There is something truly endearing about talking to Grant Gustin. It might be the fact that he’s proven himself to be so effective an actor playing the title character of The Flash, but it just may have more to do with the fact that he is such a genuine fanboy (the guy has a Superman “S” tattoo on his arm), seemingly as excited to be talking about his on-screen superhero adventures as you are. That’s certainly the case when he teases an element of the show’s fifth season, which debuts on the CW in October.
And it has nothing to do with saving the world, teaming up with other superheroes, or taking on a new villain. “We do have a new villain,” he notes with a smile during a conversation at Comic-Con, “but the thing I’m talking about is going to be something that changes my everyday life of playing the Flash. It’s something from the comics and I think it’s something that will really excite the fans for sure. But I can’t tell you much more than that.”
To the geek-lite among you, this may seem really stupid, but from the show’s recent teaser trailer it’s pretty obvious what he’s talking about: an element of the comic book version of the character is that Barry Allen wears a ring that, when he goes into action, he can open and eject his very compressed costume, which he jumps into at super speed. But the finger adornment is only one surprise planned for this year, as anyone who saw the fourth season conclusion already knows. Team Flash has defeated the big bad of the season, the Thinker — though not without a tremendous amount of sacrifice throughout the year — when Barry and Iris Allen are stunned to meet their twenty-something speedster daughter, Nora, who has come from the future, claiming she’s really “messed” things up and needs their help.
Things pick up right where they left off.
Executive producer Todd Helbing comments, “I can tell you that there will be a direct pick-up from the finale last season. Nora came back from the future and dropped this massive bomb on them, so this year, thematically, we’re exploring the idea of a legacy. What you leave behind for Barry and Iris and the team. Everybody has this sort of question that they’re asking themselves, but for Barry particularly it’s what’s more important, me being a great speedster, me being the Flash or me being a great father? You know, Barry has certainly messed up when he’s traveled through time, so it’s fun to have him on the other side of it and trying to help Nora get through this.”
For his part, Grant feels that his and Candice Patton’s character of Iris West Allen, were in a good place when they were suddenly given this bombshell of an adult daughter. “Nora is a curveball,” says Grant, “but this isn’t the craziest thing that’s happened in terms of curveballs on the series.”
Candice certainly agrees with that: “In the world of The Flash, with Central City, nothing is too weird, so I don’t think the characters are too perplexed by her arrival. But it is something they’re going to have to contend with, having a daughter appear from the future, what it means for the timeline, what the ramifications are, and what their relationship is like.”
Fans shouldn’t expect Barry to zip through the time barrier to solve the mystery, though. “No, I don’t think Barry is going to be time traveling much this year,” Grant smiles. “I think he’s learned some hard lessons about time traveling. But it’s obviously going to be a theme this year with Nora being here with us now. I think we’re going to figure out how she’s affected the timeline, coming back, and how we can help her hone her powers and get her back home. But beyond that, it’s also the opportunity to spend time together as a family, and appreciating the fact that Nora wanted to come to see us and that there’s a specific reason why she really wanted to come back in time, which we’ll find out.”
Welcome to parenthood, Barry and Iris.
As to what happens, in those final few moments from last season it seemed that Nora was kind of cold to Iris, avoiding her as much as possible, and when things pick up this season she’s going to be particularly clingy toward her father.
“I think Iris is happy to have her, because to her it indicates that in the future she and Barry, who have gone through so much, have a family,” muses Candice. “But I’m sure it is hard for Iris to see Nora love her father so much and get along with him so well, and her not have that same dynamic with her. As we remember, Iris didn’t really have a mother figure in her life, so I think Iris wonders if she’s repeating her mother’s mistakes, and not being a good mother herself. Maybe that’s her fate, to not have a relationship with her daughter. That’s something that she’s going to have to struggle within the next season. It will also be interesting to see how she deals with having two family members that put themselves in danger constantly, and having to worry about that all the time. I think that’s something we’re dealing with on the next season as well.”
“Iris really wants to connect with her and is excited she’s here,” Grant adds, “but Barry’s a little more cautious at first, because, first of all, we've had people lie to us before and turn out not to be who they say they are. At the same time, we kind of both feel that it is her. Our guts tell us this is really our daughter, and Barry is kind of worried about helping her, why she's there and how to get her back to her own time. A kind of heartbreaking aspect of it is that Barry feels that he's had a lot robbed from him in life.”
That was obvious from the series’ outset when, in flashback, we saw his mother, Nora (the granddaughter’s namesake), murdered by a speedster from the future right in front of young Barry’s eyes. “She died because of these powers and because of time travel, and it’s why he grew up with his dad in prison, because he was accused of her murder,” he explains. “Now he's worried that his daughter showing up as a 24 or 25-year-old, it could be taking away from the future. The whole thing is kind of hard for Barry, because he’s always wanted a family. He’s always wanted a kid, but getting her like this, in some ways he feels like he’s having something else stolen from him. He wanted to be there for the sonogram, for when she was born, and now he doesn’t even get to meet his daughter the normal way. He meets her in her mid '20s and he’s missed hearing her heartbeat the first time, seeing her first smile. What does this take away from him? We’ll see him deal with it in stages, but it is kind of tough, kind of weird, for him. He knows this is a gift, but at the same time, how will it affect the future? If she does the wrong thing, she could make it so she never exists in the future. And that’s scary for him.”
Jessica Parker Kennedy has her say.
Naturally, you can’t expect answers from anyone, particularly actress Jessica Parker Kennedy, who plays Nora. What she does allow is that the character is “just kind of a silly, goofy person like her father certainly was in the beginning, especially. She’s a young woman who’s made a big mistake, and she’s going to make lots more mistakes. But her parents will be there, hopefully, trying to sweep up the messes that she’s made. I think there will be a lot of different adventures for her in season five. I think there’s a youthfulness to her. The fact that she’s where she is right now, maybe that was something that wasn’t supposed to happen. I think there’s a journey for her to mature, you know? And to start to understand what it means to be involved with that group of people and how important that is, and how you have to treat it very delicately.
“I’m not a comic book reader,” she adds. “When I got offered the job, I really had to think about it. Then I said yes and started getting involved in doing it and being with everyone and I was, like, ‘God, I’m so glad I said yes to this,’ because it really is such an incredible world and there’s so many cool fans and enthusiasm."
Those cool fans and their enthusiasm actually play an important role for Grant in keeping up his excitement regarding the character and the show year after year. As he motions around to the surroundings of San Diego Comic-Con, he offers, “The first season, I remember how excited and positive Comic-Con was about this show, and this many years later it’s still exciting. And it’s great coming back here. You know, when we’re filming it’s like we’re in a bubble in Vancouver. We shoot for nine and a half months and it’s a grind. When it comes to work, I’m a pretty serious, focused person and we get caught up in it. It’s just the job, you know? But then we come someplace like this, you really see how much it means to people and that it’s not just a show. It touches people. And the truth is, if I’ve lost any sort of percentage of my excitement for the show, these things definitely reinvigorate my passion for it.”
Season 5 of The Flash premieres Oct. 9 on the CW.