EDITORIAL: Let Iris West Feel Things

If you have watched CW’s The Flash for the past four years, and especially if you’ve spent those years being a fan of Iris West (played with heart and gusto by Candice Patton), you will have noticed how often the love of Barry Allen’s life is silenced or sidelined. She was purposely kept out of the loop of his superhero adventures at first, but the show went even further by keeping her reciprocation of his feelings a surprise until the big reveal in episode 15. The need to use Iris as a vehicle for Barry’s joy or pain tended to stifle an otherwise vibrant and fleshed out character, which makes the reaction to the few moments in which she does let loose her emotions all the more surprising.

After being lied to and unsuccessfully shielded for months thanks to her father and best friend, Iris finally learned the truth about Barry being the Flash thanks to a literal spark between them. The next episode, she unleashed her righteous anger on both Barry and Joe, letting them know exactly what she thought of being pushed the the side for her own protection – a measure that got her boyfriend kidnapped and herself almost murdered by the Reverse Flash. And yet, many viewers felt that Iris West was the aggressor in this situation instead of the victim. Why wasn’t she grateful that every man in her life had conspired to keep important details from her due to their overbearing love for her delicate maiden self? How could she dare interrupt the flow of Team Flash to demand respect – never mind the fact that she actually saved Barry’s life that same night and in fact helped them track down Grodd to begin with?

Whether as a response to the outcry, or because the writers truly viewed Iris West as having the patience of a saint, anger rarely ever darkened her door the way it did at the end of season one. When her father confessed in season two that he had lied to her about her mother’s death for 20 years, preventing her from seeking Francine out or forming a relationship with her, Iris immediately understood his good intentions and forgave him without compunction. When Barry ran back in time to save his mother and became indirectly responsible for her and Joe not speaking, she not only forgave him herself but actually convinced the others to forgive him as well. Most miraculously, when Barry’s own time remnant and Caitlin’s evil alter ego plotted to kill her, she never once blamed either of them and went out of her way to try to save them both.

All of this forgiveness and understanding must have earned her enough goodwill to express herself when she’s been wronged or even when she’s upset for an inexplicable reason, one might imagine. It certainly seems to be what The Flash writers thought when the fourth season came around. Barry returned home after a six month hiatus in the speed force, and though Iris mourned him as if he had died it seemed no time at all had passed for him. So while he was ready to jump back in and plan the whole wedding without Iris’ input, she was still struggling to come to grips with his disappearance and her feeling of being abandoned. Even though Barry understood her anger and apologized for his thoughtless behavior, a hundred instagram memes were born from Iris’ supposed selfishness and egocentrism. Because God forbid that a woman – let alone a black woman – own her negative thoughts and receive an apology for the infliction of an emotional wound.

Now let’s fast forward to the latest uproar: this year’s four-way crossover, “Crisis on Earth-X.” Ostensibly centered on the wedding of Barry Allen and Iris West, the four-hour event did an admirable job of servicing all its shows and wound up celebrating both Westallen and Olicity’s nuptials. Shippers everywhere rejoice! The only problem? Felicity interrupted Iris and Barry’s ceremony to propose to Oliver and turned their single wedding into a double one without the other couple getting a word in edgewise. There were plenty of ways to make this situation adorable and a joyful moment for every party involved. The fact that Iris and Felicity had spent most of the crossover together certainly helped soften the blow, but it didn’t change the fact that one woman came off as unintentionally stealing the other’s spotlight. Not to mention that this was the last in a long line of crossover gaffes.

First, Oliver and Felicity did not RSVP to the Westallen wedding despite being a groomsman and bridesmaid respectively. That’s just the kind of fun, quirky people they are. Second, Oliver was so overcome by the speeches about Iris and Barry’s love at the rehearsal dinner that he just had to propose to his girlfriend on the spot – resulting in a full volume fight when she said no. Third, even after the West-Allens had their ceremony crashed by Nazis, they were tasked by the narrative with comforting their friends about the status of their relationship rather than handling their own. And fourth, did I mention that Felicity literally interrupted the small makeshift ceremony before Barry and Iris could even be pronounced husband and wife in order to get herself and Oliver married as well? Never mind that the two of them hadn’t filled out any paperwork, so the gesture wouldn’t legally amount to anything.

Iris, as previously established, is a woman whose superpowers are her understanding and patience. So she and Barry said nothing to prevent the double union and were overjoyed to finally be wed. However, back in the comfort of their own home and their own show, the couple were finally afforded a moment of reflection last week. Upon opening Oliver and Felicity’s wedding gift to them, Iris noted that it was not on the registry but then again neither was their impromptu double ceremony. She had a moment of well-deserved bitterness, an opinion which Barry seconded by putting the espresso machine in the return pile. And life went on.

Not so for fans, as Iris’ offhand comment has ignited another week of wars between fans of The Flash and Arrow. Between people begging Candice to retract the statement on Iris’ behalf to articles declaring that her comment is a failure of feminism, it seems impossible for some viewers to believe that Iris can remain a well-written character while perceiving the world in a way Felicity does not. Granted, there are also articles explaining why Iris as a black woman should have been allowed the spotlight during the culmination of her romantic story – and while I agree with them wholeheartedly, I will not rehash them here.

Instead I will stick to the reasons that Iris West shading her friends was reasonable rather than anti-feminist, both from an in-universe perspective and an out-of-universe one. Felicity and Iris got to kick ass and take names together in The Flash part of “Crisis on Earth-X,” which was a sight to behold. But does that excuse or erase Felicity’s interruption later on? Not in the least. Outside of that episode (and Flash’s earlier bachelorette party one) the friendship between these two women has been severely underdeveloped. Not only has Iris never been mentioned – let alone invited to appear – on Arrow before this season’s crossover, her interactions with Felicity on her home show evaporated after the first season. A first season in which Felicity watched Iris break down at a dinner because everyone there was blatantly lying to her, then proceeded to support Barry’s continued deceptions. That was no beacon for feminism, but there was no outcry then. When Iris did finally appear on Arrow for the crossover, she was written to twirl in her chair at STAR Labs and get snapped at by Felicity before comforting her in turn – despite the fact that she is the leader of the team and they were on her turf at the time. The idea that some viewers would be more offended by her disdain of poor etiquette than by a sister show essentially talking down to her is bewildering.

It is warranted that Iris would express annoyance over her husband’s friends, who apparently became hers as well off-screen, turning one of the biggest moments of her life into their own. After a lifetime spent mediating the conflicts of others and repressing her own emotions, the fact that Iris can confide negative feelings to her husband in the privacy of their home speaks not to her pettiness but to the level of comfort they have together. Rather than signifying the unfortunate death of a female friendship, it instead signifies a female character reclaiming her voice and existing for more than just someone else’s narrative.

I would argue that if the creators of the Arrowverse have any desire to repair the friendship – not that it’s necessarily been damaged by an interrupted ceremony or a single sentence about said interruption – the changes must come more from Felicity’s side than from Iris’. Inviting Iris to the follow-up reception that she and Oliver threw themselves in Arrow ‘s midseason finale would have been a start, but it’s too late to go back. We can only look forward. Much like Iris has previously taken the time to check in on Felicity’s relationship with Oliver every time they’ve interacted this season, Felicity could call and see how Iris is doing now that her husband has been arrested. Perhaps she could offer her services, even if they must be summarily rejected due to plot requirements. If they wish to address the wedding faux pas once more, a simple apology from Felicity and a generous response from Iris should be more than enough to heal the breach, and it’s even something they can laugh about in the future. At the end of the day, jumping into a wedding ceremony or returning a gift that wasn’t on the registry doesn’t mean the two women can never be friends now. It just means Felicity should show the same consideration towards Iris in the future that Iris has shown her in the past.

Because, make no mistake, both girls deserve to have friendships with other women flourish onscreen. Thea isn’t in enough Arrow episodes anymore to showcase much of a bond with Felicity, and for some reason she and Dinah never speak. Meanwhile, Iris and Caitlin have forged ahead with a friendship despite last year’s frosty murder attempts, but they are rarely shown interacting. So if these two leading ladies must search outside their shows for gal pals, it would help if their fandoms weren’t at each other’s throats.