This article contains The Flash spoilers.
So much about The Flash Season 6 has been about taking risks and telling new kinds of stories. From its split season “graphic novel” format to its long-overdue focus on female characters, the show has been charting the sort of refreshingly exciting path that most series in their sixth year simply don’t bother even attempting.
The result? Season 6 is arguably the best overall outing of The Flash in recent years, radiating a new vision and energy that not even a coronavirus pandemic-enforced early ending could diminish. And of the biggest reasons for that has been its villains. Yes, really.
A show that frequently struggled to give Barry Allen compelling bad guys to fight who weren’t named Eobard Thawne, The Flash completely overhauled its approach to Big Bads in Season 6 and instead focused on smaller stories with more relatable, human elements. The show first gave us Ramsay Rosso’s Bloodwork, a scientist so afraid of his own mortality that he basically made himself a zombie trying to outrun it. But it truly outdid itself with the introduction of Eva McCulloch, a female version of the classic Mirror Master and the sort of character meant to make audiences wrestle with the idea of what it means to be a villain at all.
Too often, The Flash has relied on cartoonish bad guys – think Savitar and Zoom, with their distorted voices and dramatic costumes, or Clifford DeVoe’s Thinker and his dull, convoluted storyline. Eva is the opposite of all that – a fairly regular, even admirable, person whose journey is something we can all understand and relate to, minus the ability to manipulate reflective surfaces, of course.
There’s always been something appealing about The Flash’s decision to gender flip the classic Mirror Master villain for Season 6, even before we met Eva onscreen. After all, who knows better how to use reflections – to project different identities, to be what other people wish to see, to shift who we are – than women do? Who better to weaponize that ability than a woman? Eva’s story specifically speaks to every woman who’s ever dated a loser she can’t let go of, or who’s watched a man take the credit for all her hard work, or who’s had to behave in a performative fashion to fit a predetermined role.
Eva McCulloch is the sort of villain who doesn’t necessarily feel like one – who often feels a lot like us – and that’s precisely why she’s such a compelling figure in the world of this show.
Not for nothing, but it’s not even super clear that Eva is a villain. At least, not in the traditional sense. Eva doesn’t want to take over Central City or destroy the world. She’s not trying to mind control everyone with a super powered brain helmet, nor is she a speedster trying to steal Barry’s abilities for demonstrably evil purposes (which is something that happens kind of a lot).
Instead, she’s a very human character, with very human desires and flaws. She’s more desperate and damaged than deranged or deadly; and as viewers, it’s not difficult for us to see things from Eva’s point of view. Or perhaps even to root for her in some ways (cough cough yours truly cough). After all, she has suffered tremendously, abandoned for six years alone in an alternate dimension and slowly going mad, while everything she had worked for and cared about was destroyed at the hands of the person she loved most.
The real Eva was originally a brilliant scientist, who worked hard to do good in the world. She wouldn’t be the first formerly good person to be driven to the dark side thanks to circumstances beyond her control, of course, and it’s clear that her view of the world is a little bit twisted thanks to her time in the mirror. But her speech to the press at the conclusion of the season finale announcing her return certainly seems at least somewhat sincere, and her desire to reclaim her company is one that could potentially result in good outcomes as easily as it might bad ones.
Yes, she killed a man in cold blood, and that man was her husband. But Joseph Carver was a ruthless, grade A dirtbag who didn’t just leave multiple people to rot in an alternate dimension without telling anyone. He also headed up a nefarious shadow organization, committed all kinds of crimes, stole his wife’s legacy and sold it to the highest bidder, and tried to murder several people, including Joe and Iris. That Barry still risks his life to save this garbage person is a testament to his character, but I doubt anyone is crying that he failed.
Furthermore, in the aftermath of her moment of triumph, Eva very deliberately chooses not to hurt anyone else. In fact, she lets Barry and his friends go, and one has to wonder if she might have released Iris and the others from the mirror had anyone actually asked her to do so, instead of repeatedly vowing to take her down.
She’s perhaps the first villain that Team Flash has ever faced that wants absolutely nothing from them. Eva not only has no quarrel with Barry and friends, she has next to no interest in them either. She didn’t hurt anyone besides Carver, and specifically rejected the opportunity to kill Barry not once, but twice. One has to wonder if the group couldn’t reach some sort of mutual détente that allows everyone to live and let live, or even begrudgingly work together. After all, at multiple points throughout the season, it often felt as though they could all be on the same side, if circumstances were slightly different.
(And if Eva hadn’t left Barry’s wife in a mind-bending mirror world or framed Sue Dearbon for murder, but no one’s perfect. They could both be fine!)
Given all these deeply atypical facts, it’s difficult to predict precisely where Eva’s story might go in The Flash Season 7. Particularly if the powers that be should decide to expand their plans for her in the light of the coronavirus pandemic that gave Eva an unintended moment of victory and the opportunity for extended time in the story. And that’s extremely exciting. Normally, The Flash ties up their villains’ stories in neat little bows come series finale time, and the fact that Eva’s will continue on into next year is an intriguing shift in a narrative format that had honestly become kind of stale. Why not run with it?
Her press conference performance proves nothing so much as the fact that Eva is the kind of Big Bad who may be as compelling a threat out of her (admittedly, awesome) supervillain costume as she is in it. A respected scientist and businesswoman, she’s currently positioned to operate in the non-meta world in a way that no The Flash villain has really done since the series’ first season, and it’s unclear how prepared Barry and friends are to fight on that particular battlefield. How exciting would it be to have Eva stick around for a while, but not use her meta powers or meta girl gang to create havoc. Rather simply do it as so many other not supervillain but certainly shady other people do already: Use the system that already exists to your advantage.
If The Flash’s makeshift Season 6 finale showed us anything, it’s that Eva McCulloch is much too good a character to toss aside in just three more episodes. She’s precisely the kind of villain this show needs on its canvas – someone who can not only wear many hats, so to speak, but make us wonder sometimes whether she’s actually a bad guy at all. Though Barry Allen himself may struggle to believe it, there’s room in the world – and on this canvas – for shades of gray.