In its third season, one of the major failings of The Flash is the criminal way in which its female lead is portrayed at the expense of supporting female characters (Caitlin Snow, Patty Spivot, Jesse Quick). A genuine critique of this show is that they cannot write for multiple female characters at the same time. Iris West has been sidelined now for two complete seasons while the writers have developed storylines for all the supporting female cast members. A different creative choice could have been to develop all of these characters alongside each other, instead of sidelining the lead at the expense of her supporting cast members. A greater critique in general can be made of the treatment of women of colour in The Flash: Linda Park, Iris West, Francine West? All three have had their arcs never truly fleshed out or seen as anything as props for the men in their lives. Every season, poor Candice Patton has to peddle the same repeated promises of the showrunners that she will finally get to be a real reporter and contribute to the team.
Patty Spivot had a back story and an entire half-season to develop her as a character and she had motivations outside her relationship with Barry. She has career ambitions. She has a backstory of avenging her father. She is independent and doesn’t take Barry’s shit.
Caitlin Snow is shown to be an (albeit unrealistic) multi-hyphenate member of Team Flash: microbiologist, doctor, botanist, secretary of state etc. Caitlin Snow lost a fiancé, just like Iris West, but there is barely a mention of Iris’ grief while that was made a central part of Caitlin’s growth. Iris is just shown to “get over Eddie” in a passing line to make her available for Barry.
Jesse Quick is another one of the most developed characters in the last season. The father-daughter relationship of Wells and Jesse has incredible emotional depth and despite being higher billed and having similar threads of loss and overprotectiveness, there is no real equivalent to the Iris West/Joe West relationship.
The loss or complicated relationships of mother figures runs as a common thread for many of The Flash’s characters: Barry Allen, Caitlin Snow, Iris West and Jesse Quick. All of these complicated losses are shown to be integral parts of the developments of these characters except Iris and Francine West. Iris also had a fractured relationship: her father let her believe she was dead for years! Yet this was a throwaway offscreen plot point when dies of her terminal illness! Yet Francine dies offscreen and we never truly see her grieve.
There have been a few episodes where Iris has been given her due diligence and they all stand out as massive moments in the series: “The Runaway Dinosaur” and “Welcome to Earth-2” are notables. “Welcome to Earth-2” is my favorite Iris episode because she is shown to be a rich, fully developed character. She has her marriage to nerdy E-2 Barry Allen but she is also a fearless detective.
Mention also has to be made of Linda Park. What happened to Linda Park? What happened to CCPN? Linda was just there to prop Barry while he silently pined over Iris while she was with Eddie. We never even get to see any of the Linda-Iris relationship or how the realistic story thread of investigative reporters helping a superhero is never used. Lois Lane can do it, Cat Grant can do it, so why can’t Iris West?
I sincerely hope this season gives us more rich development to these characters instead of constantly bloating the call sheet to stuff characters into the show without the depth to truly hit us all in the feels. I fully believe that female characters can be fully developed and have motivations for being something other than pep talk props for male superheroes. For effective storytelling, we have to know Iris West outside of her being Barry’s prop. If they are infusing the show with these iconic characters of the mythos or going the canonical route of Barry and Iris then for it to truly feel be impactful, we have to know these characters, we have to feel their motivations. I am a big believer of the slow burn arc for love storylines and there is so much opportunity here for a more nuanced rich payoff for the show’s canon couple. Perhaps the reset of Flashpoint can remedy the mistakes of earlier seasons with a reset of WestAllen and Iris West.
The Flash has an abundance of rich, complicated and smart female characters that can be just as thrilling and super as The Flash. Here’s to season three showing us more of that!