In the Arrowverse, becoming a superhero isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Despite his image as a fun-loving, cheeky chappie, even The Flash has had a rough time lately.
Remember Barry, the super “emo” version we encountered in the future? Team Flash’s greasy, ‘Tobey Maguire from Spider-Man 3’ haircut is looking more and more likely by the day, thanks to their many deadly, city-destroying, timeline-erasing shenanigans.
On top of that, the Arrowverse is still reeling from the Crisis, but the ramifications of which haven’t been discussed in great depth. Sure, physical shifts to the multiverse continue to affect many of these series, but there hasn’t been an emotional fallout from these crises that lasts more than one or two episodes.
Let’s not forget that Barry just lost his best friend, Oliver Queen, and Iris has just watched her husband making out with an evil clone for the past three months. It wasn’t all that long ago that Iris spent an entire year knowing she was going to die.
Although that did not happen, it is clear that all of this trauma has taken its toll. However, it wasn’t until season seven, in the episode ‘Central City Solid,’ that these emotional ramifications were completely recognised.
Yes, this isn’t exactly a modern angle for superhero stories. WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier have all dealt with trauma this year, but The Flash, which has always been seen as lighter than most of its Arrowverse counterparts, is venturing into new territories.
‘Central City Strong’ begins with Barry putting in an almost excessive amount of effort to put things right now that he and Iris have reunited. Although she doesn’t hold him accountable for anything, The Flash bears a great deal of responsibility for Iris’ kidnapping, not to mention his inability to realise that his wife had been replaced. Import some foreign pastries and grapes at breakneck pace.
Of course, the elephant in the room must be tackled, and when that time comes, it will signal real progress for Barry and Iris as a couple. Their marriage improves as a result of working about their feelings, which is a good reflection on a show that could have easily outstayed its welcome after seven seasons.
This week, Barry and Iris aren’t the only ones having trouble. Abra Kadabra (remember him?) has reappeared from the 64th century, and his greatest trick this time is a doozy. Kadabra once had a wife and boy, but they were deleted when the timeline was reset post-Crisis, according to a lot of exposition. When Kadabra realises this, he holds the Flash responsible for the disaster and plans to wipe Central City clean in one massive disappearance.
But that’s a concern for another day, because the creature then vanishes almost as quickly as it appeared. Although the show gave no explanation for what had just occurred, it appears that this individual has been imbued with the Intensity Energy, which is connected to the multi-coloured forks of lightning that keep appearing in Central City.
Rather than solving the mystery right away, the episode went full circle and proceeded to discuss Iris’ trauma.
Iris has been dealing with all that has happened since her kidnapping throughout ‘Central City Strong.’ Even though she’s safe now, or as safe as you can be in Central City, her pain is affecting her job. Allegra criticises Iris’ coverage of the Mirrorverse attack as shoddy, and when she attempts to interview survivors, it’s too much for her to bear.
Iris only finds the courage to speak up and explain what happened to her in the Mirrorverse at the very end, after being encouraged by Barry’s voice. The show could have easily glossed over all of this, so it’s a compliment to the writers that Iris was given time to process her trauma in a safe setting.
Candice Patton, who gives yet another outstanding performance here by bringing to life the complexities of post-traumatic stress disorder, even though the show does not explicitly mark it as such, deserves special mention.
Let’s only hope the Flash keeps hitting that sweet spot, where it taps into the psychology of characters like Iris without fully obliterating their past trauma. Given how complicated the Arrowverse has become, that’s a tall order, and while these shows are meant to be entertaining, how are we supposed to cheer our heroes on when they save the day if we can’t connect to them emotionally when things aren’t going well?
In the United States, The Flash airs on The CW. In the United Kingdom, the show is broadcast on Sky One and NOW TV.