Mention the word “metahuman” to me in a TV show and all I will be able to think about is the bad water CGI from the second episode of DC’s 2002 Birds of Prey TV series. It wasn’t a totally bad TV series, but it made me a little apprehensive about the Arrowverse’s move away from “realism” into straight superhero powers with its spin-off, The Flash.
Barry Allen, played by Grant Gustin (a wonderfully superhero-esque name) was initially introduced in Arrow Season Two, in episodes 8 and 9. He was in Starling City looking for leads on his mother’s murder, which seemed to have supernatural elements. This is a through line that continues on into The Flash. An accident at the end of episode 9 leaves in a coma, and presumably gave him superpowers. Though, it would be about 8 months after the airing of that episode that the Pilot to the Flash would air. Originally a backdoor Pilot had been planned, but this was changed to a full Pilot order in early 2015, and shortly thereafter an order for 13 episodes. Production went well enough for a full 23 episode order to come through pretty quickly too.
Is that to say the ease with which The Flash got a full first season is due to the talents of leading star Gustin? Who knows. But his initial appearance in Arrow was certainly more than enough to quell my fears, his performance echoing some of the best bits of Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man — though perhaps a bit more humble and modest. He’s a nice guy (though perhaps a little too much).
Barry gained his powers as a result of a particle accelerator created by STAR Labs exploding, flooding Central City with mysterious energy. Not only did this grant Barry superspeed, but it also created more “metahumans” too — and would you believe it, a lot of them are not super nice people. Barry’s powers and the supporting cast are introduced pretty quickly, which is always refreshing in a superhero story these days. You’ve got the STAR Labs team who were taking care of Barry in his coma, made up of Dr. Harrison Welles, an idol of Barry’s and also the mind behind the disastrous particle accelerator, and his assistants, Dr. Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramone; Barry’s adoptive family, father-figure Detective Joe West, and Iris West (who Barry awkwardly has a crush on).
Pleasingly Barry starts out with a fairly large amount of people knowing his secret identity. Especially when it comes to Joe, which gives him an early in with the police force, avoiding retreading some of the potentially boring superhero origin ground. With that said, some of Barry’s early acclimatization to his powers does drag a little, not helped by the reasonably dull early metahumans and villains. There are some great moments — Wentworth Miller as Leonard Snart AKA Captain Cold (though the episodes he’s in don’t always match his performance), Felicity coming to visit, the mysteries surrounding Harrison Welles, the “Plastique” episode — but the season doesn’t really get going with the speed you’d expect from its titular hero, or the blistering first season of Arrow.
The Flash doesn’t really start to pick up until the big crossover episodes, “The Flash vs Arrow” (episode 8 of The Flash Season One), and “The Brave and the Bold” (episode 8 of Arrow Season Three). But when it starts it doesn’t really stop. The “Reverse Flash” — a yellow Speedster linked to Barry’s mum’s murder is legitimately menacing and unsettling, always a step ahead of Barry, and just out of reach. By the mid-season point the cast have come together to see them through even the worse episodes pretty well. The Firestorm plot thread isn’t the most exciting plot thread, though, and seems to take its time comparatively.
It suffers from some of the same problems Arrow did early in its run. Some of these issues are just a case of it finding its feet, as it smooths out later on. Iris, and Iris and Barry’s relationship, is probably one of the weakest elements of the show, and it’s almost entirely down the writing. She’s a pretty under utilized character, and while at times it seems self-aware of that, exploring how Joe wouldn’t let her follow her dream of joining the police force, and how lying to protect her isn’t cool, it never really goes anywhere. Barry is a pretty nice guy in general, but when it comes to Iris he’s a little too nice guy. Hopefully this is just a case of not knowing what to do with her character, and something that will get rectified as the show continues, similar to Laurel from Arrow.
Everything does wrap up quite explosively, and near the end of the season especially you’re going to want to binge watch, just to find out what happens. As usual the Arrow creators are masters at keeping you interested by introducing new elements and twists. The season does end with a cliffhanger though, which is something I don’t really like in a TV show.
The Flash is cheesy, light-hearted and fun. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have depth. You can get into it for the colourful adventures, but the drama and over-arcing story will make you want to stick around. The show picks up speed as it goes on, and it’s one I really wanted to see through to the end. The Flash is probably best watched alongside Arrow, as in many ways they mirror one another — perhaps that’s what the mid-season crossover highlights. Grant Gustin is a terrific star, and alongside a supporting cast that aren’t as two-dimensional as they first seem, the show is great.