The Death of The Flash

So comic book nerds might think I’m referring to the famous scene in Issue #8 of Crisis on Infinite Earths from the mid 1980’s, where Barry Allen sacrifices himself to stop the Anti-Monitor from using his anti-matter cannon from destroying the last five parallel universes.

Ah, comics.

Or you might even think I’m referring to one of the fake-out deaths that Wally West seemed to have every 50 issues or so when he was DC’s main Flash, most notably when appeared to sacrifice himself to stop Superboy Prime from ripping the arms off of every low-level hero in the DC Universe.

Ah, comics under Dan Didio & co.

Or maybe I could even be talking about when the Bart Allen incarnation of the Flash was killed off at the end of his short-lived series, fighting against all the classic rogues who somehow never thought that their actions could be lethal.

Fortunately, Barry, Wally and Bart all got better.

But actually, I’m not talking about any of that.  I’m actually talking about the most recent episode of The Flash TV series, in which TV’s Barry Allen gets trapped in an imaginary movie musical with fellow costumed adventurer Kara Danvers, aka Supergirl.  The two must navigate a fictional tableau populated by people who look their friends and enemies in order to complete a preset plot, allowing them to escape to the real world. Along the way, there’s singing and dancing and other elements consistent with an old-style musical.

And it’s bad.  I mean, really really bad.  Like, kind of terrible.

Though mystifyingly, according to wikipedia, it’s been getting good reviews.

But really, it’s so bad that it makes me nervous.  Could this be the moment where The Flash “jumps the shark”?  Where it crosses a line into utter stupidity that it can never recover from?  Is this…the death of The Flash??! 

I hope not.  I like the show, I like the cast, I like the concept, I like the adventure.

But all the good cast and adventure can’t make up for stupid storytelling.  Or at least, not forever.  From the beginning this series has had problems, but there’s always been enough awesome stuff to make it worthwhile.  However, in recent weeks they’ve been struggling to get through their entire 42 minutes hours without losing their footing as far as consistent characterization or believable story development is concerned.

And that’s the problem with Duet (this recent musical episode).  I mean, it’s been obvious from the get-go that whatever story this episode was going to have was just an excuse to get the musically talented cast to sing a bunch.  And at the start, we are hopeful that there will be at least the bare bones of a compelling story.  But by the end, the shallowness of what is offered is so painfully, painfully transparent that it really doesn’t give us much to hold onto.  It basically amounts to “a wizard does it.”  Why?  “To teach the characters a lesson.”  What lesson?  “Love.”  Why?  Well, no reason really, except to give the episode semblance of meaning.

I mean this sort of “virtual reality” story used to happen about once a month during 1990’s Star Trek, except then the justification was that people were having problems with the holo-deck (or maybe the Q-Continuum).  Except that TV was different then, and for the most part these escapades didn’t interrupt ongoing  narratives.  Here, it does.  Badly.  And more than that, it forces the storylines to bend to its will, creating the false illusion that the episode is important to the series.  In other words, because Duet needed to be a story in which Barry and Iris realize the significance of their love for each other, the previous episode had to break them up.  One gets the feeling that this was decided fairly late in the day, because the break-up is one of the stupidest moments that the show has produced, completely unjustified except, we thought, to heighten the soap operatics of the show.  I mean, even my teen and pre-teen daughters thought it was absurd.  But it turns out the real reason was to try to set up the so-called “motivation” for the story this week.

And over on Supergirl, the same thing happened.  Kara dumps Mon-El because she just can’t get past his not telling her that he’s really a prince, even though the reasons are blatantly obvious to everyone.  Again, it’s all so that this episode–which literally aired one day later–could try to create a potent emotional moment to bring them together again.  Tried, and failed, because it’s all just so contrived.

Meanwhile, in order to remind viewers that this is a TV series about superheroes, The Flash inserts a meaningless fake-out where Kid Flash and his super-powered compatriots chase down the supposed villain of the piece, the Music Meister (?!) who is apparently pretending to rob a jewelry store.  He then pretends to be defeated by them so he can pretend to imprisoned in Star Labs so he can push Mon-El and Iris in the direction they need to move to complete his lesson.  What they heck is the point of any of that?!  Why in fact he is doing any of this?  The episode ends with him leaving with no explanation other than that he has lots of power and that he just likes to do things for the heck of it.  In other words, just like the production team behind this show.

Now, maybe next week there’ll be a throwaway line from Wally about how his encounter with the Music Meister taught him not to be afraid, that it was another part of the Music Meister’s lesson.  I’m guessing this because the Music Meister (how many times can you say “Music Meister” before it starts sounding stupid?  I’m guessing zero or one at best) kept harassing Wally about being afraid.  It almost seems like some line of dialog explaining it should have been in this episode but was cut out instead.  But whether or not they revisit the idea in the future, here the whole sequence is still arbitrary and feels like they wrote it before they figured out how the episode would end, and then just kept it in because they were too busy going back and changing their earlier scripts to make sense out of this one.

Now, in the interest of fairness, I will say that there are good things about the episode.  The actors they pulled together for the musical numbers really are good singers.  Melissa Benoist sounds really nice on Moon River.  I liked Jesse L. Martins, Victor Garber and John Barrowman on More I Can Not Wish You.  And Grant Gustin’s Running Home to You is the best thing about the show’s final scene.  The numbers are well produced, the two leads’ chemistry is as fun as ever, and there are some funny moments.  It’s just that the story, which you know, I think is a kind of important, is sacrificed for the sake of it all, and it’s not a sacrifice that I think was worth it.  It was a fun idea, but it didn’t really serve anything except for our curiosity.

Now, obviously, this is a rant.  I haven’t really given up on the show, I’m just hoping that in the future I don’t back to this moment and say, “That was where it all finally fell apart.”  I’m hoping that next week, when Abra Kadabra makes his debut and maybe we find out who Savitar is (future Barry?  future Wally?) will pull it all back together again.


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