The Problem with Superhero Shows: Flash, Season 2

Unlike many superhero shows (and movies), Avengers
delivers characters whose behavior and arguments
arise naturally from their personalities and pasts.
The second season of Flash illustrates a fundamental problem that dogs superhero shows.

I love superhero movies! And I qualify as a Buffy/Angel fan although I prefer earlier seasons of both to later seasons. But the only other superhero show I've been able to watch all the way through is Lois & Clark (I'm discounting the superhero qualities of my favorite detectives.)

I enjoyed the first season of Flash very much despite hints of writing problems to come. I gave up on the second season of Flash around disc 4.

The problem is the same problem that dogs many superhero graphic novels (not all): the need to have stuff happen--for characters to do certain things--overwhelms character and plot integrity.
Barry feels guilty about the singularity and agrees with Dr. Wells/Harry Wells that going back in time is a bad idea. 
Right up to the episode where he decides that it is absolutely necessary.
Zoom needs to be prevented from causing utter havoc on Earth 1!
Right up to the episode where Barry decides he has to go back and save Earth 2, opening up Earth 1 to Zoom's attacks.
Everyone agrees that Zoom needs to be taken out at all costs, and Barry believes it can be done!
Right up to the episode where Barry gives up his speed to the Zoom to save someone without a single person saying, "You know, Zoom is evil. I think it is okay if we double-cross him--just like it's okay to lie to serial killers when they are trying to kill you."
Grant Gustin is a respectable actor and Jesse L. Martin is
phenomenal--unfortunately, the writers have Gustin do
remarkably dumb things as the Flash. Martin as Joe
West either has more clout or a better writer.
It isn't that characters can never change their minds. Or decide to behave differently than they did the day before. The problem is the writers of these shows provide no hints that a character might be struggling with the other side of an issue or pondering different methods of accomplishing a task. At least when Stargate characters bother people on other planets, they have the same objectives from earlier episodes/seasons, whether it's anthropology, medicine, or defense. Characters in superhero shows, on the other hand, make decisions based on their feelings/needs on that particular day.

In other words, superhero shows often seem to sink into the shaggy dog story pit of "we need to have the character suddenly want to do something that the character has shown no interest in doing before, so that's what will happen."

And it isn't even respectable shaggy dog storyness (see Lois & Clark) since the writers still demand that I take seriously a character who could be just about anybody tomorrow depending on the writers' needs (Lois & Clark simply wants me to have fun).

What makes this all so sad is that it is so easy to fix: if a season is going to include an episode where Barry goes back in time (again), why not have him ponder in an earlier episode, "Hey, I wonder if that really was such a bad idea? Maybe I could control the event better. I could even prevent what happened last time. Sure, Dr. Wells was against it, but he turned out to be evil."

Cavanaugh as Wells in Season 2 is still fairly awesome--
unfortunately, his storyline no longer runs the season.

Or the writers could have the time travel be something that happens to Barry rather than something he makes happen.

Otherwise, Mr. Ends Justify the Means has become little better than the villains he fights. Which is a classic superhero problem except the writers don't want me to believe that the superhero of the week has fallen so far. The writers want to make their cake, eat it, then have it miraculously reform itself.

Interestingly enough, I think one reason Flash, Season 1 is so comparatively good is the use of Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanaugh) as the villain. The writers were forced to remain consistent to a character--and actor--whose behavior ran the entire season's arc. They had no choice but to retain character and story-line integrity. Consequently, the season is far superior to much superhero television. It's a pity it couldn't last.

But it does prove a basic truth: classic narrative rules are there for a reason. And holding a writer to those rules is the birth of creativity, not its death.

2 comments:

FreeLiveFree said...

The best superhero shows in my opinion were always the animated ones. Batman: The Animated Series was for me as kid was a breath of fresh air. It holds up better than some adult shows. (Gee, the bad guys locked MacGuyver away in a closet with exactly the right things he needs to escape again...) Justice League and Justice League Unlimited (really the same show) were great. Young Justice was also great.

I've actually have not gotten around to watching Arrow or Flash. I agree on the first few seasons of Buffy/Angel being the best. Particularly Buffy, after she graduated from high school the show sort of lost it aim.

Joe said...

The issue you brought up doesn't really bother me. One of my biggest pet peeves, however, is when the story depends on characters failing to do the most basic communication. I'm not talking about the cliche of the unbelievable misunderstanding, but simply speaking, writing, calling, emailing or texting. The worse is when two close, perhaps even in love, characters are separated by distance, but never do any of the above. Okay, so maybe the cell phone broke and there is not computer, but who wants to be in a relationship where one person is too lazy to even send a postcard?

(A character not speaking up about the most basic things is one of the most ridiculous and aggravating aspects of the later seasons of Supernatural.)