Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Flash 4x01 Review: "The Flash Reborn" (Iris Learns to Believe) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]



 "The Flash Reborn”
Original Airdate: October 10, 2017 

Welcome back, The Flash fans! It’s been a while since the end of this show’s lackluster third season, right? Just in case there are any gaps in the old memory, here’s a brief recap: Iris was gonna die (boo!) but then she didn’t (yay!) but the alternate-Earth Harrison Wells did (oh) and Barry walked into the Speed Force to save the world (huh?) while Caitlin Snow walked off to reason her Caitlin identity with her Killer Frost identity (okay) and everyone else was also there. That’s it! Give or take a few details. So where are we in the season four premiere?

A NOT-SO-TRIUMPHANT RETURN


Six months have passed since Barry stepped into the Speed Force in order to fulfill its pointless requirement of having a speedster hanging out in there until the end of time. Team Flash is now either Team Kid Flash or Team Vibe, depending on who you ask. But no matter what the team name is, the leader is Iris. She takes control of HQ, tracking foes and telling everyone what to do and when while Cisco, Wally, and Joe are in the field following through on her orders. She’s very good at leading, and it seems like even though the team is down a few members (Barry, of course, but also Caitlin, and honorary team member Julian has gone to London) Iris is keeping everything together — still, Iris thinks their catch rate could use some improvement.

I guess lady heroes missing their significant others and coping via no-nonsense dedication to heroing is a running theme this week as, like Kara on Supergirl, Iris is committed to moving on from Barry’s absence and is using lots of crime fighting to do it. When the villain of the week — a Samurai-looking dude with a sword apparently capable of leveling the whole city — shows up to challenge the Flash, Iris is dead set against Cisco’s untested plan to pull Barry from the Speed Force so that he can challenge their Samurai friend. Why, exactly? Well, Iris is terrified of the hope that Cisco’s plan might inspire in her, and the pain she would feel if it didn’t work and Barry was truly lost forever.

I’m not sure if the writers learned from the mistakes of last season, or if they just saw an opportunity to frame this particular story in a different way than they usually would, but “The Flash Reborn” is Iris’s episode. When she was under the threat of death in season three, my main complaint was that we rarely got to see her perspective on the potential loss of her own life. Emotional threads always stemmed from Barry: How does Barry feel about Iris dying? How will Barry save Iris? What role does Barry have in Iris’s death? We had only a handful of moments throughout the arc which were specifically spotlighting Iris’s feelings rather than Barry’s. In this premiere, it’s the opposite. Iris is the emotional linchpin — she even gets the opening narration! — and Barry’s absence and re-emergence from the Speed Force is just a catalyst for her growing as a character.

We learn more about Iris and what makes her tick in this episode. It’s clear that Iris is forcing herself through her grief because Barry requested that she “run” and Iris took that to mean “run away from her feelings so she can stay strong and keep Team Flash together.” Not exactly a healthy way of dealing with this situation, but it’s a little more evidence that Iris doesn’t actually deal with feelings in a “healthy” way. Remember when she found out she was dying and then put herself in danger for a whole episode? This is a bit more of that, though less self-jeopardizing. Considering that the show so frequently sidelines Iris, I’m genuinely happy to see a facet of her personality reinforced, even if rejecting Cisco’s plan to save Barry initially seems cold for a grieving fiancĂ©e.

Cisco ends up going behind Iris’s back to find Caitlin (working in a dive bar, seemingly without Killer Frost powers) and recruit her on the mission to get Barry out of the Speed Force. The team sets up a decoy with Barry’s DNA signature to trick the Speed Force into thinking he’s still in there, then use a modified Speed Force Bazooka to blast their way to... a system failure. Ruh-roh! Iris shows up to the scene just in time to see her worst fear confirmed: Cisco’s plan failed, any glimmer of hope she had is squarely crushed, and now she’s extra devastated.

But wait! Somewhere in the city gravity goes wonky, sending a lady’s coffee flying upwards. An electricity-spouting portal opens in the middle of the street. A zippy streak appears, zippily — and coalesces into an altogether different kind of “streak,” if you know what I’m saying. (I’m saying that it’s Barry and Barry is naked.) After thoroughly destroying a poor apple farmer’s crop of fruit by nearly crashing into their delivery truck, a newly-bearded and quite naked Barry Allen faints dead away, freed from the Speed Force. But at what cost?

His sanity, apparently! When Cecile calls Joe to tell him and the team that Barry’s naked bod was found 300 miles away and hauled back into Central City, they find him jabbering nonsense and obsessively drawing incomprehensible symbols. Grant Gustin’s crazy-acting is quite good, by the way. I’m always happy when he gets to do stuff other than the usual Barry Allen personality (especially when the “usual” Barry is like last season’s Gloomy Barry). But again, it’s Iris who we’re focusing on this episode, and it’s Candice Patton who pulls on the heartstrings with her acting chops as Iris contemplates the possibility that rambling Barry with Speed Force Dementia might be the only Barry she’ll ever get back.

In the meantime, the Samurai is still threatening the city and they have no Flash to face him, so Wally tries tricking him by dressing in Barry’s suit. It doesn’t work. And also he gets stabbed in the fibula with a samurai sword. Ow.

Just when things are looking truly hopeless, Joe comes in with some words of wisdom for his daughter. “Strength means nothing without faith,” he says, reciting a message delivered during a visit to Cecile’s church. Iris has been all strength since Barry’s departure, but she’s lacked faith — faith in his eventual return, faith in Cisco’s ability to get him home, and faith, now, in his restoration to the Barry she loves. Joe tells her to have some faith, to believe that things will be okay, because faith and strength are not mutually exclusive.

Of course, Iris over-corrects her lack of faith by walking right up to the Samurai once his 24-hour ultimatum window is up and offering herself as a hostage. She believes that Barry will save her. Iris, I did say you were being less self-jeopardizing earlier in this review, and now you’ve gone and made me a liar. Still, I suppose it’s fine — she is, of course, correct, and Joe’s impassioned plea to Barry to go save Iris snaps him into action (and knocks poor Joe onto shards of broken glass for the second time in one episode — jeez, Barry!)

Barry immediately zips to the Samurai’s location at a wind farm, rescues Iris, downs a number of turbines, and reveals the Samurai to be a robot. Barry and Iris officially reunite, kissing in a field that reminds me a lot of that Tide commercial Supergirl used as its season opener. It’s a lovely ending! The foe is destroyed, the couple is together again, the city is safe, and it looks like Barry is perfect now. Like, “feeling reborn” kind of perfect, as if the Speed Force — which he doesn’t even remember living in for six timeless months — washed away all the negativity weighing him down.

Yeah, sure, that’s not suspicious at all.

Other Things:
  • Some of Barry’s rambling is definitely foreshadowing. It’ll be fun to pick out what shows up again later on.
  • I can’t believe that the words “This house is bitchin’” are probably going to be arc words for this season. Bless you, show.
  • What was up with Cisco’s look of horror when he realized they were going to that wind farm?
  • I find it very hard to believe that Caitlin never encountered a bar patron rude enough to throw her into Killer Frost mode.
  • Our villain of the season is The Thinker! I... have very little knowledge of The Thinker. So.

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