Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Flash 7x10 Review: "Family Matters, Part 1" (Forced Family) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

“Family Matters, Part 1”
Original Airdate: May 18, 2021

This week on The Flash, my TV-induced mental breakdown continues as the show decides four grown adults are Barry and Iris’s children via science-magic and everyone just rolls with it like that’s no big deal. Seriously, they had more qualms with Nora showing up as a young adult from the future, and Nora actually shared DNA and (on her part) memories of growing up with Iris as her mom and Barry as a deceased but beloved dad. The Forces are four complete strangers that everyone labels “family” for no legitimate reason and I am completely adrift on a sea of confusion.


Last time, we left off with the Speed Force threatening Deon. Now that threatening session very quickly shifts into the Speed Force deciding that she wants Deon as an ally so that she can get back at Barry for rejecting all the Forces, because he’s their father and they should be resentful of him almost erasing them. This storyline... is so exhausting.

Meanwhile, Alexa is getting the rundown on her current situation: she was dead, now she’s not, she should train her ability to control Fuerza so that she won’t end up dead again. I got a brief flare of hope when Alexa rejected the whole “Barry and Iris are basically your parents” thing as a total joke, but everyone else at S.T.A.R Labs treated it with such seriousness that she couldn’t help falling in line with them. I know this show’s bread and butter is treating the absurd like everyday facts, but this is way worse than egregious technobabble.

Barry sets to work getting Alexa ready to face the Speed Force, which means we get another example of Barry being the worst teacher ever! I’m so happy this continues to be a consistent character trait. It fills me with joy because he’s such a kind person but every time he’s in charge of instructing people he turns into a grumpy jerk who inevitably pushes his pupil too hard and regrets it but never learns from it. I like to imagine an alternate universe where Barry ends up as the worst-rated professor in the history of the Rate My Professors website and he can never figure out why.

On top of the Speed Force gunning for all the other Forces, Alexa has to get a handle on Fuerza because Psych is back to his old game of terrorizing people. Now he’s terrorizing specific rich people into comas, so Team Flash has to get him under control before he kills someone and Alexa/Fuerza is really their only hope for that. Hey, so Psych (whose name we learn is actually Bashir, so I’ll be calling him that from now on, otherwise I’ll be constantly reminded of a less frustrating TV show) is targeting the rich kids he used to pal around with when he himself was an adopted rich kid — why is he just now doing this? He targeted the “system” of money/banks before, but he never targeted the people who actually hurt him and gave him his abandonment issues, even though this episode strongly implies his resentment of the people in his life abandoning him is really his only motivation for villainy.

It’s almost like the writers of this plot didn’t really know where they were going early on and did some stuff that makes no sense in hindsight. It’s almost like this whole “the Forces are family” idea is an abrupt, flimsy excuse for a theme only held together by the characters either acting how no one would act, or abruptly shifting their feelings in order to serve the story. How strange.

Anyway, Alexa fails to keep control of Fuerza and Cisco gets thrown into a window, which leads to Alexa yelling at Barry and quitting. Ah, like so many of Barry’s students before her. She has to be talked back into trying by Caitlin, who mentions how Frost used to be a force inside of her that she feared but learned to communicate with via that technobabble headband they invented a couple seasons back. Caitlin hands it over to Alexa, hoping it’ll give her some understanding of Fuerza, and Barry slides in to offer an apology for being a bad teacher.

It’s really lucky Caitlin had that idea of giving Alexa the communication device, because when Team Flash encounters Bashir fear-torturing the last person on his list, it’s Alexa’s ability to ask Fuerza nicely (in Spanish) to cooperate that lets her get Bashir under control. Then they tell Bashir that they (i.e, Iris and the rest of the newspaper crew) did some digging and discovered that the only one of Bashir’s rich friends who forgot about him was Naomi, who probably didn’t even pretend to be nice to him when they were hanging out. The others started a fund to help him get back on his feet and tried reaching out to him, but Bashir had been too bitter to respond so he just assumed they’d turned their backs on him.

When Bashir still doesn’t want to accept he’s in the wrong, Alexa steps in to share her own story about hitting rock bottom and the daunting climb toward sobriety, and how her family and friends from her past abandoned her. It’s strongly implied that she’s finding a new family with Team Flash and, eventually, the other Forces. Alexa calls Bashir “brother” and I am annoyed.

Listen: the “found family” trope is one of my absolute favorites. I adore it. I love the idea of family going beyond blood — it’s why I’m so excited whenever there are real, genuine relationships between adoptive or pseudo-parents and their children on TV shows and why I get so angry whenever a show implies that a parent related by blood, no matter how evil or absentee, is a character’s “real” parent. Family is not about biology, it’s about love and shared experiences and mutual understanding. The Flash actually does found family really well! Barry, Iris, Joe, and Cecile are a family. Team Flash is a family. Only two of the aforementioned characters are actually related, but no one can deny that these characters are family because they’ve shown over the course of seven seasons how much they care about each other.

So why are they fumbling so hard with this Forces storyline? They’re approaching this plot like they read about the found family trope somewhere years ago and only vaguely understand what it means. Aliens arriving on Earth and inexplicably getting tasked with writing a TV show could do a better job at a found family storyline than what’s currently going on with The Flash. I can’t even fathom how the writers got through scripting this stuff without stopping and asking, “Hey, is this total stranger — this adult man with a beard — is him calling the 32-year-old hero ‘dad’ weird? Do you think viewers might find that jarring?”

All through this episode, people keep telling Barry and Iris that they’re the “parents” of the Forces just because they’re the reason these otherworldly beings got thrown into the world. The Forces themselves say the others of their kind are their “siblings” and everyone acts like it’s a given that Barry, Iris, and these four beings — all of whom are grown adults with, presumably, lives predating their existence as borderline-deities — should be a family together. They indirectly reference the found family concept more than once, saying that everyone needs to build their own families out of the people around them or whatever. 

But every bit of this falls flat and, in fact, seems downright bizarre because we don’t know the Forces! The characters we know don’t know the Forces! This isn’t the sort of thing you can just write into being; it’s something that has to be built up over time, and this storyline simply is not doing that.

Ugh. Anyway, Bashir joins everyone at S.T.A.R. Labs just in time for the Speed Force and Deon to show up. The Speed Force has had a complete goth makeover, which is quite possibly the funniest thing this show has ever done. I don’t think the humor was intentional, which makes it even funnier. Deon stops time and the Speed Force hits everyone but Barry with power, possibly killing them? It’s not clear. To be continued.

Other Things:

  • Other storylines: Kramer shows up again and has permission to shoot any and all metahumans with bullets containing the metahuman cure. Joe does not like this and quits CCPD in protest. Also, Cisco and Kamilla are readying their move from Central City.
  • Cisco dubs Psych’s ability to generate purple force-tentacles “magentacles,” which is the only good thing about this episode.
  • Alexa: “It’s not that simple.” Bashir: “You’re not that simple.” Ha! Okay, there are two good things in this episode.


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