I’ve been eagerly looking forward to The Flash TV show since Barry Allen’s backdoor pilot episodes in Arrow’s Season 2, and this week’s pilot delivered both a solid narrative and some unexpected gems.
Spoilers for the episode under the cut.
The episode starts out by getting the backstory out of the way right away. When Barry was a kid, his mom was killed in a freak lightning incident—inside his living room. Since Barry was the only one who saw it happen, no one believed him and his dad went to jail for Nora’s murder. Barry was taken in by his best friend Iris’s dad, Detective Joe West, and he grew up to be a chronically-running-late crime scene investigator. Ironic for a guy who’ll never be late again after this episode. In the here and now, he’s still dogged by the spectre of his mother’s death, but is also a huge nerd: the night our story opens, he and Iris are off to watch science happen at the local StarLabs facility. A trailblazing local scientist, Dr. Harrison Wells, is about to turn on a particle accelerator, and Barry’s pumped because the ensuing scientific discovery could change the face of physics as we know it. Unfortunately, because this is a superhero origin story, of course the particle accelerator critically breaks down and spews mysterious particles into the atmosphere, and of course those particles go into a lightning bolt that happens to strike one Barry Allen. So much for science.
Anyway, the strike puts him in a coma for nine months, and he wakes up in StarLabs with a six-pack, superspeed, and a healing factor. He meets the three-person remainder of the StarLabs team (the facility was devastated and their funding was slashed after the disaster) and they assure him that he was the only one affected by the blast. They do a bunch of tests to determine the extent of his abilities, and he goes off excitedly to spill the beans to Iris. However, they’re attacked by a fugitive while they’re walking—a fugitive who looks exactly like a guy who was presumed dead after the StarLabs explosion. He’s been robbing banks and the robberies have been weirdly in conjunction with freak storms. When Barry confronts him, he realizes that Dr. Wells couldn’t have been truthful with him earlier: the bad guy he’s facing off with can clearly manipulate the weather. When Detective West arrives on the scene, Barry tries to tell him what really just happened, but West screams him down, telling him that he needs to let go of his childish fantasies and accept hard cold fact.
Needing to get away, he runs—six hundred miles, in fact, out to Starling City, where we get a rooftop cameo of Oliver Queen. Oliver encourages Barry to take up a protective role for Central, and to be the guardian angel that the Arrow, with his sordid past, could not be to his own town. Taking heart in this, Barry heads home, and just in time. The weather-manipulating baddie has decided it’s time for the final showdown, and whips up a huge tornado outside of Central City. Assisted by a heat and friction-resistant suit that StarLabs had designed for firefighters, Barry uses his speed to run circles against the direction of the tornado’s wind, eventually spinning it back into dust. The baddie is taken out, and Detective West, who saw the whole thing, apologizes to Barry for not believing him before this.
In the final big scene, Barry visits his father in prison. Now that he’s got proof of metahuman ability, he’s even more certain of his father’s innocence, and they share a phone call to that end.
But wait—there’s more! In the last few seconds, we cut back to Dr. Wells entering a super-secure room, and then, gasp, standing up from his wheelchair. He strides over to a podium and pulls up some sort of futuristic newsreel dated 2024 with the headline FLASH VANISHES—MISSING IN CRISIS. Curiouser and curiouser.
So what did I think? I felt like this was a really strong start for the show. While it was certainly pilot-y in that it sometimes infodumped and introduced a lot of characters and information, the conflict was exciting and the final showdown was pretty ambitious for a first episode. The writing and universe-building in the franchise as a whole has improved by quantum leaps since Arrow’s pilot, and it’s a breath of fresh air. I found that the explanations for why we should suspend our disbelief about certain things—why StarLabs had a super-suit on hand, etc.—were easier to accept when the characters and their actions felt natural.
While this is yet another show centering around a white hero, I was excited to see how diverse the supporting cast is so far. I somehow missed—how did I miss it???—that Jesse L. Martin of Law & Order and RENT fame was cast as Iris’s dad! He’s great so far, and I’m really glad to have him in on the super-identity from the start. Iris didn’t get a lot of play in this episode beyond “friend Barry crushes on who’s dating someone else” but I look forward to seeing her role develop in the future. We know that she’s a grad student working on her dissertation pre-Barry’s coma; has she graduated since then, or is she still studying? We see her still waitressing post-coma – will we learn that she’s abandoned her studies or taken a leave of absence to deal with her family trauma? What does she do when she’s not letting herself be dragged to science events by Barry? Also, the someone else she’s dating is a white cop, and it’s pretty strongly implied by comics canon and screenwriting convention that Barry and Iris will end up together, so the show appears to be giving no fucks about showing interracial couples front and center. (Your move, Sleepy Hollow. #Ichabbie5ever) Caitlin’s excitable science bro Cisco is Latino, and the the chief of police is also a man of color, played by Patrick Sabongui, although I don’t know how much of a role he’ll play in future episodes.
As far as sexism is concerned, the biggest issue to me is the death of Barry’s mother as a jumping off point for his character motivation. However, given the introduction of a clear time-travel element thanks to that post-credits tidbit, I’m hoping that perhaps her death will not be a permanent thing. One small exchange that I really did like was a conversation between Barry and Caitlin, one of the three scientists. He mentions to her that she doesn’t smile enough. While Barry is obviously a nice guy and doesn’t mean to offend, this is a sexist comment, and Caitlin treats it as such. She informs him matter-of-factly that the tragedy at StarLabs has lost her her fiancée and her career—she doesn’t really have a reason to smile and “Barry thinks she looks sad” isn’t good enough.
The one thing I am worried about most representation-wise (besides the lack of any queer characters so far) is the disabled-but-not-actually-disabled Harrison Wells. While it’s certainly true that some wheelchair users don’t need to use their chairs all the time, Caitlin’s comments and his clear insistence on secrecy before rising from it imply that he wants to appear fully dependent on the chair to anyone who sees him. Clearly he wants people to assume that, as a wheelchair user, he is less of a threat than an abled person. This plays into stereotypes of physically disabled people as weak, helpless, and pitiable, and while it does, on the one hand, expose people’s ableist assumptions, it also takes what could have been great representation and turns it into potentially villainous chicanery.
All in all, I think this was a strong start to a show that’s going to be a lot of fun. It set up plenty of opportunities for conflict and character growth from here on out, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.