Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Superhero Shows Round-Up: The Flash season five

With the new season of the Arrowverse iminent, it's about time I did my round-up on the last runs of the superhero TV metaverse. I still don't bother with Arrow, excepting crossover events, but here's the round-up of The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl as they lead up to the multiverse-shattering events of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

The Flash Season Five

After four years revolving around Barry, his dead parent issues and his slightly incestuous wooing of Iris, season five gets to see him settle down with his new wife and deal with parenthood issues instead. It's a bit of an odd one, though, given that their child is a grown woman. Jessica Parker Kennedy's character, having made a series of cameos during season four, revealed her identity in the season finale as their daughter Nora, having travelled back from the year 2049. Understandably, Barry and Iris weren't exactly expecting this development, even if 99% of the audience had guessed it was her (there was a slim chance it would turn out to be Cecille's kid, of course, which would also have been fun).

The bulk of this season's effectiveness is down to JPK's performance as Nora. Given that the character deforms the narrative of the season completely, had she not been likeable and engaging it would have fallen flat. Fortunately, JPK is absolutely adorable, and Nora remains sympathetic throughout the season, even if she is a brat sometimes. That's forgiveable, though, since she's basically written as a kid; although her actual age is a bit foggy, she can't be any older than 25 and probably more like nineteen. Amusingly, JPK is older than either Grant Gustin or Candic Patton.

(As an aside, it's a bit strange that both The Flash and Legends involve time-twisting narratives concerning women called Nora who happen to be the daughters of major characters. Although as a nice touch, it's made clear early on this season that Nora's name is after Barry's mother, something that has only happened because Eobard Thawne killed her and changed history. She was supposed to be called Dawn, like in the comics.)

The ongoing mystery of Nora's character stops being her identity – which would have worn thin if they'd kept it going another year – and becomes her allegiances. It turns out that she's in league with Thawne, aka the Reverse-Flash, returning to become the major villain of the series at last. Thankfully, if somewhat inexplicably, he's once again played by Tom Cavanaugh, having reverted to stolen form of Harrison Wells. This doesn't make any sense that I can make out, but Cavanaugh is so much better in the role than Matt Letscher I don't care. In any case, Thawne is now imprisoned in Iron Heights in 2049 – the past, from his perspective – awaiting execution. Given how impossible to kill this character has turned out to be, this would seem to be wishful thinking on the part of the authorities.

Of course, Nora's actions come from good intentions, and for all his manipulations of her, Thawne genuinely seems to care about Nora. To be fair, he doesn't seem to be much worse a parental figure than either Barry or Iris, neither of whom will be winning Parent of the Year awards anytime between now and 2049. Barry in particular is an absolute arse this season. It's an interesting arc for his character to take, given how likeable he was at the beginning, but as the series has gone on and the pressure has mounted on him, he's become more and more unlikeable, arrogant and hypocritical. His treatment of Nora, in particular, is appalling, once he discovers she working with Thawne. OK, Thawne is his arch-nemesis and the murderer of his mother, and it's pretty clear he's going to be manipulating her, but rather than try to help her he kicks her out of his family and forcibly dumps her back in the future. Guy's a prick.

Before we set it out with Thawne, though, Team Flash have to face down Cicada, a terribly dull villain who drags the season down. The odd naff baddie isn't a big deal, but when it's ostensibly the Big Bad of the season and hangs around for the bulk of the episodes, this is a problem. All good for making the bad guy something other than another speedster, but last year's Thinker was only a qualified success and Cicada has far less going for them. I say them because we did have a fun twist in the second half of the season when the first Cicada was replaced by his own vengeance-driven niece, but Sarah Carter sneering her way through scenes isn't much more entertaining than Chris Klien growling through them.

This is all tied in with a metahuman cure storyline which runs like a watered-down X-Men storyline, only without the punch since, rather than being natural traits, the metahuman abilities were all granted by catastrophic disasters. Moreover, Team Flash really do have a responsibility to provide a cure for those who want one, since all of them events were their fault (OK, Thawne engineered the first one, but still). This includes the climactic events of the previous season, which ties into Thawne's captivity in the future in a pretty clever way, albeit one that doesn't actually make sense. Still, I've long stopped hoping for the time travel in this series to make sense.

All the characters get their own running storyline; if there's one thing this series excels at, it's juggling a large ensemble cast. My personal favourites this season are Frank Dibny (Hartley Sawyer) and Sherloque Wells (one of four roles for Cavanaugh this year, along with “Harry” Wells, Wolfgang Wells and Thawne). Having a new main Harrison Wells character each year is one of the sillier but most fun aspects of this series. I certainly can't think of another series that does something like this. Making this year's version a French-speaking, Sherlock Holmes-esque detective is just brilliant, and Cavanaugh is absolutely brilliant in the role. His buddy-rival relationship with “Baby Giraffe” Dibny is one of the highlights of the season.

On the other hand, Cisco gets a fairly dreary storyline this year, which necessitates him behaving far stupider than his character should ever be allowed to. And the less we hear from boring Caitlyn and her boring family and their boring icy escapades, the better. Her storyline is the single most pointless aspect of the season and far too much time was spent on it.

On the whole, The Flash is still a lot of fun when at its best, and a real heartache when it ramps up the emotions. Still, it's hard to argue that the series is matching the heights of its first couple of years. There's more filler than before, I fear, and I wonder if the best future for this series would be shorter seasons and tighter story arcs.

Best episode of the season: “Godspeed” - the story of Nora and Thawne
Best secondary villain: Weather Witch – Reina Hardesty is the cutest.
Best episode title: “The Flash and the Furious,” although “King Shark vs. Gorilla Grodd” takes some beating.

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