The Ownership of Iris West: The Tricky Thing About Time Travel

The Ownership of Iris West: The Tricky Thing About Time Travel

I had no plans to write about the depiction of Iris West on The Flash because I thought my grumbling tweets were enough and that other people who were more moved by it could take it on. I didn’t think I needed to be the person because to be honest, the fun of the show

I had no plans to write about the depiction of Iris West on The Flash because I thought my grumbling tweets were enough and that other people who were more moved by it could take it on. I didn’t think I needed to be the person because to be honest, the fun of the show overall overpowered my reservations. Gradually, I went from troubled to annoyed and then frustratingly irritated as the show progressed but I still didn’t think I had anything to say beyond in-person rants to friends. It wasn’t until episode 20, The Trap, that I…hulked out. As I wrote about Iris and her place in the show, I realized I had a lot to say which prompted a multi-parted look at Iris. Hopefully, I can get in every example and feeling I have about the character in this series.

Part One: We Need To Talk About Iris West: The Problem With Secret Identities

In the first part, we discussed the concept of secret identities: why Barry’s doesn’t work and how it hurts Iris as a character. This was a frustrating point of contention for me as a viewer but it wasn’t a deal breaker yet. The dynamic antagonist, Harrison Wells, and the show’s fun, campy nature were still a draw but my annoyance had tipped over into full blown rage thanks to episode 20: The Trap. In it, Detective Eddie Thawne asks Detective Joe West, his partner and the father of his girlfriend, if he could ask Iris for her hand in marriage. Joe declines. He doesn’t elaborate until Barry asks him why much later in the episode on behalf of Eddie. Joe responds that if he gives Eddie his blessing and he proposes, Iris will “get caught up in the moment and the romance and she’s going to say yes”. A very confused Barry asked what could be wrong with that scenario and Joe responds:

“Because one day she’s going to wake up and realize she married the wrong guy but she’ll stay anyway because she made a promise. I don’t want that kind of life for her. Or him. She’s got feelings for you, Barry. She may not know how to deal with those feelings right now but…I know her. They’re there. Always have been. You know that too.”

First, Joe insinuates he know Iris’ feelings better than she does and rather than have the discussion about her feelings with her, he has the discussion with Barry instead. Not Iris–the person in question–but Barry. Second, he suggests that Iris would not only be trapped in a loveless marriage–after the supposed eureka moment that Joe has foreseen in a vision we aren’t privy to apparently–but she also won’t leave Eddie because she has made a “promise.”

[pullquote]”THE TRUTH IS, IT DOESN’T MATTER BECAUSE IF YOU LOVE SOMEONE, YOU TELL THEM EVERYTHING. SO IF YOU LOVE ME, EDDIE, YOU’LL TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON WITH YOU”[/pullquote]There’s being a parent and then there’s being the person preventing your child in making their own choices. Joe removes Iris’ choice by making the decision for her rather than advising her, which makes her into a non-character. Also, it makes no sense. Iris has never been depicted as being shy in expressing what she wants out of a relationship as exemplified in episode 18, All Star Team Up, when she wouldn’t put up with Eddie keeping secrets from her. “When you’re ready to act like two people who love each other, call me. I’ll be at my dad’s.” At the end of that episode, Barry offers a false explanation for Eddie’s secrets by suggesting that it’s due to the stress of his job and not because he’s keeping Barry’s alter ego a secret. Iris then goes to Eddie and tells him that the explanation Barry gave was “good” and “valid” but “the truth is, it doesn’t matter because if you love someone, you tell them everything. So if you love me, Eddie, you’ll tell me what’s going on with you”. Iris was willing to break up with Eddie due to secrets, so why on earth wouldn’t this smart and fierce woman leave a marriage that she wasn’t happy in? More importantly, why isn’t this whole scenario left up to her to decide?

Joe West. Iris West. Jesse L. Martin. Candice Patton. 2014. The Flash. The CW.

There’s a pattern throughout the season of Iris’ lack of agency but I’ll touch on big moments like in episode eight, Flash vs Arrow. In it, Barry is affected by the metahuman known as Rainbow Raider and has no control over his rage. He rips Eddie out of the moving car that Iris is driving and starts to yell at him:

“Who the hell are you, huh? You think you can just come along and get to have whatever you want? What gives you the right?”

What he’s referring to when he says “get to have whatever you want” is Iris. Barry has feelings for Iris and he’s angry that Eddie is the one who’s in a relationship with her. So what gives, Eddie? The answer isn’t what gives him the right but who, and the who isn’t Barry, it’s Iris. Everything Barry says in this episode is in anger–unfiltered anger–but it’s also truthful anger. Whether or not Barry is a viable love interest for Iris is a whole other discussion but at the end of the day, this exchange is once again between two men in Iris’ life who are discussing Iris’ feelings, her thoughts, and her relationships while never actually asking Iris. Both Eddie and Barry have perceived stakes in this exchange, while Iris is depicted as an object to be won. She’s consistently owned by the other characters which prevents an emotional connection with the audience and this is exacerbated by the introduction of time travel.

Time travel is fun especially in the context of a superhero show but in The Flash, time travel has not only been used for the big plot points–mother’s murder, dad falsely imprisoned and the Reverse Flash–but it also plays a role in Barry’s relationship with Iris. There have been two instances of time travel that have been applied to Iris, with the first occurring in episode sixteen, Rogue Time. When Barry goes back in time by one day, he uses that advantage to change the future or–in the case of Iris–ensures that it remains the same. In the episode before–due to a whole host of variables including the stressfulness of the situation–Iris declares her love for Barry and soon after he reveals he’s The Flash. However, he undoes the day by traveling back in time by accident (as one does when one is super fast). Dr. Wells finds out and being the expert in time travel, he tells Barry not to change anything and let things play out. Of course, Barry doesn’t listen. I was less concerned with how he used this knowledge of time travel as The Flash, and more with how he used it as Barry with respect to Iris. Pre-time travel Iris still had agency since she was the one who made the decision to tell Barry how she felt. Post-time travel Iris doesn’t, because Barry is the one in possession of that information, and rather than let Iris come to that realization on her own, his impatience leads him to abuse that information in his attempts to court her. This obviously blows up in Barry’s face but it becomes part of a long list of time travel offenses against Iris.

The Flash. "Fastest Man Alive". Candice Patton as Iris West and Grant Gustin as Barry Allen. Photo by Cate Cameron. The CW. 2014.

In the beginning of The Trap, Barry, Cisco and Caitlin find Dr. Wells’ secret future room houses an A.I. named Gideon and a 2024 newspaper headline with the byline reading “Iris West-Allen.” This information–which is never shared with Iris–is once again another instance of agency removal by feeding this information to everyone else but Iris. Barry is given advance knowledge of his marriage to Iris and this allows him to court her with this information which leads to very inappropriate moments like in the following episode, Grodd Lives. In it he asks whether there’s a chance for the two of them once Eddie–her boyfriend who has been kidnapped–is rescued, and this comes across as incredibly creepy. Barry’s persistence in pursuing Iris comes from a place of ownership from which all the men in her life seem to be working. Iris is not treated like a person. She has no power over her story and has power acted upon her whether it’s through these instances of time travel, the secret identity being kept from her or not being able to be truly angry when she finds out she was being lied to. The only solace I had with regards to keeping Iris in the dark about Barry’s secret was her response to it when she ultimately finds out. That’s when we’ll get to see some agency! That’s what will make twenty episodes of lacklustre and sometimes insulting character development worthwhile because we’ll see consequences! None of this happens. Iris is upset for a hot minute before her feelings and thus the consequences are trampled by the danger her father and Barry face against psychic Gorilla Grodd. Obviously, Iris can’t be angry and concerned for their well being because that would require her to be a fully realized character.

I’ve talked about ownership of Iris in how the show treats her as property, a plot device and an emotional outlet for the men in her life. Believe it or not, there was a moment when these men had blatantly stated this fact in episode 18, All Star Team Up. Eddie is visibly distressed by the secret he’s been keeping from Iris (Barry’s Flash alter ego), he tells Joe that he wants to tell her since it’s affecting their relationship. Joe, of course, is set against it because he wants to protect her. Eddie states that he doesn’t agree and Joe counters by saying that he’s her father.

Eddie: ”And I’m her boyfriend. When does my vote outweigh yours?”

Joe: “When you become her husband.”

With marriage, Joe is suggesting old school transference of ownership and responsibility from the father to the husband. If this doesn’t encapsulate Iris’ role in season one of The Flash, I’m not sure what does. Having an actress like Candice Patton depict a character like Iris West is a big deal and seeing this character so horribly misused doesn’t sit well with me at all but I like to look forward. What does the future hold for Ms. West? How is she viewed outside of the show? Can her character be salvaged and should she be with Barry? I want it to be better but can it be? I ask myself these questions in the third and final part of this series.

Series Navigation<< We Need To Talk About Iris West: The Problem With Secret IdentitiesThe Present (and Future) of Iris West >>

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  • Keyonna
    August 25, 2015, 2:27 pm

    This is an interesting read however i have to disagree with a lot of what you wrote here.

    1. While I agree that any discussions about Iris’ feelings should be had with Iris, I don’t agree that joe is taking iris’ agency away by saying no to Eddie. Eddie is still very much able to ask Iris in spite of the fact that Joe didn’t give his blessing. In fact he does.

    2. In Flash vs Arrow, Barry does attack Eddie due to amped up jealousy of the fact that Eddie is with Iris. You can’t ignore the fact that Barry isn’t in his right mind, even if his feelings are coming from a very real place, because he wouldn’t have done that any other time. And no Barry and Eddie aren’t having the conversation with Iris as they should be, but that’s okay because again Barry isn’t in his right mind and they make sure to rectify that the very next episode by having Iris have a conversation with both Barry and Eddie.

    3. I definitely agree that Barry using his information from alternate realities/the future to make a move on Iris is very unfair, but as far as it affecting Iris’ agency it doesn’t. In 1×16 Barry comes to Iris and she shuts him down. Even if she does have those feelings Barry isn’t able to rush her or make her break up with Eddie on anyone’s time but her own. Iris finds out that she’s married to Barry in the future and she chooses to stay true to Eddie despite that. How is that her lacking agency? How is that her not having power over her own story?

    The problem with this is that you’ve written this essay about how Joe, Barry, and Eddie have constantly tried to strip Iris of her agency but for reasons i can’t understand you place the blame on Iris (despite the many instances of her fighting back against that) instead of holding those characters accountable for it.

    If Iris actually allowed the men in her life to run her life the way you make it seem they do then maybe I’d agree but she doesn’t. She dates Eddie despite Joe’s childishness, she puts her name on her website when both Barry and Joe tell her not to, continues to meet up with flash and write about the flash despite nearly everyone telling her not to, she doesn’t allow Eddie to get away with lying to her, gets mad at Joe and Barry for lying to her.

    And you know what I wish that Iris was able to keep a grudge towards Barry and Joe, but unfortunately the writers realize that people will take every opportunity they can to find reasons to shit on iris (people were upset about iris being upset at all) and have made efforts to make her as likeable as possible but surprise surprise people still find things to criticize Iris about (and it’s just Iris. No one else catches the flack that Iris does. Somehow every other character is perfect)

    The fault (at least with this issue) doesn’t lay with the writers as much as it does with the fandom for nitpicking everything about Iris’ character to death. Nothing she does is ever good enough for anyone and even when she doesn’t do anything wrong and is the one being mistreated by the other characters she’s still in the wrong somehow and needs redemption.

    • Claire Napier@Keyonna
      August 26, 2015, 9:52 am

      The blame is on the construction of the “Iris” that is a part of how writers, actors, camera people, directors and editors, etc, are telling the story The Flash. Ardo does not place blame upon the living person Iris, because she does not exist. In writing this piece, Ardo is addressing the way that the story the viewer is shown constructs the character, Iris, including times at which she is not on screen and the output that defines her is only a concept being discussed by men.

  • Sam
    August 25, 2015, 1:51 pm

    This piece is more about Barry and Joe than it is Iris. I was looking forward to reading an interesting article which examines and observes the agency of Iris or lack thereof at certain parts in the show. However this is more about the misogynists Barry Allen and Joe West, and should be titled as such. When will I get the articles for Iris West I so desperately crave?

  • KP
    August 25, 2015, 1:14 pm

    Let’s just say you had me until you lost me. Iris’ agency has been taken from her throughout the season, she has fought against it at numerous times when she sought out the Flash, put her name on her blog, search for The Streak despite Barry refusing to speak to her, “I am not going to stop till the world believes in him”, pursues it and Barry comes and apologises to her about the situation, and chooses to remain loyal to Eddie despite being told by many people, that Barry is who she should be with. “I choose who I love”.

    All the factors Iris is fighting against don’t make her a non-character, that’s contributes to never lack of female representation and misogynoir, let’s scrap the character altogether garbage.

    This reflects on the male characters on the show, as even in your own article you fail to quote Iris West for the majority of it, but rely on the male characters to inform your readers why Iris has no agency.

    Barry and Eobard’s relationship was built and set up in a way that removed Barry’s agency, Cisco and Caitlin (the latter more specifically) have met bumps along the way.

    Caitlin Snow: Barry’s personal doctor, from sad about Ronnie, to wanting him to stay dead, to wanting to save him (1×09), to wanting to forget him (1×12), to wanting to save him once more (1×13) and engaged, to being assaulted by Everyman and responding despite being engaged (1×19), to married (1×23) and without a storyline (from 1×15-1×23). Caitlin never has a chance to address Eobard only Barry and Cisco.

    From the spoilers for Season 2 regarding Iris West. It sounds like the writers heard the supporters of Iris West loud and clear. “She’s going to come into her own a little bit, this year. All this stuff has happened and she’s gotta figure out what she’s gonna do about it. Hers is going to be a journey of, “I’m going to become the woman I want to be. I’m not going to be as reactive as maybe I was, in the past.” She’s definitely going to be more of a part of Team Flash because she knows all the secrets now and we don’t have to be hiding things from her. We’re going to see more of her, as a journalist who’s generating stories.”

  • ladida
    August 25, 2015, 12:34 pm

    It’s really fun to see a lot of space and consideration being given to Iris, who I think has been overlooked and derided in most things written about The Flash. I love how you point out that structurally, the show pushes misogynist storylines, but I disagree that these are problems with Iris. For example, “Joe removes Iris’ choice by making the decision for her rather than advising her, which makes her into a non-character.” Joe removing Iris’s choice does not make Iris a non-character, it makes Joe a misogynist. Eobard removes Barry’s choice, in fact the entire theme of his relationship with Barry is that he constrains him and removes agency from his life by exerting so much control over it, but that doesn’t make Barry a non-character, that marks him as a hero.

    Iris does have power over her story. She’s constantly resisting how Barry, Joe, and Eddie lie to her and gaslight her and objectify her. She keeps blogging even though they tell her not to, she chooses to stay with Eddie even though the future “tells” her that she will end up marrying Barry, she makes herself a part of Team Flash without anyone inviting her. In fact, I would argue that Iris’s story is about her resistance to the ways in which the men in her life try to control her, and that at the end of the season she gains a measure of triumph. All the things pointed out in the article are acts committed by the men, and yet they are framed as though they reflect on Iris. What are Iris’s actions? What are her motivations? How does she effect the narrative of the show? None of these questions are posed when considering her place on the show, and I’m not sure why.

  • JM
    August 25, 2015, 9:58 am

    Thanks for writing this. You’ve really outlined all of the things about how Iris has been written that have bugged me since the very beginning. I really generally like The Flash, but the way her character has been used (or underused? or misused?) always left me with a bad feeling.

    • ladida@JM
      August 25, 2015, 12:20 pm

      But…none of the things pointed out in this article are about how Iris is written, they are about how the men in the show are written. Iris is not the problem, the men and the way their actions and decisions perpetuate misogyny are.

      • JM@ladida
        August 25, 2015, 3:36 pm

        I hear your point about the actual content of the article dealing more with the way the men in Iris’ life act with regards to her than her actual character.

        I guess how I felt, and what I meant to say, was that this article helped me explore why it felt like something didn’t quite sit right with me about Iris’ role in the story, not that the character herself was problematic.

    • Becca@JM
      August 25, 2015, 1:16 pm

      This article should really be entitled: Why are the men on The Flash such controlling Misogynists?

      Cause their TREATMENT of Iris is the problem. Plus, I don’t know why you think Iris was passive in the show. I mean, this is the woman that put her name on her anonymous blog after Barry told her that she can’t be that serious about it. This is a woman that challenged her controlling father, and finally got him to explain WHY he’s controlling (which further developed their relationship). She’s a woman that demanded respect from her boyfriend because she knew he was lying to her. When she figured out the truth about Barry, she confronted him head on. I’m just confused how she is completely lacking agency (and how this article is centered around her as if she’s the problem when it’s the men mistreating/gaslighting/underestimating her).

      • Claire Napier@Becca
        August 26, 2015, 9:12 am

        The article is centred around the way that the writing frames and elides the character’s agency, as a part of the on-screen narrative. It is about the character as a written thing, in a system of written things, and implicit in that is how the written things impact viewers’ perceptions & expectations of real women and their real places in the unwritten world.


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