I’ve re-written this review three times now, and here’s why: season 3 of CW’s The Flash is a mess.
From noncommittal timeline changes and frustrating dialogue, to unclear motivations and nonsense story arcs, each episode tries to cram as many things in as possible while landing very little of it with any sort of impact. The end result for the viewer is an hour of face scrunching, and a mixture of exhaustion and confusion as the credits roll.
For one, nothing changes episode to episode. Season 1 established the characters and showed us the way forward for The Flash’s development as a person and as a hero. Season 2 mostly copied the same beats, but also gave us an actual character in Iris, a compelling subplot with Wally West, and, while not as gripping as season one’s antagonist arc, Zoom made for an exciting and truly dangerous villain to watch.
Season 3 gives us a hooded weirdo with no clear objective, and now he apparently works for a Transformer. Team Flash is having interpersonal issues that don’t really make sense, and spends the whole episode dwelling on them. Additionally, Barry is in a rut as a person and as a hero, giving us little investment in anything that happens to him. His personal limbo feels like an analogue for the standstill this season is experiencing, and in many cases, both the protagonist and the show as a whole feel like they’ve taken several steps back.
Where once a humble and determined Barry Allen faced cunning adversaries and self-doubt with courage in the face of very real fear, the new Barry has gotten so used to second chances from loved ones and from hitting the universal reset button that he actually feels like kind of a douchey character at times. Joe, once a fatherlike source of levity and wisdom, is now more of an emotional mess, always crumbling over something Wally might do, while Wally has no capacity to express frustration without cutting people off or storming out of the room.
Iris is no longer the incessantly angry person she was in season 1, but she also has only a few empty lines of dialogue per episode. Cisco has apparently forgotten he forgave Barry for his brother’s death and is now a full-time sulker, meanwhile Caitlin is only allowed to grow past being timid and depressive just long enough to become a villain at a moment’s notice.
What moves the plot along? I’m not sure. Where once a plot point would be a hurdle until it had been overcome, we keep seeing the same struggles retread in similar ways, making entire episodes feel repetitive and inconsequential. After an hour of watching, seasons 1 and 2 would leave a definitive feeling when you first saw that last lightning bolt and the credits roll. The final moments would give some amounts of closure to what just unfolded, while also leaving you with a few tantalising glimpses at what was still to come.
Now, the show ends and I find myself at a loss for recounting what I just saw. Most episodes are still enjoyable enough to watch, and Tom Felton is a refreshing presence in the cast when we see him, but the two-season curse of CW appears to take no prisoners, Scarlet Speedsters included.
I still tune in every week hoping to see an exciting adventure starring a superstar sprinters and his group of friends, and much of the time, The Flash is, at the very least, entertaining. I find myself longing for the clearer arcs of previous seasons. Who knows, though? There's still time. There's always time.