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Alongside the likes of The CW’s superhero-centered shows, such as “Arrow,” “Supergirl,” and even “Smallville,” “The Flash” has always stood out with its unique and evolving group dynamic, charming protagonist, and promising romance. The show succeeds at staying true to the characters of the comic book version of “The Flash,” but reconfigures the plot to offer an original and inventive take on its source material. It is no wonder Season Four has been much-anticipated. However, although the season premiere is promising, it lacks the usual quirks—specifically, the group dynamics and tension-driven plots of the past seasons.
In “The Flash,” Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) acquires the power of super speed and must save Central City from destruction at the hands of various villains. Barry falls in love with his childhood best friend, Iris West (Candice Patton), who eventually joins his group alongside friends Caitlin, Cisco, and Harrison. Recently, Barry had to act as a placeholder in the Speed Force prison, which is an area that must be occupied by a speedster (Flash), in order to save Central City from destruction.
The season begins with Kid Flash, Iris’ little brother, saving the citizens of Central City—albeit at a much slower rate than Barry. Everyone seems to be miserable without Barry, but they recognize that there is no way to get him back without causing havoc. It ironically mirrors the viewer’s own misery—there is no show without Gustin. Showing full dynamic range as an actor, Gustin is both heart-wrenching and hilarious. Without him at the heart of the show, the first quarter of the episode feels empty and dull.
However, Cisco finds a way to bring Barry back and the action picks up a little. Nevertheless, the ease with which Cisco frees Barry from the Speed Force prison feels problematic. In previous seasons, the writers did a great job drawing things out just enough to produce palpable tension. Part of the pleasure of “The Flash” is trying to solve the tension-riddled puzzles that the writers produce alongside Barry and his team. So the ease with which Barry is freed takes all the fun out of the drama of Barry’s arrival. Perhaps this simple solution was an intentional ploy by the show’s writers to take the audience by surprise with the heavy challenges the team may face later this season. Yet viewed from the perspective of the premiere, it appears that the show is offering simple solutions to difficult problems.
Barry does come back very different, though—he speaks and writes in gibberish, with no explanation as to why this is. This was one of the greatest problems with how this episode is written. Gustin shines in his dramatic and heroic scenes—the comedy set in Barry’s one-liners do not highlight Gustin’s true acting abilities. Although lines like “We’re gonna need more diapers” are humorous, there is too much tacky humor and not enough of the banter that was enthralling in previous seasons. The dynamic of the group seems diminished.
With significant former characters absent—Harrison, Julian, various others, and briefly Barry—the episode feels incomplete. Additionally, Barry and Iris’s relationship becomes too clear-cut and perfect. They lack the usual relationship conflict that offers a realistic romance. Instead, it seems that Iris’ only purpose is to act as bait for Barry. And I sense that the writers are going to rely on the superhero saves the girl dynamic repeatedly, as they did in this episode. It is a tiring, played-out trope.
This was a decent first episode, but it could have used more drama and less cliché. As the title of this episode suggests, this season does feel like it is starting fresh and it is exciting to anticipate how Barry is going to overcome the newest and strangest villain yet, “The Thinker,” who is semi-introduced at the end of the episode. There is just enough to keep the audience tuned in for the next episode. Although this episode has its obvious flaws, the show’s consistent formula manages to produce an occasionally compelling hour of television. “The Flash” continues to shine amongst The CW’s myriad superhero shows.
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