NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Flash” are present in this review

 

 

Despite having to work around the awkward structuring of Season 7, due to complications caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, The Flash has managed to make it to the climax of its current ‘graphic novel’ story pod. Said climax is unfolding within a two-part storyline that sees Barry rally the other Forces against an increasingly unhinged Nora, starting with Alexa Rivera/Fuerza, freshly resurrected from the power of Barry’s and Iris’ love. Yeah, that’s still stupid, but what can you do?

In any case, “Family Matters, Part 1” kicks off the first half of The Flash’s midseason climax for Season 7 with Barry aggressively trying to train Alexa, so she can reliably harness her Fuerza powers against Nora. Meanwhile, Central City sees a fresh barrage of attacks by Psych, who has now taken it upon himself to begin hunting down his former Ivy League buddies. Because why not, right? Hell, while we’re recycling storylines, Kristen Kramer even comes back with the same old agenda this week, ordering metahuman cure bullets for the CCPD, something that leads to a major decision for Joe.

I’ll be honest– The Flash is starting to show its age at this point, even considering the renewed creative spark that new showrunner, Eric Wallace has brought to the show since last season. This is especially evident throughout this week’s core storyline with Barry, as he yet again recycles a character conflict that he’s already dealt with during his time overzealously training his future daughter. Once again, Alexa is positioned as a spiritual daughter to Barry, being the avatar of the Strength Force, and Barry has to yet again learn the lesson of trusting Alexa, and allowing her to master her abilities on her own terms, even if it’s messy. This conflict is old hat by this point, and it almost leads me to wonder if Barry is kind of dense. He should have already learned this principle while dealing with XS, back when she was visiting him in the past! Why is he all of a sudden pushing Alexa to ridiculous extremes again?!

Like I said though, this is evidence that The Flash is slowly starting to run out of ideas when it comes to character drama, so it’s repackaging conflicts that we’ve already dealt with. Even Kramer coming back to push the same agenda is initially annoying, though credit where it’s due, the latest challenge she presents to Joe still manages to be dramatically gripping. The idea of Kramer devising police bullets loaded with the metahuman cure is actually pretty interesting (even if it is borrowing a bit of inspiration from the DEG weapons featured on fellow Arrowverse series, Black Lightning), and Joe being frustrated at Kramer going by the book is a legitimately smart way to reframe the same issue with Kramer’s anti-metahuman agenda. Joe refusing to capitulate to said agenda by leaving his post as CCPD captain is also a nicely unexpected, dramatic final result, even if it does feel like a transparent excuse to install Kramer as the new captain, inevitably leading to a more heavy-handed, anti-metahuman CCPD for The Flash’s next story pod.

Of course, at this point, the biggest threat facing Central City is once again Psych, who is leaving his former friends in a nightmare-fueled coma, one at a time. Boy, I know this character is supposed to have a redemption story, but The Flash is really watering down some of its villains’ crimes by this point! Anyway, Iris, Kamilla and Allegra initially spearhead the investigation effort into Psych, at which point we finally learn Psych’s identity and backstory. Before he was the Sage Force avatar, Psych was Bashir Malik, who was adopted by a rich family after being abandoned by his birth parents, only for the adoptive parents to die in a plane crash while fleeing tax evasion charges. Because CW. After Bashir then came to believe that his friends all turned on him as a result of his subsequent financial ruin, he decided to take revenge, because we need to provoke Team Flash somehow, I guess.

As you can imagine, with Psych’s obvious redemption arc being set up around this point, Barry has to surrender to Alexa’s own agency, and the two team up to convince Psych/Bashir to join them against Nora. Why yes, decades of trauma can indeed be solved with an Arrowverse-approved pep talk! Take a shot! Inevitably, an impassioned speech by Barry and Alexa eventually wins Bashir over to their side, which just leaves Deon to recruit against the out-of-control Speed Force. Unfortunately, Nora has already gotten to Deon, who uses his Still Force abilities to enable Nora to seemingly kill Iris, Alexa and Bashir, before both she and Deon vanish again. Yep, Alexa’s dead for the second time in a few weeks now! Remember when death used to mean something in the Arrowverse, even in Central City?

All joking aside, I don’t think these apparent deaths are meant to stick. If anything, they’re probably just meant to force Barry to appeal to Deon exclusively, likely setting up a climactic confrontation with Nora next week, before The Flash inevitably shifts focus to a new story pod, and thus a new antagonist, in June. Something that will stick however is the imminent exit of Carlos Valdes and Victoria Park from the series, and I have to admit, this is another dramatic story arc that’s done much better than the more tedious core plot with Alexa and Bashir. As it turns out, Psych’s initial nightmare that Cisco was subjected to saw him being the last person working at S.T.A.R. Labs in forty years, having done nothing else with his career. Despite that however, Cisco doesn’t know where to go next in life, even after Kamilla seemingly accepts a new job in Miami. This is another legitimately smart subplot that gives Cisco a distinct and fitting exit arc, as he struggles to find a new direction through which to apply his extraordinary intelligence. I don’t imagine that Cisco will be gone forever however, since a telltale phone call from A.R.G.U.S. appears to tease that he may have a position waiting for him within the Arrowverse’s faithful clandestine organization, an easy opportunity for future Arrowverse guest stints, a la Arrow’s John Diggle and Lyla Michaels.

“Family Matters, Part 1” surprisingly excels most when it focuses on The Flash’s supporting cast, specifically as Cisco and Joe both debate and struggle to act on major life changes, changes that will have huge implications for Central City. Unfortunately, The Flash’s advanced age ends up working against this episode’s core storyline, as Barry regresses back to his terrible methods as an unreliable mentor, just like his days with XS, while Psych’s agenda once again funnels down to an anti-billionaire mission that somehow gets distilled even further into a spurned spiritual family conflict. I get that the idea is to contrast Bashir’s family issues with Barry’s and Iris’ current struggles to rally their ‘Force’ family against Nora, but in execution, a lot of the fun behind Psych’s character simply gets sucked out when his backstory is revealed here. Likewise, Alexa’s hackneyed Strength Force struggles effectively turn her into merely a poor person’s DC-branded Hulk, something that’s dragged down further by Barry yet again continuing to be a terrible teacher.

I also have to wonder why The Flash is even bothering to make a big deal out of Nora killing people anymore. I imagine that Iris’, Alexa’s and Bashir’s ‘deaths’ will all be reversed as soon as next week, especially when both Iris and Alexa have already died on this series before! Maybe next week’s conclusion of this two-part story arc will make Nora’s latest ineffectual killing spree work, but I guess that’s up to whatever pep talk Barry will inevitably arrange for Deon during the next episode. Don’t forget your shot glasses!

The Flash 7.10: "Family Matters, Part 1" Review
The Flash manages to deliver surprisingly heartfelt subplots for Joe and Cisco this week, even as Barry's futile efforts to train Alexa retread too much tired drama.
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Kramer's smart new anti-metahuman strategy
  • Cisco struggling with a lack of fulfillment
  • Joe walking out on the CCPD, for better or for worse
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Tedious, rehashed Barry/Alexa conflict
  • Psych's backstory reveal makes him much less fun
  • Nora killing people really doesn't matter anymore
74%Overall Score
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