Note: this is a spoiler-free review of The Flash Season 6, which is now available to stream on Netflix. We’ve included links to all of IGN’s spoiler-filled episode reviews at the end of the article.
Season 1 of The Flash really set the gold standard for the Arrowverse at large, taking what worked in the first two seasons of Arrow but applying a much grander and more comic book-y scope. Sadly, it’s pretty much been all downhill since then, with each new season falling short of the one that preceded it. Finally, the series managed to reverse that trend in Season 6. With a new showrunner at the helm and a new storytelling approach, The Flash is the best it’s been in years.
Both those changes are immediately apparent in the Season 6 premiere, “Into the Void,” which serves as a clear mission statement and mea culpa for a long-troubled series. The influence of newly-promoted showrunner Eric Wallace is immediately palpable in the premiere. Tone is something The Flash has struggled with a lot in recent years, with Season 3 skewing too dark and Seasons 4 and 5 overcompensating with an overabundance of forced, goofy banter. Wallace has shown a consistent ability to guide The Flash back to a more natural blend of humor and drama, recapturing the classic Team Flash dynamic that was so crucial to the show’s early success.
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Maintaining that balance is all the more imperative in Season 6 given that the show is moving forward from the tragic death of Nora West-Allen in Season 5’s finale and the looming shadow of Crisis on Infinite Earths. It’s easy to imagine a trajectory that might’ve repeated the mistakes of Season 3 all over again, but Season 6 never plunges too far into dark and brooding territory.
If anything, Crisis winds up working directly in the show’s favor, both before and after the crossover itself unfolds. Season 6 is basically divided in half, with two separate villains (Bloodwork and Mirror Master) appearing to make life difficult for Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen and the gang. Despite being relegated to half-seasons, these two characters rank among the show’s better recurring antagonists. If anything, they work well precisely because they’re given less room to outstay their welcome than past major villains like Clifford DeVoe and Cicada.
Perhaps the single greatest benefit of Crisis is that it forces the series to be more economical with its running storylines. While there are some plot threads that carry over from the first half of the season to the second, the series only has eight episodes in which to chronicle the downfall of Bloodwork and his growing feud with Barry. It’s debatable whether any Arrowverse season really benefits from the standard 22-23 episode structure. The Flash Season 6 is just further evidence that a shorter, more focused approach is really the way to go. (Hey, it’s worked out pretty well for DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.)
Through it all, that ever-important family dynamic between Barry and his allies helps keep the series grounded in Season 6. Crisis itself is just a way of adding urgency and purpose to the story. Before Crisis, the seeming inevitability of Barry’s death hangs over the series. It’s a conflict similar to that of Arrow’s final season, but one handled in such a way as to not feel wholly redundant. It also results in some great scenes between Barry and his alternate universe counterparts, both before and during Crisis. After the crossover, the long-term ramifications of Crisis wind up testing the bonds between Barry and Candice Patton’s Iris in a whole new way.
None of this is to say Season 6 isn’t prone to occasional detours and tangents. In some cases the more standalone-focused episodes are a welcome change of pace. Season 6 delivers another enjoyable Gorilla Grodd tale in “Grodd Friended Me.” And while she’s only ever tangentially connected to the larger conflicts of the season, Natalie Dreyfuss’ Sue Dearbon is a hilariously entertaining addition to the mix. Dreyfuss’ playful dynamic with Hartley Sawyer makes a strong case for an Elongated Man spinoff series, something that couldn’t have been said in the pre-Season 6 era. And in perhaps the clearest sign of how much the series has improved over the Season 4/5 days, we actually get a solid Amunet Black-focused episode in “Love Is a Battlefield.”
But not all Season 6 plot points fare as well. Try as it might, the series is still hard-pressed to reinvigorate Danielle Panabaker’s Caitlin and her icy alter ego, with Caitlin increasingly feeling like a superfluous addition to Team Flash. And while the latest incarnation of Tom Cavanagh’s Harrison Wells – reckless archaeologist Nash Wells – is at least an improvement over Season 5’s misguided Sherloque Wells, Nash never finds his place in the series as easily as most of his predecessors. It doesn’t help that this Wells is so closely tied to another bland new character, Kayla Compton’s Allegra Garcia. Between the lackluster new characters introduced in Season 6 and the strange, prolonged absences of characters like Carlos Valdes’ Cisco and Jesse L. Martin’s Joe West, the series seems determined to sabotage its team dynamic at times.
In general, the latter half of Season 6 isn’t quite as tightly-paced as the first. The midseason premiere, “Marathon,” does a great job of pivoting from the events of Crisis and establishing a dangerous new threat in Mirror Master, but the season tends to meander a bit before that storyline really starts to kick in. The good news, at least, is that the season wraps up pretty well despite being cut short by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fans shouldn’t come into Season 6 expecting a conclusive ending, but the season finale provides as much closure as could be hoped for given the circumstances. And as Black Lightning has shown, there’s a lot to be said for allowing hero/villain rivalries to play out over the course of multiple seasons, rather than arbitrarily ending things in May.
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If you want a deeper dive into the many twists and turns of the past year, you can check out IGN’s past The Flash: Season 6 reviews here:
- Episode 1 – “Into the Void”
- Episode 2 – “A Flash of the Lightning”
- Episode 3 – “Dead Man Running”
- Episode 4 – “There Will Be Blood”
- Episode 5 – “Kiss Kiss Breach Breach”
- Episode 6 – “License to Elongate”
- Episode 7 – “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 1”
- Episode 8 – “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 2”
- Episode 9 – “Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part Three”
- Episode 10 – “Marathon”
- Episode 11 – “Love Is a Battlefield”
- Episode 12 – “A Girl Named Sue”
- Episode 13 – “Grodd Friended Me”
- Episode 14 – “Death of the Speed Force”
- Episode 15 – “The Exorcism of Nash Wells”
- Episode 16 – “So Long and Goodnight”
- Episode 17 – “Liberation”
- Episode 18 – “Pay the Piper”
- Episode 19 – “Success Is Assured”