First dates are a wonderful thing. You meet someone, you ask them out and you make awkward conversation for what seems like forever. They are rarely the best and this is something Barry (Grant Gustin) and Iris (Candice Patton) learn in ‘Magenta’ another stellar episode in the third season of The Flash.
It is a well-worn superhero trope that the hero must wrestle with their duty and their need to be romantically satisfied. It normally has calamitous results with superhero relationships seldom working. It’s a trope that keeps coming back for an obvious reason and it works as an overt metaphor for human relationships. How many fail because one partner has too many external responsibilities? How many first dates fail because someone’s head is elsewhere? Following superhero tradition, Barry and Iris’ first date goes wrong. Patton and Gustin’s chemistry lets the awkwardness seep through the screen and the show reminds everyone how relatable it is.
The metaphor normally works because the hero’s secret identity is still in play. Iris knows Barry is the Flash so the writers shape the story around them coming to terms with what dating a superhero will be like, and the conclusion frees the show from the genre’s constraints whilst sticking to the show’s mantra that you have to be true to yourself and honest with others.The Flash has always made cheesy moral declarations and the cast always sells them. Everyone is on form tonight, with Gustin pulling off some great facial reactions and Keiynan Lonsdale bringing some nuance to Wally’s pain at not having powers. After last week’s interesting, but too serious, episode, the show is back to having fun and a returning snarky Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) confirms this, even if he was given a cliché storyline.
That’s not necessarily a problem but The Flash is at its best when it ignores the status quo. It was refreshing to see the customary final showdown not result in a supersonic punch as Barry decided to talk to the villain. Frankie Kane aka Magenta (Joey King) is as sympathetic as superhero villains come. She is a foster child with an abusive foster father and she snaps. Egged on by Dr Alchemy, she comes up with a nonsensical and visually impressive scheme to kill him. Violence isn’t the way to deal with a damaged child and the show is smart enough to open a dialogue.
However, the social commentary attached to Magenta doesn’t work. The episode is too broad to deal with complicated social issues, and Julian Albert (Tom Felton), who becomes Magenta’s momentary antagonist, is too brash that his confrontation with her is more awkward than the deliberately awkward first date.
Julian is an interesting character for all the wrong reasons. It is clear that the show is trying to make him the prime suspect when social media starts trying to guess who Dr Alchemy is, but it is too clear. Any Harry Potter fan knows Felton can be a nuanced villain but so far his character hasn’t had anything to do except being an obvious red herring. It’s a snag that’ll keep ripping if the writers don’t deal with it.