Friday, June 16, 2017

Rushing The Ambitious, Settling Into Mundane: Why The Flash Season 3 Failed!

The Good: Moments of performance, Most of the special effects, Moments of character and plot . . . once the season commits to it
The Bad: Incredibly repetitive season arc, Characters largely become idiotic for the main plot, Rushed opening plot, Incredibly rushed character arcs, Fundamental lack of creative problem solving for the main plot
The Basics: The Flash Season Three is where the writers and executive producers just gave up.

At the climax of the second season of The Flash (reviewed here!), Barry Allen was at his lowest point for his heroic arc. He had achieved a great victory, but at a great personal cost (which was cheated by introducing yet another version of his father to the narrative). So, the last moments of the second season finale were enough to get viewers excited because it set up the third season of The Flash to adapt the very popular DC Comics Flash-based crossover event Flashpoint for the television series.

Flashpoint (reviewed here!) was an obvious idea for a major event for The Flash . . . but those who were fans of the source material from the DC Comics books knew it was an impossible task to adapt the crossover on the television show. Flashpoint was a chance for the DC Comics universe to do a major crossover event that would reset the entire DC Comics Universe (The New 52 reboot followed the Flashpoint-crossover) and while Barry Allen was the prime focus of the sprawling story and the cause of the universe-splitting cataclysm, the story occurred very late in the story of The Flash. Because the main storyline focuses on Barry Allen and Thomas Wayne Flashpoint was always going to be inherently difficult to adapt to The Flash. After all, the shared universe of The Flash, Arrow, and Legends Of Tomorrow does not have Bruce Wayne or any characters truly analogous to him (though, a clever adaptation of the idea might have used Oliver Queen's father in place of Thomas Wayne, now that I think of it . . .). Despite that, it was hard for fans of The Flash not to be excited about the potential that was unleashed by the opening of the third season of the show.

Sadly, The Flash Season 3 is a tragically rushed enterprise and when it is not speeding through the new, potentially great material, it is rushing through repeating exactly where the show has been before. In fact, when looking at the season, major events - the crossover with the other DC Television properties, a major two-parter, and the revelation of the season's villain occur at all the same points as those events in Season 2! The third season of The Flash rushes Flashpoint, quickly undermines all of the major complications from that event, provides a lame antagonist for Barry Allen . . . before focusing on yet another Speedster villain for The Flash. The show plunges into the ridiculous when it is not preoccupied with the absurd and it is easy to see how the fanbase for the show atrophied over the course of the season.

Three months after Barry Allen prevented his mother from being killed by Eobard Thawne and returned to the present, Allen's life begins to fall apart. Living with his mother and father with Wally West having become The Flash, Barry begins to forget his life before he created the tangent timeline, Flashpoint. As his memory begins to get rewritten, he turns to Eobard Thawne to set things right and Thawne re-kills Nora Allen in the past. Unfortunately for Barry, the new present he returns to has subtle differences from his original timeline - Iris and Joe are at odds, Cisco's brother Dante has died, Caitlin Snow has begun to manifest metahuman DNA, and S.T.A.R. Labs has a speed lab that it did not have before. As Barry tries to sort out the differences between his past and the new post-Flashpoint timeline, a new villain pops up in Central City, Dr. Alchemy, who is granting metahuman powers to people who had abilities in the Flashpoint tangent.

Alchemy, however, is a pawn for another adversary, Savitar, a Speedster who only can be perceived by other Speedsters. When trying to destroy Savitar's power base by throwing it into the Speed Force, Barry Allen is thrown into his near-future and there he witnesses Savitar killing Iris. Determined to prevent Iris's death, Barry becomes obsessed with changing the future.

The big problem with the third season of The Flash - other than a pair of intrusive crossovers that kill the momentum and direction of the characters (the conflict between Barry and Cisco is not resolved on an episode of The Flash, for example) - is that the major character arcs are frequently rushed, much like the Flashpoint tangent was. Flashpoint is not dwelled on or overly-explored and the idea that Barry starts to lose his memories is very poorly rendered; he sees flashes of people, loses memories of them, but shows no real effects of lost time and memory (save falling down once).

Then there is the return to normalcy. Iris and Joe are estranged . . . for one episode, Cisco dislikes Barry because Dante died . . . for two episodes, then two episodes after he finds out that Dante was alive in the pre-Flashpoint universe, and Diggle (from Arrow) has a son instead of a daughter, but it is never satisfactorily explained why that actually matters. How it is that Dr. Stein's newly manifested daughter was explained has part of his meddling on Legends Of Tomorrow instead of a Flashpoint-based divergence is baffling. Wally West pines for speedster powers, so he gets them after a lone episode of being moody with Jessie Quick. The homeostasis is so desperately maintained that Tom Cavanaugh returns as a new incarnation of Harrison Wells to maintain the successful team dynamic established in the prior seasons of The Flash.

And there's a Speedster with a mysterious identity, but a relationship to the familiar S.T.A.R. Labs team, who Barry Allen has to defeat. We've seen it all before.

The biggest mystery in the third season of The Flash is how Iris West, a writer working for a small publication, manages to afford the massive wardrobe of amazing clothes she is seen in.

Beyond that, The Flash finishes well in the final portion of the season, but the process of getting there is excrutiating, repetitive and frequently boring. There are random Metahuman Of The Week episodes, a trip to Earth-2 that allows Grodd to return for a distraction, and crossovers that are entirely incongruent with the serialized elements in The Flash. But even the main plot - when the season finally gets around to developing it - includes a vast amount of information that has easy solutions for altering the night Barry Allen saw Savitar kill Iris. So, building into that foreseen event is contrived and artificially delayed (there's even a late-season amnesia episode that is enough to make those who stick with the season that long roll their eyes in disgust).

Unfortunately, most of the main character arcs are a mess of easy restoration to the norm as opposed to organic character arcs. The essential characters in the third season of The Flash are:

Barry Allen - The Flash. After living a charmed version of his past (which makes no sense because there should have been another version of Barry who grew up in the Flashpoint Tangent before the temporal remnant version appeared in the "present"), he attempts to restore time and returns to a life where there are some minor variations. He has to leave the Central City Police Force as part of a deal with Julian Albert and his love for Iris is tested when he watches her killed by Savitar and commits to altering that future,

Iris West - Daughter of Joe West and an intrepid reporter, she is finally able to explore her love for Barry without real complication . . . until Barry sees her killed and his solution is to propose to her. She never seems to do much reporting and she artificially pushes Barry away,

Joe West - One of the lead detectives at the Central City Police Department, he starts dating the D.A. and gets pissed off by H.R. training Wally after he becomes a Speedster. Otherwise, he shows up for the S.T.A.R. Labs team to explain things to, much like the audience might need scientific plot points explained,

Dr. Caitlin Snow - Now manifesting the freezing abilities of Killer Frost, she resists using her new powers until she is forced to. Facing a permanent transformation to Killer Frost, she uses technology to repress her abilities, until a disaster strikes and the choice is taken out of her hands,

H.R. Wells - Harrison Wells from Earth-19, he is a writer, not a scientist. He walks around with drum sticks and repeats what people say to try to inspire them with ideas. His substantive contributions are attempting to reopen S.T.A.R. Labs as a tourist attraction and enticing a scientist who has a future destiny to trap Savitar into helping the team,

Cisco Ramon - Initially in mourning for Dante, who died recently (as a function of restoring the timeline after Flashpoint), he is not excited about working with Barry any longer. He is now perfectly in control of his abilities to vibe and he works with Dr. Snow to keep Killer Frost at bay,

Dr. Julian Albert - The new Metahuman Forensics Specialist for the CCPD, he hates Barry and dislikes how metahumans use their abilities. He once searched for the fabled Philosopher's Stone and occasionally acts as a conduit for Savitar's voice. He develops a relationship with Dr. Snow that is challenged when her powers manifest,

Wally West - After coveting Speedster abilities, he is given powers by Alchemy. Faster than Barry Allen was at similar times in his development, he starts to covet the limelight as Kid Flash. Barry uses him as a tool to change the future he saw and disrupt the Speed Force jail,

and Savitar - A murderous Speedster, rumored to be the original Speedster, he was captured and trapped by Barry at some point in the future. He is heavily-armored, speaks through Dr. Alchemy, and kills Iris in front of Barry to psychologically torment him.

The acting in the third season of The Flash is subject to the writing; the actors rise to the occasion of what they are given for the most part, but outside Candice Patton and Grant Gustin, most of the performers are not given much in the way of long-term emotional arcs to play. Tom Cavanaugh embodies H.R. in a distinctly different way from the two other versions of Wells and Thawne that he has played, but the character is more frequently presented as an absurd fish-out-of-water instead of a useful member of the S.T.A.R. Labs team. Tom Felton joins the cast, but is often used in a familiar antagonistic, arrogant, role that he mastered as a child actor. Jesse L. Martin, Keiynan Lonsdale, and Carlos Valdes are given pathetically little to do outside their already-established ranges. Martin, especially, is neglected for most of the third season of The Flash.

In the end, The Flash Season Three is a study in wasted potential and playing to the strengths that built the show, as opposed to pushing the story, characters and actors in new and interesting directions.

For a more complete guide to the third season of The Flash, be sure to check out my reviews of each of the episodes of the third season at:
"The New Rogues"
"Killer Frost"
"The Present"
"Borrowing Problems From The Future"
"Dead Or Alive"
"Attack On Gorilla City"
"Attack On Central City"
"The Wrath Of Savitar"
"Into The Speed Force"
"Abra Kadabra"
"The Once And Future Flash"
"I Know Who You Are"
"Cause And Effect"
"Infantino Street"
"Finish Line"

For other works from the 2016 – 2017 television season, please check out my reviews of:
"Empress Of Mars" - Doctor Who
"The Return Part 6" - Twin Peaks
Orange Is The New Black - Season 5
House Of Cards - Season 5
Supergirl - Season 2
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 3
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 4
Sense8 - Season 2
Dear White People - Season 1
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 2
The Walking Dead - Season 7
Thirteen Reasons Why - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 3
Iron Fist - Season 1
Love - Season 2
Santa Clarita Diet - Season 1
A Series Of Unfortunate Events - Season 1
One Day At A Time - Season 1
Travelers - Season 1
The OA - Season 1
Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life
"Invasion!" - Arrow
Luke Cage - Season 1
Stranger Things - Season 1


For other television and movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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