Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
In 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what we often refer to as the five stages of grief. These stages represented a process through which people coping with terminal illness or conditions progressed. Over time, the model has become a kind of common wisdom. Applied, or misapplied as critics argue, to a variety of experiences, the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, may serve as a way to organize experience.
Here, the five stages of grief will be used to organize a problem I have been having with The Flash, now in its seventh season on the CW network. So yeah, probably another misapplication of the theory. Still, it helps.
1. Denial – As another bit of common wisdom suggests, the first step to resolving a problem is admitting that there is a problem. For many years, I have been in complete denial about the decreasing quality of The Flash. While many of my readers have grown up in a time of abundant superhero stories, I grew up in an era of relative metahuman poverty. Oh sure, there were plenty of comic books, but I always felt like I had to support most movies, television shows, and games. If I did not, what would happen to the genre?
This version of The Flash has been experiencing some problems, really for about five seasons now. What was once one of the most action-packed and frankly heartfelt and melodramatic programs out there has become a rote series of plot executions spun around the show’s obsessive need to support one single big bad in a season no matter how badly it is not working.
2. Anger – Fandom is a kind of emotional investment strategy. Fans put their interest and enthusiasm into a show expecting a positive return. Poor results can be frustrating. The Flash can definitely be this way. Villains escape the so-called fastest man alive simply by leaving the room. The Flash’s wife Iris delivers a seemingly infinite number of speeches about love at the drop of a hat. There is never enough Joe West! Harrison Wells keeps coming back in more strained alternate universe varieties of himself. Supporting characters like Cisco and Caitlin vanish for episodes at a time, leaving us with poor substitutes like Chester and Allegra, who, contrary to the name, does not have allergy fighting powers but instead has the insanely powerful but rarely used powerset of manipulating electromagnetic energy.
Maybe it is not very angry anger, but eye rolling and riffing must represent some level of the emotion, right?
3. Bargaining – For a long time, I have stuck by this show because it is often the lynchpin of the shared narrative continuity called “the Arrowverse” after CW’s first superhero show, Arrow. Flash’s superspeed powers often allow him to travel in time and between worlds, so I have kept watching thinking that if I could just get through the disappointing episodes it would all pay off in the crossovers. It never does.
4. (Television) Depression – Depression is a real and challenging psychological condition that I would not make light of. So, let us just call this television depression, a condition characterized by a lack of interest in normal media consumption habits. Right now, there are episodes of The Flash lingering on my DVR that I cannot bring myself to watch.
5. Acceptance – In writing this, I have come to accept that The Flash is unlikely to improve. I mourn the loss of what was once a really great show. I understand that it will not be able to make me happy again and that I may stop watching it.
Unless, of course, they do a really good series with the Rogue War. . . I mean who would not want to see Flash’s villains fight each other? I would watch that!