So I’ve been enjoying the *hell* out of The Flash lately except for one thing: Iris Allen. Her character is screen death; every time she’s around, everything comes to a screeching halt.
The problem is: it’s not her fault, it’s the writers. Rather like Laurel Lance in the first two seasons of Arrow, she has Lois Lane syndrome. Her (like Laurel and Lois) entire character arc is based around being ignorant of events that literally everyone else in her life is aware of.
It’s bullshit artificial tension – the hero has to lead a double life and can’t let the woman he loves know because reasons. Except there really isn’t a plausible reason for this; it’s not as though law enforcement agents have to hide their identities from their family and spouses. There may be aspects of their jobs they can’t talk about (ongoing investigations, etc) but it’s not as though they’re required to live double lives.
(An exception would be people involved in government-sponsored espionage, but that’s a completely different beast from law-enforcement or superheroism)
The problem with this artificial tension is that it makes it literally impossible to do anything with Iris (or Laurel or Lois or…) because anything that moves the overall plot along is counter to her individual arc of ignorance. Everything has to stop when she’s around in order to maintain her personal status-quo. As a result, we end up with increasingly implausible “reasons” as to why she doesn’t realize what’s going on, forcing her to be a static, unpleasant and frankly stupid character. We end up with a Skylar White situation, where you get a character who is continually complaining about what we, the audience, see as minor annoyances in the life of someone who has much greater responsibilities.
But when you look at it from her perspective, these concerns are incredibly valid. This person she supposedly loves and trusts is acting weird, treating her with disrespect and feeding her increasingly obvious bullshit. But from our perspective, it seems small and petty at best. She’s a roadblock in his life.
And then to add insult to injury, to keep the drama going, they have to introduce a competing love interest for her. But of course, she can’t completely give up on Barry or Olly or Clark, so… we get to see her Friend Zone our hero instead, making us like her EVEN LESS.
Yes, the Friend Zone doesn’t exist, etc. But this seemingly callous treatment becomes one more strike against her as a character, making us dislike her even more. And again: all of her behavior makes perfect sense from her perspective. We’re being taught to hate her for acting in a manner that would be completely reasonable and understandable from anyone else.
It gets even more galling when you realize that literally everyone who knows – and this usually ends up being everyone in her immediate orbit – is actively lying to her. Everyone she’s supposed to trust has gotten caught up in a conspiracy to keep her ignorant. As a result, we get a character who we’re supposed to root for, to want to see get together with our hero but who we’re being trained to actively dislike.
This is even more galling when you realize that Joe Allen (or John Diggle or Pete Olson) gets to know but Iris doesn’t.
Why, exactly? Joe knowing Barry’s secret doesn’t make him any more of a target than Iris knowing would. Hell, Joe not knowing Barry’s secret puts him in more danger. He’s already out there having to fight supervillains that cops simply can’t stop. Knowing about Barry means that he now has resources that the rest of the Central City PD doesn’t. But Joe’s not the love interest. He’s allowed to be a partner right from the start and prove his value to Barry. Iris (or Laurel or Lois) doesn’t get to until she’s swallowed enough shit and proven to Barry (or Olly or Clark) that she can be trusted. Only then does she get to be a partner instead of a hinderance.
And the irritiating thing is, it’s so very stupid. It’s a lack of imagination. Making the love interest a full partner right off the bat makes for a much better interaction and doesn’t affect the drama at all. Look at The Shadow. Look atSandman Mystery Theater. Shit, look at The Thin Man.
Say what you will about Man of Steel, at least they gave Lois enough credit as an investigative reporter to figure out Superman’s secret identity right of the bat.
It’s an irritating, vestigal trope from the early days of comics and we can’t seem to get rid of it in our fiction.