Pow! Smash! Punch! Those are expressions that easily come to mind when thinking of a superhero. This is because heroes like Superman or Batman traditionally solve their problems with lots of action, sometimes even with violence. In the CW show The Flash, Barry Allen aka The Flash takes a different approach – he tries to understand the villains’ backstories, and if there’s a possibility for redemption, he takes it. But this series doesn’t stop there – many of its characters display healthy masculinity. So maybe there’s another way to save the day.
With the final episode already aired, it’s possible to write an analysis of The Flash. And what I think is most memorable about this show is its warmth, its heartfelt characters, and its humor. And, of course, its healthy approach to masculinity and equality.
In The Flash, forensic scientist Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) gains superpowers from the explosion of the S.T.A.R. Labs’ particle accelerator created by Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh). Barry needs to control his powers, which primarily consist of superspeed. He uses these powers to fight evil metahumans like himself. Wells and his crew – which include bioengineering expert Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and mechanical engineer Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) – help Barry fight crime in Central City. Then there’s also the relationship between Barry and his surrogate and police officer Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), who took the boy in after his mom was murdered and his father falsely accused of the crime and sent to prison. Barry is in love with Joe’s daughter and journalist Iris West (Candice Patton).
What I particularly like in The Flash is that the men aren’t portrayed as ‘alpha males’ but instead as nerdy people. Imagine James Bond without his gadgets – but who creates them in the first place? In this series, the technicians don’t stay in the background, they’re the ones who save the day. Which makes sense, if you think about it. Muscles work well when fighting, but you also need a certain amount of cleverness, especially as the enemies here are metahumans whose powers need to be strategically overcome. But since the Flash crew’s greatest strength is working together with nobody being the leader, it shows that you don’t have to be strong all the time, you can rely on others. Another message: Women – in this case Caitlin Snow – are as important for the team as their male co-workers.
Also, the characters appear to be very human and feel basic human emotions. Sadly, this can’t be taken for granted. Barry suffers from the loss of his mother, but he doesn’t get bitter or dark about it, like Batman, for example. It’s a huge part of his character and leads him to make some reckless decisions, but he feels regret and wants to set things right.
Barry has strong feelings for Iris and is afraid of losing her. However, he isn’t (as a true romantic) afraid of showing his love. Of course, Barry also has his flaws (such as lying to his friends occasionally or making decisions over their heads). The following scene contains a spoiler, but if you want to watch an endearing video of Barry singing to Iris, please follow this link.
Now, I would like to specifically talk about H.R. from season 3. He is another version of Harrison Wells from a different world in the multiverse. While Wells is a science genius, H.R.’s strengths lie elsewhere, often making him feel less valuable. H.R. likes to have fun and make other people around him happy. He’s the type of person who’s full of love and always in for a good time, making those around him question his usefulness. This is rooted in the picture we have of masculinity. Usually, living your emotions to the fullest and giving love is not seen as beneficial in a world that is so focused on being better than others. Although H.R. has the kindest heart you’ll encounter in this show, his incompetence is often played for laughs. Then again, he doesn’t let that stop him from remaining his outgoing, happy, and helpful self. That’s a lesson for all of us: Never apologize for being kind, and never let anyone destroy your happiness just because they’re too bitter to understand.
In contrast to the traditional narrative of male heroes whose strength is defined by their fierceness and control, The Flash shows a different kind of strength, a strength that results from being true to yourself. This show insists that love can save the day and that you need to work together with others to achieve greatness. Not a bad message – if you ask me.
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