'Mixed Signals' explores not only what it's like having a more upbeat Barry around, but the challenges that come with being in love with a superhero.
[Warning - SPOILERS for The Flash season 4, episode 2 ahead!]
Last week's premiere of The Flash brought us the rebirth of Barry Allen, as the titular hero returned from his stint in the Speed Force feeling better than ever. This Barry has let go of his grief and pain, instead enjoying a renewed sense of optimism for the future and enthusiasm for being The Flash. And in some ways, this is true of the series as well, with the show aiming for season 4 to come off as less serious than last season.
But this super-happy-Barry needs to remember that the rest of Team Flash wasn't gifted this new outlook on life, that they have been covering for him while he was gone, keeping Central City safe in his absence. This is doubly true for Iris, who not only had to step into a more active role within Team Flash, but save face for Barry whenever questions of his whereabouts would come up. Additionally, Iris is still reeling from Barry leaving her in the first place, feeling hurt that he again chose to save the world over remaining with her, then feeling guilty because she feels that way. It's a dilemma that comes with being engaged to a superhero and one that The Flash - being that it's a show produced for The CW network - is particularly good at exploring.
Tonight's episode, 'Mixed Signals' sends Barry and Iris to couple's therapy when Iris notices that she and Barry are struggling to communicate. It's an issue they do need to work on, but it's really more of a symptom than it is the real problem. What it is they really need to address is what happens when two people plan to share the rest of their lives together, but one of those people has already chosen to devote their life to being a superhero. For Iris, it means she has to come to grips with what it means to love a superhero, to share in the same risks, burdens, and responsibilities as Barry. But he, too, needs to realize that The Flash isn't just him anymore, it's him and the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with; so when it comes to risking his life, he should probably loop Iris in on those decisions. This is all rather cheesily summed up with, "We are The Flash," but it couldn't be more true - if Barry and Iris are to be partners in everything, then that includes being The Flash as well.
That 'Mixed Signals' can discuss these relationship hurdles without feeling weighed down by them is a testament to this brighter outlook of season 4. While a somewhat serious topic, Barry and Iris' issues get humorously explored, with those scenes at the therapist's office being especially fun in how they play the need to keep a secret identity against the honesty expected at a counseling session. For the most part, this episode keeps it light and finds time for plenty of jokes, managing to approach what can be a tough part of the superhero lifestyle - namely, the sacrifices made by heroes and those they love - in a manner that addresses their concerns without ever becoming too melodramatic.
Along those same lines is the subplot of Cisco and Gypsy's relationship, contrasting a couple who've been an item for years with two people just starting to fall in love. They have their own hangups to address, and just because they both have superpowers, it doesn't make it any easier. Gypsy is clearly uncomfortable expressing the true depth of her feelings for Cisco, while he needs to learn how to better balance romance with work. Again, these two aren't anywhere near the level of commitment Barry and Iris share, but a relationship at any level requires some effort if it's going to work out.
For as much as 'Mixed Signals' focused on love and relationships it might as well have been a Valentine's Day episode (maybe 1-1-1 day falls on November 1st?) instead of just the second episode of The Flash's more upbeat season 4. Still, that promise to keep the season lighter holds fast in this episode, with the stakes never feeling too high - even as The Flash has his new suit's self-destruct feature activated by the technopathic villain, Kilg%re. This episode is a return to the breezy adventures of season one, where each week Team Flash did battle with a new villain and didn't have every moment consumed by some looming threat from the future.
Not that there won't be a threat that's sure to consume much of the season, it's just that the characters remain unaware of The Thinker and whatever it is he's planning to do with the new metas popping up in Central City. In time his plan is sure to revealed, and when it is, Team Flash will work together and figure out what to do about it, just like they always do. But until then, The Flash season 4 seems more than happy to dwell in the lives of its characters, focus on their relationships with each other, and just have everyone be happy for once.
The Flash season 4 continues next week with 'Luck Be A Lady' at 8pm/9c on The CW.