At this year’s CW upfront presentations, it became clear that The Flash is the network’s new marquee show — as well it should be. For the CW, it is their most watched series of all time, and for viewers, it has become not only TV’s best superhero show, but one of the year’s best overall.
In the season finale, “Fast Enough,” Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) will make a decision about whether or not he can save his mother from being murdered in the past. Barry has already experienced the problems with living in an alternative timeline this season, even though ultimately things worked out (and it was only the difference of a few hours). But if he’s able to time travel back far enough to save his mother, what kind of domino effect will that have on life in the present? How could not saving one’s mother possibly be the ethical choice?
Somehow, a series that starts with a woman being brutally murdered in front of her son (and her husband being wrongly imprisoned for the crime) has managed to turn into one the lightest and most entertaining superhero shows on the air. But what keeps The Flash from careening too far into comedy has been this darkness that has grounded the series, and set a compelling arc that “Fast Enough” appears like it will tackle head-on.
Usually, when time travel and alternate timelines come up, soap operas and campy, late-run twists come to mind from series past their prime. But it’s to The Flash‘s immense credit (and that of series creators Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, and Geoff Johns) that it’s managed to not only incorporate so many, frankly, bizarre elements from the comics (time travel, Eobard Thawne, Gorilla Grodd), and still remain accessible to non-comic book readers.
One of the series’ greatest strengths has been the cultivation of its main villain, Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh). For fans of the comics, he was a huge question mark throughout much of the first half of the season — which Flash comic villain is he? Or is he several put together? Or a new character entirely? Figuring out Wells’ identity (as the time traveler and forever Flash nemesis Eobard Thawne) was something fun to work out, but the show has never been beholden to that revelation.
Though Meta Humans of the Week have come and gone (and sometimes come again), Wells has been consistently fascinating in his role as Barry’s mentor, (another) surrogate father-figure, and friend. Even when confronted with his betrayal, Wells reminds Barry how he helped train him and protect him. There’s a sense that while they are antagonists, and Wells does want to destroy Barry in the future, he also seems to need him — not just so he can get home, but in order to continue playing their game of death through space and time.
Wells’ relationship with Barry hasn’t been his only major emotional contribution, though. He also tells Cisco (Carlos Valdes) that he has been like a son to him. Granted, it’s right before he kills him, but it was another layer to Wells’ personality that has made him such a fantastic foil for Barry. He is a complicated villain who is not purely evil, and yet, does truly horrible things. Barry (as well as the S.T.A.R. labs team) struggling to believe that Wells is also a murderer has been one of the show’s best narrative arcs.
But then again, The Flash just does a lot of things really, really well. The rapport among the S.T.A.R. Labs team is genuine, and even fans who know Barry and Iris (Candice Patton) are destined to end up together, there’s really something to be said for his chemistry with Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker). The series is playful not only in its running gags (like Cisco’s meta references and naming of heroes and villains), but with its legacy. It was a nice nod to cast John Wesley Shipp, who played The Flash in the 1991 TV series, as Barry’s father, as well as having Mark Hamill reprise his role as The Trickster. You don’t have to get these references to enjoy watching the show, but they are small touches that make the show that much more dynamic.
Speaking of that, the birth of The Flash this year has started expanding DC’s TV universe in a huge way. The Flash and Arrow crossovers have been fun (and amazingly don’t necessitate the viewing of both series to understand what’s happening), but with DC’s Legends of Tomorrow starting up (and Supergirl on CBS), that connected comic world is continuing to become deeper and more complex. Also, because the DC TV shows are separated from its movie franchises, they also don’t need to be held back by the constraints of feature plots or timing. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
There isn’t much on television that begs for appointment viewing, but The Flash has become so over the course of its first season, making Tuesday nights fun, and bringing some much needed levity to the superhero genre. Fun is a word sometimes used dismissively when talking about TV, but with so much darkness in current dramas, isn’t some fun necessary? The Flash has managed to keep a fast past throughout its 22 episodes, but not burn through all of its plots (and its effects have been perhaps surprisingly on point). Its teases and reveals have actually been worth getting invested in and excited over, and that’s something not many series can boast.
Above all, though, Barry Allen is a great hero. He’s charismatic, conflicted, smart, humble, and good. We can trust that whatever decision he makes in “Fast Enough” will be the right one, no matter how hard (although the wait for Season 2 will surely be extremely hard). Finding a true hero, even in a landscape seemingly filled with them, can be difficult. In the pilot episode, Barry says to Stephen Amell‘s Green Arrow, “I’m just not sure I’m like you, Oliver. I don’t know if I can be some vigilante.” Oliver replies, “You can be better, because you can inspire people in a way that I never could. Watching over your city like a guardian angel, making a difference, saving people in a flash.” And he does.