“It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”
That is one of the moral messages in Batman Begins and it is a sentiment that travels across all superhero media. It is the choices you make that make you who you are, so make the right decision. Paradoxically, superhero stories also suggest that everything that happens is destiny, that certain people are chosen to become legends. ‘Flashpoint’ explores these two themes by capitalizing on Barry’s (Grant Gustin) season two decision to create an alternate timeline by saving his mother.
Even though the decision to have Barry save his mum was a frustrating narrative choice, it does allow the show to explore new facets of these familiar characters. Having the hero refuse to shoulder the pain he’s been subjected to was a nice choice that breaks the superhero rules. It was a selfish decision that tarnishes Barry’s squeaky image and sticks a middle finger up at destiny.
Defying destiny has been a major trope of The Flash, and explored through the Barry-Iris (Candice Patton) relationship. They’ve been playing the Ross-and-Rachel game for two seasons and the coupling only seems to be happening because a future newspaper tells them they will be married. The show has never escaped the relationship’s false overtones until ‘Flashpoint’. Starting their relationship from scratch — she calls him “Gary” — they are unshackled from destiny yet are still naturally drawn together. Why are they attracted to each other? Well, it seems love can’t be defied and the twee rom-com moments are a delight to watch. Both Patton and Gustin sell this cutesy angle, highlighting that there is more to the relationship than meets the eye and bringing extra shades to their characters.Gustin actually works overtime, never leaving the screen, to bring more depth to everyone’s favourite speedster. His scenes with an imprisoned Reverse-Flash (Matt Letscher) add shades of grey to Barry’s characterisation by suggesting he is the villain of this story. Letscher is slowly emerging from Tom Cavanagh’s shadow and is a malicious delight as the evil speedster. The pair brings the right amount of hatred to this arch-rival relationship that they stop it from souring and keep it engrossing. Their scenes also bring all the dramatic weight as Barry struggles to come to terms what he has to do to correct the timeline and Letscher’s gleeful sadism makes the decision even more gut wrenching.
It’s just a shame the show speeds through the Flashpoint storyline and doesn’t let anything breathe. Fittingly, the show always has a breakneck pace but here it is a detriment to the episode’s storytelling. It was a brave decision to do a soft adaptation of the Flashpoint storyline but for a show that is part of an extended TV universe, it was a flawed one. The impact has to be minimised so as not to interrupt Arrow or Supergirl’s storytelling, meaning the plot moves as fast as, well, the Flash to return to the status quo. This damage limitation dampens the possibilities and creates an unsatisfying romp.
The rushed storytelling can be overlooked because it’s nice to have The Flash back. It’s nice to have these characters back on the screen and to see them interact with one another. It’s just a pleasure to hang out with them again and to watch them save the world.