This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 6 Episode 1
“Meet the new Flash. Same as the old Flash.”
OK, so I’m paraphrasing The Who, certainly not the classic rock band of the hour (we’ll get to them soon enough), but trust me when I say that I mean this in the best way possible. If I’m waxing nostalgic about “the old Flash” I’m usually talking about the very best moments of the first season, or the first half of the (otherwise dreadful) season two, or the tonal balance of season three. It’s no secret that fans (and this writer) found season four tonally uneven and season five a meandering bore. Yes, there are those who think season three was too dark, but season four was certainly too light, and season five too long. But The Flash has always been its best show when it knows what it is, and for much of the last two years, I’ve felt like the show forgot what it wanted to be.
Thankfully, that’s all out the window with The Flash season 6 premiere. “Into the Void” is an exceptionally strong start to a season that already has some crushing expectations on it. We’ve got a new showrunner (Eric Wallace), a new structure for the season (this year will see the show broken up into two big bad arcs, almost like two shorter, cable seasons), and the biggest crossover event in TV history looming (with Crisis on Infinite Earths). Hell, Barry even has a new costume, and a sharp one at that! But I don’t think fans could take it if they felt we were headed for a third consecutive mediocre season, but “Into the Void” should make everyone feel a whole lot better.
From the opening scene, there’s a real sense of urgency to this episode. We kick off with the malfunction in the time vault over Nora’s message before immediately jumping to four months later, as Barry is chasing down none other than Godspeed (remember him from season 5?). But not just any Godspeed…this is the fourth Godspeed in as many months, each one unable to identify themselves and merely emitting a piercing tone when they open their mouths. It’s a terrific opening chase and fight, featuring some inventive speed tactics and a great, clothesline takedown of Godspeed. It may be my imagination, but Blake Neely’s score seemed particularly prominent in this scene and others throughout the episode, and it’s a fine way to welcome us all back to Central City right off the starting blocks.
But after subtly seeding the mystery of Godspeed and some catch up chat over a barbecue at the Wests (including a tease of some technology that will surely play heavily in coming episodes), the show moves right along, introducing Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes) as Dr. Ramsey Rosso, a friend of Caitlin’s from med school, who just buried his mother after her death from cancer. Rosso, of course, is one of this year’s two big bads, and Ramamurthy brings a cold intensity to his interactions with Caitlin, without laying his cards on the table. That’s a whole lot of story work getting done in the first 10 minutes or so of the episode (which also manage to set up the episode’s villain of the week menace), and in the past, this could gotten bogged down pretty quickly.
There’s a real weight and maturity to the cast here that wasn’t always there last year, and which sometimes made the parent/daughter relationships with Nora a little tougher to swallow. Everyone, even Ralph, is downright subdued, with Barry offering carefully chosen words to Caitlin about comforting her friend Ramsey, “It’s never easy losing a parent,” but also barely containing his anger later in the episode when faced with the possibility of the loss of life. With Oliver Queen making his grand exit during Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry is the elder statesman of the Arrowverse, and he’s never looked more ready for that (or to join a Justice League) than he does tonight.
That doesn’t mean the episode isn’t funny when it needs to be. Cisco, long may he remain on this show, remains a joy, and Ralph is still Ralph. With Ralph currently hard at work on the Sue Dearbon case, this is about as close as we’ve ever been to the Elongated Man of the comics. Even last year it was clear that the writers finally figured out the right ratio of humor with Ralph, and here, there’s even more of that confidence, which allows his moments to land like they should without getting in the way of the story itself. And while everyone this week is rightfully talking about Melissa Benoist’s brilliant moment when Kara tells Lena the truth about her identity on the Supergirl season premiere is rightfully going to be one of the most talked about Arrowverse performances this month (and beyond), do NOT sleep on Candace Patton’s talk to Barry about how even when Nora is born, she won’t be the Nora they knew. That, and the revelation that she was prepared to die to save Nora’s jacket from the black hole is terrific, heartbreaking stuff.
How good is the writing in these character moments in “Into the Void?” So good that I can’t even bring myself to complain about Caitlin talking to herself. It looks like we’re going to see a lot more of Killer Frost this season, so moments like that should be blissfully fewer and far between than ever before. But on the other hand, Frost’s moment with Ralph, where he convinces her she needs to live a life of her own, was so good that it almost makes me forgive how much I’ve disliked the way the Frost/Caitlin dynamic has been portrayed over the last year. With everything else in “Into the Void” pointing towards little fixes to the issues of the last two seasons being applied at every possible opportunity (the better costume, the more consistent tone and pacing, the villain with both a stronger motivation and actor), I suddenly have higher hopes for Caitlin Snow than I have since season three.
Ah, but how good can a villain of the week episode be, right? Well, in this case, when the villain isn’t a villain at all, but rather a problem to be solved, the answer is damn good. The Flash often flirts with the notion of being more of a sci-fi show than a pure superhero show, and this is one of those times. Chester P. Runk is a YouTube sensation and inventor who accidentally finds himself more or less merged with his black hole creating device. We only see him as a charismatic and funny YouTube personality before his accident, and only then do we learn he’s the source of the mysterious black holes that have been popping up throughout Central City. Between the ticking clock factor and Barry’s refusal to accept that the only way to stop the black holes is to let the comatose Chester die, we get plenty of quality, Star Trek: The Next Generation style sci-fi jargon chat with Team Flash before everyone springs into action. It’s great when this show leans on teamwork and brainpower rather than the firepower of superheroics, and this episode does all of that masterfully.
And I know, I can hear it now. “But Mike, didn’t you also give the season 5 premiere a glowing review? And we all saw how that turned out!” Yes, I did. And I stand by it, because that episode was daring, innovative, and pure joy from start to finish. “Into the Void” on the other hand, is relatively traditional in its approach, letting the drama and character moments flow naturally, and giving each member of Team Flash a real moment to both reflect and set things up for the future, all without some of the clunky exposition that the Arrowverse is so often guilty of. This isn’t just a great episode of The Flash, I hope it’s a mission statement for this show going forward, and it’s an example of what I’d like to see more of across the DC TV line. Sure, Crisis on Infinite Earths is going to be a very big deal, but if we don’t get enough moments like this episode delivered (in virtually every scene), it won’t feel quite as earned.
– Chester P. Runk is a deep cut from Flash history from an era that I feel is unfairly forgotten! Chester, or “Chunk” as he was called in the comics first appeared in 1989’s The Flash #9. He was created by Mike Baron and Jackson Guice during Wally West’s early days as Barry’s replacement. Those two are a terrifically overlooked Flash creative team, and Chester became a beloved supporting character over the next few years of the book. Given how much fun he is in this episode, I hope he sticks around here, too!
– Dr. Ramsey Rosso is the comic book villain known as Bloodwork. He was created by Joshua Williamson and Neil Googe in 2017. If you aren’t reading Josh Williamson’s Flash comics, you’re missing out on one of the greatest sustained runs on the character by any writer in history. Yes, you read that right. Don’t believe me? Check out the pure love and knowledge of the character he puts on display in this interview. And if that doesn’t convince you, there’s this one!
– That new Flash costume is absolutely the best one yet, and one of the very best live action superhero costumes around right now. Finally!
– They…they actually used “Flash’s Theme” by Queen. They actually did it. That impossibly triumphant tune, of course, wasn’t written for Barry Allen, or even for a speedster. Instead (as you all surely know) it was the theme song for Mike Hodges’ brilliant 1981 Flash Gordon movie, about a New York Jets quarterback who ends up saving the universe. You know, just like the song says. It’s so inescapable that it is arguably more famous than the character of Flash Gordon himself, which is ironic considering Gordon (who first appeared in comic strips in the early 1930s) pre-dates both Superman and the original Flash and despite having no powers of his own, was a tremendous influence on both characters and all early superheroes. I could go on at length, but first…
Not ONLY is this song impossibly goddamn perfect for the scene it’s in (really, it shouldn’t have worked), even the visuals faintly recall elements of that famed movie with its psychedelic look at the interior of a black hole. After all, Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, and Dr. Zarkov had to travel through a black hole to arrive on the Planet Mongo to defeat Ming the Merciless and…ahem. Sorry, I got carried away. BUT…
While this song is undeniably amazing and perhaps the most heroic rock tune ever composed, the sleeper on that soundtrack is actually the song that plays over the END credits of Flash Gordon, “The Hero” which is a ridiculous banger, far heavier than “Flash’s Theme” and if you check out this live version, I promise you that you will be far more heroic and effective in all your daily endeavors.
– We don’t have to talk about how Crisis on Infinite Earths was where Barry Allen died in the comics, right? We’ve been talking about that literally since the first episode of this show. You all know it. Let’s move on.
See you speedsters next week! It’s good to be back.