The Flash will be reborn this season. That's more than hyperbole, it's literally in the title of the CW series' fourth season premiere: "The Flash Reborn." And while the DC Comics-based drama continues to pull strong ratings and attract a fervent fan base, its most recent episodes tested the limits of the show's mission to be the lighter, hopeful flip side to its dark, brooding big brother, Arrow.
Indeed, the chronicles of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) took a gloomy turn in Season 3. After going back in time to save his mother's life, triggering a rippling series of changes — many of them negative — via the Flashpoint timeline, Barry glimpsed the future and saw his girlfriend Iris (Candice Patton) murdered by Savitar. The Flash and his allies spent the back half of the season trying to alter the course of history and soon discovered that the so-called God of Speed was an emotionally damaged version of Barry from the future. Confronting this depressed doppelgänger, present-day Barry's trademark optimism took a serious beating.
Even when Savitar was finally dispatched, things were not happily ever after in Central City. A disruption in the Speed Force required Barry to sacrifice himself, filling the void in the extra-dimensional domain that gives him his powers, thus saving the world, just moments after he and Iris revived their wedding plans.
As the producers were plotting out the second half of the season, "we started to realize how dark the show was getting," executive producer Todd Helbing told SYFY WIRE. "So once we took a step back and saw the tone and how dark it was getting we knew we actively needed to change that. Not that we weren't proud of what we did, we love Season 3, but we didn't want the show to get any darker."
To that end — mildest of spoiler alerts! — Barry returns pretty quickly, and fans can expect a sunnier tone this year. "What we want to do is get back to more of the optimistic Barry Allen that we saw in Season 1, so that when he comes out he could move past that and we could tell a more fun version of the show than we had in Season 3."
One particularly amusing moment comes in the second episode, when Barry and Iris go to couples therapy and manages to take a playful jab at the series' high body count. And WestAllen shippers need not be concerned about the therapy — the couple's wedding is on track and will in fact be the part of this year's DC TV crossover with Supergirl, Arrow and DC's Legends of Tomorrow (airing November 27-28).
Still, this is a dramatic TV series that needs to fill 23 episodes of story, so there will be plenty of danger and angst. Coming off earlier foes Reverse-Flash, Zoom and Savitar, the team will face its first non-speedster big bad. Clifford DeVoe, aka The Thinker, was referenced in passing last season and makes his debut this fall.
Neil Sandilands will play the "fastest mind alive," a DC Comics rogue who uses his technologically enhanced genius to outwit Barry. "This is a guy who is methodical," Helbing says. "He's the guy who's creating the chessboard and then moving the chess pieces when and how he wants. He's able to control circumstances and put Barry and Team Flash in situations that they wouldn't normally be in. While the guy isn't a speedster, in some ways he's more formidable than any of the villains Barry has faced so far."
He's not the only DC Comics character making the jump to the screen this fall. Hartley Sawyer will begin his recurring role as Ralph Dibny, aka The Elongated Man, in the fourth episode. The super-stretching sleuth is the latest visual-effects challenge for a series that's managed to make giant anthropomorphic gorillas and sharks seem startlingly realistic.
"As far as bringing in specific heroes or villains for multi-episode arcs, we always sit down with Armen Kevorkian, our visual effects supervisor, when we have these ideas and we discuss the limitations," Helbing says. "Usually it's what we think our limitations are, and he explains that they're not. In the same way that Grodd was a challenge or King Shark was a challenge, the Elongated Man is certainly going to stretch our limits, visual-effects wise, no pun intended."
Season 4 of The Flash premieres Tuesday, October 10 at 8/7c on The CW.