The Flash -- "Armageddon, Part 1"" -- Image Number: FLA801a_0269r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Grant Gustin as The Flash and Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer/Atom -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

The first season of The Flash felt like a revelation. After years of Arrow tiptoeing around comic books, The Flash had its main character fighting Reverse-Flash and accessing the Speed Force. Since then, though, the show has struggled with how to keep its hero and villains interesting. This year, the showrunners are trying something different. The Flash Season 8 is beginning with a five-part storyline that will bring in other Arrowverse characters, beginning with The Atom. Spoilers follow for The Flash Season 8, Episode 1, “Armageddon, Part 1.”

“Armageddon, Part 1”

PART ONE OF THE ARMAGEDDON FIVE EPISODE EVENT — When a powerful alien threat arrives on Earth under mysterious circumstances, Barry (Grant Gustin), Iris (Candice Patton) and the rest of Team Flash are pushed to their limits in a desperate battle to save the world. But with time running out and the fate of humanity at stake, Flash and his companions will also need to enlist the help of some old friends if the forces of good are to prevail.

Brandon Routh has a rep for being an incredibly nice guy. That he’s appearing on The Flash right now only seems to confirm that. When Routh left Legends of Tomorrow, it seemed like it wasn’t his choice. And yet, Routh returns.

Surprise Guest

When we meet Barry again, he’s seriously leveled up. That’s the whole theme of this episode, and the characters make sure you won’t forget that because they say it constantly. Barry finally makes good on a Clickhole article from 2015 when he brings Iris pizza from Milan, and Caitlin comments that he can run at 4,000 miles per hour–faster than Mach 5. Everything is good in Flashtown. Right as date night starts, though, Ray Palmer shows up, taking the couple up on their promise that he could crash there any time.

This seems like a pretty rude move from one of the most polite guys in the Arrowverse–wouldn’t he call first?

The writers use Palmer’s appearance to look at what life is like for a Legend after they leave the Waverider–and to give him some closure. This I was actually really interested in. That show has a revolving door for most of its cast members, and until he left, Palmer was one of the longest-serving members of the crew. When you’ve been to World War I, the prehistoric era, the end of time, and a bunch of time periods in between, what is it like just… living in the present?

It’s tough, it turns out. The once-renowned inventor is running into some creative blocks and seems to be in a state of ennui as a result. He’s successful, but he doesn’t have the same kind of all-consuming mission he had before, and it has left him adrift. It’s interesting to see this normally-upbeat character, polite to a fault, struggling. Routh is an asset to any Arrowverse show he appears on, and I hope they continue to find ways to bring him back as long as he’s down for it.

Flawless Victory

While Barry, Ray, and Chester are busy with the convention, the Royal Flush Gang is at it again. The gang has appeared in a ton of DC animated shows and features in various forms, and in two different previous incarnations in the Arrowverse, once on Arrow and once previously on The Flash. Interestingly, The Flash seems to have forgotten all about this. However, this is a great opportunity to show off The Flash as victorious and powerful when we’re so used to him getting his ass kicked.

The scene where Barry fights the gang is one of the more fun Flash combat sequences in recent memory, in part because there is no combat. Flash is so fast at this point that fighting a group of four people is literally a stroll for him. With the villains frozen in a nanosecond of time, Flash casually reorganizes the battlefield, pointing their metahuman powers at each other. It’s a blast to see Barry/Grant Gustin having fun, and this scene is a fun use of the visual effects. We see the battlefield from Barry’s point of view instead of in real-time, and how effortless the work is for him against villains like this.

I want to see this Flash more often. As much fun as a serial story can be, I can’t help but think that the show could use occasional villains of the week to show us the many ways in which Flash is often the most powerful character in DC Comics.

Despero Appears

But then our true villain for this five-part miniseries, Despero, shows up. I’m a little torn on this character. I hate it when shows pick bombastic CGI villains but then find workarounds for them. Despero is a huge pink alien with a mohawk and a third eye, but he appears as a character model from an Assassin’s Creed game set in Scotland or something.

It’s cheaper, yes, but if you have to do that to make it work, why use the giant pink alien at all? There are so many powerful villains in DC.

What I do like is that Despero seems to be fighting Flash for what appear to be genuine reasons. He appears in our time from a thousand years in the future, where the Flash’s actions have apparently brought about the end of the world. If the writers can make that part work–convincing us that Despero really is a good guy–then the story here could be fun.

Level Up

Elsewhere, other characters have more personal struggles. Iris has expanded the Central City Citizen to have its own building now. The show has given her organization about 10 minutes of screentime over the last few seasons and last time we checked she had like two employees. But she Leveled Up.

Iris promotes Allegra to a leadership position at the organization, and the show, boringly, puts her through the whole storyline where her employees won’t listen to her and she has to find her authoritative leadership voice, like a thousand million other shows have done. She has to Level Up.

Everyone is Leveling Up. Everyone has Leveled Up.

I like seeing the showrunners take a new approach to the show–a five-parter is a neat way to spice things up. I hope they can make it as fun as it deserves to be.