Fans of The Flash have seen a lot of changes over the show’s four seasons. After a jovial but still emotionally powerful first season, The Flash became darker and darker, until Season 4 sought to course-correct (and perhaps over-correct) with a major infusion of humor. It’s struggled both in maintaining viewer interest in a season-long Big Bad by focusing on them for too much of the season, and in finding enough compelling stories for its giant cast. And yet, The Flash still manages to contain just enough charm (thanks to its charismatic leads) to keep us watching, and hoping that maybe things will get back to Season 1 glory.
In an interview with THR, Flash EP Todd Helbing addressed some of these concerns and more, speaking firstly about the show’s structure. Ever since ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. broke its 22-episode structure up into three distinctive arcs, fans have been wanting The CW’s DC shows to do the same. According to Helbing, the writers seem to be leaning that way, having learned a lot from a villain like DeVoe who wasn’t a speedster:
“One of the pitfalls that we ran into is that it’s hard in 23 episodes to have one storyline play out so this year, while there is certainly a spine, we have two or three major stories that go on in different increments – like a first act, second act, third act. That’s been helpful in a lot of ways. We learned a lot when Barry [Grant Gustin] was in prison – it was only three episodes but it really opened our eyes.”
Sidelining Barry is always a gamble, because one of the show’s major issues is that he’s not always allowed to be the hero. The prison stint was one of the low-points of last season (although maybe nothing was worse than the trial itself), so it will be interesting to see which lessons the writers took from that excursion.
As for the new villain, Cicada (Chris Klein), Helbing said that his arrival will give the show more of a focus about legacy (something Arrow has also tackled). For Barry and Iris, this will mostly have to do with Nora, their speedster daughter from the future, but for Caitlin and Cisco, it goes back to the original particle accelerator explosion — an event that has pushed Cicada to the brink.
Described as a “grizzled, blue-collar everyman whose family has been torn apart by metahumans,” Cicada will target metahumans in his quest to exterminate what he sees as an “epidemic.” “Every year we try to humanize the villain and this year we’re doing it in a way we haven’t done before,” Helbing reveals. “With Cicada, you see a guy who has been affected by what has been going on for the last four seasons and in a way that’s unusual for our show. How he deals with it and what he decides to do is fresh and new.”
Helbing also acknowledged that it’s been hard to find worthy villains for the team to face as they become increasingly powerful through their metahuman abilities. But perhaps the answer lies in not always pitting metas against metas …
Another big change this year will be the addition of Nora. She’ll be in every episode this season, and dealing with three major arcs. Helbing revealed:
“There are a lot of things going on with her – her relationship with Iris is not as great as her relationship with Barry, it’s a little more contentious. We dive into that. And then her relationship with her father and the Flash and why it’s so easy for them to get along and it’s not just because they’re both speedsters. And her story is also tied in to Cicada and there is a specific reason why she came back at the time that she did.”
As for what the rest of the season has in store, The Flash will reach it’s 100th episode this season, which will be directed by Tom Cavanagh as a celebration of what the show has done over its now five seasons (while also moving the story forward, as Helbing explains). And regarding the show’s tone, which has certainly flip-flopped a lot over the years — something Helbing does not shy away from admitting — when it comes to Season 5: “We just got back to the heart and that’s really where the show lives. That’s the best version of the show. It’s okay for some episodes to be darker and some to be lighter but as a whole, that sweet spot is really having equal parts of heart, humor and spectacle.””
Helbing also had one final word for fans, teasing some big moments coming up later this year: “The way that Nora factors into it and where it goes is going to be really interesting and we can’t wait until you get right in the [episode] 7, 8, 9 part of the season.”
The Flash returns to The CW on Tuesday, October 9th.