Superheroes in a Dangerous Time, or Fear and Loathing in the Arrowverse

The Flash: Crime Fighting and Civil Liberties

Or “Parenthood and Time Travel,” but that’s less on-message
Image: CW

The Plot

Throughout the previous season, Team Flash had run-ins with a mysterious speedster who, surprising no one, turned out to be Barry and Iris’ daughter from the future, Nora, aka XS. (XS from the comics is their grand daughter but whatever, no one cares.) Nora discovered she had speed, figured out how to time travel (she name drops Lightning Lad, I have to believe she spent some time with the Legion of Superheroes in the far future), and came back to 2018 to spend some time with the father she never got to know. But her decision to help Flash stop a satellite from crushing the city changes the timeline… duh… causing a major change to the origin of Cicada, a nemesis Barry didn’t even know he was about to have.

Cicada (Chris Klein, American Pie) is out to kill all meta-humans due to multiple family tragedies and has a lightning-shaped dagger whose dark matter content allows it to neutralize meta-human powers. And thanks to Nora, he’s more dangerous than ever.

She probably shouldn’t have taken all that time travel advice from the Reverse-Flash. That can’t be going anywhere good.

The Metaphor

Cicada’s out to kill meta-humans. All meta-humans. That… doesn’t work great as a metaphor for minorities, people gifted powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men by dark matter exposure don’t really correlate to POC or LGBT+ or whatnot. Especially when the majority that we’ve met have been criminals. But they do have an interesting ethical debate, for those willing to see it and not just bitch that Team Flash doesn’t do exactly what they would have done, or that Iris has thoughts and opinions, or that Supergirl doesn’t pop over to Earth-1 to solve Barry’s problems all the time.

Yeah, I had to leave the Flash subreddit this year. Especially when they didn’t notice that this post was making fun of them. Anyway.

Biologist and meta-expert Caitlin Snow and engineer-slash-TV-doesn’t-understand-scientific-disciplines Jack-of-all-trades Cisco Ramon begin to make progress on a meta-human cure. If a meta’s powers were removed, Cicada wouldn’t target them… if Cicada’s powers were removed, he wouldn’t be a threat anymore. But there’s a catch.

Cisco and Caitlin refuse to administer the cure to anyone without their consent. Not even Cicada.

This issue comes up because Caitlin’s powers come with a split personality, Killer Frost, and Frost does not love the idea of being “cured.” Frankly, neither does Caitlin… she and Frost had a rough start in season three, sure, but since then they found ways to talk to each other and now they’re really quite close. They talk Frost into not blocking their cure research, but only under the agreement that forced de-powerings won’t happen.

Forcing the cure on someone is a violation of their civil liberties. And the thing about that is, if you do it for a good reason, eventually you’ll do it for a bad reason. As Colossus of the X-Men explains in this classic speech, which is a much more poignant and easy to read explanation than trying to describe the history of brain-clamping from the excellent webcomic Spacetrawler but maybe read it anyway it’s great you’ll love it.

So even if lives hang in the balance, even if it’s the only way to stop Cicada, the cure is not, will not be given out without consent from the meta in question. Which is good. Team Flash having to connect with villains on an emotional level to turn them off a path of hate is much better, heroics-wise, than metaphorical forced sterilization. That’s not a good look on anyone.

The Villain

This is the second Flash nemesis in a row to be heralded by a time traveller talking about what a threat they are. Last year two different future folk name dropped Cliff DeVoe, one specifically putting him in the top four Flash nemeses (damn I wish they hadn’t killed off Captain Cold, he belongs on that list). This year, Nora gives us a quick and nicely effective shortcut to sell the menace… “You never caught him.” Cicada killed dozens, possibly more, because Flash, Green Arrow, a hinted-at Justice League was never able to stop him. Nora wants to help bring him down, but predictably her efforts seem to create as many problems as they solve. Who knew? That nice condemned prisoner Eobard “Reverse-Flash” Thawne seems to be giving such good advice!

Orlin Dwyer was an angry, solitary man, until his sister and her husband were killed thanks to meta-human crime, and he ended up legal guardian to his niece, Grace. Together, they did some bonding, managed the first two acts of a feel-good movie, but then shards of that pesky satellite crashed on them (thanks to Nora changing their trajectory), and Grace ended up in a coma. With some nudging from her meta-hating nurse, Orlin’s out to kill all metas.

Early season Cicada was a powerful threat to all of Team Flash, being stronger and faster than any de-powered hero on their side. Chris Klein’s gravelly villain voice is… not the best, especially when he’s out of his killin’-suit, but he did cut an imposing figure. Plus, after the death-march that was the Thinker last year, I appreciated that Cicada was tough to beat, but not impossible to foil. They could actually save people from Cicada now and then.

Of course in the second third of the season, it swung too far the other way. There were a few too many episodes where Team Flash landed a solid blow on Cicada, he stared at them in surprise and rage, then flew away and nobody stopped him. Maybe don’t give him so much time to shake it off, guys, maybe actually stop him or something. And while I’m not one of those girl-hating anti-Iris types who probably posted negative Captain Marvel reviews without seeing the movie… Iris goddamn West should not have been able to stab him once with a pen and incapacitate him enough that she could deliver a parting threat and stroll away. I’m all for Iris West, Team Flash Quarterback if it gives her more to do than season one (that season’s one black eye was Iris’ weak writing), but that was a little much.

The last third, though? Neat twist. Great way to take us home.

The Solution

Love and empathy. There are a few occasions when Flash can take Cicada in a fight, though they’re the minority, but the answer keeps coming down to drilling into the love between Orlin and Grace, and finding what humanity remains. Only then can Cicada be talked out of serial-killing metas. Takes a couple of tries but it eventually takes. As long as that wasn’t part of some plans of Reverse-Flash’s, everything should be good, right?

Random Thoughts

  • Their big new twist this year is people who gain power thanks to an object that was infected with dark matter. A phone that can control minds through clickbait headlines; a weather vane that can control the weather; car keys that can… control cars or something, I don’t know why I’ve spent so much time on this, it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s just some world-building they do to explain how that crashing satellite filled with dark matter created Cicada and his dagger.
  • One episode is titled “King Shark Vs. Gorilla Grodd.” It does not disappoint. A giant telepathic gorilla goes three rounds with a similarly giant man-shark. Game, set, match, Cloak and Dagger. That is how you do a Zod-damned superhero show.
  • Caitlin might not want her meta-condition cured, but Cisco sure does. Carlos Valdes has become the first core cast member to leave the show in four years. I’ll miss him.
  • There is something to be said for how the Arrowverse handles queer-sexuality characters, in that they’re treated like normal people. Nora likes girls. Barry takes a second to react to that, then is fine with it, then it doesn’t come up again. Oliver’s son William being gay comes up a couple more times, in that he flirts with a male villain to infiltrate his operation, but still, nobody’s squicked out or anything. No character is judged by who they love.

Next Page: Crossover season!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *