Friday, 29 May 2015

Verdict: The Flash Season 1

This post contains spoilers for Season 1 of The Flash - you have been warned.

If there's one thing that I love, it's being proved wrong about something. When I first read that The CW were planning to introduce The Flash during Season 2 of Arrow, I was skeptical. In fact, I was downright annoyed - how could they take Arrow, a show that has remained fairly grounded, and make someone so fantastical like The Flash make sense?

And yet, last December, I found myself sitting down to watch the first few episodes of this much-hyped spinoff and really digging it. Now, a few months and 23 episodes later, Season 1 of The Flash has come zooming to a close - and these are my thoughts on it.

Barry Allen is a dorky forensic scientist who, after being struck by lightning, becomes the impossible - endowed with the power of superspeed, Barry adopts the moniker of 'The Flash' and, along with a team of scientists at Star Labs, must harness his new powers to protect the people of Central City.

Barry soon discovers that he isn't alone in possessing superpowers - the same incident that triggered his superspeed also affected many of Central City's citizens, possessing them with various abilities that range from controlling the weather, teleportation and mind control.

However, it's the identity of the mysterious Man in Yellow that Barry must unravel if he is going to discover the truth of his mother's murder some fifteen years prior, a crime for which his father was wrongly convicted.

As with any new show, this premise takes a while to get into gear. We're introduced to Barry (played by the adorable Grant Gustin) and other key characters such as Iris (Candice Patton), Cisco (Carlos Valdes), Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker), Joe (Jesse L. Martin), Eddie (Rick Cosnett) and Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh) in the pilot episode, but it isn't until we're into familiar 'villain of the week' territory in Episode 4 & 5 that we start to get a feel for how the show and its characters all mesh together. So whilst it does take a little time to establish itself, The Flash doesn't tread water for too long.

Oh no, stick with it through the first few episodes and you will be richly rewarded. From Episode 8 ('Flash vs. Arrow') and Episode 9 ('The Man in the Yellow Suit') onward, The Flash just goes from strength to strength as new elements, characters and threads are introduced in a way that not only adds depth to the show, but also completely changes the way the show works - and this happens on a regular basis. It carries itself with the confidence of a show that is knee-deep in its third or fourth season, not its eighth episode.

Take Episode 15, 'Out of Time'. For any normal show, the game-changing events that take place would be firmly resigned to the season finale whereas in The Flash, they're sprung upon you like a bolt out of the blue. All of sudden it's a completely different ball game - Cisco is killed (sorta), Wells exposes himself (sorta) and Barry carves a path through the space-time continuum. All in one episode, slap bang in the middle of the season, tearing up the rulebook and demanding that the audience expect the unexpected from here on out.

Gustin is superb in the lead role - he's nothing like Stephen Amell's brooding Oliver Queen and he soon establishes himself as his own distinct hero. Barry's quest to clear his father's name gives him purpose, and we also see a interesting moral dynamic grow across the season as Barry grapples with other metahumans (people with superpowers) and villains.

Cisco starts out a little irritating but soon grows into the best character on the whole show, possibly outside of Dr. Wells. This is probably because Cisco is the most relatable to the audience, as he stands and stares in wonder at all the cool heroes he gets to work with (and nickname them of course). It's also worth mentioning how good Tom Cavanagh is as Dr. Harrison Wells - complex and three-dimensional, malicious but unassuming, Cavanagh affords the show a truly brilliant villain in its first season, and I hope he returns in the future.

However, for all its brilliance, there are few areas that The Flash falls down on - namely, the female characters. This isn't so much an issue for Caitlin - she's clever and independent with an interesting arc - but more to do with Iris, Barry's childhood friend and long-time crush. Iris suffers from the same problems that Laurel Lance does on Arrow - for most of the first season, she's trapped in a stale and forced love triangle between two male characters and written in a way that paints her as whiny and annoying. I feel like the writing for Iris improved as the series went on, but for most of the first half she felt very shoe-horned into narratives that didn't fit.

This being a spinoff of Arrow, there are crossovers a plenty - expect Stephen Amell to crop up on more than two or three occasions whilst fan favourite Emily Bett Rickards reprises her role of Felicity Smoak regularly. However, the best recurring role doesn't go to an Arrow alumni - no, it goes to Wentworth Miller as Leonard Snart (a.k.a Captain Cold), a nemesis of The Flash's who recurs throughout the entire season. Miller delightfully chews the scenery in every one of his scenes and makes for a loveable antihero/scumbag come the end of the season.

Speaking of which, the finale (or string of finales!) in this season is superb. The twists just keep on coming with episodes 19, 20, 21 and 22 all building towards one of the most satisfying and exciting crescendos I've seen in a long time. The show really hits its stride during the final stint, and that final scene blows it wide open once more - I can't wait to see where season 2 will go.

Best episodes: The Man in the Yellow Suit, Out of Time, Tricksters, The Trap, Fast Enough

Have you been watching Season 1 of The Flash? What did you think? Let me know in the comments section down below!

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