SPOILER ALERT: The following article contains spoilers for both seasons of CW’s The Flash. Read at your own peril.
“Guys, I can’t feel my legs” is normally what the person who’s just been rescued says to the Superhero and his sidekick, not what the Superhero says to his friends. Then again, Zoom has just dragged him around the city like a rag doll, showing us why no one in Central City is safe from him. Welcome to The Flash, a show that, despite its hero being able to run fast enough to be his own Large Hadron Collider, stays firmly rooted with a sense of all that is human.
The plot is simple. A mad scientist, Eobard Throne, posing as the actually quite dead Harrison Wells, deliberately blows up his own particle accelerator, creating an accident which turns a bunch of people, including one Barry Allen, into meta-humans, or, more simply, humans with powers. Some such as Barry, who becomes the Flash, and Cisco Ramone, who is known as Vibe, use their powers for good. Most though seem to use their powers for personal gain or just to be plain nasty.
This is not just another superhero show however but a brilliant discourse on what makes a person human. What grounds the show is the attention paid to their feelings, desires and motivations. Barry, for all his apparent selflessness in wanting to help others, is driven by a desire to prove his father’s innocence. The elder Allen has spent fifteen years in prison for a murder he did not commit; that of Barry’s mother. Family lies at the heart of this show, with Barry finding that his friends, particularly Iris and Joe West, are always there to help. First, through the loss of his parents, then, as he gains his powers, he gains new friends, Cisco Ramone and Caitlin Snow, as well as Harrison Wells.
Harrison Wells, really Eobard Thorne, the Reverse Flash who needs Barry to return to his own time, is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Proffering friendship, he gave the first season of The Flash a compelling dark side that was the mirror to Barry’s earnest desire to help people. Barry is also humble where his powers are concerned and ultimately this humility to the narrative shines through when Thorne is brought down by his own arrogance. While he defeats the Flash, his contempt for Eddie, his own ancestor, rebounds when Eddie shoots himself so that Thorne will never have existed.
That humility and the notion that no one man can take on the evil of the world, however fast he might be, is reinforced when Barry encounters Zoom. Zoom is more than just the reverse of the Flash. He is a virtual embodiment of the darkest recesses of the human psyche. Creepily, Zoom’s malevolence has caused him to no longer be human; his suit seemingly a part of his skin, such is the way it breathes.
His entry into the show, and that of the alternate Earth from which he comes, are part of a more philosophical and metaphysical bend to the show, as it explores what it is that makes us what we are. The Flash on this alternate Earth was not Barry Allen, but Jay Garrick, whose costume makes for a nice homage. Harrison Wells too has reappeared, to the discomfort of many.
Not that this is a show that takes itself too seriously. CW, the network behind the show, have been quick to realise that for all its serious themes, The Flash can still benefit from the inclusion of characters like Gorilla Grodd and King Shark (literally half man, half shark) whose nature and appearance can help to provide a certain relief to the darker aspects of the show such as Zoom’s rampage around Central City.
In this way the show has both won itself plaudits from existing fans, and attracted new fans to The Flash franchise. Such has been the success of that effort, and the CW network behind it, that many feel Grant Gustin, who plays the Flash, deserves to portray the character on the big screen as he does its smaller counterpart, rather than DC’s official choice, Ezra Miller.
Miller, who may have a small role in this year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad films before receiving his own film in 2018 knows that, however different his iteration of the Flash will appear, he will still be judged by the standard Gustin and the cast of the television show have set.
By Gareth Wood