The Flash‘s sixth season premiere feels like a soft reboot of sorts: Barry’s (Grant Gustin) suit is a little brighter, Cisco’s (Carlos Valdes) smile is a little wider and the drama is — well, it is still the drama of The Flash, so Barry and Iris (Candice Patton) are still grieving the erasure of their daughter Nora (Jessica Parker Kennedy) from the timeline.
But beyond exploring the West-Allen’s grief, The Flash is a different show thanks to new executive producer and showrunner Eric Wallace. A veteran of genre TV (Eureka, Teen Wolf) and comic books (DC’s Mister Terrific), he came to the show with a distinct plan.
“Usually one of about two or three things happen in the sixth season of a hit show,” he said when he spoke to Rotten Tomatoes and other reporters ahead of season 6’s October 8 premiere. The first option? “Snoozeville — and it goes into cruise mode. No one really cares, but you kind of watch it because it’s habit.” Another key possibility: “Crash and burn,” leading the viewer to think, “Oh my! That used to be my favorite show, and I can’t stand it anymore.”
The third option is, of course, reinvention.
“I’m trying very hard, my staff’s trying very hard, the cast, the crew, everybody, to reward all of the fans who have been watching for five years. And as a thank you, we’re going to try and not give them the exact same thing that they’ve gotten for five years,” he explained. “As a reward, we’re trying some new things.”
Those new things are poised to make The Flash a different show from what it was. Here are just a few ways Wallace plans to give the series a new energy.
The Flash is known for its season-long plots and season-long villains. It was absolutely thrilling in the first couple of seasons — particularly in the first year with the mystery of the Reverse-Flash — but some of the villains definitely overstayed their welcome in subsequent seasons. Wallace plans to combat that fatigue by breaking season 6 into two major stories, or, as he put it in honor of his days in comics, “graphic novels.”
“It’s a self-contained story. It’s only eight episodes,” he explained of the first half.
The story will revolve around Ramsey Rosso (Sendhil Ramamurthy), a more recent villain from the comics also known as “Bloodwork.” He has a specific plan for metahuman powers that differs in a very different way from the speedster villains or The Thinker, but it also relates directly to Barry’s predicament ahead of the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover. And thanks to the way Wallace and his writers plotted the story, Bloodwork “burns very hot” as his story wraps up in just ahead of the “Crisis” event.
“By the time we get to [episode] 603 [and] 604, we’re in cuckoo-town, essentially,” Wallace said.
The change in momentum is a major departure for the series. Usually, the fourth episode of the year is more of a standalone story and the eighth puts the season-long villain on pause so that Team Flash can join the annual Arrowverse crossover. Wallace noted the pace of previous seasons was “part of the fun” of a 22-episode season, but at the same time, he added, “sometimes me and my wife and my child will watch and go, ‘Dude, shouldn’t you have caught [the villain] by now? It’s episode 17.’”
The attempt to pick up the pace of the overarching plot means the show will feel more serialized than ever before.
“A lot of the episodes — especially two, three, and four — they end and [the next] picks up one second later because I want the immediacy that audiences get when they’re watching a streaming show, and they’re watching something that’s eight or 10 episodes,” Wallace said. “That’s our competition, quite frankly. I want that same immediacy brought to The CW.”
And after Bloodwork’s story is wrapped up?
“We go to [“Crisis on Infinite Earths”], and then starting in [episode] 610, it’s a brand new story — graphic novel No. 2,” Wallace said.
The details of the second story are still under wraps, but there’s a possibility that Keiynan Lonsdale will return as Wally West for an episode or two — provided schedules sync up, of course. Additionally, the second half of the season will see the introduction of Sue Dearbon, Ralph Dibny’s (Hartley Sawyer) eventual wife in the comics.
Another longstanding Flash tradition is the metahuman criminal of the week, which introduced characters including The Shade, Trajectory, and the Turtle. Some would return for a follow-up or graduate to the Rogues tier like Captain Cold and Heat Wave, but for the most part, they served the same function as Smallville’s or The X-Files’s “monster of the week” plot lines. And in almost all cases, these guest characters used their abilities to commit crimes.
Though Wallace wanted to “honor the old of the first five seasons,” he said it was important to find new ways for Team Flash to encounter metas. One debuts in the Tuesday night premiere — keep a steely eye out for some free-range dark matter — while another new method appears the week after.
“It is bearing so much fruit,” he teased. “It’s a new way to get stories in because it’s based in character.”
In the past, Cisco’s relationships have been short-lived (remember Kendra Saunders?) or little more than joke fodder (the entirety of his time with Earth-19’s Gypsy). But this time, his relationship with photographer Kamilla Hwang (Victoria Park) will be a substantial part of Cisco’s story across both halves of season 6. And though Wallace said some of the other relationships on the show will be tested through crises and “Crisis,” Cisco and Kamilla will be “just fine.”
“That’s one of the themes of his season arc that plays over all 22 episodes,” Wallace said. “Can you be happy being human? Can you be happy not being meta? Can you be happy not saving the world every week?”
For Cisco, those questions pose a struggle as he tries to become a person who can punch out at 5 p.m. and “let The Flash handle everything from 5:01 to 8:59 [in the morning].” And from Wallace’s comments, it seems Kamilla will be instrumental in Cisco’s new perception of his work/life balance.
Wallace added that characters like Cisco may get the focus of episodes more often: “Look for that because it’s happening. We have such a talented cast. Let’s use them.”
While the “Speed Force” powering Barry is an element of absolute science fantasy, Wallace hopes to give other concepts on the show a more concrete backing in actual current science.
“Science is my friend,” he said. “And I like to [use a] Stephen King rule of writing: You come up with the crazy idea, and then find the facts to support it.”
Of course, those facts lead to explanations Wallace and his team have to whittle down to the bare essentials both for brevity — there are only so many seconds to devote to an explanation of a black hole, for example — and to the keep the momentum of a given episode alive.
“It is a balancing act, but I do like to put as much real science into the stories as possible because there might be young people watching this going, ‘I want to be a scientist like Kaitlin’ [or] ‘I want to be a scientist like Cisco,’” Wallace said. “And I want them to maybe ask, ‘What is temporal mechanics?’ And then they go Google it. Suddenly maybe we have one more scientist in the world. That’s really awesome.”
From the moment her dissertation went missing in the pilot episode, Iris’ relationship to journalism has vacillated across the seasons. She’s been a reporter at the Central City Picture News, the full-time leader of Team Flash, and founder of the Central City Citizen, but her career ends up falling away if it does not help the season-long plot. Wallace said the current plan, which began last season with the Citizen’s founding, is to establish her as major journalistic presence in town.
“We have very urgently done that this season,” he said. Kamilla works as a Citizen photographer, and a new staffer will be introduced “very soon.” A further expansion of the paper will depend on the available budget for the second half of the season. “[It] might be a small staff at first, but it’s very much about seeing her take charge of what we refer to as ‘Team Citizen,’ and they will appear, and they will be getting into trouble, especially in the back half of our show.”
Wallace also discussed some key character changes on the horizon that reflect his overall vision of the show (and are too spoilery to include here). Though he may be changing the pace — and some other aspects — The Flash is still a show about science heroes using their impossible knowledge and abilities to hold back the tide of chaos.
The Flash season 6 premieres Tuesday, October 8 at 8 p.m. on The CW.