The Flash‘s third season has been an extended exercise in darkness and misery for the main characters. What happened to the fun that made the show work so well?
Since its first season, Arrow has been a dark (in both tone and color palette), gritty show. It was clearly paying homage to Batman Begins via Oliver Queen. Season 1 tried to set the series apart from its comic book roots in a sense, but with the success of the series, season 2 introduced Barry Allen and started to embrace those same roots.
While Arrow continued on its dark path through the introduction of Ra’s al Ghul in season 3, The Flash‘s freshman season was its sister series’ polar opposite. It was both literally bright, as much of the show was filmed during the day, and it was figuratively light with the adorkable Barry Allen working alongside a ragtag team of scientists.
Obviously, The Flash had its moments of darkness. Barry’s mother was murdered when he was young, and his father was framed for the crime. The main villain of season 1, the Reverse Flash, was Nora Allen’s murderer, and he took over the body and life of an innocent man, Harrison Wells, to mold Barry into a hero. Caitlin Snow’s fiance was supposedly killed during the explosion of the particle accelerator. And so on.
Yet, through these serious underpinnings, The Flash embraced its comic book roots. It played with science mumbo jumbo to make crazy things plausible. (Hello, Gorilla Grodd. Hello, time travel.) Rogues like Leonard Snart chewed up every ounce of scenery they could find.
And, perhaps most importantly, Barry loved being The Flash. He took joy in being a speedster. Saving other people fulfilled him.
All those things combined made the show, to put it simply, fun.
That fun also made the hard-hitting moments, like Eddie sacrificing himself to stop Eobard Thawne in the season 1 finale, all the more powerful.
Season 2 took a bit of a darker turn with the introduction of Zoom, but there was still light breaking through the darkness. There was an entire episode about King Shark, after all. The introduction of the multiverse meant endless possibilities for the show to play with, including our favorite characters’ doppelgangers on Earth-2 (and Earth-3, it turns out).
And don’t forget Barry visiting Supergirl for a delightful crossover, though that happened on a different network.
But that lightness, that fun that made The Flash the highest rated show on The CW, has been missing in season 3. The season introduced yet another evil speedster for Barry to face. And the season has been intent on punishing Barry at every opportunity for his selfish decision to go back in time to save his mother’s life.
Obviously, Barry should face consequences for his actions. Creating Flashpoint changed everyone’s lives, mostly in negative ways. Caitlin gained powers that are changing her entire personality. Cisco’s brother died. For a time, Iris and Joe weren’t getting along.
After a while, though, it gets to be a bit much. Outside of a few episodes, like the Gorilla City two-parter (which had its own moments of darkness as Barry considered taking an Oliver Queen-esque path of killing his enemy) and the upcoming musical crossover with Supergirl, The Flash season 3 has been quite dark.
And worst of all, Barry feels like he no longer likes being The Flash. It’s something he has to do more than wants to do.
And with the treat of Iris’ death hanging over the back half of the season, it has felt like a slog at times to get through episodes.
We get it: Barry messed up. Savitar is evil. Everything is awful.
But everything shouldn’t be awful on The Flash. Things can be serious and even dark at times, but The Flash should be a light in the darkness. Let Arrow be the dark and gritty Nolanverse homage. Barry is a character who should spend more time quipping and being adorable than brooding and being teary-eyed.
Legends of Tomorrow has improved leaps and bounds in its second season because it embraced its silliness. Legends has become the most fun of the CW superhero shows by leaning into its inherent goofiness rather than shying away from it. The Flash has increasingly done the latter, and its enjoyment factor has decreased as a result.
Don’t get me wrong, I love The Flash. It will take a lot more than some darkness to get me to leave behind the characters I love. But I hope that in its fourth season, The Flash takes a lesson from Arrow — though maybe not the one you’re thinking.
Arrow‘s fifth season has gone back to the show’s roots in a lot of ways, and the season has been quite good as a result. If The Flash goes back to its roots, if it goes back to Barry being a joyful hero, it should get its groove back.
Instead of “Run, Barry, run,” I’m calling for “Smile, Barry, smile.”