The Flash - Season 3
“Rooting for a show doesn’t mean it will always live up to its potential.”
Title: The Flash (CW)
Episodes Reviewed: Season 3
Creators: Greg Berlanti 👨🏼🇺🇸🌈, Geoff Johns 👨🏼🇺🇸, and Andrew Kreisberg 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Andrew Kreisberg 👨🏼🇺🇸 (8 eps) Aaron Helbing 👨🏼🇺🇸 (6 eps), Todd Helbing 👨🏼🇺🇸 (6 eps), Brooke Roberts 👩🏼🇺🇸 (5 eps), Judalina Neira 👩🏽🇺🇸 (5 eps), David Kob 👨🏼🇺🇸 (5 eps), and various (7 ♂ and 4 ♀)
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Coming off the heels of Season 2, which boasted an exciting villain whose secret identity kept audiences guessing, Season 3's Savitar and the setup that goes with him disappoints. The premise goes like this: In near future, Iris West is murdered by the armored villain, and her fiancé (and resident superhero) Barry Allen can do nothing to stop him.
By making this the point of conflict, with repeated premonitions of Savitar holding Iris up and stabbing her through the heart with a katana, makes the entire season an effort in saving a damsel in distress. This isn’t helped by the writers’ ham-fisted attempts to force feed an emotional connection to the characters, as they implement a saccharine romance between Barry and Iris. All this adds up to is a cartoonish rendering that takes the place of hard-earned kinship.
From an action standpoint, I did enjoy the twists and turns that make up the end of the season, as Team Flash outsmarts Savitar through clever plotting. But the mid-section is a bloated slog that will have you reaching for the fast-forward button.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? MIXED—about half the episodes pass
The entire crux of this season is built on women being a liability for men. It’s so frustrating to watch Iris’ potential get squandered through juvenile scenes that focus on her as Barry Allen’s leading lady rather than a woman in her own right, with hopes and dreams beyond getting married and being a wife. I mean, hell, in one episode Barry literally buys an apartment for them without her input, and her reaction is canned delight rather than the more realistic incredulity that would accompany finding out that your supposed partner went ahead and made a huge life decision without you.
You have to see it to believe it. In the Christmas episode alone, we see the following bits of dialogue:
Iris: I shopped, and shopped, and now I am ready to drop...into your arms.
Iris falls into Barry's lap.
Iris: I love you, Barry Allen.
Barry: I love you, Iris West.
Barry: You don’t have to be afraid. The Flash is going to save you.
Iris: My hero.
Guys, I could not make this stuff up. And before we get any further, I want to make clear to West-Allen fans that this is not a knock on Iris, whatsoever. This frustration actually stems from how much I adore Candice Patton (who plays Iris) and wish she would get the narrative space she deserves in a show that is boringly fixated on men.
Outside of Iris' tragic character devolvement, I’ll quickly mention the other ladies of The Flash. Speedster Jesse Wells is a nice supporting character, but she only exists to serve the character development of her father and Iris' brother, Wally West. Instead of being happy for Jesse when she acquires abilities, Wally makes it all about his disappointment that the speed force hasn’t come to him yet. Meanwhile, Caitlin Snow continues to grapple with her evil alter ego, Killer Frost, but her storyline never breaks out as anything more than base-level development for one of the series’ main characters. And while I’m happy to see Cecile get more screen time on the show, her existence is predicated on her relationship with boyfriend Joe West.
The final nail in the coffin comes behind the scenes. In November 2017, executive producer and showrunner Andrew Kreisberg—incidentally, the most prolific writer of this season—was fired after an investigation looked into multiple allegations of sexual harassment. It isn’t a leap to see this lack of respect for women manifest both onscreen and behind the camera.
The Flash continues to sit pretty on foundational, pre-series decisions to cast the West family with black actors. In the comics, Iris and Wally West are white and Joe West is a newer addition made for the CW show when it began in 2014. By putting Iris and Joe, and Latino Cisco Ramon in such integral roles, The Flash already begins at a solid baseline for racial inclusiveness.
Still, a couple things need to be addressed if showrunners ever want to evolve in this category. I’ve mentioned in my Season 2 review 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 entirely absent.
Secondly, central plots remain driven by white men. The list grows ever-more glaring, the longer it goes on: whether it was Reverse Flash from Season 1, Zoom from Season 2, or this season’s Savitar, all major nemesis are played by straight white men.
Lastly, Central City is populated by background extras, minor characters, and episode-centric metahumans who are overwhelmingly white. Unless the show can find a way to give its characters more meaningful relationships with characters of color—or better yet, show cultural influences in ways beyond just simple existence through numbers—then The Flash will never quite be as modern as it perhaps wants to be.
The show's writers are falling asleep in the snow with regards to LGBTQ inclusiveness. Previous gay characters of Captain Singh and Hartley Rathaway have all but disappeared from the show, and no new examples of queerness—even in short, episodic storylines—have come to replace them.
Singh’s sole, fleeting appearance in “Monster” (Season 3, Episode 3) and the residual effects of his character existing within the universe keeps this above a rock-bottom score. But considering its peers on the CW—a younger-skewing network carrying LGBTQ-friendly shows like Riverdale or Dynasty—The Flash is looking oddly dated.
Deduction for Disability: -1.00
One blind spot for The Flash, and in fact for comic book stories in general, is the flawed depictions of disabled characters. In Season 1, wheelchair usage portends an evil character and thus picks up a healthy deduction from that review. Season 2 manages to avoid such pitfalls, but this year, writers are back at it again. Specifically, when Savitar's identity is finally revealed, we see that he is yet again another villain with a physical disability. This time, it's facial disfigurement, and it’s revealed in just about the worst way possible—through lingering unmasking that is meant to elicit shock and horror from its viewers.
An excerpt from Ariel Henley, a writer who grew up with facial disfigurement, reveals how damaging this trope can be. She says for The New York Times,
“I have never seen someone who looked like me, playing anything but a villain in movies, or in an ad or on a billboard. I am invisible. That is, until I walk down the street. That is, until strangers stare just a little too long and rudely whisper, ‘look at her eyes.’”
The fact that The Flash encourages this exact, hurtful reaction is precisely the kind of irresponsible conditioning Mediaversity hopes to root out from mainstream television.
Mediaversity Grade: D 2.25/5
Season 3 of The Flash poses a low point in the series, and I’m not the only one to feel this way. User scores on Metacritic average out to a mediocre 5.9 out of 10, down from 7.4 just a season prior. The supporting characters are still lovable, and Barry Allen is still refreshingly free of the toxic masculinity inherent in so many other superheroes. But rooting for a show doesn’t mean it will always live up to its potential.