For someone who calls himself The Fastest Man Alive, the Flash has spent the last season and a half of his television life stuck in place. This week’s premiere of the The Flash‘s fourth season, titled “The Flash Reborn,” is a fresh chance for the character to reclaim the sense of style and fun that made him such a refreshing addition to The CW in the first place.
Beware spoilers for the first episode of The Flash season 4.
The end of season 3 had Barry Allen stepping into the Speed Force to keep it from destroying the city, leaving his friends and loved ones behind in the process. When season 4 picks up, six months have passed – these shows happen in something like real time. While Barry has been in the Speed Force, the remaining members of Team Flash have been working to keep the city safe while coping with the loss in varying levels of grief, denial, and anger. These moments gave the supporting cast, Iris and Joe especially, some room to grow, and actors Candice Patton and Jesse L. Martin both used the time well, making both characters feel real and believable in these moments.
But this show is called The Flash – not Kid Flash, or Vibe. Barry wasn’t going to be away for long. Cisco, using the magic of science, has a plan to trick the Speed Force and get Barry back. I’m sure that won’t come back around to bite Team Flash at all.
But the promise from the executive producers was a focus on positivity, of movement. Of leaving that pain behind.
After taking a moment to let those characters exist without Barry, what we ended up with was a bit like Star Wars: The Force Awakens in comparison to A New Hope. The same way the later movie mirrored the earlier one as a way of saying “hey, we get it” to fans, this premiere mirrored the first season’s pilot episode.
The episode was bright and colorful, and we found a Barry stuck in his own mind. He spoke in broken, non-sequitur phrases, but if you know what to look for, it was more than that.
“I’m not like you, Oliver.”
When Barry first acquired his powers, he went to Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, for advice about what to do. He told the vigilante, “I’m not like you.”
Now, though, this is Barry speaking to himself and the writers to us, the audience.
The Flash had descended into something that better matched the lyrics to a Metallica song than a superhero show. Even before Flash had “gone dark” so to speak, fans of the Arrowverse were already making fun of its lead show for being relentlessly dark in tone and plot. But Barry isn’t Oliver, and The Flash wasn’t supposed to be like Arrow.
And the writers seem to be acknowledging that, as does Barry himself.
He repeated something he’d said to the first season’s villain, Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne, too: I doubt restrait is how you got to be the man you are today.
Flash is unburdened by all that darkness. Once he’s actually running it’s impossible to miss. Barry is faster than ever, and the villain that Kid Flash couldn’t handle wasn’t even worth a whole episode for him. We were promised a more confident Flash, and this is it.
Even the villains, though, are a good sign, even if it’s a little too premature to say that for sure.
The villain for the premiere episode was a samurai warrior with a jetpack and super-powered swords – who turned out to also be an android. Samuroid, of course. That kind of villain is fun as heck and about as silly as Hamurai from Rick & Morty.
And that’s exactly what the Flash needs more of. My favorite villain, without question, is the Reverse Flash. Eobard Thawne is a deadly-serious villain, but he’s a goofy one. And as he proved in Legends of Tomorrow season 2, he can literally threaten existence itself and still be a blast to watch heroes tangle with.
But the lesson the writers took from that first season was “more evil speedsters,” instead of compelling, memorable villains. Sure, Zoom had a silly name, too, but he was literally a serial killer (but fast), and Savitar was just future Barry (but fast). Now we have The Thinker. His power? He thinks.
The episode wasn’t perfect, though.
With Flash out of commission, Kid Flash was the chief speedster, and it seemed like he was mostly there to show what a gaping hole Barry left behind. Of all the returning characters, Kid Flash/Wally West felt the most unnecessary, and the show is going to have to figure out how to differentiate him from this new Barry Allen.
I would love to have seen Barry spend some time in the Speed Force, maybe even trying to communicate with his friends from inside in some way. I wouldn’t have minded if Barry had stayed in there for a couple episodes as long as we got to see him in there.
I’m also not thrilled that Caitlin Snow’s storyline is starting out with more Secret Evil stuff, but that is going to lead to the entrance of Battlestar Galactica actress Katee Sackhoff and her character Amunet Black, so I’ll give it a pass and hope there are good things coming.
A lot of my nitpicks with the episode really come down to how bad the last season and its finale were. Our catharsis in Savitar’s defeat was snatched away with this sudden push to put Barry in the Speed Force, and pulling him out so quickly feels cheap. The team may have spent 6 months living without The Flash, but for us it’s the blink of an eye, and it feels like they didn’t really earn it so much as acknowledge it.
But still, this is a good start. The characters feel upbeat, and the villain is a zany one whose tricks we don’t yet know. Run Faster and Punch Harder aren’t in his toolkit.
All in all, this is a good start for The Flash season 4, and we can’t wait to see where the show goes.