The latest development in Barry and Patty’s relationship on The Flash was poorly executed. But it’s more than that.
It’s no secret that The Flash is male-dominated. When we look at the main cast from season 1, we had Barry Allen, Joe West, Iris West, Eddie Thawne, Cisco Ramon, Caitlin Snow and Harrison Wells. That’s more than twice as many male characters (five) as female (two). When we add in Martin Stein and Ronnie Raymond, the disparity becomes even greater. Even if we want to add Linda Park into that secondary category, we still have a huge gap between the two.
The series also rarely passed the Bechdel Test of two female characters speaking to each other about something other than a man (and that usually only happened when Felicity visited from Arrow.) Iris was kept in the dark about Barry’s identity by the three men she cared about most through the flawed logic of keeping her safe. (We wrote about Joe’s overprotective nature here.) When Iris was eventually brought in on the secret, she ripped her guys a new one and it seemd like the team (and by extension, the show writers) had learned their lesson.
Based on the way Arrow started bringing its female characters into the spotlight more and that Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg premiered Supergirl, which has been unapologetic about its feminism, that seemed to be the case. Have there been bumps? Definitely. But the improvements have been obvious.
Cue season 2 and the introduction of Patty Spivot. She was a goofy but smart and driven cop looking to catch her father’s murderer. She and Barry bonded almost immediately, and the two got pretty serious pretty quickly. She had both a romance and a story of her own. After Patty joined Joe’s anti-metahuman taskforce, it seemed only a matter of time until she joined Team Flash. She got the chance to face and eventually defeat her demons in the mid-season finale when she was tempted to kill Mark Mardon but arrested him instead. What could be a better opportunity for her to be let in on the secret?
Cue this week’s episode, “Potential Energy.” Barry worries about Patty being targeted and killed by Zoom, and Iris tells him he needs to bring Patty in on his secret. It’s what she wished he would have done for her, after all. And Barry agrees. Things are looking up. He tells his friends he’s going to tell her, and Cisco is all in favor of the idea. Again, positive sign.
But for some reason, it’s the words of Harrison Wells — words that don’t even hold up to logic (and our characters are scientists!) — that convince Barry to hold off from telling Patty he’s The Flash. Wells uses the antiquated comic book logic that telling someone a superhero’s secret identity will put them in danger. But time and time again we’ve seen that’s simply wrong; in fact, the opposite is true.
By keeping Patty in the dark, she is actually in more danger because it’s Barry’s feelings for her that put her in danger, not her knowledge of his identity. So, she may become a target whether or not she knows the truth. But if she knew the truth, she’d be more likely to keep her guard up and to know who to turn to for help if she ever is put in danger. Instead, her ignorance is more dangerous, as evidenced by the fact that the metahuman of the week kidnaps her because The Flash cares for her.
And this is not the first time Patty’s been a damsel in distress — which is frustrating in and of itself!
This “protect her by keeping her in the dark” trope is a tired one that doesn’t even make sense. It seemed like the writers had figured this out with fans’ frustration of keeping Iris in the dark for so long in season 1 — frustration that Iris herself voiced once she learned the truth.
Yet the writers felt the need to retread the same ground with Patty. That is frustrating enough as a viewer. But it got more frustrating when she breaks up with Barry and leaves town instead of getting the chance to join Team Flash. And can we blame her for being done with everything she’d been put through? She deserves better.
So, the cost of this secret was a character that brought a lot to the show. Barry truly cared for her, and she would have been a valuable asset to the team. She could have provided another female voice in a room that added yet another male presence in Jay Garrick this season. (Don’t get me wrong; Jay is great. But the male to female ratio is getting ridiculous. If we include Wally West, the disparity is even worse.) Instead, she was unceremoniously written off.
And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this even this season. Linda is brought in on The Flash’s secret when her Earth-2 counterpart attacks and she intends to join Team Flash, only to be written off as hiding in another city after Zoom attacks her. She hasn’t been mentioned since.
Patty’s story was poorly handled, but it feels more like a symptom of a larger problem with The Flash than an issue of its own. Despite the small strides this creative team has made with their female characters, it seems the aforementioned lessons that have surfaced in the other shows have not made their way to The Flash yet. And that’s disappointing.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. ET on The CW.