Cultural Junkdrawer – Season’s end: The Flash season 4

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CULTURAL JUNKDRAWER

 

SEASON’S END

 

 

THE FLASH

Season 4

 

 Season’s end is a semi, semi regular thing I do for Cultural Junkdrawer where I look back at a season of a TV show and break down what worked, what didn’t work. I analyse plot threads, character arcs, themes and generally bitch like a rabid fanboy about how my childhood was desecrated by not being given exactly what I WANTED!!!!

 As always there will be a picture of Tanya Tate and Ella Darling at the end.

Oh yeah, SPOILERS too and just to make it a challenge I won’t mark ‘em. Possibly not all of them will be for season 4 of The Flash either.

A SPEEDFORCE TIME TUNNEL OPENS UP AND OUT RUNS THE FLASH. HE SKIDS TO A STOP, TAKES A BREATH AND REMOVES HIS MASK.

FLASH: I’m Barry Allen, I’m the Flash!

JUST AS QUICKLY HE RUNS BACK INTO THE SPEED FORCE. LEAVING MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS.

I’m old. Old enough to remember being not really interested in “The death of the Incredible Hulk” simply because I’d outgrown such childish things. I had discovered girls, cutting edge computer technology like the Commodore 64 and read X-Men comics. But the Hulk was one of my early favorites. I think one of the first comics I ever got was an oversized reprint of Hulk and Sub Mariner beating the living crap outta one another. Great kid power fantasy stuff there. As a result I would read about the green goliath whenever I came across him in my very limited kid capacity. So imagine my excitement when I found out there was a TV show of HULK! My kid brain was all hyped on seeing the Hulk punch villains like The Rhino through walls and clash with his antithesis The Leader!

Instead I got David Banner drifting from town to town, getting pushed too far by local thugs or bullies, him turning green and tossing those clown into neatly stacked boxes then Banner leaving the town to sad piano music. You can hear it HERE. Obviously there was no ability in movie or TV production technology at the time to do epic building smashing fights, photorealistic transformations or computer generated monsters. The top commercial computer was the Commodore 64 for chrissake! As a kid I had no idea about any of that, just the crushing realization that The Hulk would never punch the Sub Mariner into a big fountain thus tipping the advantage to Namor’s favor.

I don’t remember who won; I think Hulk got bored and bailed on the whole fight.

As I grew and became involved in TV/Film production I came to understand the limitations that kept me from seeing such exciting adventures and forgave The Incredible Hulk for not delivering on what I had hoped for. Though I never got over not having Captain America, Spiderman and The A Team crossover in the TV series (there were other things I didn’t quite understand about hollywood back then too).

Plus why fucking “David Banner”?

Why spend all this time reminiscing about the HULK TV show, Mike, and getting that damn Lonely man themestuck in my head? I thought you were gonna recap season four of The Flash!

Well, I’mma gonna dovetail there sparky! The reason I bring up Hulk is because when I watched “The Flash” for the first time I sensed that finally I was going to get the kind of TV show I had yearned for as a kid! A superhero show with a rogues gallery! True to source costumes! Special effects that could deliver on comic book bombast! The first ep I watched was, in fact, the crossover with Arrow! The Flash fully embraced the inherent weirdness and fun of a comic book character and had Captain Cold, the Weather Wizard and Grodd! Hell, this show even made nods to the ill fated but well meaning 90’s series by casting John Wesley Shipp as Barry’s dad and Mark Hamill returning as The Trickster!

I was ecstatic!

So now with the fourth season in the can and I’ve had sufficient time for the honeymoon phase to be over I can look back on the most recent season and make a more clear eyed assessment of the show.

How did season four of the Flash hold up?

Answer: kinda a mixed bag.

Breaking with the three season tradition of having the fastest man alive do battle with men faster than him; season four pivoted to someone who was faster than Barry in one particular way: thinking. We all know thinking, especially nowadays, is overrated but at least this season offered the potential of something different than superspeed battles up and over buildings. Plus there was the stand alone stories peppered in and various “B” plots scattered about. Killer Frost was still around, Cisco had a girlfriend from another universe, and there were a coupla speedsters whooshing about that weren’t evil filling the gap left by Barry becoming a speedforce prisoner.

Also in Avengers: Infinity War Ant Man is nowhere to be seen.

The seed had been planted in season three that The Thinker would be the big bad this season now the production team had to come through.

The general season story is this: The Thinker and his wife (not something you get a lot of with super-villains) have vague plans for an “Enlightenment” of the human race. First, though, the Flash needs to be reactivated, then sidelined… till he isn’t. A dozen people exposed to dark matter in a bus need to have their powers stolen, satellites with beams shooting out of them… evil, complicated, labyrinthine plots that seem to depend on way too many variables, a killer high tech chair and Danny Trejo.  Team Flash with the new addition of Elongated Man need to stop it and don’t till the first half of the final episode or so. With side stories and stand alone episodes mixed in.

I hope that clears everything up because that’s what we got going through it.

Elongated Man – Ralph Dibny, disgraced police detective, hacky P.I. and strip club buffet aficionado. WHAT WORKED – Hartley Sawyer played him with a lot of heart and smirk and the interpretation of “All the rubber faced energy of Jim Carrey before he went coo coo for coco puffs!” Elongated man was decent comic relief for the bulk of the season. Some great visual effects were used to communicate his abilities; from a simple gag like him slingshotting bullets to a nose twitch to turning into a giant whoopee cushion, visually Elongated man never failed to please. Sawyer was quite likeable in the role even when required to mope (like all actors in the show). Sawyer even made those self contained commercials tolerable.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK – Dibny’s arc to becoming a hero was herky jerky at best. It seemed one week he gets it and is 100% team flash and the following week the script required him to be a coward and clock out till the last second. I don’t blame Sawyer; he did his best to sell what was written for him, it was a lack of written consistency. The plot of a particular episode could’ve been solved right away if Dibny was around (like the episode with the meta that could negate gravity). This was especially irritating because every viewer knew Dibny would come around eventually. It smacked of filler constantly.

 

The Thinker – Clifford DeVoe, brilliant scientist and engineer who is emotionally stunted and charisma free. Despite these facts he bags a hottie but would much rather try and take over the world than fulfill his husbandly duties. Ok, he was wheelchair bound for the first third of the season but once he got access to new bodies and the mind control tears he leapt to frigid supervillain in a heartbeat.

WHAT WORKED – DeVoe was pretty unlikeable, even at the early stages. That is a workable trait for a villain. The Thinker was a formidable enemy for the Flash (if only on paper) especially because he was so different from the previous villains and he was always several steps ahead of the team including Harrison Wells. As DeVoe collected powers he became more and more daunting; it seemed the good guys were only alive because it suited DeVoe for them to be that way. In his favor there was never a time where DeVoe was a false friend to Team Flash then revealed his true colors (see every other big bad for the last three seasons). His super brain chair was kinda cool with CGI Doc Ock tentacles and shit.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK – Neil Sandilands played aloof really well… too well. I get that the Thinker isn’t into emotion; his miscalculations stemmed from failing to take into account Barry’s grief and his wife stealing the brain chair and helping team Flash late in the series… BUT Sandilands could really only muster disinterested glower or petulant menace. Thinker is pretty much written one-note so the problem isn’t entirely Sandilands fault but even the moments where he is supposed to have emotional connection, wither to his wife or his disdain for Flash, don’t land. There is zero chemistry between him and Kim Engelbrecht who played his wife Marlize (aka The Mechanic) even the flashback scenes play like he is solving a math equation instead of wooing her. It was sort of a smart move to have her try to break from him earlier than expected (only to have the mind control tears repeatedly undo her escape attempts) but even at that point, though, it was a foregone conclusion that she would break free of his control and be the monkeywrench in his plans.There was never a point in their relationship where The Thinker felt involved little less the viewer.

You don’t have to like the villain but you do have to be engaged (interested?) in what the villain is trying to achieve. The Thinker, regardless of how much he was built up in the dialogue or even by example never got above dull. Bad mojo for the main bad guy of the season.

Plus his original thinker costume looked like Duck Dodgers attending a fetish party.

 

Amunet Black aka Blacksmith – Katee Sackhoff insures top dollar for con appearances/autographs by playing the meta human gangster/trafficker Blacksmith.

WHAT WORKED – A little Amunet went a long way. Judicious use of this thorn in Killer Frost’s side made sure her “Mary Poppins meets the Joker” persona didn’t wear out the welcome. It was kinda cool that Frost and the girls had a nemesis of their own. The bachelorette party episode really gave a chance for the girls to have fun and stand out. Her brief alliance with team Flash made sense from a character standpoint. Cool effects. There was never a point with Amunet where she didn’t seem like she was having a blast being Amunet; I love it when villains just relish being villains. Amunet never saw herself as the hero of her own story and she gave a sum total of zero fucks about it.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK – Whew boy, that accent: The Nanny via Monty Python sketch. Lugging around buckets of metal shards kinda undercut her menace. She’s a rich crime boss find some lackeys to carry that shit.

In the first John Wick his dog is killed. The new dog survives the second movie but is sidelined almost the entire time.

 

Not to say that the whole season was a wash. There were many fun entertaining bits and whole episodes that didn’t get bogged down. Some other things that worked overall for the season…

Crisis on Earth X – The big Berlantiverse crossover this season should be textbook for future TV crossovers. Fun, fast moving, action packed, a meaningful dramatic death. Even timely with Nazi’s being a threat to the world again. Plus a redemption of Red Tornado, an openly gay Snart, The Greatest American Hero vaporized and Harrison Wells reverse Flash. Sure Reverse Flash should be dead a few times now but he’s not because… comic book logic. Besides it’s not a party unless Tom Cavanagh is invited. Speaking of Cavanagh…

Council of Wells/The Rejects – For some this may have been overkill but for me there is not a better way to just run with the unapologetic lunacy of comic books than something like “The Council of Wells.” Yes… silly and, ultimately pointless… but seeing Playboy Wells argue with Sprockets Wells is worth the departure from moping and pep talks that weigh down the Flash constantly. More Cavanagh…

Wells/Cisco bromance – Cavanagh and Valdes at this point have the best chemistry of the entire cast. They get one another’s pop culture references, complete one another’s sentences and doled out the hazardous task of exposition with charm and interest. Even better was that this season Wells/Cisco pairing was the ideal; no deception (in the form of one being, say evil or something), no imbalance of smarts (like HR), no distrust; just science bros.

Cecile and Joe are having a baby – Giving Joe West something to do other than worry about his superhero son was a smart move. Danielle Nicolet matches Martin’s likeable low key presence ounce for ounce. They’re great together and fun to watch on the screen. I’d love an episode focusing on them having something like a date night with Flash zipping around behind the scenes keeping their night distraction free. Sure – anybody who’s seen a TV show could predict that the baby was going to come at the resolution of the battle with The Thinker but that doesn’t diminish the fun had getting there. Nicolet gets extra points for her late in season telepathy/empathy due to pregnancy. The writers could’ve gotten a bit more mileage out of her mimicking nearby personalities. Extra Extra Points for Nicolet’s scenes with Cavanagh – such an unlikely pairing paid off big time; Cecile helping Wells with his more emotionally in touch persona. Wells always calling her DA Cecile Horton -West. The two characters couldn’t have been more different and couldn’t have clicked better.

Reminders that this is part of a shared universe – Felicity Smoak being part of Iris’ bachelorette party, evil nazi Black Canary, Wally West popping in at the end of the season to say how much he likes being a Legend. It’s great and necessary to maintain this universe the way Berlanti and Co. is doing it. Can’t wait till Black Lightning or Thunder shows up next season.

Stand alone episodes – Episodes like “Girl’s night out”, “Run, Iris, run” and “Enter Flashtime” were fewer this year but more welcome when the main arc dragged. Candice Patton finally had more to do than look on watery eyed at Barry and shined as a result. Enter Flashtime might’ve been gimmicky but damn, if that ticking clock scenario wasn’t thrilling to watch. The Flash needs more of these fun, universe expanding, stand alone eps. or, maybe something else I’ll get to in a bit…

Jay and Silent Bob are part of the Berlantiverse. – I’m a gen-X’er what can I say.

Darth Vader is Luke’s father. HA got YA!

 

Of course aside from the main villain being a bore there were other things that didn’t work too…

 

Pep talks – Barry has to pep talk Dibny, Joe has to pep talk Wells. Citizen Cold has to pep talk Barry… C’mon guys get over yourselves! Even having Killer Frost lampshade her pep talk with Dibny by calling it a pep talk doesn’t excuse the pep talk. There is nothing wrong with a character having self-doubt but by the unpteenth time you have a heart to heart (in front of the meta cell where all characters go to mope) strains the believability factor and our patience.

By the way I don’t see a toilet in that cell. What if Gorilla Grodd has explosive diarrhea? Who gonna clean THAT up?

 

Amunet: “Oh Hi, Barry Allen!”

Barry: “Barry… um… I’m the Flash!”

Amunet: “I get it, but maybe if you kept doing that blurring your face and use that Darth Vader voice changer thingy, like in season one, I wouldn’t have guessed so easily.”

 

The Flash appears out of the speedforce. He takes off his cowl and says to Amunet

 

FLASH: I’m Barry Allen, I’m The Flash.

FLASH: She figured it out without us telling her.

FLASH: Oh… ok!

 

The Flash zips back into the speedforce leaving more questions than answers again.

 

The Thinker – “I even calculated that Nazi Black Canary would’ve stumbled across the dimensional gateway at the last second, was able to hold it open with her sonic powers and come into our universe…”

So the Thinker is so advanced that he can anticipate how things go in an alternate universe where has has demonstrated zero influence on. Yet he never uses this ability to anticipate Flash and Elongated Man undoing his plans on his own turf? Or foresee his failure in a possible timeline? Especially when we consider this…

DeVoe is going to launch five satellites into space to stupid-ify the whole world.

Wells: “Do we know anybody that can fly, survive in the vacuum of space and destroy stuff with something like heat vision? They don’t even have to be from our reality… in fact it would be better if Supergir… I mean, this theoretical person, wasn’t!”

Barry: “Nobody comes to mind. By the way: I’m Barry Allen. I’m the Flash”

 

The flash takes off like a crimson bolt of pure speed.

 

Sure they handwaved this solution away in the last episode with a smidgen of dialogue. Also what kind of hero would Barry be if Supergirl solved his problems. Still see “Reminders that this is part of a shared universe.” above.

Writers: You know how we had that moderately funny episode where Danny Trejo intimidates and terrifies Cisco in the B story? Let’s do that again, like two episodes later, where Danny Trejo comes back and intimidates and terrifies Cisco even MORE!

Other writer: OK, let’s also have a C story told in flashback painting DeVoe as a caring concerned husband to Marliese.

Yet another writer: Sure, as long as it comes too late in the story to engineer any empathy for DeVoe and is played as flatly as possible by Sandilands.

 

The Flash zips up to a total rando on the street.

 

FLASH: I’m Barry Allen, I’m the Flash!

 

With lightning speed he runs to an old woman getting lettuce in a supermarket produce aisle. Scaring her half to death.

 

FLASH: I’m Barry Allen, I’m The Flash!.

 

Next he bolts with crimson speed to Star CIty and the Arrow Cave where Felicity Smoak is reading Cosmo.

 

FLASH: I’m Barry Allen, I’m the Flash!

 

SMOAK: Yeah Barry, I know

 

Smoak’s phone rings, She answers.

 

SMOAK: Oh hi, Iris! Yeah, I’ll be there for the cookout! Oh and Barry is here revealing his “secret identity” to me. Sure, I’ll tell him… Barry, Iris wants you to pick up some hamburger buns on the way back… Barry?

 

Flash stops in front of Mister Terrific with blinding speed.

 

FLASH: I’m Barry Allen, I’m the Flash!

 

The bullpen of the Central City gazette. The editor strides into the bustling room angry and focused.

 

EDITOR: “Where’s that girl that was writing at this desk occasionally over the last few years? She wrote about The Flash a lot? Nobody’s seen her for at least a year?”

 

Suddenly The Flash appears out of the speedforce papers fly everywhere.

 

FLASH: I’m Barry Allen, I’m the Flash!

 

The Flash zips off into the speedforce. If there is someway to indicate that he’s using time travel this is the time.

 

Dil drops her clothes to stand naked before Fergus revealing that she has a penis!  CUE: Boy George singing ‘The Crying Game”. Fergus is shocked and speechless. Suddenly The Flash appears out of a speedforce time jump.

 

FLASH: I’m Barry Allen, I’m the Flash!

 

The Flash uses the speedforce time jump ability to go back to the beginning of this column…

 

IN CLOSING

 

Season Four was better than two and three but at this stage any TV show should be hitting its stride. Meaning that all (or at least most) of the kinks should be worked out, execution should be pretty flawless and story problems solved. With some alarm that is not the case with The Flash; the flaws are still pretty glaring if moderately muted.

So what can be changed to improve the situation? The main cast has an easy chemistry and charm and every member has proven capable of handling weird comic book shit like suddenly having superpowers, split personalities or alternate universes. Basically the show has had the same production team for the run of the show? Where is the weak spot?

The writing keeps falling into the same traps each year but more than anything I think the Flash would benefit greatly by examining its comic book roots. Namely by doing smaller arcs. Learning the lesson that Agents of Shield learned in their season four; make season five of the Flash into six to eight episode story arcs with some plot threads bridging them. This is comic book 101: six or eight issues makes a great trade paperback, offers more entry points for new fans and opens the door to change course when problems arise. The Thinker arc would’ve been better if it was a tight ten episodes (hell, he didn’t even use half the powers he absorbed from the bus metas). When the show runner(s) realized that The Thinker was a dud they would’ve had the room to spring a new idea. Pepper in some stand alones or, because you don’t need as much filler, forgo them entirely.

There is nothing so wrong with The Flash that it can’t be fixed with some smarts and willingness to change up some of the tricks that have been run into the ground. The problems aren’t systemic like Gotham or actor based like Roseanne. I still love this show and the kid in me cheers at having a weekly hero as fun as The Flash to enjoy. Goodwill can only go so far, though, good TV has to be at the core.

 

As promised here is that picture of Tanya and Ella…

 

S.H.I.E.L.D.

A split second later The Flash appears behind the two ladies. FLASH: I’m Barry Allen, I’m… oh, hi ladies!

 

Tangential thoughts I couldn’t work in organically…

 

Imagine how many floppy disks it would’ve taken to do a low rez rendering of the Hulk on the C64!

I never got over H.E.R.B.I.E. the fucking robot either. Though I can laugh about it now… while choking back a tear.

Why David Banner? Best explanation I have EVER came up with is that the show runner hated somebody named Bruce. Petty I know.

Ok, Neil, this totally hot, intelligent, amazing woman has just professed her love for you! Show me happy! Show me love! (The left corner of Neil Sandilands’ mouth twitches… slightly) OK, great! (to first AD) we got ten and 6/8 pages left to do today, let’s print and move on.

Report card on the other Berlanti-verse shows:

Arrow: Past its prime: slow decline,

Legends of Tomorrow: Season three had the show hitting its stride – funny, fun, exciting and demonstrating an understanding of what makes the show tick. Next season has Constantine as a series regular so expectations are high.

Supergirl: Humming along nicely though I still need to see the second half of the season.

Black Lightning: Pretty strong out of the gate. Cress Williams has charisma to burn! Great cast all around and the season avoided a lot of the mistakes a first season makes.

I accidentally saw the end of Green Lantern a few days ago and saw Greg Berlanti had a hand in the writing of that movie. Which makes it even more of a head scratcher as to why so much of it didn’t work.

I wanted to do a Season’s End on Legends of tomorrow but the twitter poll voted overwhelmingly (2 of 4 votes) for The Flash (thanks Carl Jansson for stuffing the ballot box)

If you want to take some polls, see Star Wars shit and/or learn what my newest #favoritesongofalltimeoftheweek is check me out @logos728

Bruce Willis was a ghost the entire movie.

 

Thanks for reading! See you in a year, kinda, for a different Season’s end.

 

But check back in a month or so for a new Cultural Junkdrawer!

 

In a blinding flash of lightning The Flash exits the speedforce time jump. WIthout missing a beat he takes off his cowl and says…

FLASH: I’m Barry Allen, I’m the… where did everybody go?

YogaOutlet.com

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