It took exactly one week for The Flash to squander the goodwill it generated with its first post-Crisis episode. “Love is a Battlefield” is a tedious, corny, poorly acted (not by everybody), stupidly plotted, momentum-killing waste that is only slightly redeemed by some good laughs in the first few minutes and a stinger that assures us they haven’t just done all they could to ruin a character’s promising storyline. And, to be fair, I learned a new Italian curse. But it’ll still tempt you to play with your phone till the next merciful commercial break.
Barry and Iris decide to have their Valentine’s Day dinner a few days early, just in case some supervillain decides to strike on their special night. Of course, they’re still interrupted by a baddie, and of course, the very foundations of their love are tested, as though we’re somehow supposed to believe they’re still in doubt. Frost tries to help Allegra mend her broken heart. Nash is uncertain of his place in the world he inadvertently helped create. The Pat Benatar classic from which the episode takes its title is maligned forever.
The opening scene of “Love is a Battlefield” (not counting the useless pre-title scene) is light and funny, and it bodes well for an episode that doesn’t live up to it. Barry wakes up to a freshly-made breakfast and is immediately on guard because Iris cooked it. His trepidation as he forces himself to try her banana pancakes is hilarious; as wonderful as Grant Gustin is in dramatic scenes, he’s equally adept at comedy, and his delivery of Barry’s stalling lines is perfect. And, while she’s playing the straight man in this scene, Candice Patton’s reactions are just right, never exaggerated for comic effect (which always falls flat). I love these types of scenes between couples; I think you learn a lot more about them by seeing them in quotidian situations like this, and it’s a nice way to touch base with Barry and Iris before the plot gets going. It’s all downhill from here, though.
In the midst of some Alexa product placement, Barry and Iris make reservations for an early Valentine’s Day dinner to avoid the inevitable supervillainous shenanigans a holiday is sure to attract. But who should show up in the very restaurant in which they’re sharing their romantic meal but Amunet, one of the worst antagonists in the DC/CW pantheon? Good God, I can’t believe they not only brought this silly, obnoxious villainess back, but she’s even worse in “Love is a Battlefield.” Katee Sackhoff gives one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen in this part (and I’ve seen Charlie Hunnam “act”). Hers has to be the nadir of fake British accents, and her every word and movement is exaggerated to levels that would make a mime blush through his white makeup. Anyway, Amunet steals a briefcase from one of the diners, and when Barry and Iris confront her, she reminds them that she knows Barry is the Flash (which they forgot because the plot needs these two smart people to be idiots) and threatens to reveal Barry’s identity if he tries to follow her. Why she would keep this secret even if Barry leaves her alone is a mystery; wouldn’t it behoove her to get rid of the Flash, or at least to cause him so much trouble he’d never be able to track her? But, fine; it’s a way to keep the Flash from taking out someone who should barely be a challenge for him. So what’s the solution?
Iris will go after Amunet! Because, although Amunet also knows Iris is connected to the Flash, she won’t follow through on her threat if it isn’t technically Barry following her. And the way this shakes out in “Love is a Battlefield” is laughable; Iris puts on a leather jacket (instant tough girl) and strides into a bar like she’s Marv from Sin City, stomping up to the bartender and asking for some information. Look, I know superhero stories aren’t supposed to be subtle, but this is something out of Merry Melodies. And as soon as the bouncer – who is three times her size – tries to escort her out, Iris breaks a beer bottle over his head and knocks him out instantly. No one thinks this is weird. There’s no attempt at showing Iris use her cunning and investigative skills to navigate a criminal dive bar; she just busts her way through it with brute strength. I know there’s something going on, as the ending implies, but again, nobody thinks this is out of the ordinary. Regardless, Iris finds out where Amunet is going, only to stumble onto a fight between not-British-lady and her ex-lover, Goldface. In his first appearance, Goldface was a decent villain; now, he’s almost as bad as Amunet, and I hoped the scene would end with them killing each other and anything else at all taking up the rest of “Love is a Battlefield.”
But then we come to the point: Iris is now an independent woman, throw your hands up at her, and Barry is toxically masculine because he thinks she might die if she faces two murderous supervillains alone with no powers or weapons. “Love is a Battlefield” is one of those episodes, the kind I used to think The Flash was above, but season four proved it wasn’t. Last week – and in some of the episodes leading up to it – Iris developed her own storyline, where she was investigating a cabal of evildoers called Black Hole. This was a good development, and it gave Iris something to do on her own that would likely become the main story as the season progressed. Unfortunately, the current year won’t allow something like this to speak for itself, so now Iris has to get high and mighty, berating Barry for not sitting in a corner and sucking his thumb while she handles the action. Aside from turning a promising story into a shrill lecture, Barry isn’t like that, especially now. He’d be more than willing to let Iris follow up on her story, and she’d be more than willing to let him help. But no, the only way modern Hollywood can build up a woman is by tearing down the nearest man, so Barry is a jerk who wants Iris barefoot, pregnant, and chained to the stove. And the execution of this bad idea is even worse; Iris uses phrases like “damsel in distress” and “a voice in your ear.” As I said, I know this stuff isn’t built for subtlety, but can they at least attempt to make her sound like an actual person?
You can figure out where “Love is a Battlefield” goes from there. Iris is right (though she still needs Barry’s help, which is kind of funny; despite their constant scolding, they know what their audience wants), Barry admits he’s a horrible man who doesn’t deserve to live, she forgives him, all is well. Then, there’s the stinger: the Iris we’ve seen in over the past hour is some kind of “Mirror, Mirror” imposter (without the goatee) and the real Iris is trapped in behind that mirror, desperately trying to get Barry away from whatever has taken her form. To an extent, this works; it assures us that Iris isn’t really some miserable feminazi (anymore) who’s angry at Barry selfishly not dying in Crisis and being upset that his friend did. But it also smacks of the writers trying to have their cake and eat it too; they get their self-righteous hectoring out, then pull the sci-fi equivalent of saying “just kidding” as they shift their eyes from side to side. And while it bodes well for future episodes, it doesn’t make “Love is a Battlefield” much easier to digest. It is a cool twist, though, if only because it does away with the notion that Iris just saw a few computers behind the mirror and went home.
The subplots aren’t nearly as grating as Barry and Iris’ drama, but they’re pretty boring. Frost tries to help Allegra rekindle her romance with the one who got away. Her first attempt is a bust, but it’s because she didn’t get the whole story from Allegra. The secret was to be honest with her intended and to be proud of who she is as opposed to being afraid of someone not loving her (just like Iris!). I know Danielle Panabaker is pregnant, so Frost/Caitlin’s role this season is probably going to be stuff like this, but it’s a tough pill to swallow when she’s mostly sitting around and helping people who aren’t nearly as fun or compelling as she is. Nash’s interactions with her amount to nothing. He’s sad; we know. I’d have much preferred explore Nash as Cisco’s (better be) temporary replacement, which was set up last week. I did love that glimpse of a surviving Harrison Wells doppelganger, though. Is it Earth-2’s Harry? Is it Eobard Thawne? I don’t know, but I’m glad Nash isn’t the only Wells left. Amunet and Goldface are supposed to mirror Barry and Iris in their conflict too, but they’re too grating for anyone to care. And now I guess Amunet will keep Barry’s secret because… reasons? They seem to have forgotten that was even an issue, which is par for the course in this mess of an episode.
“Love is a Battlefield” is one of the worst episodes of The Flash. It’s dull, preachy filler with terrible villains and idiotic plot holes. Despite two interesting reveals and some funny lines in the beginning, it’s one you’ll want to skip on Blu-Ray.