It’s hard not to resent a show that goes on for too long.
While it’s increasingly rare for anything that isn’t a procedural drama to make it past four or five seasons, The Flash has managed to close out its almost decade-long run with a nine-season stint on The CW. The post-Smallville DC franchise that took up most of the space on the network may have been launched off the back of Arrow, but The Flash was inarguably the true heart and soul of the operation. Lighter in tone than its predecessor and more willing to lean into the fun of its source material, Barry Allen and the many, many, members of Team Flash gave us some of the best that the Arrowverse had to offer, and its early seasons were defining comic book TV. It was never without flaws though, and like any show that flies past its peak, the series finale was bittersweet—undoubtedly welcome, but not here soon enough.
When Grant Gustin first appeared as Barry Allen during Arrow’s second season in 2013, there was no way to predict that he would be headlining what would become the CW’s number-one series for six years. Looking back, the first season seems so simple: Barry becomes a speedster after being covered in chemicals, struck by lightning, and hit by a wave of radiation from a particle accelerator explosion. He’s stuck in a coma for nine months and comes out of it having to balance his job as a CSI, his new role as a vigilante hero, and keeping his identity secret from the general public—and most importantly, from his childhood best friend he’s been in love with forever, Iris West. There are metahuman villains of the week, the menacing presence of the Reverse Flash and his unwavering mission to make Barry’s life as miserable as possible, and the Arrowverse’s very first crossover episode. It may seem small now, but the series also pioneered racial diversity with the casting of Candice Patton as Iris, something that inarguably opened the door for more castings in the same vein like Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen, Anna Diop as Starfire, and a laundry list of other race-swapped castings outside of the DC universe that has only increased over the years.
The first season of The Flash was hardly perfect, but it was fun and full of potential, not only for itself but for the shows that would eventually use it as a springboard. Where Arrow had tried to set itself as gritty and real, The Flash let in some of the light that was missing. Still, as the series went on, it deteriorated like most others do. Ironically, the things that made it so good led to its sharp dip in quality during the later seasons. The show’s willingness to delve into the comics for storylines and new characters pushed certain storylines past the point of ridiculousness. Barry’s mission to prevent Iris’s murder at the hands of Savitar had the show playing with the rules of time travel, but it also created a paradox where Iris had to die so that a time remnant of Barry could somehow split off from him and become so angry about failing to save Iris that he would eventually become Savitar and start the loop all over again. If that made your brain short-circuit, it also made mine implode while I watched it, and somehow implode again trying to figure out how to explain the situation efficiently.
As the season-long plotlines started to get out of hand, the character development for anyone who wasn’t Barry was always somewhere between nonexistent and trying to claw a way out of the drain it was going down. Cisco got his powers as Vibe and immediately created a cure to get rid of them, then almost immediately invented a mech-suit that emulated his powers and completely nullified any reason that he wanted to be cured of his metahuman gene in the first place. The origin of Caitlin’s Killer Frost powers changed from season to season until her two personalities split in half to create some less-than-subpar comic relief in an ensemble cast that was already bloated. Despite her role as the female lead, Iris never got anywhere near the attention she deserved from season to season, instead getting little bursts of focus every once in a while. Some of the best parts of Seasons 3 and 4 were when we get to see Iris be reckless, and spiraling because those were some of the only times we got to see anything more than surface level for her. Even as Iris got more to work with in the later seasons, the show was so chaotic that it could never really be satisfying. That said, she has finally won her Pulitzer, so it’s really a three-steps-forward-and-seven-steps-back situation.
Even so, the series finale did The Flash at least a small measure of justice. The heart of the series has always been Barry’s relationship with Iris, and while we didn’t get a comic-accurate rendition of their family with the tornado twins like Barry’s cryptic “We’re gonna need more diapers” line from Season 4 may have implied, the finale gave us the much-anticipated birth of Nora West-Allen. She even gets held by her future Jessica Parker Kennedy self, something that should probably have made the timeline fold in on itself. When it comes to the rest of the episode, Barry’s final battle with Cobalt Blue is ultimately unsatisfying (I mean, really, who is watching a superhero show to see the villain get talked down from being evil), Caitlin somehow becomes Caitlin again after being Khione for a whole season, and we don’t quite get to round out the original cast being around for the series finale because Carlos Valdes wasn’t able to film due to scheduling conflicts. It is not the ending anyone would gave seen coming a decade ago, but it is objectively an ending.
The truly important thing is that Barry—and by extension, Iris—gets to know peace for the first time since he got his powers. If you asked me in 2014 where I thought The Flash would end, I would use my naive 14-year-old brain to tell you that Iris’s newspaper article in Eobard’s time vault was setting us up for a 10-season run. Had you asked me any time in the last 4 years, I would have said that The CW needed to slap the show with a “renewed for a final season” announcement. But regardless of how or when I think The Flash should have ended or how I think it could have improved itself over its 184-episode run, its conclusion heralds the end of an era. Die-hard fans of the series know intimately that we almost never got exactly what we wanted, but when you stick with something this long, it’s the characters that are important to you, not the show as a whole. Barry and Iris get the happy ending that they have deserved for the entire series, full stop. The many complaints and criticisms I have—the same ones that got me into writing about TV in the first place—could take a back seat to the knowledge that the characters we’ve all loved for so long made it out okay for at least five minutes. Clearly, they have not been let go, by me or anyone else, but our favorite characters are happy, and that is what matters the most.
Kathryn Porter is a freelance writer who will talk endlessly about anything entertainment given the chance. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter
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