Within the DC Universe, few characters are as indebted to an era as The Flash. After ringing in the beginning of the Silver Age of Comics with The Flash #123 in 1961, the world of the Flash has constantly been filled with premises and concepts more at home in the swinging ‘60s than the modern era. At its best, this is a boon, giving the series a relentless sense of optimism and gee-whiz attitude. At worst, it can be a little impenetrable.
The Flash on The CW is able to embrace the former while mostly dodging the latter. Most of the time, it serves as a delightful counterpoint to its often gloomy companion show, Arrow. However, it occasionally relies on hoary premises and characterization more at home on some of the network’s more cartoonishly romantic shows than the more well rounded product it works to be.
But let’s get to the premise. Working from the origin recently set in The New 52’s The Flash #1, which was a refinement of Geoff Johns’ The Flash Rebirth, we open on a young Barry Allen, a child whose life is turned upside down when his mother is murdered by a mysterious yellow speedster. His father, Henry, is arrested for the murder, despite Barry’s pleas of his innocence. Barry then is adopted by detective Joe West and becomes something of a brother to his daughter, Iris.
Barry grows to be a crime scene investigator alongside his surrogate father with the Central City Police Department. While he’s still obsessed with his mother’s death, he’s also drawn by his complicated romantic feelings for Iris. Barry’s life truly changes, however, when scientist Harrison Wells of S.T.A.R. Labs activates a particle accelerator. The machine goes haywire, Barry is struck by a lightning bolt, falls into a shelf of chemicals and goes into a coma. When he awakens, months later, he’s changed. He’s fast. Really, really fast. He goes to Wells, now bound to a wheelchair after the incident with the accelerator, looking for answers and ultimately decides to use his powers for good.
With the help of Wells’ lab assistants, Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramon, Barry embraces his role as the protector of Coast City, dealing with those who also gained powers following the particle accelerator’s explosion as well as the city’s own homegrown supervillains. The episodes vastly follow a fairly standard monster-of-the-week format similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Arrow, with the team investigating standard super-crimes every episode as well as advancing various long-term story-lines.
What are those long-term story-lines, you ask? Well, I’m happy to answer that, imaginary audience member. First, Barry is obsessed with finding an answer to who killed his mother, and he quickly realizes his powers bear a resemblance to those he saw the night his mother died. Complicating matters, Harrison Wells seems to have a connection to the homicidal yellow speedster and seems to be have a vested interest in keeping the future, where Barry dies to save the world, in what seems to be a reference to the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths, intact.
The second long-term story involves Caitlin’s ex, Ronnie Raymond, who died in the particle accelerator. She partially blames herself for his death as Ronnie died trying to stop the machine but her feelings are complicated when she begins to see Ronnie around the city, wandering as a homeless man with power over fire.
On a more personal note the final long term storyline revolves around the relationship between Barry, Iris, and Iris’ boyfriend, Eddie Thawne, Joe’s partner. Barry pines over Iris and initially is extremely jealous of Eddie. Much of the first half of the season focuses on Barry having to find a way to deal with that jealously and ultimately embrace Eddie as a friend and companion before realizing his feelings for Iris are too difficult to contain. Meanwhile, Eddie, learning that Barry is the Flash as well as the possible futures before him, struggles with his place in Iris’ future.
For DC fans, many of the characters mentioned above immediately pop as minor superheroes and villains from the comics. More so than Arrow, The Flash is chocked full of easter eggs. For those who take pleasure in playing “Spot the Reference,” this can be fun. It’s also, occasionally, a little distracting. For the few big Vibe fans out there, seeing Cisco not breakdancing or disrupting Boom Tubes could be a little disappointing. The show is clearly telling different stories from the comics but it can be a little disheartening to see the characters you know and love not behaving the way they so often do.
Much like Arrow, however, by the end of season one, many of the stray plot elements of The Flash have come together as a united group. Ronnie is brought in to help the S.T.A.R. Labs team, as Firestorm, who gains his fusion-based power when he chemically bonds with professor Martin Stein. Barry also occasionally teams-up with Oliver Queen and the Arrow team to take on threats and to plan his final end-game against the Reverse Flash.
The S.T.A.R. Labs team even grows to accommodate non-powered characters. Both Joe and Eddie become informal members of the team, although Eddie’s feelings on the matter are complicated by a number of factors. Towards the end of the season, Harrison, revealed to be the murderer of Barry’s mother kidnaps Eddie and reveals that he is actually Eobard Thawne, a distant relative of his from the future and the Reverse Flash, who has come back to the past to kill Barry Allen. Eobard reveals that in the future, Iris will marry Barry, which forces Eddie to rethink his plans to propose to Iris.
Is that time travel a little unexpected? Maybe but the show, much like the first appearances of the concept in the comics, treat time travel and splintered alternate universes as a big deal. See, at one point, Barry races to stop a tidal wave, ultimately running so fast that he goes back in time. He realizes this has created an alternative universe and tries to be careful to not change things negatively but it allows Eddie and the audience to ask questions about whether the future is set or whether it can be manipulated by the actions of the characters in the present.
With the help of Ronnie and Oliver, Barry is ultimately able to stop Eobard, but the Reverse Flash has one last card to play. He says there’s a way for Barry to go back in time using a wormhole and save his mother, if he’ll send Eobard back to his own place in the future. Despite basically everyone agreeing this is a terrible idea that could have massive repercussions on the present, Barry goes back in time anyway but, realizing how much damage he would do in the past, doesn’t save his mother and instead shares one-heartbreaking moment with her.
He returns to the present and tells Harrison he didn’t save his mother which sends the Reverse Flash into a rage. Eobard prepares to kill Barry but Eddie shoots himself, permanently removing Eobard from the timeline. Unfortunately, the wormhole goes out of control and threatens to consume the city. A single, horned helmet flies out of the hole in a fun, albeit obvious reference to Flash #123, and Barry races in a suicidal attempt to stop the wormhole once and for all as the finale ends.
With many references to different dimensions as well as the helmet at the end of finale, it seems like the concept of the DC multiverse, or at least Earth-2 will be on the table in Season 2. It’s definitely a fun idea, building on the goofy, comic-book super science of the first season with the potential for lots of Golden-Age gags to the original Flash, Jay Garrick.
What I really hope for in Season 2 is a continuation of the almost-painfully sincere romantic and platonic love between these characters. The greatest strength of The Flash is in the relationships between the characters and losing that in favor of whiz-bang heroics is the greatest trap the show could fall down. Additionally, the show often stumbles when it focuses on the villains, namely the actions of the cruel Captain Cold, his henchman, Heat Wave, and sister Golden Glider. A return to those characters could be a challenge, particularly with big, universe spanning plotlines on the horizon.