[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Flash Season 9 Episodes 1-6]Batwoman fans rejoiced when the news broke that Javicia Leslie would be returning for the ninth and final season of The Flash. While Batwoman fared better with its cancelation than other Arrowverse shows and ended with its story mostly resolved, the prospect of a proper epilogue for Ryan Wilder was exciting. But now that Leslie’s brief tenure on The Flash is complete, it’s clear that the show never intended to give Ryan Wilder a last hurrah. Instead, it used her as a prop for the stories of its own characters at the cost of the story and of Ryan herself. The result is an unsatisfying epilogue that fails Batwoman as a show and a character.
‘The Flash’s Red Death Isn’t ‘Batwoman’s Ryan Wilder
The first problem is that The Flash brought Leslie back not as the Earth Prime version of Ryan Wilder that we’re already familiar with but as a version of her from another timeline. Specifically, she’s a remnant of the Reverse-Flashpoint timeline from Season 8’s “Armageddon” crossover. This version of Ryan is a villainous antithesis of the character fans of Batwoman already know. The Red Death is a violent vigilante who sees herself as the one thing standing between order and chaos. She’s willing to kill, she looks down on criminals as lesser beings, and she uses her philosophy to justify doing horrible things. In the second part of “The Mask of the Red Death,” she calls down an army of psychic projections of herself as ever-vigilant sentinels, maintaining her version of “law and order” across the world. She describes herself as a “judge, jury, and executioner.”
Meanwhile, Earth Prime’s Ryan Wilder is a strong proponent of social justice, fighting against corruption, organized crime, and anything that unfairly affects the marginalized people in Gotham both as Batwoman and as the CEO of Wayne Industries. One of the show’s main recurring (mostly) antagonistic forces is the Crows, a private security firm hired by Gotham to create a similar authoritarian police state to what the Red Death was trying to establish. To put it simply, Ryan is against everything the Red Death stands for.
‘The Flash’ Barely Gives Ryan Wilder Any Screen Time
On paper, this sounds like it could be a fascinating premise. The Red Death is a dark mirror for Ryan, an excellent foil that could force her to examine herself and her beliefs from a new angle. But The Flash isn’t a show about Ryan — it’s about the truly massive amount of characters the show has picked up over its 9-year run. And the Earth Prime version of Ryan doesn’t show up until the final minutes of the story, just in time for the final showdown. There’s no time for any deep character exploration — if you haven’t watched Batwoman at all, you might struggle to name anything concrete about her character based on what you see in these episodes.
There are several problems with this. First off, it robs the story of the Red Death specifically of any emotional sway it might have over Team Flash. The story of the Red Death in the comics draws a lot of its emotional weight from the fact that the Flash and Batman are friends, and the horrific things that Bruce does to take Barry’s speed and become the Red Death are an awful betrayal of their friendship. But in the Arrowverse, Ryan barely knows Barry (Grant Gustin), let alone any of the rest of Team Flash. The show tries to account for this by making this version of Ryan good friends with Iris (Candice Patton) in her timeline, but it falls flat because it’s not a relationship that Iris or the audience has any investment in. If the Ryan of Earth Prime was present for a full episode or more, she could become that emotional anchor. Watching her try to earn the trust of these established heroes while her evil doppelganger runs around the city murdering people would make for a compelling story.
‘The Flash’s Lack of the Real Ryan Hurts the Story
Second, it means that the emotional weight of the story must be carried by weaker characters. “Mask of the Red Death” chose to emotionally anchor itself around the story of Chillblaine (Jon Cor), a recent addition to Team Flash. The Flash has struggled with compelling and consistent characterization during its recent seasons, and Chillblaine is one of the worst offenders. His love story with Frost (Danielle Panabaker) never quite managed to demonstrate that he’d actually turned over a new leaf, and so when he sides with the Red Death in “Rogues of War” on the promise that she’ll help him bring Frost back from the dead, Team Flash’s reaction falls flat. The emotional core of “Mask of the Red Death” is Chillblaine realizing that Team Flash has his back no matter what, despite never actually doing anything to have earned that position or Team Flash never doing anything to meaningfully support him up to that point. This story is fine in concept but executed poorly. It’s an especially weird choice for the episodes featuring another major Arrowverse star at the culmination of a 5 episode story arc.
Finally, and most importantly, keeping Ryan on the sidelines for so long robs her (and Leslie!) of the chance to have a meaningful final appearance as Batwoman. Instead, it turns her into a prop in the stories of The Flash’s characters. The Red Death provides an opportunity for Chillblaine’s betrayal. She’s also a microcosm of the issues that convince Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) to leave Central City. She doesn’t provide a meaningful philosophical challenge to Team Flash — she’s just evil, and Ryan only shows up to help beat her up at the end of things. Compare this to previous Arrowverse crossovers like Supergirl’s “World’s Finest” or The Flash’s “Duet,” where main characters from both shows are essential to the story being told. There’s a hypothetical, better version of “The Mask of the Red Death” that has Team Flash seek out Earth Prime’s Ryan Wilder and bring her in to help them track down and defeat the Red Death. And that version of the crossover would’ve been a much better epilogue for Ryan’s character, highlighting her as a hero one last time instead of shunting her to the sidelines.
“The Mask of the Red Death” really feels like a missed opportunity. Javicia Leslie clearly had a lot of fun taking on a more villainous role for these episodes, but there was no need to limit her to it. If The Flash’s final season is trying to be a sendoff for the entire Arrowverse, it needs to be willing to tell the stories of the characters it’s featuring. Even if the show gets it together for the many, many cameo and guest appearances they have lined up for this season, it still seems too late for Batwoman.
New episodes of The Flash air Wednesdays on the CW. You can check out the promo for the next episode “Wildest Dreams” below.