This review contains spoilers.
4.1 The Flash Reborn
Every year when The Flash returns I say something along the lines of how good it is to have this cast back. I do genuinely miss this show during the offseason, even if it sometimes gets a little exhausting or frustrating during the post-midseason lull. But I really loved the last run, although I realised over the summer that I appear to have been in the minority with that opinion. Still, I get the feeling that The Flash season 4 premiere will satisfy just about any Flash fan out there.
Why do I say this? Well, much has been made about the darkness of season three, particularly during its second half. While I thought that worked surprisingly well, I do understand the criticism. And that was, at best, a bittersweet ending given the choice Barry made in the finale. All of this means that The Flash Reborn has some work to do. It has to both establish the new status quo (remember, these shows take place in roughly real time, so Barry has been gone for about five months from their lives as well as ours) and also, y’know, make sure that the old status quo is preserved in some way. That’s a hell of a balancing act.
Does it succeed? Mostly! The Flash Reborn isn’t a perfect episode, but really my only major issues here are the hand-wavey approach it takes to things like actually bringing Barry back, restoring his mind, and its approach to bringing Caitlin back into the fold. That’s an awful lot of work, and perhaps this would have been better served as a two-parter, because I really feel like we got some half-assed “the audience will go with this because they want us to get on with the show” vibes here and there. It’s not the end of the world or anything, but it’s definitely noticeable.
But before you think this is going to turn into a negative review, let me assure you this isn’t. I just need to point this stuff out. Despite my misgivings here and there, The Flash Reborn is a really enjoyable hour of TV, handily reminding everyone why we love these characters so much in the first place (Joe and Cisco are particular standouts in this regard) while maturing/evolving others in ways that are really satisfying (Iris and Wally are going to kick so much ass this season).
The episode kicks off with Vibe and Kid Flash in classic superhero team-up fashion, taking on forgettable/forgotten villain of the week, Peek-a-Boo. But this is actually another one of the show’s strengths. So much mythology is now built on the backs of lots of smaller villains, and it’s accepted that Central City is full of ‘em, and that’s the only way we get moments like this. They can’t all be Captain Cold, right? While nobody needs to see a Peek-a-Boo-centric episode (or Geomancer or Magenta or Tar Pit or…you get the idea) ever again, there are fun little purposes that they can still serve. The Samuroid robot that shows up to move the plot along is another example, although that has a larger purpose, which we’ll get to in a minute.
But let’s take a moment to appreciate Vibe and Kid Flash. Carlos Valdes has been getting better and better as Cisco, and I feel like season three really got things moving for him. Cisco is now more confident than we’ve ever seen him, both as a hero and a scientist. There’s not a trace of arrogance about him, he’s just the guy who gets it done now, and it’s a real joy to watch. It took me a little while to warm to Keiynan Lonsdale’s Wally West, but again, he was great last season. But the Kid Flash we see here is next-level, full-on superhero. He’s not a clone of Barry, he’s got the necessary youthful enthusiasm, and like Cisco, while he’s supremely confident in his abilities right now, he’s got his head on straight.
Which brings me to Iris. With Iris leading Team Flash right now, I have to wonder how much of Cisco and Wally’s most recent evolution as heroes has to do with Iris’ leadership. Barry is many things, but he has always struggled with the role of team leader. Iris has embraced it in ways that may not prove particularly great for her long term health, but Candice Patton’s Iris comes across like a tremendous badass in this episode, taking no crap from anyone, and putting herself on the line. Remember when this show could have been called “Everybody Lies to Iris” and how frustrating her character was once upon a time? It feels like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? Off the back of this, I’d like to just mention that I think I missed Joe West most of all, and he seems far more at home taking down metas than we’ve ever seen him in the past, and he’s doing his damndest to come to terms with Iris putting herself in the crosshairs.
The Flash has done this before, with its little trick of making Barry the least present character on his own show, and occasionally the least interesting character in his own story. Whenever that happens, it’s always in service of the show’s larger strengths, which have always been this remarkable cast and the way these layers have been built on top of their characters. The Flash Reborn may sideline Barry for a bit, but here it’s in the interest of giving him one big hero moment, when we realise that he’s back for real, and for good. And those earlier misgivings I had about the actual why/how of getting Barry out of the Speed Force aside, I wouldn’t be much of a Flash fan if I didn’t get excited when he finally puts that new suit on and gets to work.
Like Barry, I can’t help but feel that it’s good to be back.
The Flash season 4 starts on Sky One here in the UK on Tuesday the 17th of October at 8pm.