The Flash is a comic book title that has existed since 1940. It’s not a person, but rather a mantle that multiple characters within the DC continuity have assumed. When The CW decided to introduce their Flash TV show within the same universe as Arrow, the character they chose to portray was Barry Allen. And so, The Flash follows the story of Barry Allen, a CSI who develops the ability to move at super-speed after a particle accelerator explosion at STAR Labs. With the help of some scientists who work at STAR, he uses his new abilities to become the Flash and fight crime.
However, more importantly than fighting crime, The Flash explores the meaning of the relationships between the main characters as well as their strengths together. Barry’s mother died when he was young and his father was incarcerated, robbing him of his family. He was fostered by Detective Joe West, father of Iris West (eventually Iris West-Allen through marriage to Barry). When Barry gets his powers, he works together with STAR Lab scientists, Joe, and other friends he meets along the way to fight crime and protect the city. And so, “Team Flash” is born. Through their adventures, they come together as a found family. Iris joins Team Flash during the first season after figuring out Barry’s secret identity, and eventually they confess their feelings for each other, beginning a relationship in season three.
This is when things get very rocky for Iris. The third season, which premiered fall 2016, is centered around trying to prevent Iris’ death, an event that Barry saw in the future. The main villain of the season is Savitar, a supposed ‘god of speed’ with powers similar to Barry’s whose identity is unknown, but whose beef is very personal with Team Flash. He needs to kill Iris. The identity of Savitar is an active mystery and tension builds throughout the season until it is revealed that Savitar is Barry from the future. More specifically, he is a version of Barry from a future where Iris dies and Barry is shunned by his loved ones, becoming obsessed with becoming a God of Speed. If Iris does not die, Savitar ceases to exist. Team Flash successfully defeats Savitar, but at the very end of the season, the “Speed Force”, the energy field that powers all speedsters, demands that Barry essentially sacrifice himself in order to undo the damage that Savitar did. Barry leaves willingly with very little hesitation.
When season four begins, Barry has been gone six months and Iris has assumed control of Team Flash. Barry manages to come back from being trapped within the Speed Force, but it’s difficult to return to the same dynamic. In the second episode of the season titled “Mixed Signals”, Iris finds that her and Barry are having communication problems as coworkers and romantic partners, so she requests they seek couples counseling. At therapy, it’s revealed that Iris is upset that Barry sacrificed himself so willingly and she feels abandoned. Season three was built around how Barry couldn’t afford to lose Iris, but when the tables were turned, he gave himself willingly. It would be reasonable for Iris to feel abandoned or upset. Afterwards, they have a conversation about how Iris feels and she explains that she just wished that Barry consulted her more before making a decision that impacted them both so drastically. During this exchange, she drops the line “We are the Flash”, reflecting their union as partners in work as well as romantically. He doesn’t have to carry the emotional burden and responsibility of being the Flash alone– she is here to support him. This moment was met with fan outrage and continues to follow the character’s reputation throughout the rest of the show.
It’s not hard to gauge how many fans of The Flash hate Iris and mock this line regularly because they are very vocal about it. Some have gone as far as to say that this moment marked the downturn of the show, that Iris should not have been given that line since she’s not the one who dons the outfit and runs super fast across the city. They think that Iris is annoying, that her role in the show is too large, and the writers misunderstand her place.
This level of vitriol is not new to the DCTV community regarding female characters. Notably, before it was Iris, Felicity from Arrow was met with similar sentiments regarding how the show would be better if she didn’t have a place in it, as if she was ruining the show. So to counter this idea, let’s dissect who Iris West-Allen is. As a character, she operates with agency and love. She’s self-assured and does what she believes is right, even if sometimes stubbornly. She gets upset, but it’s all within the normal expectation for human emotion. She’s very intelligent, not in the same technical way as many other members of Team Flash, but rather as someone who understands people, which makes her a good journalist and introduces a new viewpoint. When she becomes co-leader of Team Flash, she successfully guides the team as she’s a quick thinker, confident in her decisions, and understands people well enough to mitigate conflict and prioritize.
Iris is Barry’s love interest, but in many ways, the show is built around their romance. The keystone of the Flash/Supergirl crossover musical episode in 2017 was a song from Barry to Iris about how he’ll always return to her. Iris is Barry’s lightning rod, she pulls him back when he gets lost. She puts her life on the line to save him as he does to save her. So when asking, “what does Iris West-Allen bring to The Flash?” The answer is she’s a clever character, wonderfully performed by the actress Candice Patton, who not only adds dynamic to the show through her relationship with Barry since he would not be the same character without her, but also as her own person who does what’s right.
So, what’s the problem with “We are the Flash”? It’s a corny line, sure, but a lot of that show is corny. It’s part of the charm. In fact, the sentiment of the line itself fits quite nicely within the theme of seasons three and four. If Savitar is Barry without Iris, then the Flash is Barry with Iris. Barry cannot be the Flash without his team. He’s constantly asking for guidance, help, and advice. In season four, as Barry’s fiancée and the co-leader of Team Flash, Iris is the most important person to Barry and without her, there would be no Flash. The season finale is titled “We Are the Flash”. This time, the phrase’s narrative purpose is to contrast the main villains. Throughout the season, the villain, Clifford DaVoe aka the Thinker, fails to emotionally support his wife and takes advantage of her, which eventually leads to his undoing. Comparatively, Barry and Iris communicate their issues and see each other as extensions of themselves. The villain of the season is defeated through his selfishness and isolation while Team Flash work together and find strength by relying on each other. So again, the line is not baseless or out of place or detracting from the show, but rather works to reinforce the central themes of each season.
Even before Iris and Barry became a couple, the idea that Team Flash’s strength comes from supporting one another and that the Flash is not a single person was persistent in the show. As the narrative continues, it builds on this concept in new ways, such as Killer Frost, an alter ego of scientist Caitlin Snow, learning to accept her place in the team through their belief in her ability to be a good person and a hero. Ralph Dibny, a crummy PI with a morally gray ethical compass, also goes through a similar journey. Throughout its run, multiple versions of scientist Harrison Wells befriend and believe in Cisco Ramon, another scientist, making the audience reflect on how to inspire each other and work together. After all, Barry asks Cisco what to do in the heat of crime-fighting nearly every episode. The show has always been about how one person is not the Flash, so if the concept that “the Flash” isn’t one person upsets people, then they’re not watching the right show. It was not made for them. Being vocal will not change the heart of The Flash.
At the height of global discussion about racism in 2020, The CW put out a statement across all of its DCTV show’s social media platforms reading that: “We will not tolerate and will block racist or misogynistic comments as well as any hate towards the LGBTQ+ community.” The disproportionate hate that Iris and subsequently Candice Patton has faced is due to a higher standard placed against black women and it is racist and misogynistic. Some comments reflect internal biases and some are aggressively bigoted. If this were not the case, then The CW would not have put out a statement and finally recognize the vitriol in their fanbases.
Recently, John Boyega did an interview with GQ where he criticized Disney/Lucasfilm for marketing Star Wars with a Black character only to push him aside in the movies. He also brought up how he was the target of online harassment because of his race and there were calls to boycott the films because of him, something that was only contained to the people of color on the film. Patton has tweeted support of Boyega’s interview, saying that she feels similarly. To what in particular, there is no way to know for sure, but she has been a victim of similar racist harassment online without a doubt.
If you are not a fan of Iris West-Allen, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. You probably shouldn’t watch the show though, since clearly she embodies its core message and is at the heart of it just as much as Barry. The Flash will never become the show you want it to become. If you don’t think your dislike of the character comes from personal preference of what you want out of a superhero show, then you should probably re-examine your personal biases. What about her makes you upset? Either way, don’t post online about how you’re boycotting the show or how it’s fallen off the rails because of Iris. The show’s writers shouldn’t have to cater to what you want to see since they have plenty of fans who understand and respect the story they’re telling, Iris West-Allen included, front and center.