The Flash Season 8 Episode 1 “Armageddon, Part 1”
Director: Eric Dean Seaton
Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Danielle Nicolet, Kayla Compton, Brandon McKnight, Jesse L. Martin, Brandon Routh, Carmen Moore, Rachel Drance
Runtime: 42 minutes
Crossovers have always brought out the best in The Flash. The cause is unclear, whether it’s the cast’s personalities coming out more when they have special guest stars to bounce off, or the writers being a bit more careful and precise with characters who aren’t regularly theirs, or something else entirely. But whatever the cause, even in the show’s early-season glory days it was always a treat when Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and company got involved in some big event that also featured other figures and corners of the DC Universe or even just when someone from another show like Arrow dropped by for a scene or two. So Season 8’s reasons for starting with the Armageddon crossover event are pretty obvious. I was more generous than some towards Flash‘s ridiculous, Star Wars rip-off of a Season 7 finale but even the dumb fun of those episodes doesn’t change the fact that the show is coming off easily the worst run in its history. The creators seem to be hoping that mounting the first big crossover in nearly two years will be enough to get The Flash back on its feet.
That said, Armageddon is different from the usual crossover event for several reasons, most of which are rooted in the restrictions on television production that COVID still necessitates. Mixing and matching of cast and crew to the extent that past events did is still dangerous at this time, hence why Armageddon is only made up of Flash episodes, not installments from several different series as usual. COVID also means that, with one exception, the special Arrowverse guest stars aren’t current regulars on any of the series but instead actors and characters who were either written off of current shows or hail from one of the three that have ended (Arrow, Black Lightning, and Supergirl). The event starts small, limiting the first episode to one returning guest star, Brandon Routh, who reprises his Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow role as Ray Palmer/the Atom and the gradual introduction of the event’s overarching narrative serves as an obvious sign that this is going to be a different kind of crossover.
Armageddon is very loosely based on a 1990s DC Comics event titled Armageddon 2001. That event was an expansive mystery that included almost all of DC’s major heroes in roles big and small after they discover that, ten years in the future, one of them has been corrupted, becoming a ruthless villain named Monarch and conquering the world. The Flash‘s version has an entirely different set of focal characters and a smaller scope but it features a similar premise. “Armageddon Part 1” opens in the year 2031, with Central City a dystopian wasteland. Alien warrior Despero (Tony Curran) surveys the carnage in horror while his internal monologue announces his intent to stop the world from coming to this. Towards the end of the episode, he attacks Central City’s Tech Con, where Team Flash and Ray are in attendance. When Barry confronts him in costume Despero announces his intent to kill him to save the future. When details about Armageddon were first announced I thought Ray and the other guest heroes would be suspected of going bad in the future but focusing the suspicion solely on Barry, at least to start, is a better decision as it keeps the show’s leading man at the center of attention, which is something Flash often struggles with. Curran gives a solid, imposing villain performance and I like the morally ambiguous approach to Despero. Overall, the crossover’s central arc gets off to a fairly strong start.
But before the big confrontations and prophecies of doom “Armageddon Part 1” spends most of its time leisurely setting up Season 8’s status quo and introducing some small-scale character arcs. The episode emphasizes how Barry and Team Flash have all evolved or “leveled up,” as the dialogue puts it (and by emphasizes, I mean, in typical Flash form, people bluntly say this to each other around ten times), showing increased proficiency in both their superhero and private lives. Barry is faster and more efficient as a hero than ever, rescuing everyone on a derailed train in seconds and defeating the episode’s preliminary villains, a new, superpowered version of the Royal Flush Gang with ease and largely solo (which should delight fans annoyed at how often he needs coaching from STAR Labs). Iris’ (Candice Patton) newspaper, the Central City Citizen, has grown in size and popularity and added a podcast, leading her to delegate some responsibilities by promoting Allegra Garcia (Kayla Compton) to an editorial position that Allegra worries she isn’t cut out for. Barry and Iris are also still hoping to evolve their family but a planned night of baby-making is interrupted by Ray, who shows up unannounced to take his friends up on their offer of crashing at their apartment while in town for the convention.
Ray is struggling with his own process of leveling up. He’s married Nora Darkh and left the time-traveling chaos of the Legends behind but his return to something closer to normal life has him confronting his own duality. When he’s reintroduced he’s overcompensated somewhat in his efforts to be a good husband, having completely abandoned superhero life as the Atom and refusing to get involved with the business side of science again, instead of committing himself only to “pure research” for work. When Chester P. Runk (Brandon McKnight), an avid fan of Ray’s who signed up to be his Tech Con liaison, blindsides him with a bunch of up-and-coming inventors hoping to pitch their start-up ideas he won’t participate, leaving Chester put off. Despero’s arrival of course forces Ray back into action to help Barry and after putting the Atom armor on again he realizes he can find more of a balance between the different sides of his life. He apologizes to Chester (because Flash still has completely unreasonable standards in which all characters have to be perfect friends and super happy all the time or they’re in the wrong) and plans to start a foundation to fund young scientists named after Chester’s father and says that he’ll always be ready to suit up again when needed. I’m not sure if Routh and the Arrowverse will ever permanently quit each other and it’s possible that he could show up again as soon as later in this event but if this is indeed the last we see of him and Ray this appearance could serve as a decent epilogue to their time with the franchise.
Hoping to prove to Despero that he won’t go to the dark side Barry uses his signature move, revealing all his secrets. He invites Despero into STAR Labs and reveals his secret identity, allowing Despero to read his mind to see his good intentions. Despero is impressed by his boldness and character and gives Barry seven days to prove conclusively that he won’t turn. If Despero isn’t convinced by then he’ll go back to trying to kill him. This was an interesting little twist as it suggests that Despero won’t be the main threat for the entire crossover. Based on this scene it seems like he might fade out of focus for the next episode or two before coming back with a vengeance towards the end.
The action and visual effects are, as they have been for a long time on Flash, hit or miss. All live-action super speed scenes continue to live in the shadow of the X-Men franchise’s Quicksilver sequences but rather than try too hard to break away from this Barry’s final fight with the Royal Flush Gang leans into it. As in the X-Men movies, it’s a slow-motion sequence where Barry walks around slowly from his perspective and rearranges the Gang members and space so they all take each other out but it looks pretty good and it’s a lot of fun to see Gustin get to play Barry as the calm, confident hero he should be. Despero turns off his shapeshifting belt every now and then, revealing his red-skinned, monstrous true form. The CGI used to create this form is OK but I do think the show should mostly keep Despero in human mode except for key moments, as the lumbering motion of the monster makes the staging of his clash with Barry and Ray a bit awkward and slow, and because Curran’s performance can be more fully appreciated when we see him in the flesh.
Although they’re not as prevalent as they have been lately, the problems of later season Flash are still present in Armageddon, chief among them the supporting characters’ storylines, and how arbitrary they generally are. Chester’s juvenile moping about Ray turning down his pitch session is hard to bear and suggests that the show is making the same mistakes with its new comic relief tech guy as it did with Cisco by making him too temperamental and selfish. Similarly, while the reporters Allegra is assigned to supervise are stuck-up jerks to her she also does have less experience than them and they’re right in pointing out that her insistence on reporting from the point of view of underdog populations in need, while well-intentioned, isn’t really objective journalism. There could be a decent story about that second point, with Allegra having to learn to balance her desire to help the little guy with objective, fact-based journalism but the show simply hand-waves these concerns away and asserts Allegra (and Iris, who is supporting her without really looking into the situation) are totally in the right. Candice Patton and Kayla Compton’s onscreen dynamic also doesn’t totally match with what the writing seems to be trying to do with their characters. Compton still plays Allegra like she’s both constantly in awe of Iris and close friends with her but Patton comes across as rather cold, even as the lines she delivers have Iris encouraging and complimenting Allegra. Having Iris be a little more business-like and pragmatic compared to the warm and fuzzy boss she was when the Citizen was just her, Allegra, and Kamilla isn’t an inherently bad idea, and in fact, might be welcome, but the actresses need to be on the same page with one another and the writing. The problems stemming from Allegra and Chester also highlight how unnecessary they both are, especially as the cast of Flash is still a little bigger than it can manage. Barry really shouldn’t need a tech guy anymore, Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) is still around for medical science, and all of the cast have their own comedic chops so a designated funny nerd like Chester isn’t needed. It’s fine to have Allegra as a sidekick in journalism for Iris but she frequently has been getting more attention than more significant characters. Both she and Chester are likable but if they are going to continue to be elevated to main character status their storylines need to be more mature and logical.
All in all, Armageddon gets The Flash Season 8 off to a decent start, but many of the issues that have plagued the show throughout its later years are still present. Weak supporting stories and juvenile elements of some of the writing are the biggest issues but while the gimmicky appeal the crossover is meant to have is obvious, the promise of a wider DC universe story full of special guests is still enticing and Barry’s central story is interesting.
- One of my favorite moments came when Barry, after being shrunk by Ray to avoid an attack from Despero, started dry heaving and said that he understands how John Diggle feels when he super speeds him. Let Grant Gustin be funny, Flash! He’s really good at comedy and it’s part of the reason we love him.
- Candice Patton’s strongest moments were also comedic, including Iris’ outraged reaction to Barry zipping away, leaving her alone with Chester and Ray as they geeked-out together.
- Kristen Kramer (Carmen Moore), former anti-metahuman bigot who is now a progressive meta herself is Barry’s new boss at CCPD. The scene of her questioning whether Barry has biases against metas was an ironic reminder that, even though it often doesn’t seem like it should, Barry’s identity remains a secret from much of Central City, but the writing of the Kramer character and her shifting ideology still comes across as forced and messy.
- When an angsty Chester says that Ray is dead to him in the middle of the episode he awkwardly apologizes to Cecile (Danielle Nicolet) about being insensitive to something undefined that she is dealing with. Between this and the absence of Cecile’s partner, Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), from the episode, fans have gotten worried that the latter died offscreen, which would easily be the biggest mistake Flash has ever made. Fortunately, I don’t really think that’s going to be the case as Martin is still credited as a series regular.
- The creators and CW executives have been really particular about refusing to call Armageddon a crossover because it’s only a series of Flash episodes and since the COVID restrictions mean it can’t be quite as big as past events but this seems like an unnecessary distinction. This episode draws on continuity from Arrow and Legends in addition to Flash for Ray’s characterization and it’s confirmed that guests from at least three other shows will be making appearances. That’s a crossover in my book.
- As is often the case when Ray’s around there are a lot of meta moments referring to Brandon Routh having played Superman. These were cute in the past but after Routh actually reprised the role in Crisis on Infinite Earths they’re now more annoying teases unless we’re treated to a Man of Steel appearance later on in the event.
The Flash Season 8 Episode 1
The Flash gets its Season 8 crossover event off to a gradual, mostly effective start.