This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 5 Episode 1
I made no secret about my general disdain for the previous season of The Flash. Then again, I was in the minority who absolutely loved season three, so make of that what you will. But seriously, I was so disappointed in last season that not even the finale, where the show has often managed to do its best work, was able to change my opinion of things.
Which is why I am so very pleased to report that “Nora” is not only an excellent episode, it’s the best The Flash season premiere in the show’s history. No season has ever laid out its mission statement as clearly and succinctly as “Nora” did, let alone felt so downright creative right out of the gate. I mean, think about it. The pilot was, well, a pilot. Season two laid the groundwork for the multiverse theme of the season but was ultimately forgettable. “Flashpoint” was quite good, and I’ll admit that the season 4 opener got the job done just fine.
But The Flash Season 5 premiere, “Nora,” is a genuinely special episode. It manages to encompass everything the show did right last year, and get right back to focusing on what the show has done best throughout its run. And perhaps most importantly, it’s only a superhero show when there’s superheroing to do, and the rest of the time it positively revels in the weirder elements of being what is now officially a long-running science fiction TV series. Legends of Tomorrow did exactly this spectacularly last season, abandoning any pretense of being a DC superhero show and instead just going forth and being a bonkers sci-fi series. The Flash has always been (and always will be) a superhero show at heart, but when the costumes are off, it feels more heavily sci-fi than ever, and I love it.
Often with all of the CW DC TV shows, there’s a time jump of some kind at the start of the season. These shows more or less function in real time week to week. Not here, though. “Nora” literally picks up seconds after the season four finale ended, with the mysterious Nora West-Allen trying to explain herself to a roomful of semi-drunk Team Flash members. This is exactly the kind of scene that could have gone wrong last year, and instead (other than the unfortunate and unwelcome revelation that Cecile’s powers have stuck around), it’s a perfect way to get everyone centered before the weirdness and fun begins.
As befits the fact that they are suddenly the parents of an adult child, this is by far the most mature Barry and Iris the show has ever given us. Barry is free of the usual self-doubt and soul searching that has characterized most of his arcs, but also free of the irritating swagger that sometimes comes along with that. He gets some devastating news this episode, but for once, it has to do with him and not the people around him. But Barry takes this news less as a tragedy for himself, but more as to how it affects Nora. Barry’s selflessness (and really, the selflessness that pretty much all of Team Flash displays) has always been the emotional core of this show when things are going right, and I feel like seeing it spotlighted here in a subtle way is a good omen for this season.
But you don’t name an episode after a character if you don’t intend to spotlight her. Jessica Parker Kennedy is an immediately welcome addition to Team Flash. Nora is eager to get to know her young parents, and carries just enough mystery (and a bit of an inability to handle the burdens of certain mysteries) with her. Amazingly, she also has subtle hints of both Grant Gustin and Candice Patton’s mannerisms in her performance, and she’s utterly believable as their daughter without ever feeling like she’s doing imitations. There’s always the worry that we’re going to end up with too many speedsters on this show (and sadly, Keiynan Lonsdale is about to leave, just as he does perhaps his best ever work as Wally West this week), but so far, it doesn’t look like we’ll be in danger of getting tired of XS.
And can you believe it has been nearly a year since we were first teased with this character during last year’s “Crisis on Earth-X” crossover? Also, did I hear the hints of an XS theme while she was training in STAR Labs? Blake Neely can be a real secret weapon sometimes.
How good is “Nora?” It even uses a nobody villain-of-the-week (the hapless Gridlock) to perfection. He’s a holdover from last year’s villain engine, he exists solely to galvanize Barry, Nora, and Wally into some quality speedster action, and then he gets the hell out of the way. I mean, permanently, but that’s fine, too. I’m having trouble thinking of a single The Flash season premiere that, even at their best, delivered an organic, triumphant “hell yes” moment, but the bit when our three speedsters successfully phase the plane is a legit one, and it is so refreshing seeing Barry completely at ease with his role as a leader, and at this point, a true veteran superhero. This is a level up moment for both the character and Grant Gustin, and both wear it well.
The humor, which felt over the top and forced for so much of last year, is back in line with the tone the show has usually adhered to. It still has a sense of humor, but it’s immediately more balanced than what we got throughout season four. In fact, it has perhaps the single funniest line delivery Hartley Sawyer has ever given as Ralph Dibny, with “Earth, also.” I was never advocating for The Flash to become a navel-gazing mopefest (that’s what I watch Daredevil for!), but if you’re gonna have jokes, they had better land. So far, so good. I’m not thrilled that the series is going to continue on with the “Caitlin wishes Killer Frost will come back” thing, but I can’t really fault this episode for it. And hey, new season/clean slate, right?
The episode is positively soaked in DC Comics mythology, too, and while that isn’t necessarily a mark of quality on its own, it has felt like a while since the show has indulged itself like this. Which means we should probably get into…
There…there are a lot of them this week.
Who is XS?
XS first appeared in the excellent Legionnaires #0 in 1994, the first (and some would argue best) full blown continuity reboot of the Legion of Super Heroes. Ah, but there, she isn’t Nora Allen, but Barry’s granddaughter, Jenni Ognats. In other words, the character we’re dealing with on TV doesn’t have too much to do with her comic book counterpart, except…
She sure does make a bunch of references to the Legion, doesn’t she? Let me count the ways…
– “Oh grife” is a Legion-era expletive. (“Shway” however, is Batman Beyond era slang! And since Nora is from 2049…that would be about the right year for Terry McGinnis to start hanging around with Bruce Wayne)
– She mentions Lightning Lad, who has been notably absent from the Legion we have met over on Supergirl.
These can’t be coincidences. It seems reasonable that maybe our XS is also a Legion member. After all, she is quite adept at time travel. The question this raises is whether it’s the same Legion from Supergirl or one specific to this Earth. But if it’s the former, well…that raises some questions. That is for another time, though.
– In the more “not too distant future” department, she brings up The Flash Museum, and names its curator, Dexter Myles. The Flash Museum has had a couple of hints here and there, and I do wonder how far off in the future it is before we get to see it.
– I honestly don’t know if Grodd has ever fought King Shark in the comics, but this seems like the most DC Comics thing ever and I really, really want to see this show make it happen. You hear me? Make it happen, show!
– Mob Rule is a relatively recent Flash villain from the comics, and it’s neat that Nora mentions him here during her rundown of future events.
– It’s interesting that Barry is gone for (at least) 25 years after he disappears in the Crisis depicted in that famous newspaper headline. He was gone for almost exactly that long in “our” (non-superhero/non-continuity) time. Barry Allen “died” in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 in 1985, and returned in The Flash: Rebirth, which ran from 2009-2010. I doubt this was an accident on the part of the showrunners.
If they’re leaning on that Crisis theme this season, well…remember what I said above about the questions the Legion thing raises? This raises more of them. And there are some other clues out there…
Who is Gridlock?
Who cares? Wait…that won’t satisfy you? (sigh) Fine.
Gridlock was an Impulse/Bart Allen villain who used technology to steal kinetic energy. In the comics, his name is Abner Girdler. Here, it is William Lang. He…he isn’t any more interesting in the comics than he is on screen. Sorry.
Anyway, moving on…
– Is this the first time we’ve heard Happy Harbor, RI ever mentioned on these shows? Happy Harbor was the original home of the Justice League, and later, to Young Justice.
– So what do you think of that new costume? I love it. I think it needs a chin guard, but otherwise, I love it. It’s lightweight, it’s futuristic, it’s brightly colored…it looks the most like a comic book Flash costume than anything the show has ever given us. I even like the fact that it’s SLIGHTLY goofy and makes Barry’s head look too big for his body at times. That is exactly how Carmine Infantino drew the character for like, the first decade of his existence. I still think a tweak or two will be in order (and can we PLEASE get some gold boots some day?!?), but overall, I’m feeling this.
– More importantly, I am seriously feeling the arrival of the famed Flash ring to the show! I love that they even gave us that slow motion shot of the suit expanding.
– Even better? The costume was designed by Ryan Choi! Ryan is Ray Palmer’s successor as The Atom, and a character I would really, really love to see show up on any of these shows one day.
– “I am fortune’s fool” = Cisco quoting ol’ Billy Shakes’ Romeo and Juliet, while “Billy Pilgrim” is from Kurt Vonnegut’s immortal Slaughterhouse-Five.
– I do want to live in the corner of the multiverse where Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was never made.
– It has been quite some time since these shows went crazy with the “52” references, but tonight we got Flight 5201.
– Oh, and that villain at the end who puts Gridlock out of our misery? That’s the Cicada. I wrote about him in much more detail right here.
It’s good to be back Flash fans! Let’s talk speedsters down in the comments, and let me know if you spotted anything I missed!