This The Flash review contains spoilers.
Abra Kadabra isn’t the sort of villain that you might think The Flash would build the episode that was ostensibly meant to serve as its Season 7 premiere around, but here we are. His original appearance back in Season 3 was pretty underwhelming and the show really doesn’t make much better use of him here. Or, at least, not as Abra Kadabra, specifically.
As a set-up for the rest of the season, “Central City Strong” is pretty bland, an episode that would likely annoy many viewers had it arrived after a several months’ hiatus instead of just a week, given its lackluster special effects and Barry’s decision to talk down another villain rather than fight them. But, positioned as it is, this hour actually becomes an important transition in a way that few other The Flash episodes have managed before. (And it represents an emotional depth and narrative nuance that make me very hopeful for the rest of the season to come.)
The thing is, despite the many disasters and supervillains and reality-bending crises that happen in the Arrowverse – events that wreck cities, displace loved ones, rewrite lives and memories – we don’t really see a lot in the way of fallout from them. At least not in the emotional sense. Iris spent a year living in fear of her own death, Caitlin tried to kill all her friends back when Frost was still a monster she couldn’t control, and Cisco lost his brother. Barry robbed John Diggle of both the daughter he loved and the memory of her existence. And yet, Team Flash repeatedly just bounces right back from what would rightfully be soul-crushing problems for almost anyone else, ready to face a new foe and save Central City all over again.
Except, apparently not this time. And that’s a good thing.
“Central City Strong” feels like the first time The Flash has decided to really grapple with the emotional consequences of the lives its characters live and the things that happen to them on the regular. From memories from a pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths world leaking back into the one that exists now to the West-Allens’ attempts to grapple with the fallout from Iris’ time in the Mirror Universe, this is an hour that’s about trauma – acknowledging it, accepting it, and trying to figure out how to carry it.
(Wanda Maximoff says hi, y’all.)
But, in all seriousness, it’s truly refreshing to see the show finally acknowledge some of the horrors its characters have experienced – both Team Flash and general Central City residents – and admit that those things should have lasting repercussions.
Iris spent three months watching a clone steal her life and sleep with her husband and, what’s worse, saw Barry not really notice the difference. Barry’s desperate to make up for not immediately recognizing Mirror Iris as a fraud, as though tropical vacations and fresh French pastries are somehow enough to cure what he and his wife both went through. And, as Iris rightly points out, Barry himself is suffering from his own share of emotional upheaval, in the wake of the thing he trusted most in the world turning out to be a lie. (Not Real Iris’s fault, of course, but you can’t help what you feel.) Watching the two of them actually try to talk through their struggles and give names to their feelings – both separately and together – feels like genuine growth, both for their marriage and the show.
This is, after all, is the kind of problem that The Flash normally has Barry solve with an inspirational pep talk about the power of love and/or teamwork. But that’s not enough here, and it shouldn’t be. Absolutely no one should be fine right now, least of all Iris. And that’s okay. Maybe Abra Kadabra wasn’t the best villain of the week to convey this story – especially since Barry did talk him down instead of fight him and he appears to have died at the end – but it’s a solid A for effort attempt.
Elsewhere, “Central City Strong” makes an attempt to finally deal with another long-running The Flash narrative problem, officially splitting Caitlin and Killer Frost into two people. Do we have any idea how this happened? Of course not. Do we care? Um, not really.
While some viewers (cough me cough) have always thought that these women would be better served as two aspects of Caitlin’s personality that she would one day have to learn to accept, after The Flash spent all of last season establishing Frost as her own character, this is probably the best of all possible outcomes. Truly, as long as it allows us to abandon the fiction that is Frost timesharing a body with her soul twin or whatever it is that these two women are to one another, it’s fine. Especially if investigating what allowed them to separate will finally allow the show to explore the things that connect them too.
More Flash Thoughts
So…Tom Cavanagh not being in the opening credits this week is interesting. I still fully believe there’s no way we’ll be without a Wells forever, but maybe it’ll stick for longer than I thought.
Truly, The Flash must have spent the entire Season 7 effects budget on the Frost vs. Barry speedster face-off a couple of episodes back. The CGI was atrocious this week.
Awww, Oliver Queen shout out!
Chester with the TARDIS reference! I love this repeated Doctor Who content for me.
Mecha-Vibe is a great name and we should keep it.
In theory, the Central City Citizen subplot is an important part of The Flash for a couple of reasons: It’s past time that Iris actually got to be an actual journalist and the female-centric workspace makes for a nice narrative change from the world of STAR Labs. But, wow, The CW truly does not understand how the media industry works and it hurts my soul.
Seriously, is this paper publishing a single article per day?
So, could they have been vaguer with the whole low-rent Hulk rip-off monster? I am told by more knowledgeable folks than myself that this creature clearly has something to do with the Strength Force, but I’ve personally been assuming that all the colored lightning we keep seeing has something to do with new speedsters? Which is it? Are we supposed to know for sure?