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Due to a tightly focused story unattached to a wider plotline, a filler episode of The Flash Season 8 proved to be the season’s greatest episode.
The Flash season 8, episode 16, “The Curious Case of Bartholomew Allen,” showed a key flaw in the new Arrowverse’s story arc concept. Due to the current philosophy of splitting each season into a series of self-contained storylines, most episodes of The Flash season 8 appeared bloated and drawn-out. The exception was “The Curious Case of Bartholomew Allen,” which focused on a single story involving a new supervillain. This was reminiscent of The Flash’s early seasons, when season-long stories were made up of multiple stand-alone episodes.
This shift began with the sixth season of The Flash, when Eric Wallace, the current showrunner, took over. Wallace envisioned splitting each season into a series of “graphic novels,” each with a shorter, self-contained plot to avoid the arc weariness that plagued past seasons’ year-long storylines based on a single main Flash enemy, such as Savitar or Zoom. Unfortunately, the current seasons appear to have overcorrected, with so many brief stories among The Flash’s cast that many of them lack the depth and complexity of the slower-burning narratives of previous seasons.
One major Arrowverse issue must be overcome by The Flash’s new hero setup.
“The Curious Case of Bartholomew Allen” avoided this issue by devoting the majority of its running length to a single story about a crazy scientist’s quest for immortality. Barry Allen’s use of a Gamma Absorption Array caused him to age rapidly whenever he used his powers, forcing every free member of Team Flash to spend their efforts on taming an increasingly unpredictable Flash, who was beginning to slip into dementia as he grew older. While the episode’s last scene touched up on Caitlin Snow’s ongoing plot of trying to resuscitate Frost after her recent death, “The Curious Case of Bartholomew Allen” stood out from previous episodes of The Flash season 8 in that it didn’t jump around between multiple subplots as the programme proceeded. The “Curious Case” episode felt more like a throwback to a previous season of The Flash, when villain of the week episodes were more regular.
The smoothness with which “The Curious Case of Bartholomew Allen” played out in compared to several of The Flash season 8’s ongoing storylines emphasised how bloated many of the season’s continuous arcs have grown. The most nonsensical and drawn-out story of Iris West-Allen and her unexplained time sickness may be the best example of this. The subplot was not developed at all, except from one reference of Iris still being missing, and “The Curious Case of Bartholomew Allen” was all the stronger for it. The show kept Caitlin and her narrative in the background until the final moment, when it could be given full attention.
Other Arrowverse series have followed Arrow’s lead, with season-long story cycles featuring a single significant adversary. Surprisingly, Superman and Lois has taken a hybrid approach, with a season-long storyline punctuated by twists, turns, and new enemy revelations, such as the Bizarro Superman’s surprise debut. Time will tell whether way wins out in the end, but The Flash would do well to follow the approach of the best episode of season 8.
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