The Flash (2014): Season 3
It is rare for a corporate feud to persist for over half a century but that is precisely the case with the two most popular comic book publishers, DC and Marvel. While Marvel has been trouncing DC at the cineplex box office, DC has built a strong franchise on broadcast television. It started with a hero generally considered by fans as second tier, The Green Arrow, after stripping away most of the campy aspects inherent in the comic book the CW turned this archer extraordinaire into a darkly brooding vigilante out to save his city at any cost. Shortly after establishing this fictional universe they expanded the franchise with one of DC’s most popular character, ‘The Flash. During the first two seasons much of the tongue in cheek humor and judicial use of comic relief the Scarlet Speedster instantly became a hit with the fans, this success was solidified by maintaining a close relationship fostered by seasonal crossover events. During the third season, under consideration here, took a decidedly dark turn in the general atmosphere that resulted in mixed feelings among the fans. Holding to the standard super hero TV series format each season featured a specific dominant antagonist, the ‘Big Bad’. Over the course of the first two seasons that villain has inevitably an evil doer with super speed. Under normal circumstances this is a recipe for unwanted repetition avoided only by smart writing and incredible chemistry between the members of this talented ensemble cast.in this third season the central source of menace endangering everyone in Team Flash.
‘The Flash’ had served as an ideal counterpoint for the somber and sinister preloving tone of ‘Arrow’ with a decidedly lighthearted approach. this season Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) spirals into the angst-ridden obsession generally associated with his friend Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell). The source of this significant change in world view was a direct result of yet another speedster in town, Avatar(Tobin Bell). While some may feel the change in tone of the series was unnecessary or a misstep but personally I found the darker turn a natural, arguably required step in the development of the character. The key to understanding the necessity of this twist can be found in the scholarly works of Joseph Campbell, his pivotal work, ‘The Power of Myth’. It is an in-depth examination of a cultural standard found in the mythology and legends of every human culture or society, the hero’s journey. There are certain stages, rites of passage, that are consistent regardless of source. One is the perspective hero must find a mentor, an older person capable of bestowing wisdom on the candidate. In Barry’s case that crucial role is filled by The Flash from the Earth in an alternate dimension, Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp). In an interesting twist Barry also serves that function for Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale), better known by his nom du voyage, Kid Flash. Their unified effort helps Barry deal with the black clad ‘god of the speed force’, Avatar.
Consistent with experiencing and survival of that arduous journey Team Flash initially must deal with a villain on the undercard, The Alchemist. He is able to convey meta abilities to people that exhibited them in an alternate tome line Barry inadvertently created when he traveled to the past in an attempt to prevent the murder of his mother. That timeline, referred to as ‘Flashpoint’ infused the lives of Barry’s friends, family and co-workers with alternate lives. The range of severity runs the gamut from having powers, for example Wally as Kid Flash, to killing or wiping from existence family members. That was Barry’s best friend and the engineering genius for the team, Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes). In Flashpoint, his brother was dead, something Cisco could not forgive. Tracking down the Alchemist afforded the writers the opportunity to examine the emotional story arcs for the principle characters as well as introducing several new faces. Prominent among the additions is Julian Albert (Tom Felton). He is a forensic scientist specializing in the identification and classification of meta humans. He is also nominally Barry’s immediate supervisor and a direct remnant of Flashpoint. In a touch of irony, a crucial plot device is the Philosopher Stone, an artifact that enables them to connect with the Alchemist. Mr. Felton’s first major movie was ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone’ as the detestable Draco Malfoy. In England the film used the original title of the book, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Although initially adversarial to Barry he becomes a member of Team Flash and tries to start a romantic relationship of Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker).
This season was heavily driven by emotional plot devices and relationships. When Barry accidentally travels several months into the future he witnesses Avatar callously murder his love interest, Iris West (Candice Patton). The latter portion of the season has Barry and the team desperately trying to discover a way to save the woman he loves and defeat a far superior foe. At the center of this is Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin). After the death of his mother and subsequent unjust incarceration of his father, Joe took Barry in, this had the possibility for awkward situations. Barry grew up with Iris basically his sister. The family dynamic was altered when Wally joined the family. This situation was artfully handled over the course of the previous two seasons. One of the major aspects contributing to the success of the entire Arrowvese is the careful planning and attention to detail that is given to every element of production. It is amazing when a television series can generate a synergy through the juxtaposition of action, fantasy and character driven storylines. When the source material happens to be a comic book the odds of success rapidly dwindle. The fact that the showrunners at the CW could accomplish this for four series and coordinated it seamlessly is remarkable. They could generate a multi-faceted universe similar in application albeit smaller in scope than Marvel juggernaut, the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Arguably, the most difficult requisite in maintaining such an expansive project is in how well the individual pieces fit together. Now that the CW’s Arrowvese now includes Supergirl the annual crossover event was logistically easier. This year the combined story begins with an episode of The Flash. A meteor crashes near Central City that turns out to be an invasion of extraterrestrials intending to subjugate humanity. Barry first turns to his team at S.T.A.R. Labs but it is obvious, if the Earth is to be defended the fastest man will need a lot of very special help. That provides the plot device necessary to bring in Team Arrow and the time traveling Legends of Tomorrow. Many members of that team started off as villains, now reformed. A couple of the Legends begin as adversaries of the Flash. During this crossover Barry retained the necessary optimism to hold the ‘super friends’ together. This included his friend from another Earth in the multiverse, Supergirl (Melissa Benoist). Ms. Benoist and Mr. Gustin has practice working together, both were featured in the Fox musical series, ‘Glee’. As such both are exceptionally gifted in song and dance. As it turns out many actors in the Arrowvese are seasoned musical performers making it possible to give the audience a break from the emotionally intense themes. Special one-off crossover episode, ‘Duet’ has Barry and Kara kidnapped by The Music Meister, portrayed by another alumnus of ‘Glee’, Darren Criss. Many of the regulars across the four series have considerable musical experience on the stage, most notably Mr. Martin who stared in both the Broadway production and film version of ‘Rent’. The motives of The Music Meister weren’t malicious making for a light hearted and extremely entertaining episode. Overall this is a varied and exceptionally entertaining season to a still promising series.