With the conclusion of the third season of The Flash ending with Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) becoming trapped in the Speed Force forever in order to stop the destruction of Central City, Season Four has a dramatic starting point in which to explore a world without the Flash. Unfortunately, as with every other season openning of The Flash, it fails to live up to expectations, or promise. Much in the same way that the first episode of the third season resolved the Flashpoint timeline before the closing credits, here the lack of Barry Allen is resolved in episode one. This is easily the biggest disappointment of the episode.
With Barry gone Central City is left under the protection of Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) as Kid Flash, and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) as Vibe and Steel (Nick Zano), though we only learn this in Legends of Tomorrow. This new status quo could have been something that the series could explore over a number of episodes, it could have given these secondary heroes the chance to step into the spotlight and show the audience that they were heroes in their own right, not just Barry’s back-up band. We all knew that Barry would return at some point this season, this was never in question, but the show could have at least pushed this back even by a week to give the other characters a chance to shine.
Instead, Cisco returns Barry to the real world to help fight a threat that he and Wally can’t go up against alone, a robot samurai. When Barry returns he’s not the man they remember, unable to understand what’s going on around him, speaking in gibberish, and writing on walls in a language that we’ve never seen. Yet again, this is something that the show squanders, as Barry is once again himself by the end of the episode, snapping out of his situation when he hears that Iris (Candice Patton) needs saving.
Getting Barry back could have easily taken two or three episodes, and his bizarre mental state upon his return could have also had a whole episode to itself, instead, the show condenses what could have been three or four interesting episodes into one. Don’t think that the episode is all bad, however, as the show is still filled with it’s usual charm and spectacle that these are only minor issues. Yes, the show could have done more with the story in this first episode, but it still manages to be a hugely enjoyable episode.
Getting to see Wally and Cisco working together, alongside Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and the CCPD, to stop crime across the city is great, and the characters work really well with each other. The scene where they use their differing powers to stop a teleporting metahuman go on to showcase just how creative and exciting the action sequences in the show can be.
The episode also manages to squeeze in the return of Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) after her time as Killer Frost in the third season. Like most seasons of the show, Panabaker is given a slightly different version of Caitlin to play, this time being quite different due to having spent some time as her evil counterpart in the last season. With a tease towards the end of the episode that her and Killer Frost may not yet be done, it does leave a certain amount of mystery and excitement for the rest of the season.
The emotional heart of the episode, though, is Iris and how she’s been dealing with the loss of Barry. She’s become a harder version of her character, though not one that has completely shut herself off from those around her. She’s still part of the team, still leading everyone in protecting the city, but she’s dealt with her grief by giving Barry up as gone forever. Whilst everyone else is hoping that Barry will one day return, or actively trying to get him back like Cisco, she’s resigned to the idea that he’s not coming back. This leads to some friction between the team, particularly when they believe that their attempt to rescue Barry has failed. Ultimately, this does give us some very touching moments at the end of the episode.
The season premiere of The Flash has some story elements that feel a little rushed, and that could be spread out over a number of episodes, it manages to deliver an exciting and emotionally satisfying opener.
The Flash airs on Sky in the UK every Tuesday. Let us know what you think of the season.