So, this is it. The series finale of The Flash (Season 9, Episode 13: “A New World, Part 4”) has aired.
With Arrow, Supergirl, Batwoman, Black Lightning, and Legends of Tomorrow all canceled, with Superman & Lois choosing to divorce itself from the others, and with that proposed Justice U spinoff officially not happening, that makes this the final episode of the Arrowverse.
I’d like to say that The Flash and the Arrowverse as a whole went out with a bang, but that’s sadly not the case. There was some good stuff here: the “Legion of Zoom” was fun while it lasted – I especially enjoyed Zoom and Godspeed trying to out-macho-posture each other, while Thawne just sidles in dunking on them. Was kind of weird that no one addressed how Savitar is technically also Barry, their hated enemy, but still, for a final episode, bringing together all their past evil speedsters* for one big blowout was a great move.
(*Except for the Rival, because no one cares about or even remembers the Rival.)
Also, Joe singing to Baby Nora … I’m not made of stone, people!
Yet it’s hard for me to enjoy this as much as I want to, because the final resolution to this story (and thus, to this series and this universe as a whole) is so, so dumb. Like, in concept I don’t mind that Barry’s final victory is convincing Eddie to be the hero they died as. But the set up for it, where talking Eddie around also turns the Negative Speed Force around, allowing for peaceful co-existence …
I mean, we’ve been told the Negative Speed Force is literally made of hatred and envy and all things negative, and anyone who draws on its power must give in to those negative feelings. That’s the reason Season 5 Nora had to let themself be erased, because while the Negative Speed Force could save them, it would also turn them into a monster. But somehow Eddie can just reverse all that, and the cosmic force that wants only to annihilate our heroes is now something we can work hand in hand with.
It doesn’t help that Khione’s speech about co-existence that prompts all this … it’s just flat out wrong about how nature works.
I get that The Flash wanted to go big for its final story arc, but as I’ve been saying for a few seasons now, whenever The Flash goes cosmic-forces-of-the-universe big, it just falls flat on its face. It’s still a step up from Barry and Iris treating the Forces as their children, but nevertheless an underwhelming finish.
It’s also a bit strange that, since everyone involved knew this would be the final season, what it all builds to doesn’t feel particularly series finale-ish, except for that out-of-nowhere sharing-the-power scene at the end.
Still … at least they undid Caitlin’s death. Not with enough time left for them to do anything, but it lets us close this book without that sour taste in our mouths. If that seems like damning with faint praise, well … yeah.
And that’s it. That’s the end of the Arrowverse.
(At least until a decade or so from now, when 2010’s nostalgia will demand there be a revival full of gray-haired superheroes.)
These shows have been part of my life for the better part of a decade. I’ve spent hundreds of hours watching them, and hundreds of hours more writing reviews of them for the Avocado. And now that it’s all over, I stop to wonder how that came to be.
I’ll be the first to admit, of the more than 700 Arrowverse episodes, the vast majority are simply fine – entertaining, but nothing special. And while they did create quite a few gems, they turned out just as many stinkers. Why, then, did this suite of shows merit so much of my time and devotion? Why did I keep following them even as other superhero programs with higher budgets and tighter plotting became available?
As I reflected on this, I came to realize there’s something about the Arrowverse shows that’s greater than the sum of their parts. And it’s something truly unique to these shows, because the kinds of stories they told … they’re something no other era of television would do.
If the Arrowverse had been made a decade earlier, there wouldn’t be an Arrowverse. Back in the 2000’s, we’d consider ourselves lucky if there were four live-action superhero shows on TV, total. To have four all on the same network, made by the same production company, set in the same shared universe: that just didn’t happen back then. It wasn’t till the Marvel Cinematic Universe hit it big, making colorful superheroes and massive shared universes mainstream, that the Arrowverse could exist.
And even if these shows had gotten made in an earlier decade, it took advances in VFX technology to make a lot of what they did possible – even Arrow, one of the less fantastical shows in the bunch, still made constant use of CGI arrows during fight scenes. Sure, at times the visual effects could look cheap, even silly, but they looked just real enough to bring some of the more outlandish concepts from the comics to life. In a hypothetical 2000’s version of the Arrowverse, I don’t think we get Firestorm as a main character, or repeated battles against a giant gorilla, or Supergirl doing a bunch of mid-air rescues, or Giant Beebo fighting Mallus.
The Arrowverse couldn’t have been made in an earlier decade … and, unless current trends reverse themselves, no future decade could produce them, either.
Because, for all that they fit into our modern zeitgeist, these shows were still made under an old-school model of television. A model that says a show should produce twenty or more episodes each season, to be aired throughout the year with occasional hiatuses. And that model is increasingly falling out of favor – while some shows still use it, for a long while television has been trending towards shorter and shorter seasons (10 – 13 episodes is starting to become average), and having a year or more go by between seasons is now quite common.
Many other superhero shows have been produced in recent years, but if one of them ever makes it to fifty episodes, it’ll be considered a long-runner. That’s a drastic change from the Arrowverse, which over the course of a decade had four separate series cross the one hundred episode barrier, with Arrow and The Flash finishing closer to two hundred. And putting out so many episodes in such a relatively short span of time: that changes how people relate to the series.
We got to spend far more time with these characters than we could ever hope to with their modern brethren. And because it’s hard to maintain a singular story arc across a twenty episode season, we got to see them in a broader range of situations – not just the biggest adventures that define their lives, but all the smaller, slice-of-life adventures that flesh out who they are. And, because we kept getting new episodes with them throughout the year, with the biggest gap being a few months off in summer, they became a regular part of our lives – spending time with Oliver, Barry, Kara, and the rest was something we could rely on.
What that all adds up to is, we got to know these characters very well. We became familiar with them, their habits, their quirks, the relationships they had with each other. There’s a special bond between viewer and fiction that can only come when we follow the characters’ lives so closely.
That was the real secret of the Arrowverse. Even when the effects could be shoddy, the dialogue cringey, or the plot turns irritating, that bond was there to buoy them up. Even in the doldrums of Arrow Season 6, or Legends Season 1, or The Flash Season … gosh, most of ‘em … even then we could still come to them with affection. And when they turned things around and delivered some legitimately great television, it felt so much more satisfying, gave us so much more elation than if it happened to some characters we barely knew.
Building that sort of long-form bond with the audience, in a superhero adaptation that embraced so many of the wilder and stranger aspects of the comics, right down to annual crossover events: there the Arrowverse stands alone. There’d never been anything quite like it, and it doesn’t look like there will be again. That makes it well worth remembering.
But I will also remember these series because writing about them, and discussing them with all of you, has been a constant source of joy for me these last six years. Whether it was doing in-depth analysis, or just quoting lines from the episodes back at each other, posting these has always been my favorite part of being on the Avocado. And I owe a big thanks to all of you, for making this such a fun place to discuss these silly little shows – when I look back on the Arrowverse, it’ll be these chats that I’ll miss the most.
Take care, y’all, and may Beebo bless us, everyone.