“Into the Speed Force.” The Flash, Season 3, Episode 16. Directed by Gregory Smith. Written by Brooke Roberts and Judalina Neira.
“Moonshot.” Legends of Tomorrow, Season 2, Episode 14. Directed by Kevin Mock. Written by Grainne Godfree.
With Supergirl replaced with Howie Mandel so that the Music Meister two-parter can happen next week, this is a rare occurrence where, instead of having one key phrase per show, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow share the same key phrases: “Aromantic,” and “Orphaned.”
I think Season 3 of The Flash reveals a problem that has persisted since Episode 1 of the entire series: the show does not know what to do with Barry (Grant Gustin) and Iris (Candice Patton). The show wanted this relationship to be pivotal. It was their relationship that revealed another timeline. It was their relationship that revealed how the future was changed by Flashpoint. It was their relationship that could show whether the future can be changed to stop Savitar. So much weight has been placed on Barry and Iris, like some cosmic barometer of stability–and the relationship is so empty, so undeveloped, so dependent on soulmate nonsense that it can’t bear the weight of this universe. If Barry and Iris were introduced in Episode 1 as a couple, I could believe it more just by seeing their interactions. When the relationship starts and stops in spurts and can’t give content for Gustin and Patton to use to develop chemistry, it’s an empty practice.
And that is how we are stuck at this moment with the couple breaking up.
One of the frustrations I have with superhero stories is the reticence to let their characters have romantic or sexual relationships that persist or end by realistic means rather than, as tends to be the case, tenuous reasons. You don’t want Peter Parker married? Then have the devil annul his marriage. You don’t want Kyle Rayner in this particular relationship? Dismember his girlfriend and shove the remains into the fridge. This is not like Steve Rogers becoming the Lenore to Peggy Carter’s Edgar Allan Poe: there is no depth, there is no feeling, there is just a refusal to let your characters grow up. Sure, there are exceptions, like Ralph and Sue Dibny–before DC had Dr. Light kill her and had Ralph die later.
And sure, superhero stories can have out-of-this-world reasons to break up relationships, as they are focused on out-of-this-world circumstances, time traveling keeping the persons away from too long being one example. And the reason something like that works, despite how unrealistic are the circumstances, is because of how the characters respond realistically. All I want is a romance between superheroes that shows the struggles of that kind of life and how superpowers affect that life. I want a Fantastic Four. I want the Incredibles. I want something where the spectrum of superpowers and sex is not on the range of awful fanservice bait to Kevin Smith characters debating Kryptonian sperm to breaking up a married couple so that the young guy can play the field.
So when Barry says that Iris’s eminent demise means they should take time off, I don’t find that realistic: I see that as a way for the writers to avoid putting together the couple that they, poorly, set up as step-siblings, positioning Iris as someone to be kept ignorant of what is happening around her, and Barry as the creepy guy looking longingly at the woman to whom he is attracted. You find out this person, who has been in your life for so long, may die–and rather than appreciate every minute with her, with awareness that you cannot control fate nor her, you say you will walk away from that relationship, temporarily. That doesn’t make sense. You see the future, and rather than take an existentialist approach, you choose nihilism. I thought Barry was the bringer of hope, a superhero–and if this is a temporary setback for him to earn my sympathy or to make him flawed it’s not working.
Barry had “The Runaway Dinosaur” to move forward, and the show does not present Barry’s struggles with trauma as an everyday process: the writers present it as one problem after another, and each time Barry responds the same way–running away. I get it, he’s a speedster, he runs–that’s the Geoff Johns reboot joke, and as the show keeps repeating that same joke, its value diminishes more and more.
If Barry’s decision to pause his relationship with Iris is for his benefit so he stops taking these foolish actions, great. If the show expects me to sympathize with him, I struggle, as Barry brought this problem onto himself by proposing to Iris just to change the timeline and, rather than face the problem and deal with it, he again is running away. This is who Barry is: he keeps running away from his problems. And after three seasons, no amount of the Speed Force serving as an audience surrogate to harangue him will make up for how incapable I am about giving a damn about his problems.
Then over on Legends of Tomorrow, we have Nate being pissy at Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) for stopping him from saving his grandfather’s (Matthew MacCaull) life, reuniting him with his dad, thereby improving Nate’s crappy childhood. What is it with DC on CW shows having annoying white guys trying to fix their lives by fixing their childhood? Maybe there is something really exciting here that could be read through psychoanalysis about the urge to get back to one’s own origin story to fix some problem there, or maybe that desire to fix the origin story is a metatextual ironic narrative about the obsession comic book companies have about always rebooting and revising the origins. Or maybe this is just poor writing that my hipster academic self is over-thinking.
Or maybe the writers really don’t know what else to do, so we get a drama of Nate getting upset that Amaya affected his plans, so he decides to affect her future. Nate’s petty revelation to Amaya again is not realistic and does not engender sympathy: it’s a problem created, hence another plot created, just to get to the next plot point. Amaya has to know about Mari so that she is forced to choose whether to stay with Nate and the Legends or return to her timeline, face her death like Nate’s grandfather did, and ensure, like Henry did for Nate, that her progeny exists. And it is possible this is a subversion, that Nate will turn out to be and have always been Mari’s grandfather, which, if so, ew, Mari being related to Nate is as foolish as if they made Ego the Living Planet into Starlord’s dad–which is just dumb.
In any case, romance is introduced for Nate and Amaya, romance is paused as Amaya affects Nate’s plan to rescue his grandfather (Matthew MacCaull) and Nate disrupts Amaya’s future by revealing it to her. Romances like Barry and Iris are supposed to exist because they have the potential to be the introduction of stable, exemplary relationships, not perfect but ones that show the challenges of dating and marriage. Instead, we have that relationship stopping before it barely began, and we have Nate and Amaya with no chemistry.
Oh, and Jesse (Violett Beane) just paused her relationship with Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) to go take over for Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp) on Earth-3–because no parents can survive on these shows.
Okay, that’s not fair: Joe (Jesse Martin) is still alive, and Jay was not technically Barry’s father. But the repetition of killing the parents on the CW shows–Joe on another Earth, Francine (Vanessa Williams) in front of Wally, Barry’s mom and dad–is going to give Freud a field day. Now with Henry Heywood pulled out the door to let off the heat from the WaveRider’s reentry, we have a problem of eliminating legacies that weigh down on the characters. The Justice Society introduced a history that could change so much about the Arrowverse, add some superheroics that Arrow badly needed. Instead, as they are an inconvenient retcon, they get time-scattered and now are slowly being killed off or removed from the storyline. It feels like wasted potential, and the limited time knowing Henry makes his death rather empty.
It’s hard not to feel the same animosity the Speed Force feels for Barry when I see his screwups have made Jay MIA again. Jay tries to excuse this by thanking Barry again for rescuing him from Zoom’s prison, which hardly goes down well. And it’s hard not to feel animosity at the writers for eliminating Henry just so the older superheroes go away, even as Nate is screaming at him “Don’t Lone Gunmen yourself, I have metal powers and can hang on rather than getting tossed out into space!” (I doubt Nate would have survived, though, given the last time he tried he still got pulled out of the ship and stuck in Japan.)
The loss of parents also serves as that feeling of guilt that has propelled Wally into superheroics–and it has not been the best origin story. We already have Barry, Oliver, Ray, Sara, and so many other characters doing this superhero thing to avenge the death. But at least the scene of Wally’s own Hell, to witness his mother’s death for infinity, affects me. And it makes me curious what will be Jay’s Hell in the Speed Force. It’d be nice to see that–but this show left that parental figure back there so we can get back to Barry’s moping. Yay.
The Speed Force experience also shows Barry the lives he orphaned, as Firestorm (Robbie Amell) and Killer Frost (Danielle Panabaker) could’ve given birth to Todoroki–and since they didn’t, my Superfriends/My Hero Academia fanfic is now ruined, so thanks for ruining that too, Barry!
At least we get one good moment of parent-child interaction: Jesse taking out aggression against her own father by slugging his doppleganger HR (Tom Cavanagh). Knocking him out was not necessary, Jesse–although, even as HR has improved considerably throughout this season, it was satisfying.
- Was there something significant about Barry not having the Flash symbol on his suit? Maybe he had to re-earn that privilege? Well, by this episode’s end, I don’t think he has.
- Savitar is wearing armor to hide a weak point. Like SpeedForce!Eddie (Rick Cosnett) did in this episode, last time Savitar obsessed about Iris and Joe. Likelihood Eddie is under that armor?
- The limitations of a television budget are starting to annoy me, even as the returning guest stars serve as avatars for the Speed Force. Style can make up for budgetary choices; returning to the well of the Speed Force speaking through memories of people in Barry’s life is diminishing returns.
- Wait, so why couldn’t Eobard (Matt Letscher) use super-speed in space? I’m not a physicist, but one of them, Dwayne McDuffie, had super-speed used enough even in zero-gravity spaces.
- Stein singing “Day-O” felt problematic. I don’t know what else to say, even acknowledging Victor Garber’s singing skills. I think another song would have fit better, especially as I don’t know what the point was in an episode about lost parents, outer space, and superheroes.
- Did we really need two Martian references, Ray (Brandon Routh)?
- I was asking, “Why don’t they just kill Eobard already?” I don’t ask that ethically but pragmatically about fictional characters. Instead of answering, the show postpones an explanation so that Eobard is given a convenient excuse to be here, to offer some answer about the proper angle of descent.
- Rip’s (Arthur Darvill) malaise about his place on the team seems to go nowhere, and while sentimental to have Sara (Caity Lotz) repeat the “misfits, legends” line, it felt too hokey to work here.
- Next week: Music Meister arrives, and maybe a comet will get rid of both Mon-El and Kevin Sorbo.
- …What do you mean Ego is now Starlord’s dad?