this is actually another one of the show’s strengths. So much mythology is now built on the backs of lots of smaller villains, and it’s accepted that Central City is full of ‘em, and that’s the only way we get moments like this. They can’t all be Captain Cold, right? While nobody needs to see a Peek-a-Boo-centric episode (or Geomancer or Magenta or Tar Pit or…you get the idea) ever again, there are fun little purposes that they can still serve. The Samuroid robot that shows up to move the plot along is another example, although that has a larger purpose, which we’ll get to in a minute.
But let’s take a moment to appreciate Vibe and Kid Flash. Carlos Valdes has been getting better and better as Cisco, and I feel like season three really got things moving for him. Cisco is now more confident than we’ve ever seen him, both as a hero and a scientist. There’s not a trace of arrogance about him, he’s just the guy who gets it done now, and it’s a real joy to watch. It took me a little while to warm to Keiynan Lonsdale’s Wally West, but again, he was great last season. But the Kid Flash we see here is next level, full on superhero. He’s not a clone of Barry, he’s got the necessary youthful enthusiasm, and like Cisco, while he’s supremely confident in his abilities right now, he’s got his head on straight.
Which brings me to Iris. With Iris leading Team Flash right now, I have to wonder how much of Cisco and Wally’s most recent evolution as heroes has to do with Iris’ leadership. Barry is many things, but he has always struggled with the role of team leader. Iris has embraced it in ways that may not prove particularly great for her long term health, but Candice Patton’s Iris comes across like a tremendous badass in this episode, taking no crap from anyone, and putting herself on the line. Remember when this show could have been called “Everybody Lies to Iris” and how frustrating her character was once upon a time? It feels like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? Off the back of this, I’d like to just mention that I think I missed Joe West most of all, and he seems far more at home taking down metas than we’ve ever seen him in the past, and he’s doing his damndest to come to terms with Iris putting herself in the crosshairs.
The Flash has done this before, with its little trick of making Barry the least present character on his own show, and occasionally the least interesting character in his own story. Whenever that happens, it’s always in service of the show’s larger strengths, which have always been this remarkable cast and the way these layers have been built on top of their characters. “The Flash Reborn” may sideline Barry for a bit, but here it’s in the interest of giving him one big hero moment, when we realize that he’s back for real, and for good. And those earlier misgivings I had about the actual why/how of getting Barry out of the Speed Force aside, I wouldn’t be much of a Flash fan if I didn’t get excited when he finally puts that new suit on and gets to work.
Like Barry, I can’t help but feel that it’s good to be back. As usual, if you think I missed anything or just feel like yelling at someone, I can be found running laps on Twitter!
– What the hell is a Samuroid? Kids, lemme tell ya, this one even stumped me. But Samuroids appeared in The Flash #180 in 1968, and to the best of my knowledge, hardly ever again. There’s a brief glimpse of them in recent (very cool) Flash/Batman team-up, The Button, though. I don’t think these will be a major part of this season, as they seem to be here just to set up…
– Clifford Devoe, the Thinker. That’s the spooky cyborg guy at the end Devoe is traditionally known as more of a Jay Garrick villain, first appearing in All-Flash Comics #12 way back in 1943. He took on both Jay Garrick and the Justice Society numerous times, and he had a quaint (by modern standards) “thinking cap” which allowed him some amplified psionic abilities. But when his physical body died, he became a non-living artificial intelligence with even greater power.
There haven’t been a ton of Cliff Devoe appearances in the comics, and it looks like this is a fairly new take on him, although he’s got that “thinking cap” hardwired in.
The lady with him is “The Mechanic” and I’m not sure where she stands in all of this. In any event, aren’t you happy we don’t have to deal with another speedster villain this year?
– I feel like we’ve heard Broome Tower mentioned before on this show, but can’t remember when. I am also still too wiped out from New York Comic Con to actually check. I am sorry. I’ll be more awake for next week’s episode, I promise. In any event, that’s a reference to Flash co-creator John Broome. But you know all that by now, right?
– Iris’ resistance to holding a funeral for Barry, and the question of whether they can “bury an empty suit” feels like a nod to Crisis on Infinite Earths, where Barry died (he got better) leaving just “an empty suit” behind.
– When Cisco casually rattles off the names of pretty much every cool scientist in the Arrowverse, that just felt like another culmination of these shows having comic book-like continuity/mythology to draw from. Nothing has to be explained anymore.
– However, I’d like to point out that Cisco totally misquotes Han Solo. Han made “special modifications” not whatever Cisco said. Also, I don’t know why Cisco went from Perry White catchphrase “Great Caesar’s Ghost” to Ancient Greek. Caesar was Roman. And yes, he also busted out Stan Lee’s “Excelsior!”
– You don’t mess with a man’s record collection. Joe is right.