The Flash s7 e1
The Flash: speedless! Iris West: still trapped in the Mirrorverse! Eva McCulloch: still bad! Without his usual backers Cisco and Caitlin around to help save the day, can Barry recover his speed, his wife, and save the city with Nash Wells, Chester, and Allegra?
Seven seasons in, and it’s okay to admit that The Flash will likely never reach the heights it did in its first year. Season one trapped lightning in a bottle, and gave viewers what was, at the time, easily the purest comic book experience on the small screen imaginable. The plots were loving homages to the source material, and unlike its darker-leaning predecessor Arrow, Flash absolutely reveled in being what it was: a comic book show. And it did it with a smile on its face and a gleam in its eye. Subsequent seasons had their ups and downs, able to be picked apart with a cynical eye but generally still entertaining, until last year, full-stop, the show might as well have changed its name to The Mope and new showrunner Eric Wallace seemed to find every excuse conceivable (and inconceivable) to keep Barry Allen from suiting up in the ol’ scarlet-and-yellow. It was almost as though The Flash became embarrassed of what it was – but weirdly, it simultaneously leaned even heavier into bad comic book melodrama and one-dimensional supervillains at the same time. In trying to have it both ways, Flash season six was a withering experience, bipolar in its execution and an utter slog to endure.
When the pandemic hit, of course, production had to come to a halt. So “All’s Wells that Ends Wells” was actually intended to be the twentieth episode of season six, not the season seven premier – and it shows. Season six ended not only with an anticlimax, but with zero resolution to the season’s running (pardon the wordplay) themes and subplots. Iris was still lost in the Mirrorverse; the Speed Force was still basically dead, leaving Barry bereft (mostly) of his powers. And instead of being defeated, big bad Eva McCulloch (ne Mirror Master, played by a very dour Efrat Dor) escaped to twirl her metaphorical mustache another day.
And to be sure, “All’s Wells That Ends Wells” certainly plays like a continuation of last season, rather than the beginning of a new storyline. While that’s very understandable to a degree given the pandemic circumstances, it also means that, much like Walking Dead at its most shambolic and lethargic, whole stories are now being dragged out over more than one season rather than coming to a closed arc before moving on to the next thing, creating an excruciatingly slow narrative. Done properly, there’s nothing wrong with that – hell, peak TV shows like Game of Thrones are practically built on that. But those dramas are constructed differently and have vastly more subplots and characters to play with. The Flash, even at its best, is about a guy who runs fast in red rights and punches bank robbers in the head. And as I said above, it’s at its best when it knows exactly what it is and leans into it in the best ways possible, unafraid and unashamed.
But, seven seasons in, it’s showing definite signs of being long in the tooth. There is absolutely nothing new being said or explored about any of our cast; Danielle Panabaker’s Caitlin Snow has been conspicuously MIA in the latter half of the previous season (with good reason, she was pregnant, but her presence is very much missed); Carlos Valdez’ Cisco Ramon is also completely absent, written out as “exploring the new multiverse” post-Crisis. With those two removed, and Iris spirited away to the Mirrorverse, that means Barry’s emotional tether is relegated to father-figure Joe (Jesse L. Martin), and to a lesser extent, Joe’s wife Cecile (Danielle Nicolet). You’d be hard-pressed to know that, though – Barry’s one scene with Joe is an emotionless exposition dump about how Mirror Master is running amok being a ne’er-do-well. No, instead, episode writers Sam Chalsten and Lauren Certo choose to hang the emotional weight on Chester (Brandon McKnight) and Allegra (Kayla Compton), who are awkwardly forced into the roles of being Barry’s new BFFs in lieu of Cisco and Caitlin. Neither character was developed enough last season (particularly Chester, who appeared in, what, two or three episodes last year?) to merit the level of trust Barry is putting in them at this point. We’re expected to just roll with it, but the writers don’t give us any reason to. We’re expected to believe their relationships because the writers tell us we should, not because any of their emotional beats are actually earned. As it is, Allegra was mostly just obnoxious last year, and Chester is more or less a nerdy Cisco lite without the cool powers and cooler hair.
And then there’s the ongoing Wells problem, which inadvertently leads to the episode’s most cringeworthy subplot. Veteran viewers know that every season of Flash features a different multiversal version of Harrison Wells for Tom Cavanagh to flit around as. Sometimes we get the innocuous-but-nowhere-near-as-clever-as-the-writers-think-he-is H.R., other times we get the painfully obnoxious Sherloque. However, post-Crisis, aspects of all the various Wells reside in Nash’s psyche – manifesting as visions only he can see, and giving Cavanagh ample time to mug for the camera in his different roles. Some of the most painful scenes last year involved Cavanagh endlessly chewing scenery in what was supposed to be funny, but was anything other than, as these alternate Wellses. Here, he gets the chance to do it one last time (no spoilers, but it makes quasi-sense once you’ve seen the episode), but not before – through the most comic booky of comic book pseudo-science – the various Wells personas wind up lodged in Barry’s brain, and poor Grant Gustin is left for far, far too long to do bad impersonations of Tom Cavanagh doing bad impersonations of various Harrison Wellses. The “joke” goes on for an excruciating length of timeg, never once eliciting a laugh, dragging on and on and on… until it hits you: this is what The Flash has come to. Instead of having anything interesting or new to say about Barry Allen, Grant Gustin is reduced to being the unfunny comic relief. It’s all over his face, too: you can tell he hates every second of what he’s being directed to do. It’s a sad state of affairs for a show that used to be the crown jewel of The CW’s Arrowverse.
There’s a whole bit leftover from last season of the Speed Force being no more, and Barry having only a very tiny bit of speed left. To that end, the episode opens with Chester releasing Barry from cryogenic deep freeze which, in a clumsy bit of exposition, is revealed to be the only thing that will preserve the last 1% of speed remaining in Barry’s body. That’s… very silly, not to mention far-fetched. Iris is missing the Barry decides it’s okay to just (sorry) chill? It’s completely ludicrous, but accidentally works as a good visual for where this show is now: not making a lick of sense, but stumbling along anyway, frozen and incoherent, hoping to gain some traction again but coming up short with each attempt. Next week promises the return of Cisco and Killer Frost; given how prominently they’re featured in the promotional materials for the season, I certainly hope they’re here to stay. Removing the two key supporting characters from The Flash (and relegating Joe to a barely-there occasional role and separating Iris from Barry for as long as they have) has, in effect, removed the heart from a series that could desperately use a reminder as to why fans fell in love with it in the first place.
The Flash is in a creative tailspin, limping along toward the eventual conclusion to last season's banal storyline. But with such lethargic and uninspired storytelling, will there be anyone left watching even if it does find its inspiration again?
The Flash S07 Ep01: "All's Wells That Ends Wells"
Writing - 3/103/10
Storyline - 4/104/10
Acting - 4.5/104.5/10
Music - 7/107/10
Production - 6/106/10
User Review( votes)