After the monumental success of Arrow in 2012, The CW seized the opportunity to further build up their lineup of TV shows based on DC Comics. Arrow became the launching pad for future heroes to join this new universe, now dubbed the “Arrowverse”, with the next major player being crime-scene investigator Barry Allen, played by Grant Gustin. Appearing in two episodes of Arrow’s second season, Gustin’s portrayal of the character was well received, and so, in January 2014, The CW ordered a pilot for a new series: The Flash. By October of the same year, the highly anticipated first season of The Flash began airing, quickly earning critical acclaim.
The series ultimately follows Barry Allen after a freak accident involving S.T.A.R. Labs’ particle accelerator experiment and being struck by lightning. He wakes up from a coma and discovers he has super speed. Barry decides to use these newfound powers to fight crime in Central City, particularly dangerous “metahumans”, who also gained abilities due to the particle accelerator. He later earns his superhero name, The Flash.
While he’s easily one of the most powerful heroes ever on his own, Barry is also backed by a dedicated team of (mostly) friends that helps him defend the city. They include Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), a bioengineering expert, and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), a mechanical engineer, both of whom work at S.T.A.R. Labs; Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the secretly devious yet intelligent mind behind the Particle Accelerator; Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), a police detective and Barry’s surrogate father after a traumatic childhood event; and lastly, Iris West (Candice Patton), Joe’s daughter, and a reporter at Central City Picture News.
Over the years, this team has gone through the wringer time and time again, becoming a family in the process. Eight seasons strong now, The Flash has been an emotional rollercoaster filled with thrilling action, hilarious team bonding, and truly heartfelt moments. The Flash has reached phenomenal highs and hit some disappointing lows, however, these incredible foundational characters, and the others we met along the way, keep drawing us back. With the ninth and final season now all wrapped up, let’s look back on the series and how each season stacked up against one another. Fair warning though, full spoilers for the show lie ahead.
Editor’s Note: This article was last updated on May 26 to include the final season.
Standout episode: “The Speed of Thought”
For any fan of the series, it’s difficult to say Season 7 was anything more than “rough”. Stuck dealing with COVID-related production issues, main stars leaving, and very muddled storytelling, this was The Flash at its lowest point by a very far margin. Circling back to production, the pandemic forced the previous season to be cut short, resulting in the start of Season 7 beginning with lots of climactic moments as it ties up loose ends. Wrapping up the Mirror-verse arc gives us a decent start, but it almost immediately fizzles out after.
The “Forces”, for a lack of better words, are strange. On paper, their place in the series mythos makes a lot of sense, but the arc never quite comes together, especially as they are labeled almost like Barry and Iris’s mystical god-like children. It’s weird. The short Godspeed arc, teased since Season 5, is okay, but it doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before (and in a better way) on the series already. Having Cisco and Wells (kind of, but more on that later) leave the series is a shame too. It felt as though Joe was gone as well, but it’s simply because he has nothing to do beyond giving pep talks. Joe has unfortunately become very underutilized as the series has gone on.
Despite all this negativity, there are still some bright spots during the season. After brief roles in the previous season, Allegra (Kayla Compton) and Chester (Brandon McKnight) were bumped up to series regulars, and they bring a fun dynamic to the team. We get introduced to Bart Allen/Impulse (Jordan Fisher), Barry and Iris’s son from 2049, and a re-introduction to Killer Frost (Danielle Panabaker), as she gets separated from Caitlin to become her own person.
Fortunately, everything is looking up from here…
Standout episode: “A New World, Part One”
Being the concluding chapter of the Arrowverse, it’s fitting that this ninth and final season of The Flash had a strong focus on legacy and looking toward the future. It’s the end of an era after all! This is where it shines, but unfortunately, Season 9 is ultimately a mixed bag that struggles to maintain its momentum early on as it races towards the finish line. Still, it remains a significant step up from Season 7, so let’s review the positives first.
As mentioned, one of the strongest elements of this final season was its focus on the future. Barry and Iris already know a lot about their own, which leads to an engaging personal conflict for them to resolve as a couple. Though Barry is at peace with everything being mapped out, Iris hates feeling like her actions mean nothing if the future is already pre-determined. Together, they strive to find a balance between living in the now, while still looking forward to tomorrow. Another great narrative choice this season was the re-introduction of the multiverse, which hasn’t really been addressed since the Crisis (more on that later). Tied to a sensational guest appearance by the late Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), this well-calculated dose of heart and action kickstarted the show’s star-studded final arc “A New World”. The four-part finale showcased some of the show’s best drama in years, especially with a heartbreaking performance by Grant Gustin in its opening hour.
As for the negatives, it’s a shame that the dramatic “A New World” storyline wasn’t fleshed out further to start earlier in the season. Apart from the solid premiere, the episodes prior to Oliver’s re-appearance were very run-of-the-mill. This is sadly highlighted more by the abbreviated episode count of 13, instead of the typical 22/23. The “Red Death” arc and the following three “interlude” episodes were perfectly fine, but they leave characters like Chester, Allegra, and Cecile with nothing significant to do. The new version of Caitlin, known as Khione, never quite finds her place within the narrative either. Her chemistry with Mark (Jon Cor) is enjoyable, but the two often feel like they’re starring in their own spin-off series.
In the end, despite some underwhelming storylines early on, Season 9 went out on an absolute high note thanks to “A New World”. We were given a decent farewell tour for these characters that we’ve grown to love as they looked ahead to their exciting futures in Central City.
Standout episode: “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Parts 1 and 2”
Like Season 8, this sixth outing for The Flash was similarly divided between storylines that differ in quality and scope. This unfortunately drags Season 6 much lower down this list, despite a very strong start.
The first half of the season builds up to Crisis on Infinite Earths, an ominous multiverse-ending event that has been teased since the very first episode of The Flash. The stakes have never been higher as Barry faces his impending death. Complicating the situation further is Ramsey Rosso/Bloodwork (Sendhil Ramamurthy), a deranged scientist who lets his work literally turn him into a monster. Bloodwork is a solid villain that only amplifies Barry’s fear of leaving the city without The Flash, forcing him to come to grips with his life leading up to this looming event. This string of episodes is quite emotional, even somber in tone, with some exciting horror elements thrown in too.
But after the Crisis, an event that could have radically changed the series forever, the status quo doesn’t shift at all; almost as though it didn’t happen at all. It’s disappointing, to say the least. Whereas the other Arrowverse shows were greatly affected by the Crisis fallout, The Flash keeps moving along into its Mirror-verse arc. This unfortunately makes the storyline feel extremely underwhelming compared to what just preceded it, even though it was an interesting premise.
Season 6 was ultimately of two minds, and it suffers for it. With the series afraid of taking any big risks after Crisis, it falls victim to its own past success and high bar for storytelling.
Standout episode: “The Man in the Yellow Tie”
Following an underwhelming Season 6 and a disappointing Season 7, The Flash was in a creative rut. Luckily, Season 8 does all it can to shake things up and reclaim some of the show’s former glory. While it doesn’t always pay off, this season took the show down some creative if familiar directions, allowing the characters to reflect on their shared history. It introduced some fun new characters and formidable villains, while also setting the stage for some unexpected returns.
First things first, The Flash honored its role within the Arrowverse by opening the season with an exciting self-contained crossover event, “Armageddon”. This allowed lots of characters from other series to jump in and help save the world. Armageddon also brought Barry’s arch nemesis Eobard Thawne/Reverse Flash (Tom Cavanagh) back into the fold, breathing new life into his character for a surprisingly unpredictable season-long arc. Caitlin and Killer Frost got to take center stage as the team fought Deathstorm, an interdimensional being posing as Caitlin’s deceased husband Ronnie (Robbie Amell). Even the Forces return, and despite their weak first impressions, they are far more interesting this time around, playing an integral part in the season’s biggest storylines.
Though the storylines improved, Season 8 still has some glaring character issues. Iris has nothing to do besides being in peril from her time sickness, which keeps her missing for multiple episodes. Joe too remains on the sidelines all season following his retirement from the police, while his partner Cecile (Danielle Nicolet) has become too shoehorned into Team Flash’s missions.
Season 8 doesn’t re-write The Flash’s playbook, but it was certainly entertaining, and a reassuring sign that the series still has some life in it after all.
Standout episode: “Lose Yourself”
In many ways, Season 4 was a big transition for The Flash. In it, the team pursues their first non-speedster villain, Clifford DeVoe (Neil Sandilands), a freakishly intelligent mastermind intent on rebooting the minds of everyone on the planet with dark matter. Villain goals, huh? Within the chaos of DeVoe’s actions, the team bravely faces new challenges as their personal lives evolve too. Barry and Iris get married. Joe and Cecile prepare for their daughter Jenna to be born. Team Flash expands with the introduction of private eye/superhero-in-the-making Ralph Dibny (Hartley Sawyer), the Elongated Man. Caitlin begins her road to recovery in this season, rejoining the team after her Killer Frost persona forced her down a villainous route. Cisco continues to embrace his heroic persona as Vibe while having a long-distance relationship with Earth-19 bounty hunter Cynthia, AKA Gypsy (Jessica Camacho).
There are a few downsides to the season though, particularly with tone and pace. Apart from Ralph’s welcome comic relief, Season 4 feels as though the writers were told to make the series feel lighter. There are some forced humor and gimmicky episodes, such as one where Cisco and Ralph get shrunk by a metahuman. In terms of pacing, DeVoe’s plan is also overly convoluted at times, including a silly string of episodes where Barry goes to jail for DeVoe’s fake murder (why?). It sometimes feels like Team Flash (and the audience) are working in circles to try and work out what will happen next.
Overall, Season 4 had lots to love, but still had a few issues with tone and pace. It also teased us with the recurring appearance of a mysterious stranger, revealed in the season’s exciting cliffhanger to be Barry and Iris’s daughter from 2049, Nora West-Allen (Jessica Parker Kennedy).
Standout episode: “What’s Past Is Prologue” (the 100th episode!)
Season 5 plays it a bit safe with its central story, compared to DeVoe’s bonkers plan at least, but it’s simple to follow and ultimately well done. With Nora’s presence in 2018, the timeline is altered. One of these changes involves the team coming up against Orlin Dwyer/Cicada (Chris Klein), a serial killer that wants to wipe out all metahumans. Tonally, this season has a great balance between its more serious main story and lighter villains of the week. The new family dynamic between Barry, Iris, and Nora is also interesting to explore, giving us both intense and wholesome moments. On the goofier side of things, there’s also the new Wells, a French detective named Sherloque Wells, who assists the team in their Cicada investigation. He also helps them unravel Nora’s hidden backstory (or future-story rather, time travel gets confusing), which leads to some unexpected confrontations with Eobard Thawne / Reverse Flash.
Another significant story in this season revolves around the creation of a metahuman cure, a way to safely remove one’s powers, which Cisco takes up. This cure also radically changes how both Team Flash and the Central City Police Department (CCPD) approach the metahuman issue in the city, offering criminals the chance to start over again powerless. If it weren’t for the highly anticipated Crisis event, with some tweaking, Season 5 could have wrapped up the series on a high note. It featured a lot of big character moments, offered us a glimpse of Central City’s future, and brought the conflict between Barry and Thawne back into focus for what could have been a final showdown. As it stands though, Season 5 has many engaging new storylines, an oddly enjoyable dose of French-ness, and highlights the relationships between the ever-expanding Team Flash.
Standout episodes: “Infantino Street” and “Duet”
Season 3 was extremely busy for Team Flash, and shows the series at its darkest. Barry learns how dangerous time travel can truly be when he creates the “Flashpoint” timeline. Despite doing his best to reset things back to normal, a new villain emerges from the fallout of his mistakes: Savitar.
Though the twist about Savitar’s identity is very divisive, it’s undeniable how strongly their presence affected Team Flash. Early into the season, we learn about Savitar’s plan to kill Iris at an exact date and time. With this knowledge, the rest of the season is like a ticking clock until her death, allowing for tension to continually rise as the team struggles to prevent it. Apart from this ominous warning, there is also infighting among Team Flash, all due to Barry’s actions, for which he feels incredibly guilty. Joe and Iris are not talking, Cisco tries to embrace his new “Vibe” powers as he learns his brother Dante is dead in this new timeline, and Caitlin struggles to control her villainous Killer Frost personality. These storylines are all well written, especially Cisco and Caitlin’s, as their superpowers play significant roles moving forwards in the series.
While the drama is great, it wouldn’t be The Flash if there wasn’t some fun to be had too. Season 3 places an important spotlight on Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) as he trains to become Kid Flash and fight Savitar alongside Barry. We also get to see Tom Cavanagh pulling double duty as he portrays both Harry Wells from Earth-2 and H.R. Wells from Earth-19. Though the overly gloomy tone may be off-putting to some viewers and the Flashpoint timeline was short-lived, Season 3 was very suspenseful, action-packed, and full of emotional depth.
Standout episodes: “Welcome To Earth-2/Escape From Earth 2” and “The Runaway Dinosaur”
Though the multiverse is seemingly everywhere right now in TV and film, that wasn’t always the case! Way back in 2015, Season 2 saw Team Flash explore it too as new allies and enemies from multiple Earths arrive on the scene. The team faces off against Hunter Zolomon, aka Zoom (Teddy Sears), an Earth-2 speedster who wants to eliminate all other metahumans with super speed abilities, taking their powers to enhance his own. Unfortunately for the team, before his true identity was revealed, Hunter became a close friend, and even started dating Caitlin. Though Zoom’s arc repeats some parts of the Reverse-Flash’s in Season 1, Teddy Sears does a good job of making both characters feel distinct in their own right.
The multiverse introduces us to the concept of doppelgängers, leading to the team meeting Harry Wells (Tom Cavanagh), also from Earth-2, and Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp), the Flash of Earth-3. We also get our first encounter with Caitlin’s Killer Frost persona during a mission to Earth-2. Season 2 also delved deeper into Joe and Iris’s rocky family history. We get our introduction to Joe’s previously unknown son, Wally West, as well as his estranged wife, Francine West (Vanessa A. Williams). The family’s strained relationships offer lots of tense but eventually touching moments as they attempt to reconcile with one another.
Last, but certainly not least, this season saw Barry struggling with his love life. While he has serious feelings for Iris, which he isn’t ready to admit yet, he starts a new relationship with CCPD officer Patty Spivot (Shantel VanSanten). All in all, despite not having as strong a villain as Season 1, The Flash’s sophomore season came close to replicating the series’ initial run. It massively expanded the scope of the series, both in terms of the multiverse, and our understanding of the main characters by exploring their pasts, with plenty of drama, action, and romance.
Standout episodes: “Fast Enough” and “Out of Time”
This is how you start a new TV series with a bang! Many first seasons of TV shows, even some of the greats, struggle to find their footing when they start. Some storylines may not be working out as planned. Some characters could be very difficult for audiences to engage with. The action sequences or special effects look less polished than they should be. None of these are true though for The Flash’s debut season.
Season 1 starts firing on all cylinders from the pilot episode, introducing us to a captivating new world full of super-powered individuals, and a well-rounded ensemble cast of characters. The chemistry is strong between new friends/teammates Barry, Caitlin, and Cisco. They each have their own personal dynamic with Harrison Wells too, making the time at S.T.A.R Labs a joy to watch. Over at the CCPD, Joe and his new partner Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett) are at odds as Eddie begins dating Iris. Fortunately, Eddie is a good guy! Over the course of the season, he quickly became a fan-favorite character, becoming an ally to Team Flash who performs the ultimate sacrifice to help save the city from Reverse-Flash.
Speaking of which, what a menacing villain he is! Tom Cavanagh does an amazing job of so easily switching between the levelheaded Harrison and terrifying Eobard in a heartbeat. His startling backstory, tied to the death of Barry’s mother Nora (Michelle Harrison), is full of many impressive twists. He is truly The Flash’s ultimate adversary, and by far, the best villain we’ve seen in the series. Season 1 also had a great recurring cast including Barry’s incarcerated father, Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp), Barry’s first love interest Linda Park (Malese Jow), and Caitlin’s fiancée (and later husband), Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell). There were also some future Legends of Tomorrow stars too, including Marin Stein (Victor Garber), Leonard Snart/Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), and Mick Rory/Heat Wave (Domenic Purcell).
The Flash’s debut season was an impressive showcase of talent, both on and behind the screen, delivering an outstanding origin story for Barry Allen, the fastest man alive. Featuring well-conceived storytelling, strongly developed characters, and exhilarating high-speed superhero action, Season 1 was an incredibly memorable and near-perfect beginning for the series.