Imagine if, every time you started running, you fell flat on your face. The Flash has no trouble running, but his show probably has a broken nose, a split lip, and a bit of road rash by this point. Is this when The Flash starts to run like its titular character? Let’s look back. Spoilers follow for The Flash Season 7, Episode 10, “Family Matters, Part 1.”
“Family Matters, Part 1”
One good way to figure out how ridiculous something is, is to just sit down and describe it in as plain terms as possible. Let’s figure out if the current Flash storyline is ridiculous. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry learned he’d accidentally poisoned the Speed Force with the Spectre’s power. The Speed Force died, leaving Barry like a speed battery without a recharger.
And so Team Flash had to create an artificial Speed Force. The first time the team made their own artificial cosmic force, it was too smart and not nice, so they broke it and made a new one. For that new one, it turns out that for the past six years, Iris West-Allen has been carrying around a Speed Force spark inside her that she got when she touched Barry’s finger while he was in a coma. That time she was a speedster for an episode probably factors in here, too.
Wait, who has powers?
And so Iris puts her power into the generator and because it comes from a place of love, it works but doesn’t make Barry into a thinky robot. As a side effect of creating an artificial Speed Force, they create/awaken three other forces–the Strength Force, Still Force, and Sage Force. For some reason, this artificially-created Speed Force has a continuous consciousness from when it was an organic force, and has decided to more or less permanently take the form of Nora Allen, Barry’s deceased mother.
While the Speed Force is inside Barry, it is also a separate, thinking thing. Meanwhile, the other Forces have inhabited some random people who had strong emotions, and these Forces have no separate form. The Speed Force, which was literally rebooted with the power of love, is fueled by hate and rage.
And so Barry has to fight the Speed Force, but he’s also fueled by the Speed Force.
And their kids are how old?
Meanwhile, Barry and Iris have decided that these adults who were cursed with cosmic powers are his children. Keep in mind that the actor who plays Psych/Bashir, Ennis Esmer, is 12 years older than actor Grant Gustin. If the Forces had taken corporeal form like Nora instead of inhabiting random people, it wouldn’t be so weird. But they did, and they do, and it’s weird. It’s weird listening to Barry and Iris call these strangers they just met their children.
Early on in the Flash‘s run, in Season 2, Episode 21, directed by Kevin Smith, the Speed Force had a voice for the first time. It was so cool. It was the comic bookiest thing that had ever happened on TV. We had a great-looking Deathstroke on Arrow, we’d just defeated Reverse-Flash. It was awesome. It was this abstract, hard-to-explain concept being given life on television.
Smash that Speed Force button
Since then, Flash has abused the abstractness of the Speed Force to do anything it wants, from taking Barry’s speed away at random, letting him talk to his dead mom again–it’s Flash‘s favorite deus ex machina. Don’t know how to solve something? Screw it, smash that Speed Force button to solve the problem.
Now, the show is having to reckon with how ridiculous all of this is. The Forces storyline hasn’t been fun at all. I’ve disliked huge portions of the season and struggled even with the moments I’ve enjoyed.
This week, Barry spends most of the episode bullying Alexa. I think the idea here is that he’s so focused on running forward that he doesn’t see how his determination is hurting this new person, this seems out of character even for Barry. He gets over it in time for the episode to happen, but there’s another problem.
You like these people now.
We’re supposed to care about Alexa, Bashir, and Still Force holder Deon. But instead of helping us care about them, we were informed through monologues about why each one deserves sympathy. This person is here, you should care about them now because we said so.
When I first finished this episode, I actually kind of liked it. Alexa gained control over her powers, she and Barry talked Bashir down; they were building Team Force to take on Nora. Alexa had this nice conversation with Caitlin about communicating with a power that lives inside you. As I get further away, though, it’s hard to ignore how it seems like the writers are putting Drama, capital D, ahead of story, and losing the thread in the process. You can only push drama so far without story to hold it up–we need to care about characters before we can care about the wringer the show puts them through.
And we haven’t even gotten to the “B” story, which has Joe West considering his role as a police officer in light of Kristen Kramer’s continued pursuit of being able to depower metahumans for whatever reason she sees fit. In the end, Joe puts down his badge and walks out of the precinct. This is moderately more interesting than the Forces storyline. At least the show is trying to put a superhero veil over its story about police overreach and use of excessive force. I don’t need that veneer–comics have dealt with social issues since their very origins–but it’s nice to have.
At the same time, I’m even struggling with this story. Kramer is designed to be easy to hate with every fiber of your being. There’s no attempt to make her charismatic–she’s just Lawful Evil, and a petty one at that. She doesn’t have a greater philosophical stance, she’s just out for revenge. A metahuman hurt her friends, so she’s going to hurt all metahumans she deems bad, and will manipulate the law to make sure that whatever she wants to do, she’s doing it by the book.
There’s some interesting stuff going on there, but I should be thinking things other than “I hope an airplane crashes through the building and kills specifically this character” at this point.
End in Sight
The next episode apparently puts a merciful end to this storyline. This is a bit of a backhanded compliment, but splitting up the seasons into two separate storylines was one of the smartest things the Flash writers ever did. It means that when they end up with a (well-intentioned) stinker, we only have to put up with it for half a season before we get to try something new.
I don’t expect next week’s mid-season finale to change my mind about this storyline, but at least it’ll be over.