'The Flash' and 'Supergirl' Discover Their Weakness: Stable Romantic Lives
In its midseason return, The Flash uses physics to deliver a graduate thesis on why superheroes are eternally doomed in matters of the heart. And someone gets banished to the Phantom Friend Zone on *Supergirl*.
It’s been a rough week for our single, twenty-something superheroes trying to make it in the big city. Kara barely survived her shattered friendship with Winn on Monday’s Supergirl and last night’s The Flash saw an abrupt breakup for Barry and Patty Spivot, the result of her growing frustration with Barry’s secret shenanigans.
The common understanding is that superheroes maintain secret identities, and occasionally opt for celibacy altogether, because their calling also greatly endangers their loved ones. It’s a storied tradition in comics and their adaptations that (partly) explains why Bruce Wayne dresses like a giant bat and why Peter Parker passes on the girl next door. But Barry Allen is in many ways an exception; a pure optimist who very often believes himself to be an exception to the rules. Barry therefore intended to win his girlfriend’s trust by confessing that he was in fact The Flash.
Earth-Two Harrison Well warned Barry to stay mum — solid advice albeit rooted in his no-holds-barred determination to rescue his daughter from the menacing Zoom. Still, Barry nevertheless opted for love. In involving Patty in this superheroics, he lead her directly into the nefarious Turtle’s line of fire, a predictable spot where the loved ones of the heroically-inclined.
Poetically enough, and as is often the case on The Flash, the villain brings in a science that underscores the episode’s themes. A rotund man in a green hood, the Turtle has the power to convert the kinetic energy around him (including The Flash) into potential energy, essentially freezing them.
Because we at Inverse like our fictional science as scientific as possible, we ran the mechanics of this past our resident science writer Neel Patel — who confirmed it to be turtle dung and that the principle of inertia would be more accurate terminology. But that’s not as attractive as “potential energy” now, is it? It’s an admittedly rich concept, evocative of of potential futures and discarded possibilities. Patty and Barry had stalled as a couple and very much needed something for their romance to regain any sense of momentum. Unfortunately, that something — Barry bringing her into his superhero world — effectively stopped them dead. As far as matters of the hearts are concerned, the Turtle was ultimately successful.
Unlike The Flash whose fabric is rooted in the pseudo-scientific, Supergirl by virtue of its rom-com sensibilities, takes a much more heartfelt approach to the issue of loved ones and killing of romance. Even if, in the case of Winn, it’s an equally-messy but much more straightforward matter of the heart; Kara could be with Winn but her heart doesn’t let her. She likewise can’t have Jimmy Olsen as his heart belongs to someone else. The freezing of forward momentum for Kara and Winn is purely self-generated.
With these two episodes, both shows sought to address the heart of the personal sacrifice superheroes make for the sake of the nominal greater good—their own happiness. Despite their open avoidance of grittier superhero tropes, Supergirl and The Flash continue to prove that the most dangerous position vis-a-vis a superhero is often in their arms.