The following contains THE FLASH spoilers through Season 7, Episode 11.
Good news, The Flash fans: Our long national nightmare that was the Forces of Nature storyline is finally over.
Granted, “Family Matters, Part 2” has many of the same problems as last week’s installment – the nonsensical sibling connection between the various Forces of Nature, the show’s insistence on calling them godlike beings even while treating them like Barry and Iris’s literal children, the general creepiness of Speed Force Nora’s existence, the cringe-y dialogue and awkwardly forced emotion. Let’s not even try to figure out how Barry and friends fought the Speed Force, an anthropomorphized being, inside the Speed Force, a localized place, before making nice and coming together as a family to live in…a cosmic version of Barry’s childhood home.
At least all the multi-colored lightning was really pretty? Hats off to the production team.
The episode ends with a reference to Impulse, which is exciting because it’s our first explicit nod to Bart Allen’s impending arrival. Even if after watching this particular arc, I’m not at all certain that Barry and Iris are meant to be parents anymore. (Sorry, XS! I loved you back in Season 5! This isn’t your fault!) This entire saga was really not a great look for them, and it made both characters nigh on insufferable at points.
Though, to be fair, a forced “family” connection between five grown adults who are virtual strangers to one another was never going to have the emotional impact that the show so clearly wanted it to, no matter how many times one of these, again, fully grown adults referred to Barry as Dad.
Truly, you know an episode is a struggle when the most entertaining part is the weird set of interludes that involved Frost randomly fighting Chillblaine in an attempt to recapture him after a freak storm set them both free from Iron Heights. Why were they in what looked like a parking garage? Where did he get that horrible feathered jacket? Why wasn’t he wearing a shirt? I don’t know, but at least their snarky and awkward flirting was entertaining. I’m kind of here for Frost’s crush, even if The Flash couldn’t keep her in prison for more than a couple of episodes.
In all honesty, “Family Matters” probably really didn’t need to be a two-parter in the first place, particularly when much of this hour retreads ground that the previous installment already covered. (Bonus points for only letting us believe Iris, Bashir, and Alexa were dead for thirty seconds, I guess.) But this episode does highlight a very specific issue that I hope someone somewhere course corrects in the back half of Season 7. And it is this: What do we have to do to just watch The Flash actually fight someone again?
Between all four Forces, Abra Kadabra, and Eva McCullough herself, this season has featured a positive plethora of villains who’ve been defeated not by our heroes’ superpowered skills, but by extended (often overly sappy) conversation. And on some level, that’s not a surprise – The Flash has always been the Arrowverse series with the biggest and most obvious heart.
But Season 7 thus far has fully leaned into the show’s worst and most saccharine tendencies, repeatedly solving problems with little more than a heartfelt speech about the power of love and some handwaving. We love these characters and we love this universe, so usually we’re all willing to go with it – the emotional beats are what we’re all here for, after all, and if The Flash gets that stuff right, we’re all willing to forgive it a great deal otherwise.
Unfortunately, this season has taken those tendencies to their worst and most extreme endpoints. Part of that is due to the fact that we don’t really know or care about the Forces as people, so we’re not particularly invested in what happens to them. As a result, that emotional connection that has carried the show so many times elsewhere (that even mostly papered over the holes in Eva’s exit at the beginning of the season) just doesn’t exist here. But it’s also because there are only so many times we can watch Barry and Iris talk a villain down by pontificating about the power of love.
“Family Matters, Part 2” features several of these sickly-sweet speeches, including a whopper from Joe about the strength of togetherness and how it takes a family to save a family. This sits really weirdly next to his pep talk from a couple weeks back about how you have to forgive your terrible children anything because you always see their best selves, but maybe the advice is different if your not-kids are actively trying to murder you and/or each other.
I mean…is it bad that I just want to watch Barry punch a bad guy in the face? Is that so much to ask?
It feels like it’s been forever since we had a really good The Flash fight scene. I suppose the bit where Frost did speedster drugs to fight the Barry that had suppressed his emotions sort of counts, but almost everything else this season has involved Team Flash trying to talk a bad guy down rather than just fighting them. And to be honest, it’s getting kind of tiresome. At least Frost got some solid kicks to Chillblaine’s head in while she was flirting with him.
Maybe it’s simply that recent villains haven’t felt terribly threatening – The Flash worked hard to humanize Eva before she tried to take over the world, after all, and it’s hard to explain what Nora or the other Forces even wanted at various points in this story. But Abra Kadabra had a documented history of being a danger to Team Flash, and yet Barry’s go-to move is still trying to somehow talk him around to not killing everyone.
As we look toward the back half of Season 7, here’s hoping that The Flash remembers that Barry needs to be capable of fighting villains with more than just words – so that when he does pull out those heartfelt speeches, they might actually mean something again.