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What’s Wrong With ‘The Flash’ (Spoiler Alert)

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NOTE: This post contains spoilers for the season finale of The Flash.

Last week, Mordechai Luchins and I posted our last Same Geek Channel review of The Flash finale. Our reactions were mixed and, as someone who lost their father when I was young, I objected to Barry deciding his mother needed to die to apparently preserve his current future or maybe the world. (That wasn’t clear and may not be until next season.)

But it wasn’t until after I gained some distance that I realized the underlying issue with Nora’s death. The writers made a story choice to keep her dead and I understand why, even if I don’t agree.

What I object to is having Nora Allen exist just to be dead.

Just like Iris West exists only for Barry Allen to crush on and reflect his idealism back at her.

Let me explain.

We saw two people die in the finale:

Eddie Thawne, in the spur of the moment, choose to kill himself to erase his descendent and thus preserve save everyone else. It was heroic and sad, especially because I suspect what happened is that by creating a time loop he caused the singularity (the Black Hole) that Barry will have to fix. Poor Eddie–he died and still didn’t fix things.

But at least Eddie chose how and when he died.

Moms are famous for having no identity of their own, right? Source: CW.
Nora Allen gets to die. A lot.
Source: CW.

Not Nora Allen.

Nora Allen is a blank slate. First, we know nothing about her save that Barry and his father loved her and that she wanted to protect her son. For a show that is so big on flashbacks, it whiffed on using them to flesh out Nora.

Second, Nora is never given a choice in her death. In fact, she gets murdered over and over on the show, as Barry flashes back to it time and time again. Then she’s murdered again in the finale in front of two Barrys.

Heck, at this point, Nora Allen’s death is the most depicted act in geekdom this side of Barbara Gordon being shot by the Joker.

Of the two deaths in the finale, it’s easy to see that Nora got the crap end of the deal. Unlike Eddie, she never had a chance to be heroic. Unlike Joe, we never see her younger personality. Unlike her husband, who is in prison and yet given a personality and wants and needs of his own.

Nora doesn’t even know she’s being sacrificed to save the world.

She’s a tool, a plot point, a MacGuffin without any personality whatsoever. She might as well be a thing that gets broken.

In a world where women are so often devalued, it’s sad that, over and over, The Flash resorts to women as things. All of them, including Caitlin, existing only insofar as they’re important to men. Think not? Caitlin’s whole role in the finale is about a guy. She doesn’t even know what a singularity is. So much for being a genius.

I wish The Flash team would hire more female writers next year or listen to the ones they have but it doesn’t take a woman to write great female characters. It only takes better than the writers have shown thus far. The show is capable of more complex characterization, as it does well with Barry’s relationship with Joe, but it flubs everything when it comes to its women.

It’s a weakness that drags the entire show down.

Years ago, after Barbara Gordon was tossed on the scrap heap after her shooting by the Joker—“Let’s cripple the b—h,” Alan Moore reported being told by DC editorial–the late, great Kim Yale and John Ostrander had Barbara Gordon resurrected and reimagined as Oracle and her character kept alive and popular, a popularity DC is happy to play on in the current Batgirl comic. If not for their efforts, Barbara Gordon may well have faded into obscurity.

The show still has time for Iris; they still have time to fix their mistake.

But Nora Allen will never get a chance to hear her voice heard because the story is clearly not interested in women save for causing men angst or supporting them. This is a pattern with these showrunners, who based two entire seasons of Arrow on the death of a female character to cause everyone angst.

Despite some bright spots, I cannot call The Flash “the best live-action superhero show ever,” as some have, when it ignores, marginalizes, and murders those who make up 51 percent of the population.

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20 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With ‘The Flash’ (Spoiler Alert)

  1. People are already commenting on our Facebook page that the death of Nora Allen is a “classic” part of the Flash legend, as if this excuses the portrayal.

    It wasn’t part of Barry’s back story until 2009. That’s not even a drop in the bucket of The Flash’t long history.

    And even if it was, the issue isn’t that she dies, the issue is that she could be easily replaced with, for example, a dead pet and have the same amount of agency/impact.

      1. It shouldn’t, but that’s kinda my exact point.

        Nora had been given as much personality/importance as a dead pet. She’s not a person; she’s an object.

        1. I feel sorry for your mother on Mother’s Day… You should be careful not to project your antipathy to mothers on to everyone else though. It is effective as a narrative device as it draws upon what for most of us is a very close and loving relationship being severed, and having a psychological impact upon the severance.

          1. Thank you. While I wasn’t brought to tears, I couldn’t help but think of my mom while watching Barry talk to his. Instead of being in that moment when you see that Barry has a second chance to give his mother closure, reassurance, and to say goodbye, we are focused on the fact that she had to die. Barry made the hard choice to listen to himself from the future. If you want to read what happens if she lives, read The Flash Point series or watch The Flash Point Paradox. Both pretty good.

    1. This won’t let me respond directly to flash739, but this is to him/her.

      You’re right, with the knowledge of those wider stories, that helps. But the average viewer doesn’t have that.

  2. You dont even know…When they erased Reverse-Flash from existence, he was never able to go back and kill Nora. I hope youre ready for next season, as it will hopefully make the correction you are asking.

  3. I agree that the writers need to fix Iris and Caitlin pronto … I am constantly facepalming over Caitlin constantly being shown as incapable … But as to Nora, I suspect that we have not seen the last of her, for a lot of reasons, some of them even ‘canonical’ to the recent reboot mythos that they are channeling for this arc. Arrow has suffered from this as well, but has gotten better … I had hoped that the Flash team would have learned from some of Arrow’s mistakes re: female (cough, Laurel) characters …

    1. Cough … Moira…cough cough…Felicity…cough cough cough, Sarah… cough cough cough cough Nyssa… cough cough cough cough cough Speedy….Hack hack hack….(drinking water) …. urrrrp.

      1. Moira – Well, we don’t know what to do with her, so we’ll kill her.
        Felicity – 90% of the time great. Last three episodes? The heck?
        Nyssa – Yes! Love her.
        Speedy- useless first two seasons, great this year.

        I’d really argue that Arrow went from having those gender issues the first two season to mostly turning it around this year.

  4. I agree completely on Iris and Caitlyn, especially because old school Iris was so often the strongest and smartest person in the room. But with Nora, she was not a well rounded character before her death in 09 and not much of one now since. I know that’s not an excuse, but you could say the same about Martha Wayne or Uncle Ben, they have a few moments, but not much else. And to me, everything we needed from her was in the last scene. And maybe I’m reading into your article too much, but if it was Barry’s dad that was marginalized, would you be ok with it? If he had died and Nora was in prison, and got the cool scenes that his dad has gotten, would that be alright?

    1. I wouldn’t be okay with Barry’s dad being marginalized either. To use an example, look at Daredevil. The reason Jack Murdock’s death is so tragic and powerful is that you can see he knew it was coming and choose death rather than disappoint his son. (NOt giving anything away on Daredevil, that’s his base origin, folks.) Daredevil is a show that made sure every single character had depth rather than being a prop, even to Foggy’s lawyer girlfriend. As for Martha Wayne, yes, I do have a problem with her. She doesn’t even get lines in Batman Begins and she’s rarely fleshed out, while there are scores of stories about Thomas Wayne, his work as a doctor, and maybe even being the first Batman. Martha Wayne? Eh, she owned pearls. Uncle Ben? If I recall it right, in some retellings, he’s tries to stop the thief. In any case, he’s been given plenty of screen-time in adaptations, even being played by Martin Sheen. So in some cases, that doesn’t apply either.

      Adding depth to characters instead of using them as props adds depth to your story. That’s one issue. The second issue comes into play when this continually happens with *only* female characters and, without getting into Arrow spoilers, this creative team has a bad habit of killing off women to motivate men, and that’s a second problem. Nora Allen’s death is two problems rolled into one.

  5. Some quotes that completely negate the argument for me.

    “But at least Eddie chose how and when he died.”

    So what you are saying is that Nora Allen should have committed suicide, because that statement makes it sound like author wanted her to because that is one of two ways she could have chosen when and how to die. It is highly unlikely that she could have sacrificed herself in defense of her son because her murder took place fifteen years prior (1999, I think), long before metahumans existed. She would have had no idea or any way of understanding what was going on that night because she was a normal, baseline human caught between two “gods”; one of whom was a vengeful, obsessive psychopath. Never mind the fact that both the (future) Flash and Reverse-Flash were moving at speeds beyond human perception. From the perspective of Nora, Henry, and young Barry, she was caught in the middle of a freak electric storm.

    Despite “the Flash” being part of the science-fiction/fantasy genre, suspension of disbelief still applies. Nora could not have known the Reverse-Flash’s intentions that night to have any effective agency.

    “Caitlin’s whole role in the finale is about a guy. She doesn’t even know what a singularity is. So much for being a genius.”

    Need I remind everyone that Catlin’s chosen field is in the biological sciences and not astrophysics hence she probably did not study black holes when she was earning her Ph D. Meanwhile, Ronnie and Cisco are both engineers working at a particle accelerator who would have at least some grasp of the theories behind singularities–that and the show established Cisco was a major film buff. Something tells me he knows his science fiction.

    Furthermore, it was Catlin he managed to shut down down the accelerator at the last moment because an exploding conduit/console blew Ronnie back. Not bad for someone whose specialty is not astrophysics.

    “The show still has time for Iris; they still have time to fix their mistake.”

    They already are. Iris figured out Barry’s dual identity (albeit by chance) and she chewed out both Barry and her father for hiding the truth. She pointed out that if they had told her, she could have been better prepared and not a hostage. She was initially willing to say, “screw fate” and fight for her relationship with Eddie. She even got the jump on Peek-a-Boo when she was about to strangle Catlin.

    1. “Need I remind everyone that Catlin’s chosen field is in the biological sciences and not astrophysics hence she probably did not study black holes when she was earning her Ph D.”

      OK, probably not during her Ph.D studies. More likely, she got a basic grounding in the concept as an undergrad or in high school.

      “Meanwhile, Ronnie and Cisco are both engineers working at a particle accelerator”

      …where Caitlin also works. Chances are she talked shop regularly with her fiance and with the only other co-worker who stuck around after the disaster discredited their boss. And the term “singularity” is pretty much guaranteed to have come up at some point in discussions about the safety of a particle accelerator, particularly after an actual incident.

  6. You’re forgetting another female character…Lisa Snart/Golden Glider. She’s actually my favorite so far. She needs some work as well as she still seems at times to merely be a prop for her brother,Captain Cold. But I think she’s got some serious potential if they really develop her.

    And I thought Linda Park was perhaps the strongest woman on the show so far as she called Barry and Iris out and refused to be a third wheel/prop for that whole storyline. That being said, another miss by the writers as she was woefully under-utilized. I think that storyline was cut a bit too short… Unless the show has plans to introduce Wally West, then I s’pose they’ve just put her on the back-burner for the time being.

    I’d also like to see them introduce a Patty Spivot to further complicate things between Barry and Iris. If Caitlin is going to do a heel turn I think they’ll need another female to step into that kind of support role for Barry/The Flash.

      1. Peyton List was excellent on Mad Men as Jane Sterling. Initially they too were using her as a cliche/stereotype but after they married her to Roger Sterling (John Slattery) they gave her character a lot more depth and dimension. Based on how she’s been written so far I think List is basically able to “phone it in” and get away with doing so. But she is a better actress than that (based on what I saw of her on Mad Men at least) and if they gave her better material to work with I think she could do a lot more with the character than she has so far.

        I’d like to see them develop some sibling rivalry between her and her brother. Perhaps even make her a bit more morally ambiguous. They could even inject a bit of sibling rivalry into their relationship (that would be kind of fun actually). And didn’t Wally date Lisa Snart in the comic at one point back in the day? (I think maybe during Moessner-Loeb’s (sp?) run in the early 90s)?

        I think adding a female to the writing staff could do wonders with fleshing out some of the female characters on the show so they don’t run into the same difficulties on The Flash that they ran into on Arrow.

        1. Wally didn’t date Lisa, though I seem to remember some awkward flirting in a flashback story set during the brief time that she and Len tried to go into legit business as bounty hunters.

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