Thursday, 6 October 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S03E01 - 'Flashpoint'

While I had my issues with the way in which the second season of The Flash chose to resolve the season-long conflict with its primary villain, I had still been quite willing to admit that the episode's final moment offered a very interesting set-up for the third season. After all, by choosing to travel back in time and save his mother's life, Barry Allen was recreating the same circumstances which, in DC's comic-book universe, lead to the large-scale 'Flashpoint' even – and, eventually, to DC's reboots 'New 52' universe.

Of course, it probably shouldn't come as any real surprise to know that the version of 'Flashpoint' that we get, here, doesn't have quite the same scope as the comic-book story-line it draws inspiration from (that version did, after all, involve the entire roster of DC's characters). But, the fact that the first season's episode is actually titled 'Flashpoint' does, at least, create some expectation that it will borrow some thematic elements.

As the season begins, we meet a Barry Allen who already seems to be quite well acquainted with the new reality his actions have created – and, more importantly, who seems quite happy with the way that things have turned out. And, of course, there is no real reason why he shouldn't be. In this new reality, after all, both of his parents are alive and well – and, Barry has been able to spend much of the past few months simply enjoying being part of the family that he has never truly had. In this new reality, also, Iris is still very much alive and well – and, despite the fact that they no longer know each other, Barry is still hopeful of pursuing the same romantic relationship that they almost had, before. More importantly, though, it seems that this new reality has its own Flash – Wally West, who acquired super-speed in an accident quite similar to the one that originally empowered Barry. So, with Wally taking on the role of the hero of Central City, Barry has come to the conclusion that he is free from those responsibilities.

Of course, things aren't perfect in this new reality. For one thing, Eobard Thawne (who is now a prisoner of Barry's) warns that changing the time-line in such a drastic fashion will have dire consequences – warnings which seem to be confirmed as Barry finds that he has begun to lose his memories of his old life. On a more personal level, there is also the fact that this reality's version of Joe West is not quite the loving and supportive father figure that Barry knows – and, instead, seems to be barely coping with the fact that his son and daughter have taken up a life of super-powered crime-fighting.

Also, it seems that there is a new Speedster villain to contend with – 'The Rival' (Todd Lasance). This new Speedster seems to be more than Central City's new Flash can handle alone – so, Barry soon finds himself drawn back into a life of crime-fighting, despite himself.

Of course, one problem that immediately presents itself is the fact that 'The Rival' just made for a disappointingly bland villain – with his unexplored background and motivations mirroring what we have seen from so many of other villains over the past two seasons. Even worse, though, is the fact that we really only get a single episode in this new reality – as, by the end, Barry has already come to the conclusion that saving his mother was a mistake.

Also, despite the apparent seriousness of the situation that Barry Allen finds himself in, one of the things which struck me about this episode was how disappointingly underwhelming the show's take on Flashpoint actually proved to be. Obviously, I wasn't expecting anything on the same level as what we had in comics (or, the animated film adaptation The Flashpoint Paradox – which is definitely worth checking out) – but, even on the more personal level that this episode was aiming for, 'Flashpoint' seemed to fall a bit short. Sure, Joe West had been reduced to a barely functional alcoholic, and Wally West was left severely injured by the Rival – but, neither of those problems felt so insurmountable that Barry should feel the need to release Eobard Thawne and, essentially, sacrifice the mother he had worked so hard to save. That just didn't make sense, to me. I can understand that this is just the way the story needs to go (with Barry eventually coming to realise that he has made a mistake which needs to be corrected) – but, the episode didn't do nearly enough to make it seem like a necessary sacrifice when we reached that point.

To be fair, though, there are some positive elements to be found in each of these points, at least. For one, the episode ends with a clear hint that we will soon be seeing 'The Rival' put in an appearance in this reality – which should, hopefully, give the villain more time to be developed. More importantly, though, the episode also comes to a close with clear evidence that there are still lingering consequences to Barry's time-altering actions.

Despite my issues, though, there was still quite a bit to enjoy about the first episode of the third season. The opportunity to see Wally West finally appear in costume as his own version of the Flash (or, Kid Flash, as everyone seemed to insist on calling him) was great. The costume looked good, and the action sequences were as good as anything we have seen in the past – and, more importantly, it finally gave Keiynan Lonsdale something truly worthwhile to do. Similarly, the chance to meet these new versions of Barry's old team was as entertaining as you might expect – with Cisco Ramon's turn as a self-made billionaire standing out (although, the funniest moment of the episode would have to be when Barry rushed off to grab Caitlin Snow, only to find out that she isn't actually a scientist in this reality – and that, in his enthusiasm to get his old team back together, he may just have absent-mindedly kidnapped a woman).

Of course, while 'The Rival' may have come across as under-developed, the episode was still able to benefit a great deal from the appearance of Eobard Thawne (Matt Letscher) – who, it seems, is also once more alive and well as a direct result of Barry's actions. Of course, previously defeated villains who suddenly return is such a staple of comic-book story-telling that it often seems a tired cliche – but, having this return be, basically, entirely Barry's fault adds an entertaining twist. Also, Matt Letscher was genuinely entertaining in his time on-screen – so, I am definitely hopeful to see more of him over the course of the season.

Over the past two seasons, it has become fairly standard for those moments of simple interaction between the show's well-developed, and well-written, cast of characters to serve as the basis for some of its best moments – often to such an extent that these moments might even help balance out an episode's weaker elements. That seems to be very much the case, here. This was an episode which featured all of the entertaining moments of character interaction that fans of the series have come to expect – and, for me, that did go some way toward balancing out my disappointment with its treatment of the 'Flashpoint' story-line.

I can only hope that the episode's final hints of lingering consequences and unexpected changes, as Barry returns to his 'normal' reality, lead toward some interesting developments in the future – because, so far, the third season's use of 'Flashpoint' feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity.

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