After the doom and gloom of season three, The Flash’s humorous and fantastic fourth season is a welcome change in tone
The Show: The Flash
The Network: The CW
The Genre: Superhero
The Challenge: Give a show four episodes with which to draw you in, impress you, challenge you, make you feel something deeply. Four episodes for the chance to find out if you care what happens to the characters you’re watching enough to become invested in the story. If after all that, it does none of those things for you? Then no biggie. You gave it a good shot and you can move on. But if you love it, you’ll be glad you stuck around.
The Premise: The Flash follows the iconic DC Character of the same name as he battles metahumans, breachers, and more with the help of his friends at STAR Labs. Team Flash is primarily composed of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), his fiance Iris West (Candice Patton), and their friends Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdez), Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), various versions of Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) and Iris’s father, Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), and brother, Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale).
The Flash’s fourth season has been a welcome addition to the show – grounding it once again in the humor and fun audiences loved from the show’s first season. The third season largely did away with the lighthearted tone, focusing instead on ideas of death and inevitability. The major plot of season three centered around Iris, Barry’s fiance, and the evil Savitar’s plans to kill her. For much of the season, Iris’s death was presented as an inevitability – we watched time and time again as Savitar killed the fan favorite character through glimpses of the future. Things got even murkier when it was revealed that Savitar was a future version of Barry himself – calling into question ideas of learned evil and fate. It wasn’t bad television, but it was certainly heavy. Where season three made us think, season four makes us laugh, and it’s a perfect means of escape from the harshness of real life.
Where last year’s Flash was based in fear, this season’s default state is happiness
Every show has a basic foundation to which it returns after the action cools down. For instance, The Flash’s third season always returned to fear – when the team wasn’t dealing with an immediate situation (someone attacking the city, Savitar kidnapping a team member, ect.) the show’s basic focus was on one central question – how are we going to save Iris? This season is a welcome reprieve from that dreary premise. This year, the team returns to a state of happiness after the save of the week. Episodes open with Barry and company playing laser tag, and close with them celebrating a victory. The basic state to which season four always returns is happiness.
“You can take them. Just listen to me. You just need to do one thing – Run, Barry. Run!” – Cisco (playing laser tag)
The show itself is very aware of this change. It pokes fun at its own nature a few times throughout the season, most notably in the opener mentioned above. Barry, Cisco, and Caitlin are playing laser tag, but we don’t immediately know that. The show presents us with an image of Cisco, gun in hand, shouting for Barry. Briefly, we are transported back to the bleakness of the previous season. Cisco is in trouble, and we aren’t surprised. After all, it would be far from the first time one of our main characters was confronting mortal peril. However, we soon discover that Cisco is fine, and that he’s playing a game. We are seeing Team Flash in their off time, doing nothing more than enjoying life. This is the show’s way of screaming at us what has already become clear – this season is lighter, less serious, and, like a game, it’s fun.
Barry and Iris are the epitome of a healthy TV relationship that is simultaneously stable and interesting
The relationship between Barry Allen and Iris West, or ‘WestAllen’ as fans call it, adds a lot to the series. It’s always been an entertaining relationship, even in the first season when it wasn’t a relationship at all. In season four, however, the couple truly shines. Engagement tends to be a death sentence for televised couplings – they don’t call it “The Moonlighting Curse” for nothing. When two characters finally get together after seasons of pining, it often destroys their chemistry. This simply is not the case for WestAllen. If anything, the couple’s engagement has been more entertaining than their courtship, and it’s impossible to deny how fantastic these two are this season.
“After everything we’ve been through together, you and me, we’re Barry and Iris. We’re the Gold standard.” – Barry
The relationship works in a way most on TV do not – rather than trust issues or contrived drama, Barry and Iris deal with seemingly mundane and entirely realistic issues. Barry and Iris work in a way that seems almost effortless. The most notable example of this comes from the season’s second episode, when Barry and Iris head to couples therapy to sort out issues they’ve been having. The couple is secure in their relationship (they are nowhere near breaking up) but it’s so important to them that they take the time to work on and improve it, and it’s a really commendable bit of storytelling. In this episode, their relationship is the foundation of a larger plot, as Barry often speeds away to confront a corny villain straight from the comic book mold. But underneath the humor (and there’s plenty of it) is something incredibly real and wonderful to see. It’s a healthy, committed partnership in every aspect of the word.
This season’s villains are bad, yes, but in a very good way
The absolute highlight of this season has been the inventive and entertaining villains The Flash has faced. From the Elongated Man to Hazard, The Flash is excelling with its villains of the week in a way it never has before. Traditionally, The Flash nails it when it comes to the big bad. The season-long villain is always terrifying and compelling, but the weekly villains tend to fall short. Clearly, the show has recognized this shortcoming and taken steps to overcome it, treating audiences to incredibly entertaining storylines surrounding perfectly placed villains. Take this season’s third episode, “Luck Be a Lady,” for instance. The episode focuses on Becky Sharpe, a notoriously unlucky lady whose fortune changes when she boards the bus to metahumanville (aka, the bus full of people who Cisco sorta accidentally gave superpowers to.)
“I love this coffin, is that cedar?” – Iris
Becky Sharpe’s newfound power is the ability to steal other people’s luck. And as luck would have it, she encounters Team Flash on a particularly lucky day (Barry and Iris have just booked their dream wedding venue.) Her antics put our favorite crime fighting team into hilarious scenarios, including a moment in which The Flash literally slips on a tub of marbles. It should be dumb and cheesy (which it is) but it works because the show knows it’s dumb and cheesy and it embraces that. Hazard is a perfect example of a villain that works – not because she’s particularly menacing or dangerous, but because of what she brings to the plot. She doesn’t overtake it (there’s still time to deal with Joe’s relationship and Barry and Iris’s engagement) but she certainly compliments it (Joe’s house is falling apart and the WestAllen wedding venue burns to the ground.) It’s storytelling at it’s finest – the show isn’t overwhelmed with any one plot, but rather, all of the plots work with and build off of each other in a seamless way.
The Flash’s fourth season perfectly balances character-driven storytelling with fanciful plots, and we can’t get enough!
If there’s a better comic book show on air right now, we haven’t found it. Obviously, each DCTV series has it’s strengths and fulfills a different purpose, but The Flash is doing an incredible job of being everything we want in a superhero show. It combines characters and relationships we care about with entertaining villains and scenarios, all while teasing us with a compelling long term arc. To put it simply, The Flash is killing it. It’s hard to define exactly why we tune in, because there’s a multitude of reasons.
The writing this season is fantastic, and we have to give a shoutout to Jonathan Butler, Gabrielle Garza, Sam Chalsen, Judalina Neira, Sterling Gates, and everyone else who has contributed to the writing of this new lighthearted Flash. They really have a handle on the characters that Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisburg worked so hard to develop.
If anything, this season is almost too silly. The Elongated Man treaded dangerously close to ridiculous. Still, we will take silly over dreary any day of the week (and especially Tuesdays!) And we’ve gotta give it up to the CGI department in that episode – as silly as it was, they made those extended arms and legs look as realistic as something like that can.
We love Team Flash – we love seeing them interact, problem solve, and fight crime. Most importantly, we love seeing them happy, which is something all too rare on TV right now. The Flash gives us a means of escape from our dark world, where we can go watch our favorite heroes take down dramaticized and humorously exaggerated evildoers – what more could you want?