Tuesday, October 4, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Flash' - Barry's New Reality Isn't as Great as He Hoped It Would Be in 'Flashpoint'

The CW's The Flash - Episode 3.01 "Flashpoint"

Barry is living his dream life - his parents are alive, he's asked Iris on a date and he can finally be a normal guy since another speedster is running around saving the city. When Barry starts forgetting his old life, the Reverse Flash tells him that there will be serious repercussions if he continues to live in this alternate universe. When disaster strikes, Barry must decide if he wants to continue to live in this world as Barry Allen or return to his universe as The Flash.

The death of Barry's mother is a defining piece of backstory for the character. It's well-covered emotional material that the show has used many times in its first two seasons. It was a very effective moment in the first season finale when Barry went back to that night but chose not to save her. He was able to say goodbye to her and get closure over her death. He found the man responsible for her death and defeated him in battle with some help from Eddie of course. In its second season though, it was still a defining part of Barry's story. The second season was a mess. It kept hitting the some emotional material over and over again while being caught up in a lackluster serial killer plot. The special and unique style of the first season was gone. But it once again had a finale that saw Barry going back to the night of his mother's death. This time he decided to intervene and save her. It was a moment that didn't particularly track well with what happened throughout the season. It was largely just Barry being selfish and not learning his lesson about time travel - again!

So, the third season opens with Barry in an alternate universe. He saves his mom and is able to live in happiness for a couple of months. This isn't an inherently bad creative decision. The best episodes of last season were Barry and Cisco traveling to Earth-2 to stop Zoom. This show has proven it can have fun re-imagining its world. It understands the character dynamics and what makes each of them so special. But it also recognizes how much fun it can be to shake up those basic understandings of the characters. Those episodes worked because they were fun and a natural continuation of the season's plot. The events of "Flashpoint" are instead the inciting incident for the season. Barry goes back in time and changes things. That decision will have ripple effects throughout the entire season even though he's not in this alternate reality for very long.

It honestly is a little surprising that the show wraps up its take on "Flashpoint" in just one episode. It makes it so this premiere is a little too focused on plot and not highlighting the fun differences in this new world. Instead, it's more important that Barry's happiness is just an illusion. The true reality he comes from may suck but at least it's real. This new world could become permanent if he's not careful. He doesn't see a problem with that. Both of his parents are alive and well. He's going out on a date with Iris. Plus, there's a new speedster protecting Central City. It's Wally as Kid Flash. So, Barry can just live a normal and happy life. It's something he's always wanted. But the premiere doesn't linger on that feeling for too long. He has just enjoyed life as The Flash too much. That's the person he has become. He's destined to be a hero no matter what reality he is in. So, he wants to help. He wants to be on the frontline of the action. He wants to see Kid Flash battle The Rival up close. That's a part of his life that he doesn't want to give up either.

And yet, Barry finds himself loosing his memories of his previous life. It's a huge plot contrivance when the Reverse Flash claims that the more Barry uses his powers in this world the more he'll forget about the previous one. Once he forgets it completely, this reality will be set and cannot be changed back. Okay, that just seems like a contrived plot complication solely to give tension to this premiere. Loosing his memories wouldn't take away his powers. That's not how the speed force works on this show. For a moment, it seems like his powers are going away too. The Reverse Flash claims Barry will forget that he's the Flash. But it's a skill set not a memory. He may forget all the cool tricks he learned. But that doesn't necessarily mean he'll lose his powers. If he still has them, there will always be the potential for him to go back to that fateful night and watch his mother die all over again. However, the show plays it as Barry losing his memories as this violent thing that happens to him. It becomes a disorienting experience that cripples him. But again, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If he doesn't undo what he did, does that mean the loss of his memories will eventually kill him? Is that why this reality would be set in stone and he can't go back to undo it? If so, that's not abundantly clear at all.

What is clear is all of the parallels between "Flashback" and the pilot. That was an effective start for the entire series. And now, the show is playing with those familiar moments to create deja vu for Barry and the audience. This world is so different. Iris is still a reporter. But everyone else is different. Joe is a drunk and not a father figure to Barry. Wally is the Flash but isn't all that skilled as a superhero yet. Cisco is a tech billionaire who doesn't want to get involved in crime fighting. And Caitlin is a pediatric ophthalmologist for some reason. Again, it's amusing to see these beloved characters in different contexts. And yet, Iris and Wally are really the only ones who are important to the overall plot. Wally is important because he's Kid Flash while Iris' importance comes from her chance meeting with Barry. The show is really forcing their love connection. That dynamic has gotten better over the course of the show. It's great whenever Iris gets to be an active character and not just a love interest. But she is still asked to be that so much of the time. Earth-2 Iris was great. Alternate reality Iris is just as boring as she's always been. It's great that she's the one motivating Barry to be the Flash and stop the Rival in the end. It's also great that Cisco has a knack for nicknames no matter what and that Joe is there to always stop the bad guys Barry doesn't see. But again, it's the show purposefully forcing things to be similar to the very first episode. It happens just so Barry can reach the conclusion that he doesn't belong in this world.

Of course, the show doesn't want the audience to think too much about this premise. That's what the show wants whenever it incorporates time travel in its story. It's a huge problem that the show never addresses well. But for some reason, the show is still doing it. It's just gotten so frustrating. Yes, it's great that Barry learns his lesson yet again. He can no longer continue being selfish. He has to rely on the Reverse Flash to get back home. But that final action only further showcases that there will be severe consequences to all of this. When Barry returns to his regular timeline, Joe and Wally are still consoling him over the death of his father. Barry has worked through those emotions. The scene were Barry says goodbye to his father and mother is really effective. Grant Gustin can still make an emotional scene work so well despite an abundance of plot complications. But it only sets up the reveal that not everything is back to the way things were. Joe and Iris are estranged for some reason. How the Reverse Flash was able to do that during his trip back in time, we don't know yet. But it's a frustrating detail the premiere ends on. The show would have been better off to keep this "Flashpoint" story contained. It's a story everyone wanted to do because of the success from the comics. But on the screen, it just wasn't the right time. So any lingering complications are only going to mess with the formula of the show. The bonds that have defined the show for two seasons now are important. And now, they'll be completely different. It shows that there are complications for Barry's selfishness. But it's not an enticing or interesting tease for the audience at all.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Flashpoint" was directed by Jesse Warn with story by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg and teleplay by Brooke Roberts.
  • The Rival is a pretty lame name for a villain. Plus, he felt too much like a lackluster copycat of Zoom. This show really needs to stop using speedsters as villains. It's just become a formulaic and expected twist.
  • The reveal that the Rival is Edward Clariss is important though because the Edward from Barry's original timeline will be seen as well. It serves as yet another ominous tease for the future. This time it's through the word "Alchemy" being carved into a mirror. Whatever that means!
  • Seriously though, Joe, Cisco and Caitlin were included in the "Flashpoint" story just because the show wanted to see different versions of those characters. None of them needed to appear in order to move the plot forward.
  • What are the odds that the "Flashpoint" story was wrapped up in just one episode because the creative team didn't want to worry about the potential repercussions such a drastic change would have on Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow? Those shows better not have any complications from this twist.
  • Barry should just return to the night of his mother's death yet again in order to figure out what the Reverse Flash did to the Wests, right? That would be the sensible thing to do even though the show should just leave the past alone already.