Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
Poor Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) just hasn’t been able to catch a break. While season 1 of The Flash served primarily as an origin story for how Barry developed and honed his powers, it also introduced the tragic backstory of his mother’s murder at the hands of Reverse-Flash. Subsequent seasons have seen Barry face off against similar speedsters like Zoom and Savitar, each one accompanied by a mysterious secret identity and their own set of personal demons for Barry to face. But when season 3 sent the Fastest Man Alive into the Speed Force seemingly forever, it felt like something different was around the corner, a suspicion that fans have seen validated by the showrunners in the lead-up to the season 4 premiere.
Indeed, “The Flash Reborn” sees Barry return from the Speed Force – through the show’s usual reliance on sci-fi gibberish, naturally – a very different man. Reliving your worst moments over and over is bound to have an impact on even the most stalwart speedster, as we learned last season. However, as the titles episode suggest, this premiere is drawing inspiration from the Flash’s comic book Rebirth, bringing him closer than ever to the light-hearted hero currently getting all the best moments in the Justice League trailers. Barry’s burden has become a heavy load over the course of these past three seasons, and considering Savitar’s identity, there isn’t much more the show could do to highlight his battle with his inner demons. So, it’s a relief that instead The Flash is mixing it up for season 4.
Gustin, as always, is a blast in the role, especially now that he gets to have so much more fun onscreen. Viewers who’ve harped on the prevalence of brow-furrowed, worrisome Barry can rest easy at last. In addition, Candice Patton continues to prove why Iris is such a strong leading lady, reaffirming Barry and Iris’s status as one of the best superhero TV couples ever. Much of the series has focused on their love story, and the first two episodes of season 4 really hinge on it as the couple readjusts to this reborn Barry and the new dynamics within S.T.A.R. Labs.
The show’s zippy sense of humor returns intact for season 4, embodied most of all by Cisco (Carlos Valdes), who remains a standout character. Not only does Cisco play an instrumental role in Barry’s return, but he gets more to do than ever before, earning a subplot or two that have nothing to do with his scientific mind or his Vibe alter-ego.
Likewise, Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) is back after her Killer Frost plotline turned a corner last season. At this point, it’s unclear exactly where the show hopes to take that story in season 4, though it is apparent that we haven’t seen the last of it. Elsewhere in the cast, Jesse L. Martin and Keiynan Lonsdale are doing what they do best, doling out fatherly advice and playing the jokester hero, respectively. Unfortunately, neither of them has much to do in these first two episodes. Alas, no sign of Tom Cavanagh as Harry or any other version of Harrison Wells just yet.
However, we do meet season 4’s new Big Bad, albeit in the briefest of ways. Last year, the show dropped a casual mention of Clifford DeVoe aka The Thinker, and Neil Sandilands makes an appearance as the character in what is sure to be a season-long arc. Exactly what his agenda is will likely unfold gradually over the next several episodes, but the fact that he isn’t a speedster both gives the storyline a freshness lacking in the past and also a challenge it must rise to overcome. DeVoe’s vague scenes so far feel a bit jarring since we have little clue as to what’s going on, though there’s reason to trust that the classic supervillain will pose as intriguingly cerebral threat to Central City and its resident hero.
On the whole, The Flash season 4 is off to a terrific start. Setting aside its past self-seriousness (and even taking light jabs at it along the way), the show appears to have recalibrated into something brighter, more fun and far more in line with the source material. Gustin and company are certainly game for a change of pace, and The Flash has deftly dodged just about any indication that the series would become stale in season 4.
Team Flash is as charming as ever, leaving fans with 20-odd hours of adventures to look forward to this year. In many ways, The Flash has always been the crown jewel of the Arrowverse, blending the optimism of Supergirl with the mystery of Arrow. After so much of the latter, season 4’s decision to lean more on the former will come as a relief to longtime fans who may have wondered where their Barry went. We’re happy to report that he’s back and apparently here to stay.