The Flash - Season 2
“Season 2 of The Flash continues to be a mix of good intentions and significant missteps.”
Title: The Flash (CW)
Episodes Reviewed: Season 2
Creators: Greg Berlanti 👨🏼🇺🇸🌈, Geoff Johns 👨🏼🇺🇸, and Andrew Kreisberg 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Aaron Helbing 👨🏼🇺🇸 (7 eps), Todd Helbing 👨🏼🇺🇸 (7 eps), Andrew Kreisberg 👨🏼🇺🇸 (5 eps), Greg Berlanti 👨🏼🇺🇸🌈 (4 eps), and various (8 ♂, 8 ♀, 2 POC)
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Season 1 of The Flash was feel-good and optimistic, but for better or for worse, its second one features a more mature hero. The lead character of Barry Allen, played by Grant Gustin, grows angsty and detached as he bears the burden of the world on his lanky shoulders. While the evolution is understandable for Barry’s character development, it takes away some of the glib, team dynamics that made the first season so enjoyable. Luckily, the supporting cast is as engaging as ever, and I enjoyed watching their stories develop in Season 2.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? MIXED—about half the episodes pass
All the women this season feel like either stereotypes, plot devices, or both.
- Iris West, played by Candice Patton, is initially given great material. She is a young journalist at Picture News and accordingly, the show tackles office dynamics and workplace sexism. The commentary is far from daring, but these scenes are crucial as the much-needed lens into Iris’ life outside of Barry. Unfortunately, midway through the season, Picture News disappears as if a hallucination. Iris goes back to spending all her time at S.T.A.R. Labs or at home with no explanation. It’s so frustrating to get a glimmer of hope in this category only to see it get dashed so ignominiously.
- Caitlin Snow, played by Danielle Panabaker, gets a terrible story arc for Season 2. While her awakening superpowers should garner positive internal conflict, as we see with fellow S.T.A.R. Labs partner Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) who grapples with becoming Vibe, that development is overshadowed by her new romantic relationship with a man who turns out to be a doppelgänger for a supervillain. The villain kidnaps Caitlin and she proceeds to spend several episodes inside a cage, utterly powerless and thinking her boyfriend is an abusive maniac. She never manages to exact her escape and is only eventually freed because he lets her go.
- NEW FOR SEASON 2 — Patty Spivot, played by Shantel VanSanten, is about as cookie-cutter of a love interest that you can find. She has the accessible girl-next-door vibe. She’s more into Barry than he’s into her, and her character is aggressively used as a crutch for Barry’s development. Yes, the writers attempt to give her a backstory with a rote revenge plot, but her hatred of metahuman Mark Mardon (Liam McIntyre) is irrelevant because Team Flash is already after him. Thus, despite her occupation as a police detective who knows how to handle a gun, Patty still plays the part of a damsel in distress who merely gets in the way of The Flash and his team.
- NEW FOR SEASON 2 — Jesse Wells, played by Violett Beane, is another damsel in distress this season. Between her, Caitlin, and Patty, I’m starting to spot a trend for this season 🤔 Jesse is the daughter of the “dad” of Team Flash, Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh). She is introduced as the hostage of Zoom, the villain of the season, and used as a narrative device to motivate her father’s character. Luckily, the show eventually frees Jesse from Zoom’s clutches, and she gets a positive turn with some light character development. She gains superhuman speed and is dubbed “Jesse Quick”, but unfortunately, her metahuman status is never equal to those of men. She remains a mere sidekick to The Flash and is only allowed to take on support roles, or to go head-to-head with metawomen.
- NEW FOR SEASON 2 — Francine West, played by Vanessa A. Williams, is one of the better storylines introduced this season. Not because of the character itself; rather, Francine plays into blatant stereotype as the drug addict mother of Iris who comes back to try and make amends. But where I did find value was how she lent complexity to Iris’ storyline. Because of Francine’s 5-episode appearance (and awfully convenient death), we get to see Iris and her father go through familial issues that, for once, have little to do with Barry.
Gender inequity is reflected in minor roles as well. Of the 24 villains I counted for Season 2, just 4 are female.* And in a survey of how long women speak for, the Season 2 average is just 3:59 minutes per episode, compared to the 21:13 minutes that men ramble on for.**
So, why such a high score considering the many, many detractions highlighted above? Iris and Caitlin both play integral parts of the cast, even if they are vastly outnumbered. And behind the scenes, women are surprisingly well-represented in the writers’ room, with 16 of 51 writing credits—almost a third—going to women. That’s worth something, even if it doesn’t translate to the screen.
The Flash was pleasantly inclusive with non-white characters in its inaugural season, and I was so happy to see them kick it up a notch in Season 2.
- Iris West is stereotyped from a gender standpoint but her relationship with her father is deeply explored this season, tested through the introduction of new family members.
- Joe West, played by Jesse L. Martin, continues to be a positive and complex supporting character. The journey of meeting his teenage son, who he had previously never known about, shows new facets to his personality as Joe grapples with learning how to be a father to a very different young man than Barry.
- Cisco Ramon goes from being a key part of Team Flash in Season 1 to a fully fleshed-out character by his own right. He connects with various characters in different ways—mourning his brother Dante (played by Nicholas Gonzalez of Mexican descent), finding a new love interest in Kendra (played by Ciara Renée, who is mixed race), developing new superpowers, and so on. I also really enjoyed seeing his friendship with Barry being tested, as both characters are so well developed that their “break-up” succeeds in stirring up genuine emotions.
- NEW FOR SEASON 2 — Wally West, played by Keiynan Lonsdale of Nigerian and Irish-Australian descent, plays the teenage son of Francine and Joe. He is fairly flat as a character, but does wonderful things to Iris and Joe’s complexities. Furthermore, he gives off the sense that he will be further developed in future seasons, as he is inducted into the ranks of Team Flash as a metahuman, nicknamed “Kid Flash”, towards the end of the season.
I do want to briefly mention that colorism is alive and well in The Flash. Iris and Wally are both played by actors who are half white, yet their characters are meant to be black. Meanwhile, darker-skinned black characters are almost entirely absent, with just one episodic bad guy—Dr. Henry Hewitt, played by Demore Barnes—coming to mind.
At the end of the day, The Flash will probably never shift from its centering of white characters. As with Season 1, the central plot is again driven by the conflict between two white men: Barry and his nemesis Zoom, played by Teddy Sears.
Minor characters, too, are also overwhelmingly white. The revolving door of episodic metahumans in Season 2 include just 4 POC among 24 villains. This is incrementally better than the 3 villains of color from last season, of which two were mixed-race white. Still, these continue to be stunningly low numbers for what’s supposed to be modern show.
The first season of The Flash introduced three gay, cisgender men in minor roles. The most visible of them was Captain David Singh, played by Patrick Sabongui, who appeared in 16 of 23 episodes. This was a fairly decent showing for the ultra-conservative genre of superhero shows.
Unfortunately, the writers rest on their laurels this season. Captain Singh’s appearances decrease to just 7 of 23 episodes, lending the sense that his character is slowly being written out of the show. All mentions of his husband disappear. And the third gay character of Hartley Rathaway, played by Andy Mientus, also sees a decrease from 2 appearances last season to just 1.
Mediaversity Grade: C+ 3.44/5
Similar to the first season, The Flash continues to be a mix of good intentions and significant missteps in Season 2.
* The villains I counted for Season 2 include: Al Rothstein, Hunter Zolomon, Eddie Slick, Lewis Snart, Dr. Henry Hewitt, King Shark, Doctor Light, Grodd, Vandal Savage, Mark Mardon, Jesse James, Russell Glosson, Eobard Thawne, Joey Monteleone, Caitlin Snow as Killer Frost, Ronnie Raymond as Deathstorm, Cisco Ramon as Reverb, Adam Fells, Eliza Harmon, Hartley Rathaway, Griffin Grey, Dante Ramon as Rupture, Tony Woodward, and Laurel Lance as Black Siren
** I timed the gender share of dialogue with arementalkingtoomuch.com for 11 episodes of the 23-episode season. They were randomly-selected and include episodes 4-5, 9-10, 16-18, and 20-23.