As much as we enjoy the show, there is no avoiding the fact that The Flash was something of a mess in its seventh season.
To be fair, there was no way to avoid that. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had to finish the final three episodes of Season 6’s Mirror Master story, explain away the abrupt departure of Ralph Dibny (after the actor was fired for racist tweeting), send off lead actors who intended to leave at that season’s end, and manage to build moment for two major storylines this year. And, all the while, manage COVID-19 restrictions on guests, background actors, and physical contact. The results were shaky.
But the pandemic production difficulties only highlighted problems already baked into the show. Although we love the notion of “graphic novels,” the stories told so far do not feel as concise or discrete as they could be. Eight episodes per “graphic novel” should be the sweet spot, and yet … it still isn’t working.
Or perhaps the problem is in the way the stories seem to exist on top of each other with Team Flash seemingly moving from one story to the next without a break. The Mirror Master story ends, but instead of some lighter episodes, Barry (Grant Gustin) immediately encounters the new Forces and discovers they came into existences because of his choices in the battle against Mirror Master. Once the Force War ended, a set of spotlight episodes kept the pace and the sense that no one was getting to rest before the Godspeed arc began in earnest. This might make sense in a year with the Reverse-Flash, but there really is no reason for the show to feel this relentless right now.
And then there’s the story idea themselves. While we appreciate the show’s devotion to finding solutions besides “Barry runs faster,” the answers still seem to miss some oomph — and that’s long before we get to Barry literally getting faster in the season finale to defeat his opponents. The Forces seemingly decide to become Team Flash allies just because. A whole episode is dedicated to Frost (Danielle Panabaker) accepting life in prison only to get a pardon a few episodes later. The only surprise in Kristen Kramer’s (Carmen Moore) story was that she kept coming back week after week.
No doubt the reality of the pandemic, and trying to shoot a series within it, led to the stories and character beats feeling more arbitrary, but it doesn’t excuse the fact so little story this year contained any impact.
There were some bright spots, though. The episode devoted to Cecile’s (Danielle Nicolet) secret stay in a mental hospital was a standout. She really is the show’s secret weapon and we’re glad to see her in the Cortex more often. Cisco’s (Carlos Valdes) swan song as a regular character was genuinely emotional even as it tried to keep things light. Also, we’re glad he and Chester (Brandon McKnight) had a chance to bond with a time travel episode. It aided the transition and we’ll be happy to see Chester as the S.T.A.R. Labs nerd for the duration for the series. And, we’ll be honest, we’re suckers for Nora West-Allen (Jessica Parker Kennedy), so seeing a new version her — and her new brother Bart (Jordan Fisher) — definitely made the last few episodes more delightful. As we keep suggesting, maybe Nora or Bart should become The Flash full time and let Barry and Iris (Candice Patton) take an extended vacation.
Meanwhile, we want Allegra (Kayla Compton) to be a worthwhile member of Team Flash and Team Citizen, but it is not coming together. All of the Arrowverse shows need to be more nimble about characters like Allegra — either in finding something compelling for them to do or agreeing to send the character away. But perhaps the resolution of her family storyline will lead to something fresh next year.
And that’s the key thing, The Flash needs some freshness. It also needs to tell more stories across a given year. But with everyone presuming Season 8 will be the last, we just hope the show gives us an ending worthy of the promise the program had in its initial years. Or, if it continues to Season 9, it lets Barry have a some time to rest. As it happens, the vow renewal scene underscored that the characters are still compelling and fun when the world isn’t hanging on them to save it. Those moments of rest are as important as novelty on this show and it absolutely needs more of both in the future.
The Flash returns November 16th.