And here we have it, in one episode, The Flash has made me care again and shockingly, I’m excited for next week to deliver on the joy that they promised to implement.
I am just.so.thrilled.
I didn’t think this moment would happen again following two seasons of a dour, moping hero, storylines that tried and failed to replicate the excitement of season one (and it’s villains- so many speedsters) while royally missing the mark on what made the show fun to begin with. Haven’t we all missed this? The charm, the quirks, the jokes and abundance of heart? I’m so ready for season four if it continues this pace and I’ll continue to cross my fingers (along with the rest of you all I should hope) that this quality persists. It would be a shame to get so enthusiastic so soon if we’re only to be let down an episode later.
The season premiere set the standard for what we’ll be coming to expect this year. New team dynamics with Iris taking a lead and Cisco being a second in command. There’s Caitlin battling her inner demons (or, really, alter ego) and Barry acquitting himself to his life again while also thriving with his new speed. The latter, something the show is adoring as they’re allowed to play with his speed for the first time since he was able to phase through objects and toss lighting. From the facial comedy that Grant Gustin was allowed to express in the therapist scenes, to the reintroduction of the familiar, but comforting, nature of the villain of the week structure, to the way every character is allowed to a moment to shine and prove essential to the team, the episode was the show at it’s best.
Here were the three greatest assets in an episode full of wonderful moments.
Barry got to be fun!
One of the worst decisions the show ever made was to push Gustin, and due to that, Barry, into the Oliver Queen/Arrow territory. What they’d missed was the fact that what made Barry such a compelling character from the get go was how he channeled his pain and history of tragedy into a beacon of hope, while Oliver allowed his rage to control his actions into ones of mistrust and isolation. Barry wished to make the world which had been unforgiving to him a welcome and warm one. And then, the show grew too accustomed to Gustin’s bright eyes and tears and obnoxiously relied on the angst, rather than the instantaneous charm he’d exuded upon first introduction. It became so overbearing that side characters grew from light reprieves from the main action into necessities, until they too were bogged down by grief and anxiety.
With episode two of the first season, the show is digging its heals into the “rebirth” idea with a show, anchored by it’s more guilt free and light spirited hero, that’s willing to take on the optimistic mantle once more. Despite a grizzly murder opener (mostly off screen) the episode does essentially start with Gustin doing his best Tom Cruise to “Hound Dog” in his kitchen, possessing a new lease on life, as he welcomes the world and the past six months in with stride, even if that means learning the fate of Jon Snow, and the backtracking of that fate, in a manner of seconds. There are serious moments in the episode that are explored, specifically the dynamics between Iris and Barry now that the new dynamic needs to fit his return into it, but we’re never even given a hint that we may fall backwards into the pit of despair that was season two and three.
The show understands relationship drama
One of my and many others biggest gripes with sitcoms is their archaic belief that a steady couple is a boring couple. The same passes over to drama, of course, and The Flash has largely ignore that sentiment. While they spent quite a bit of time stalling the inevitability of Iris and Barry’s coupling, once together their adoration of one another has never faltered, a nice honoring of the comic book iterations. There is no Barry Allen or Flash without Iris West. Due to this, the show is pressured into coming up with plausible reasons to cause tension in the relationship which they do wonderfully here. Even though Iris has put on a strong front, of course she’s going to be angry with Barry for leaving her, even in a moment of city wide crisis. It may not be rational but it’s real and honest and feels true to the couple written on the show. As does Barry’s eventual understanding, especially in the face of him taking on so many decisions since he return without once again consulting her, having failed to realize that every decision made from here on out, since the moment the engagement was solidified (and really, before then) was a team effort between the two. The two being a stable and reliable presence in the background of the absurdity and meta-human antics that take place each episode will always be welcomed, but if the show needs to introduce drama on the romantic level, we can momentarily be rest assured that said drama won’t be incited just to cause riffs for the sake of them.
It felt like its source material
Or rather, it felt like the version of the character I’ve loved since the animated Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, and that may be enough. The humor may have felt somewhat forced in moments as the writers made clear they’d actively pressed the reset mode, but overall the atmosphere to the jokes to the Flash’s general demeanor all but shouted that it had returned to capture the spirit of it’s best version of itself. With a campy villain, no excess plots and a cast chemistry that flowed off of one another, making even the most awkward of exposition dialogue work, “Mixed Signals” was a breath of fresh air because it reminded viewers not only of the potential of the series, but of the character itself.