Home Op-ed “We are the Flash” and the Importance of Iris West-Allen

“We are the Flash” and the Importance of Iris West-Allen

by Beatrine Shahzad

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.

‘Team Flash’ courtesy of The CW

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.

Candice Patton as Iris West-Allen in the episode ‘Mixed Signals’. Courtesy of The CW

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.

Barry Allen and Iris West finally tie the knot as seen in ‘Supergirl’. Courtesy of The CW

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.

The Flash will return on The CW in 2021!

Check out our exclusive interviews with Flash showrunner Eric Wallace!

Follow writer Beatrine Shahzad on Twitter: @beyabean

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16 comments

Ryan September 12, 2020 - 10:25 pm

The show is just a crappy drama which is exemplified with Iris. The show fails by not showing her character as a smart witty person before season 4, making her feel poorly written as her character suddenly changed with no development.

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Cheryl Murrell September 13, 2020 - 1:08 am

Wonderful article! Iris is a great character and she brings balance that Barry needs.
There would be no show without her.
#TeamIris!

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Fuck you September 13, 2020 - 5:43 am

Fuck you

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Karene Jean-Baptiste September 22, 2020 - 10:38 am

Wow! So glad you could find the time to send in your Reply!

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Laura Flora September 13, 2020 - 6:52 am

Iris is one of my favorite parts of the Flash I have hated that so many people dislike her.. Makes me wonder if those same people dislike Athena from 9-1-1 .. If that show didn’t have Athena it would not be the same .. Both these women make their shows so much better… If the Flash lost Iris I would stop watching the show It wouldn’t be any good with out her..

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Me September 13, 2020 - 9:44 am

I disagree but okay.

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ELLETX September 13, 2020 - 10:24 am

No, this is dumb. Maybe you’re right and I shouldn’t watch bc I agree that Iris is annoying and so was Felicity. They got more annoying as time went on. I disliked them both for the same reason. They are too emotional, annoying and sometimes too mouthy. It’s like the only way a woman can contribute to a show is if she’s crying and begging all the time. No. And before you say some stupid shit like ‘check your bias,’ I’m a black woman.

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ArrowverseFan September 13, 2020 - 11:26 am

a vain attempt at trying to get sympathy for a character that majority find annoying. Felicity wasn’t like that always either but she eventually did become overbearing. It nullified her genius and funny side. With Iris, she never had either so… anyway, her lines are so interchangeable with anyone else and some of the so called heroic things she does are definitely very fancy but don’t make much sense for her or make her any interesting, for eg. Jumping off a rooftop. I don’t doubt she’ll do that in a heartbeat to save her husband, but when there’s Ralph next to you who can simply stretch out an arm and catch him but just stands there while she jumps out and does it perfectly. Lmao yes very believable yeSs! I mean why did he even go in the first place if he didn’t have to do anything, just doesn’t make sense. and Team Leader Iris? Surely yes, a newspaper head like in Citizen, but not Team Flash. That’s basically what the fans mean when they say it’s the downfall of the show, when with literally everyone in the room being a genius with loads of experience with metas and team work, they instead go for a newbie reporter with no relevant qualifications to make the leader of team flash because we have never seen her develop of any such qualities before now, and all of a sudden she’s just doing everything (except reporting and journalism which she is actually supposed to do). You can’t sell crap like this on a show like The Flash. Therefore let’s not try and justify what went down with Iris in S4, because it was indeed bad and since then, it’s gotten better. S4 Iris was just a nightmare, forget about her.

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Selina Thwaites September 14, 2020 - 12:33 am

I dont dislike Iris, but on the same token, I think, & have seen, more chemistry between Barry & Caitlin & that’s the path I personally feel Barry’s romantic life should take

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Barry B September 14, 2020 - 6:25 pm

I totally agree I believe Snowbarry is in the shows best interest or a lot more Snowbarry scenes but I do like iris

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TF September 14, 2020 - 12:54 pm

First of all,I can’t believe was sent this article that is trash although it makes sense due to it defending a character that is trash.You talk about Candice having to deal with bias things?Try having to deal with reading a bias article.If you think I don’t like Iris due to her skin color,take your race card and shove it because there are so many characters who are African American yet heaven forbid somebody talks bad about Iris and people cry racism.I love Zari & Tala Ashe herself to death,but you don’t see me saying that everybody who doesn’t like her has something against Muslims.On to Iris who is only still on the show due to fandom/cult.You keep defending her yet isn’t written like she should be.She’s a journalist,but yet she’s barely done that.People call her the “heart of the show”,but they have to make everyone look bad to make her look good.There were 5 scientists and none of them had the answer to stop the nuclear bomb yet Iris did.When Iris was a speedster for an episode,Joe said “I’ve never seen Barry do things like that before” as if she’s a better speedster than him.Plus she’s a horrible person.Iris got mad at Barry for going into the speed force although he saved the world by doing it.You didn’t see Caitlin yelling at Ronnie like that for going into the partical accelerator when they reunited.She even defended Thawne twice.Back in the first half of season 5,Barry says he stands by Iris’ decisions,but yet she doesn’t side with him and continued to bring up him going into the speed force again as if saving the world was a bad thing.Also when it comes to CW’s whole thing when when it comes to blocking all the bullying,it’s also bias since Danielle Panabaker has been bullied off social media by people who ship WestAllen and are proud to call themselves WestAllen Bullies who have been trying to get her fired ever since they got Hartley Sawyer fired,but nobody has stood up for her.Yet when The Flash’s CW account promoting a picture of Iris and people were mad she was promoted before Barry since the show is about him,it only took hours for her friends to come out and support her.It’s weird that you say to not watch if we don’t like Iris to not watch the show since her cult wanted the show cancelled and the writers along with Eric Wallace fired after the last scene Iris was in.Yet they’re the ones who CW listens to.The show isn’t The Flash anymore.It’s The Iris Show.It hasn’t been The Flash since season 3 except for the Crisis part of season 6.So you all can have The Iris Show because any time I think about it causes me pain since The Flash used to be my favorite show only for it to turn into The Iris Show. I’ve given other shows a chance that better than what was once called The Flash got ruined due to forced femenism.At least Arrow learned its lesson and got better although its toxic ship was endgame.

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Iris West ✌🏾 September 14, 2020 - 2:20 pm

I think that Iris West-Allen is a badass and I love her character!! She is Berry’s lighting rod ❤️ The CW has to learn that the haters are gonna hate

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gand marao November 9, 2020 - 9:34 pm

how much money did you get for this comment?

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Newseditor September 15, 2020 - 3:05 am

I always liked Season one Iris because she was very relatable and she just wanted to have a job at a newspaper and she went about that in a very creative way by doing a blog about the Flash.

However, she has become poorly written and we saw no development from reporter Iris to Team Leader Iris, which I think should have been shown.

Anyway, I never liked the whole “We are the Flash” bit. No, Barry was the one who was struck by lightning and gained superpowers. That’s like Steve Trevors telling Diana “We are Wonder Woman.” It makes no sense at all.

But Iris isn’t the only one who is poorly written. Barry is also a victim of poor writing. How many times do we have to see him doubting himself and his abilities? Or crying about things?

I’m sorry, but sometimes I want to see a self-confident Flash who knows how to stop the bad guy without the help of anyone else and him not crying about it. There is way too much emotional/relationship drama.

And quite frankly, there are way too many characters in “Team Flash” and I think some of them should go. They are taking time away from Flash, who is the star of the show.

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VIJAY Bairagi September 15, 2020 - 10:35 pm

Irish totally ruined Barrys life and who the hell make her team leader it’s like nepotism. Just bcoz he’s flash wife she not deserve to be the team leader first she love Eddie and then attract by flash. After death of Eddie she go for the Barry just bcoz he is flash. She is a shit. Team flash lost Catlin as killer frost and Harry wells just bcoz they saving that shit Irish west. Catlin should be more powerful woman then Irish cisco is better then Wally west. Irish is just a trash.

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Jel October 13, 2020 - 1:06 pm

Nope, she’s just annoying, self-centred, and generally terrible.

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