Duality and Human Nature in CW’s The Flash

“Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.”

For all you TV watching folk out there, I have a question for you: When do you call it quits on a TV show? I quit Lost after season 1, left Grey’s Anatomy behind in season 5, and my brothers abandoned me after the first episode of Netflix’s The Stranger. Joke’s on them because the show is shaping up to be something really good, with its building of suspense and well-developed character arcs (and the lovely Richard Armitage of course, who frankly speaking is the main draw). When it comes to The Flash TV series, I have considered just pulling the plug many times, feeling the drag of certain episodes or the lackluster villains that make me roll my eyes more than stand up and take notice.

After the slog that was season 5 and Cicada, whose presence was just too drawn out given that there were 2 of them (Chris Klein, who was the first Cicada, did not possess the menace to properly sell the role), I honestly thought that I was done; The Flash had passed its peak a long time ago, and now was the time to walk away. Until season 6 pulled me back in again. Of course its quality is nowhere near the earlier seasons (first 3 to be exact), but the show seems on a course correction after the drawn out melodrama of season 4 and 5. The main reason why this season has been working is because the series has gone back to focusing on its roots: duality.

What made season 1 great was The Reverse Flash (kudos to the epic performance by Tom Cavanagh). He exists as the reverse to the Flash, whatever Barry is, he is the opposite, which allowed the themes of duality to take root. For every hero there is a villain; for every heroic gesture committed, there are innocent lives taken. It fleshes out the very essence of human nature, the duality that sits within us (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is the perfect example of these two sides), calling us equally to acts of compassion or crimes of horror. This is the essence of the superhero narrative, for them to be the light in the darkness, to offer hope in the midst of despair.

The show has definitely always played with this idea of duality, when crossover episodes allowed them to take on their ‘evil’ doppelgangers, with Dr Caitlin Snow having two personalities within her. Barry himself had to take on the darker future version of himself (Savitar) in season 3.

In season 6, we see that Barry and Ramsey aka Bloodwork (the villain of the season) have similar arcs. Both are destined for greatness; Barry has his superpowers and Ramsey is a research oncologist who wants to do brilliant things in the name of science. However, the two find themselves impeded by death. Barry is told by the Monitor that he would need to sacrifice himself to save the earth and everyone from anti-matter, and Ramsey feels time ticking away due to his diagnosis of HLH, a disease that killed his mother.

Refusing to bow down and accept defeat, Ramsey decides to take things into his own hands and experiment with dark matter in an attempt to stop the cancer cells from spreading. Thus, we see a man desperate to prolong his life, stretching science in an unnatural way to save himself. However, by contrast, when Barry is told of his fate, he accepts it, even encouraging the rest to not fight it and support him in his position. He saw that there was no other way, and he would forfeit his own life if that meant he could save others.

Even when presented with a serum that could possibly save his life, he decides to offer it instead to Ramsey, hoping to help the man go on to fulfill greater things. Ramsey, instead of seeing the kind gesture, is bitter when it doesn’t work, angry that his efforts to extend his mortality have been for naught. His first kill is instinctive, and from there, he works out that he needs to feed on the blood of others, and in order for this to keep him alive, they need to be overwhelmed with fear.

This triggers a killing spree, and the image before that moment, of Ramsey staring at the hippocratic oath, sent chills down my spine. A doctor should prolong life whenever possible, and here he is, taking lives with a maniacal glee.

He feels he deserves this state of immortality, that others should perish in order for him to thrive. While Barry is rooted in his humanity, Ramsey gives himself over to the darkness that taints his blood, his narcissism colouring his entire perspective. I watched in horror as a regular man plunged into the abyss, possibly to never emerge again. Of all the various villains and their motivations, Bloodwork scared me the most, because all he ever wanted was to survive. I can completely understand and even relate to that motivation – who wouldn’t want to try everything, just to receive a few more years on a death sentence?

Ultimately, it must never come to a point where we believe we deserve to live more than someone else. This is the reason for Ramsey’s fall, when he fails to see the humanity of those he kills, seeing them as mere collateral on his path to immortality. It was while watching all this unfold on screen, seeing the Flash go toe to toe with Bloodwork, that I knew I couldn’t give up on the series. This is because, through it all, I want to root for men like Barry Allen, those who see kindness and empathy as strengths and not weaknesses.

The Flash (and the superhero genre) is a reminder of the good we are capable of, and in watching the series, I feel a little more hopeful about the world I am living in – a reminder of the “great possibilities [that] are right in front of us”.

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