Flash Season One Review: The Incredible Eddie Thawne
It’s just too appropriate that a show about a superfast human being broke CW’s record for most-watched season premiere. But this isn’t the first time the Scarlet Speedster has been given a crack at small-screen superheroics. Has the first season of the CW’s take on Barry Allen lived up to expectations?
Let’s look at the finale, first off. The episode gave me chills in some places. Harrison Wells aka Eobard Thawne, long the master puppeteer affecting events behind the scenes, is more of a Hannibal Wells now. Trapped in one of STAR Labs’ incredibly inhumane prison cells, Eobard Thawne’s captivity is the audience’s good fortune, as we really get to see Tom Cavanagh stretch his jaw muscles in smug back-and-forths. The confrontation between him and Barry early this episode is one I’ve been waiting for all season, but it was really his conversation with Cisco that shined the most.
Cisco reveals that he saw Dr. Wells kill him in an alternate timeline, something which impresses Wells greatly, but not for the reasons Cisco thinks. “Cisco…I’m sorry,” Wells says. “Not for killing you, I’m sure I had a good reason.” Sometimes I have to sit back and say “wow, is this the same actor who played Zach Braff’s brother in Scrubs?
The Wells conspiracy has been a fantastic source of tension all season, and I’ve eagerly anticipated the promised final battle between the Reverse-Flash and Flash. So it was with disappointment that I saw someone other than Cavanagh deliver the character’s final line. I get that they wanted to pound home that Eobard Thawne has basically been wearing this guy’s face all season, but Cavanagh is the one who really built this character for me. Still, what a great line it was – “I’ve controlled your life for so long, Barry. What will you do without me?” Brrr!
I was also a little surprised to see so little physical conflict between the Flashes. I suppose it makes sense – Barry is still a rookie compared to Eobard, after all – but it is frustrating that even in his own finale, Barry was not quite the hero that someone else in his supporting cast was.
“You are a hero,” Iris tells the dying Eddie after he shoots himself to erase his descendant Eobard from the timeline, more right than even she knows. Eddie has been everything Barry wasn’t this season. He’s been respectful of Iris, he’s made mistakes we could be sympathic to, and he’s always been thoughtful of everyone around him. My opinion of Rick Cosnett’s Eddie this season has gone from “Well, there’s the dumb jock standing in the way of true love” to “he has a lot of good qualities, really” to finally “Oh good, the Eddie Show is on!” In fact, he’s been such a great character that I guess the only way to get him out of Iris’ life and clear the way for Barry was to off him. Naturally, with his body sucked into the wormhole, there’s always that possibility that he (and his evil descendant) could return. I can hope, because otherwise all I’m left with is Barry.
Although Barry’s dead mom, falsely-imprisoned dad, and overall geekiness started him off this season with a lot of sympathy capital, the character slowly eroded it for me with a series of bad decisions. This seems to be becoming a trend for producer Greg Berlanti’s “Arrowverse” programs this year, and although Barry has not yet reached Oliver Queen levels of bad decision making, there have been times where he’s come close. Watching Mr. Steal Your Girl repeatedly try to snatch Iris out from under Eddie’s nose whenever he thought he had a chance (as he did in episodes 9, 15 and 16) got pretty gross. It’s Nice Guy Syndrome at its worst, and not even ten dead moms would have made it okay.
His selfishness hits a crescendo with the finale. Barry goes through a lot of hand-wringing over whether he should risk the lives of everyone on Earth for a dubious chance to save his mom, but we never doubt for a second he’ll do it. Not only does the plot demand it, but it’s just not in Barry’s character to give up the slightest opportunity to enrich his own life no matter the consequences to others. Naturally, none of the supporting gives any hint that they disagree with this monstrous wager, except for a muted “it’s not such a good idea” from Joe.
Barry’s own narcissism aside, the plot holes in this setup were too distracting to not diminish it for me. Why would the team at STAR Labs help Eobard back to his own time? Why not take the knowledge he’s offering on how to save Barry’s mom, and just keep him in his cell? Instead, Cisco and Ronnie dutifully construct a time machine for him and even give him his cool suit back so he can arrive back in the future looking fly.
Also, why does Eobard never address why changing the timeline in this way (or indeed, his own many dramatic revisions going back 15 years) won’t be as disastrous as he claimed changing a day’s worth of events would be in “Rogue Air?” And why does he even need a time machine? Cisco throws out a line about “His speed comes and goes. He can’t control it,” but I find that to be very convenient since we’ve never once seen Eobard’s speed fail him in the course of the season. I call bullshit. Did it fail him when he wanted to kill reporter Mason Bridge in Episode 16, “Rogue Time?” Did it fail him when he tried to threaten Joe into stopping his investigation on Wells in Episode 6, “The Flash Is Born?” Or when covered his tracks by killing Cisco in an alternate timeline in Episode 15, “Out Of Time?” He’s confronted, raced, or taunted Barry too many times to count, and not once did he so much as have his super-shoes’ laces come untied.
Ultimately, in a move frustrating as it was predictable, Barry chooses not to save his mom. He decides this when his future self, who he meets in their past, holds up a hand to tell him not to interfere. But why does he listen? As far as we know, the future Flash, who is from a different timeline (don’t worry, I get confused, too) has no idea his arch-nemesis is about to murder his mother. It just seems like cheap sentimentality. And also Barry risks the lives of everyone on Earth for nothing.
Plot holes aside, there were many positive aspects to this season. Iris was also fun to watch this season, although less so as time wore on. Her early investigation of “the Streak,” carried out in total ignorance that the subject of her viral blog posts was actually her childhood friend, was a classic setup which threatened to turn silly at any moment. However, Candice Patton managed to carry this ironic situation and make it flavorful and fun, and it wasn’t long before I was rooting for her to discover the truth.
However, Iris’s life became a less engaging source of drama when she was hired by Central City Picture News on the strength of her “Streak” blog and discovered, to her dismay, she’d been hired for stories about the Streak! What an unfair situation! The show eventually loses interest (as did I) with her predicament but moved on rather than resolve it, essentially leaving the audience to assume Iris disappointed her boss with no new Streak stories and settled into a pattern of mediocrity.
Sadly outside of Patton’s control was the boys’ increasingly insulting position that Iris couldn’t know Barry Allen was the Flash. Joe regularly insisted that this was to “protect” Iris but always skimped on the details. We all knew that they would keep this up until Iris discovered the truth for herself, and we all knew that the boys would respond to her entirely justified outrage by admitting they had been wrong. Naturally, true good guy Eddie is the only one who feels terrible at the whole thing and the only one who bears the brunt of the consequences.
In fact, it seems to only be Eddie who ever experiences negative consequences as the result of Barry and Joe’s bad ideas. This pattern starts with Iris’s attraction to the mysterious Streak in the early season, which prompted Eddie’s jealousy. And it continued all the way to the end of the season, when Barry’s decision not to save his mom and also to bar Eobard from returning to the future created a situation where only Eddie’s suicide could save the day. Conveniently this finally leaves the field wide open for Barry “Iris Iris Iris” Allen.
Any time this season we got a good shot of John Wesley Shipp as Barry’s father was a good time. He always knocks it out of the park with his tearful “tough love” advice scenes, and always seems to bring the best out of the talented Grant Gustin as well. Their scenes together never fail to make my eyes water. Knowing Shipp was first to play the Flash in the 90s show was just icing on the cake.
In fact, the show’s numerous nods to the original show were always fun. Amanda Pays returned as a version of her 90s character, Dr. McGee of Mercury Labs. And how odd will it be that our only sight of Mark Hamill before he dons the robes of a Jedi Master in The Force Awakens will be as Central City’s insane legendary terrorist, the Trickster.
Let’s switch gears and talk about the obvious. Iris’ surrogate-sister status with Barry, a strange twist not present in the comics, always gave their would they-won’t they moments a slight, but uncomfortable, sense of the incestual. Sure, they share no DNA, and kid-Barry had a crush on her even before his tragedy forced him to move in with the Wests, but some 15 years of close living made me wonder more than once if Central City wasn’t located in Alabama.
Anyway, with both the psuedo-sibling status and Eddie’s relationship as obstacles to Iris, I was eager to see Barry cut loose from his Nice Guy ways and find fulfilling romance elsewhere, and for a while it seemed Linda was the girl to fill the reporter-sized hole in his heart. But the writers had other ideas, and quickly dismantled this romance with a surprising row of jealousy and an almost businesslike breakup. Even Joe, Iris’ biological father and Barry’s explicit surrogate, tried to push his daughter into Barry’s grasping claws more than once. It’s exhausting how every character who “ships” Barry and Iris is portrayed as sensible when nothing could be creepier than pushing someone to steal his near-sister away from her fulfilling relationship.
Geez. Let’s talk about one of the good things this season – like Captain Cold.
Putting aside for a moment how great it is that Barry’s most resourceful enemy was someone without superpowers, or that his calculating nature let him stay one step ahead of the Scarlet Speedster all season…I just love how much this guy loves his own shtick. In the penultimate episode, “Rogue Air,” Barry meets Cold in a bar where he’s just ordered another drink – “ice coooold” – and a juke box starts playing Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice.” It’s hilarious, but it would also be ridiculous if Wentworth Miller weren’t so great at giving an air of menace. In fact, yeah, you know what, I’m gonna say it – Miller’s Captain Cold is the best ice-themed villain to ever appear in TV or movies. Sorry, Ah-nold.
In fact, the rogues were often great this season, and I look forward to seeing what shenanigans they’ll get up to when Cold starts to organize them in season two. The show excelled at giving the villains of the week humanizing stories, so you could feel bad for them before cheering while Flash punched them into unconsciousness. Special mention goes to Andy Mientus’ villain Hartley Rathaway, comics’ “Pied Piper,” for the intimate connections to the rest of the characters and the light it shed on Dr. Wells’ role in the particle accelerator explosion. Also for Gorilla Grodd, an inherently silly creation which The Flash made actually scary and imposing with a slow build-up and careful presentation. Can’t say I’m not a little disappointed, though, that the CW didn’t try to tackle a “realistic” version of the hidden African utopia, Gorilla City.
What was not always so great was Barry’s supporting cast. Carlos Valdes’ Cisco Ramon often came across kind of flat, while Danielle Panabaker’s delivery of Caitlyn Snow’s lines sometimes rang so false it confused me into thinking the character was supposed to be hiding something. I’ve never been sold on these two, going all the way back to their first, cringe-worthy performances in Arrow, and I think I leaned pretty heavily on Cavanagh to get me through a lot of their scenes. I’m hoping the two will step up their game next season, since they’ve been positioned so prominently (and, not to give anything away, but each does have some small comics history) that I doubt they’re going anywhere anytime soon.
Who’s left? Jesse L. Martin has done a fantastic job all season as Joe West. Despite some of Joe’s questionable decisions, I’ve enjoyed each and every one of his more emotional scenes with Gustin and Patton. Less fantastic has been Firestorm, who, though visually spectacular, is something of a cardboard cutout when he’s plain Ronnie Raymond, played by Robbie Amell. More fun was Victor Garber’s Martin Stein, whose mix of abrasiveness and excited curiosity makes this older scientist something of a twisted version of Felicity for The Flash.
What it all boils down to is that the first season of The Flash has been an excellent time. Whether it was Barry was saving the passengers of a derailing train one-by-one in one of the season’s best action sequences, Dr. Wells’ reassuring lilt and refusal to pause between some sentences, or Captain Cold’s many puns, the show always managed to give me great moments that kept me coming back for more. Although some plot holes, flat performances and predictable story elements keep it from being truly great TV, The Flash is probably the most fun of any superhero TV show you could find.
Racing To A Good Time
Great action, fair writing and strong performances from the older players give The Flash the boost it needs to run into our hearts.