'The Flash' returns with the spectacle of Season One, but none of its daring

‘The Flash’ returns with the spectacle of Season One, but none of its daring

Season Four, Episode One — “The Flash Reborn”

The Flash © 2017 The CW Network. All rights reserved.

© 2017 The CW Network. All rights reserved.

By Jarrod Jones. Listen, I know it’s in the title, but did the premiere of The Flash really need The Flash? Take an episode off, Barry. Heck, after all you’ve done, take five.

Six months have passed since Barry Allen went willingly into the Speed Force to keep it from cracking the world in two. Having that amount of time pass in the show is important, because it establishes that Barry has been gone long enough for Team Flash to finally come around to the possibility that he isn’t coming back. It’s good for drama, it establishes change for the show, and oh, wait, Barry’s back and everything’s fine. New villain! New threads! Same old Flash.

That shouldn’t suggest that some things haven’t changed in the show’s fourth season. For one, Detective Joe West and Cecile Horton have moved in together, which means Det. Joe can finally smooch someone in front of Iris for a damn change. (Boy, this show is really weird when you start thinking about it.)

That’s right, Det. Joe has begun to move on with his life, though he’s still coping with his grief over the loss of his foster son. But really, Joe’s better than ever — in fact, his years trying to adorably wrap his head around time paradoxes and multiverses have molded him into a proactive cop. Precisely the kind Central City needs. He always arrives with the right weapon at hand, a swarm of officers behind him ready to roll the second any metahuman decides to use downtown as their own personal romper room. Joe’s gone from being a good dad to a great guy. (His secret? Faith.) It’s a subtle change, but it’s something.

If only that change were apparent elsewhere. There are the superficial changes, to be sure: Cisco has embraced his calling as Vibe, using his scientific acumen to master his superpowers even though he’s secretly hedging his bets on a plan to somehow locate Barry in the Speed Force. Then there’s Caitlin Snow, who’s left Team Flash for a lucrative career in bartending as she “finds herself.” (We’ve all been there.) Killer Frost still lurks inside her, though I’m still a bit fuzzy on how frosty-powers automatically turn one evil.

Wally West, who apparently stopped growing as a character after the first half of Season Three, has settled into his role as Kid Flash. (“I can do things,” he insists earlier in the episode.) Wally’s become as much a hero as Barry ever was, though he seems to enjoy hawking his own brand more than The Flash ever did. (“Team Kid Flash” is never catching on, Wallace. Sorry.)

Of course, there’s the noted absence of Julian Albert, who sauntered back to London once it became clear he was the odd man out in S.T.A.R. Labs. (While I enjoyed Tom Felton on the show, it was getting a bit crowded having him around.) Tracy Brand is gone too, having taken all the heartache she could handle in her few wild weeks as a member of Team Flash. (The death of H.R., the Harrison Wells of Earth-19, probably had something to do with Tracy leaving the show, since characters just aren’t worth a damn if they don’t have somebody to love, right? Wally better hope Jesse Quick pays him a visit.)

That leaves Iris West. She’s focused entirely on the safety of Central City at the expense of her own happiness; running Team Flash is her own personal coping mechanism. Iris would make a pretty great hero in her own right. Now, if only The Flash would let her be a character beyond Barry’s compromised fiancé. (Lest we forget, moodily dwelling over lost lovers is an official trope for these CW DC TV shows.)

Actually, there was an interesting wrinkle in Iris’s character this week. She refuses to believe that Barry will ever return. (She even begins the painful process of moving on by flipping over a framed photo of him.) Why? Clearly Barry isn’t going away, and once he’s back… what was that expression on her face at the end of the episode? Was it fear? Regret? Was her life, and the lives of everyone around her, better off without Barry? The show won’t likely explore this possibility, but it’s a fascinating bent to the otherwise painfully wholesome nature of Barry and Iris’s relationship.

For all these changes, what was most apparent in “The Flash Reborn” was how adamant the show has become about resetting the dichotomy of The Flash back to Season One. Never mind the half-dozen callbacks to the pilot episode (the awkward pee reference especially), this fourth season premiere busted ass to whittle The Flash down to the bare essentials before it was all over. It’s that sort of “cake and eat it” mentality that made Flashpoint such a disappointing anti-development last season. Think of this episode as The Flash Rebirth. I wish that felt novel at this point.

And, like Flashpoint, Barry’s sojourn to the Speed Force lasted the length of precisely one half of an episode. Sure, he wasn’t in his right mind, scribbling Jonathan Hickman-esque runes on every available surface he could find — I beat Cisco to that A Beautiful Mind joke by about ten minutes — but once Grant Gustin was back, literally flashing us with his wiry runner’s bod, it was only a matter of a couple commercial breaks before we had our earnest Scarlet Speedster restored, better than ever.

His suit’s a bit brighter. More lightning bolts and such. But there’s no real change for Barry Allen, not while The Flash continues to broom (Broome?) all the consequences of his hilariously drastic choices. Thawne-level stakes need to be reintroduced to this show. Hopefully with the ascension of The Thinker — a Flash villain who looks like he’s going to be doing a lot of sitting — The Flash can finally find its feet again, not to mention some of its smarts.

BEST LINE(s): 

Cisco: “Joe, go ahead and tell [Iris] how this went exactly as we planned.” Det. Joe: “I’m not doing that.

Det. Joe: (to Wally) “Son, I love you, but ain’t nobody feeling ‘Team Kid Flash’.” Cisco: “Its, like, too many syllables.

BEST MOMENT: Wally West is The Flash. It was a fleeting sequence, but seeing Keiynan Lonsdale in Barry’s old scarlet gear was precisely the legacy moment that The Flash really should lean into this season.

EPISODE’S MVP: Cisco Ramon. C’mon! Iris West may have kept Team Flash in line while Barry was gone, but leave it to Vibe to make sure the mood remained lively. Carlos Valdes remains the beating heart of The Flash.

The Flash © 2017 The CW Network. All rights reserved.

© 2017 The CW Network. All rights reserved.

FLASH FACTS: 

– Hey, it’s the seventieth episode of The Flash, and its sixtieth Tube Rocket recap. (Hey, I had to start doing bi-weekly recaps last year; this blogging/podcasting stuff is a lot of work!) If you’ve been reading all this time, thank you! It means the mint.

– Any time The Flash wants to drop a Superman reference on me, I’m all for it. This week, Cisco channels his inner Perry White and declares, “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” (Or maybe he was trying to warn us about last night’s episode of Legends of Tomorrow. You never know.)

– Don’t get me wrong; I loved Wally’s line after we discover he can speak Japanese: “I can do things.

– I also appreciated this episode’s subtle digs at our current administration: Cisco refers to himself and Wally as “bad hombres,” and Cisco is later spotted with a t-shirt that reads, “Don’t take me to your leader.”

– Big ups on The Flash for pulling off that homage to The Flash #181. That shot couldn’t have been easy.

– Amunet Black, aka Blacksmith, gets her first namedrop this season. (Katee Sackhoff has taken the role, and will likely appear in episode five.)

– Samuroids, on top of being truly ridiculous things, are in fact from DC canon, only they were created by some dude named Baron Katana back in The Flash #180. Such a weird things for The Thinker to use.

– Speaking of The Thinker, Clifford DeVoe — who’s going to be this season’s major-league baddie — first appeared in All-Flash #12 in 1943. Both The Thinker and Blacksmith were originally Wally West-Flash villains, so who knows? Maybe Wally will be back in those scarlet boots sooner rather than we think.

– What did you think, Flash fans? Did you miss Tom Cavanagh as much as I did? Is The Thinker really going to keep sending out those random samurai bots every week? Fire away in the comments below.

5 out of 10

Before: “Finish Line,” here.

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