The Flash was one of my favorite shows in its first season, and even ended up in my top ten for last year- that's how much I enjoyed the light, fuzzy, pure comic book tone that made it feel so bright and sunny and stand apart from the other superhero shows. This year, I'm sad to say it will not end up in my year end list (at least I doubt it- it'd have to be a pretty bad TV year for that to happen, which has not been the case of late). Unfortunately, it really seemed to suffer from a bit of a sophomore slump this season, in two easily identifiable (and hopefully fixable) ways. Oh well. I guess that's to be expected, especially with 23 episode seasons on a network like the CW.
Let's start with the story that turned out to be the biggest flop of the season- the Big Bad. The show takes its cues from the old Buffy formula of having one major villain per season, but you really need to get creative with that concept to justify it lasting all year long. Tom Cavanagh's Reverse Flash/Eobard Thawne/Harrison Wells of Season 1 was a far superior villain, carefully crafted to reveal his secrets at all the right moments to our hero Barry Allen and his friends, and the motivations behind his nefarious goals that connected him to Barry were never less than compelling, thanks to Cavanagh's delightfully sinister and downright gleeful performance.
This time around, the show basically decided to repeat the storyline full stop, by introducing another mentor figure in the form of Teddy Sears' Jay Garrick from Earth-2, along with the introduction of the multiverse as a yearlong theme. But Jay turned out to be a total drip who had less connection to Barry and more of a deadly dull, chemistry-free, sometime romance with Caitlin of all people (Danielle Panabaker, by far the weakest actress on the show), and though his real identity turned out to be someone else (Hunter Zolomon, aka the evil speedster Zoom from the Flash comics), his motivations and goals changed about a thousand times throughout the season, so that no one watching could ever explain to you what it was that Zoom really wanted, and introducing him to the team so early made it so that he kept coming and going at seemingly random intervals just to drag things out to the very end, which finally culminated in a fairly underwhelming and predictable finale.
So Zoom was a big miss (even though he was voiced by Candyman's Tony Todd, which was a cool effect before he was unmasked), but I can sort of forgive convoluted plot stuff, especially as it involves comic books and sci-fi and all that, as long as the characters and relationships remain strong and the actors sell their chemistry with each other in such a way that you just want to keep watching them hang out no matter what they're doing. This cast was particularly excellent in that regard, as I mentioned last year (Panabaker aside, but she's basically a background character much of the time), and for the most part that remains true, but for some strange reason the show decided (whether consciously or not, I'm unsure) to drop what was by far the reason I originally loved it so much, and that was the bright and sunny tone. It was the modern equivalent of the Christopher Reeve-era Superman movies, a show that proved you could do light and funny with superheroes for the modern age, and yet still have an enormous amount of real emotional connection to these characters, especially because Grant Gustin's Barry was a such a sweet, smiling puppy dog that you just wanted to take home with you.
This year the show made Barry down in the dumps from the start, in response to everything that happened at the end of the last season, and boy, oh boy was that a mistake. I praised Gustin to the high heavens last year because of his natural likability, but man, can he not do "brooding" well. Forcing Barry to be miserable and depressed made him whiny and annoying, which is the clear opposite of what he's good at, and it actually made him downright unappealing at times. In fact, the Barry that showed up on the hyped Supergirl/Flash crossover episode in March suddenly reminded Flash viewers what we'd been missing since Season 1- the smiling, funny sweetheart who loved and enjoyed every moment of being a superhero. I'm kind of shocked that the show forgot to maintain that tone this year in favor of darker, angstier, frankly Arrow-like misery for the most part, because it just isn't what the show does well. Perhaps the loss of co-creator, developer and writer Geoff Johns this season left a bigger impact behind the scenes than anticipated, but I'm telling you right now, they need to fix that and they need to fix it fast. And with the unnecessarily dark finale that saw the murder of Barry's dad Henry (John Wesley Shipp) and the startling cliffhanger that promises more of this dark avenue in the future, all I can do is cross my fingers and hope these guys are listening to some of the criticism about this less than stellar second season.
With that said, it wasn't all bad. The very weak first half that was mostly devoted to waste of time episodes dedicated to setting up spinoff show Legends of Tomorrow, along with the incredibly pointless subplot of Barry's throwaway two-second romance with Patty Spivot, designed to stall the inevitable union with soulmate Iris (which is hilariously practically stated on the show, as a reluctant Barry has to be pushed into this temporary relationship), at least gave way to some much better episodes in the second half once those obligatory storylines were jettisoned. The two-part sojourn to Earth-2 led to the best episode in the show's history, as we got see doppelgangers of every character in another world, and see Barry and Cisco interact with them in various, entertaining ways (even Panabaker improved a bit with her performance as Killer Frost, who at least isn't as painful to watch as Caitlin).
Iris got to be a kick-ass cop instead of a reporter, a profession the show clearly doesn't know how to integrate with the team, so I say make this occupation change for her permanent somehow. And the Kevin Smith directed episode "The Runaway Dinosaur," where Barry gets lost in the speedforce, was excellent and another contender for best in the show's history, as debut Flash writer Zack Stentz clearly knew exactly how to balance the humor, lightheartedness and emotion that made the first season so fun and really fueled that episode (not to mention gave our Earth-1 Iris the best role within the action and the team that she's ever gotten). Overall, the cast is still immensely fun to watch, with Cavanagh and Jesse L. Martin doing their parts as the veterans to the team of younger actors, Carlos Valdes is still superb as the scene-stealing Cisco, who happily remains not overused (unlike his character equivalent of Felicity over on Arrow, who was always a comic relief bit player and never should have been upgraded to female lead), and the improvement in Iris's character from the first season was hugely significant and showed that Candice Patton is clearly the best actress in a series that favors the men for some reason (use her more, guys, she's good).
As always, I'm a big hater of any kind of "will they, won't they" subplot (in my opinion, that trope is decades out of date by now), so as far as I'm concerned, Barry and Iris need to be together yesterday, and the really irritating romance stalling is getting on my nerves to the nth degree at this point. It's a superhero show, guys, and this couple was supposed to be permanently married anyway, so what are you waiting for? Pull the trigger already and just keep 'em together, for god's sake. Waiting around for that (for absolutely no credible reason) annoys me and makes me angry more than it does anything else, so I'd like to tell them to just get on with it. Finally, the introductions of Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) and Jesse Quick (Violett Beane) actually turned out to be fairly well-executed, as Wally's initial "angry rebel" addition to the family as Joe's long lost son seemed eye-roll worthy at first, but by season's end, he actually turned out to be a pretty good dude who I'm now looking forward to see get his own powers and become Barry's sidekick, as the West-Allen blended family remains the strongest element of the show, essentially its beating heart, and that it never lost.
So as you can tell, my investment in this show and these characters remains strong, despite all the things I can nitpick and complain about in regards to this season. Not the least of which is that ridiculous cliffhanger that seemed to negate any character development on Barry's part at all this year in favor of introducing a famous comics storyline (Flashpoint Paradox) that readers may be excited to see happen, but I remain deeply skeptical of, since it would appear to involve erasing both seasons of the entire show so far. Yeah, not feeling good about that, but if it's quickly dispensed with it could theoretically be used to restore Barry's happy, cheery, Season 1/Supergirl self. And that's my biggest wish for next season, one that I really hope the writers adhere to. I loved The Flash it because it was fun and warm and fuzzy. Cisco shouldn't suddenly be (and wasn't last year) the only person allowed to be funny on the show. Please bring that back and don't make Barry a miserable mess anymore, despite whatever plot machinations take place. That's all I ask. But I'll keep watching anyway, because, well...frankly, I'm hooked no matter what at this point.