So, right from the first episode, the wheelchair and the way it was portrayed bothered me.
And having seen the whole season I can now say the really stupid part is that the parts that bothered me were completely unnecessary.
Harrison Wells is a wheelchair user. We see that almost immediately, first episode, there he is in a powered wheelchair. And by the time we get to the end of the season we know for sure he is, in fact, disabled. He's a wheelchair user because he has problems with random but total exhaustion. He can be moving around perfectly fine one second and then just stagger and drop, so exhausted he can't really push himself up even. If your disability can drop you that thoroughly then using a wheelchair to limit your energy expenditure makes perfect sense. And for once using a powered wheelchair makes sense too. I mean, a lot of the time it's just there as a visual signifier of high tech assistive technology, even when the actual most useful to the disabled person tech would be more like a sports manual chair. But this time, the problem is exhaustion, he is obviously giving himself the best boost available by limiting his movement to just using the little stick to get around. And that's even before counting the fancy pants future battery built into the chair, which somehow recharges the human in it, thus giving him the energy to move around at all.
You notice how I get through almost that whole paragraph without mentioning any of the spoilery stuff? Because you can. And therefore he can. He can simply say that the accident left him with some kind of energy disorder, and lo, he tells no lies.
So, let's go to bigger spoilers below a second cut, because DW can do that...
It turns out he has super powers, and what really drains him by the back half of the season is using his super powers. But once he is out of powers, he is out of energy entirely, and cannot get up on his own. Sudden exhaustion drops him randomly, and he spends the year attempting to discover what tech can compensate for that. The fancy battery helps, but he also treats himself with tachyons and other superscience gimmickry. Which means he gets faster and faster, and can eventually rely on his restored self enough to get in fights with flash, or abandon the wheelchair for weeks. But until then, he's actually disabled, even without counting what seems to him the worse disablement, the loss of his super powers. Because if he can end up on the floor at random intervals, that's a disability.
Now the problem is entirely in how the wheelchair was introduced, portrayed, and reacted to.
The thing is, even though he is in fact disabled, he's portrayed and reacted to as if he's faking a disability. The initial signifier of deception is simply seeing him stand up out of his chair. Later, when he abandons his chair, his colleagues discuss why he was faking his disability, and assume it was to get sympathy and to make sure nobody would suspect him of wrongdoing. And even once they realise he's got something in that chair that he physically needed? They never understand that that means he was, in fact, disabled. It is never spoken of that way, it is never portrayed clearly that way, it is always seen as him being deceptive, because he could get out of that wheelchair all along.
The thing is, if he'd never said he was paralysed, if they'd left it that the people around him said paralysed while he merely stuck with saying the accident left him in that chair, that could have been plain funny. I mean, he'd be playing on people's mistaken perceptions of wheelchair users to manipulate them, which would be funny because they'd have built their own mistakes in their own heads. He'd still be deceptive in the other ways, sure, but they'd have decided on their own that he couldn't get out of the chair, so they'd have fooled themselves. That would be funny. To me. Anyway. Um, so, I mean, then the chair isn't the deception, the guy using other people's assumptions of weakness is deceiving them. Which is still not optimal, but it wouldn't be doing what annoyed me most, using mistaken perceptions of disability to manipulate the audience. The audience were meant to feel oooh scary or oooh bad guy simply about a man standing up out of his chair. Which is bullshit. But if we're in on the joke, and the characters are being stupid, that's a bit different.
And I know this wouldn't entirely work because the loss of speed thing happened fourteen years before the accident and he could do without the chair until then, but that's just how they wrote it, so if they'd instead written it as a progressive condition of exhaustion that he's battling with advanced tech and eventually trying to leech off the Flash, well, that would also get them the same setup with the chair, with almost everything.
But basically, they could have portrayed his disability better and more clearly, kept the same plot beats, and annoyed me much less. So it wasn't necessary.
Of course what it mostly needs is other people with disabilities to compare/contrast to. Someone at the news office, for instance. Someone ordinary, or even helpful.
But no, we get Hartley and his amazing exploding hearing aids, and that just says that the writers? Have a serious problem with disability. Because the only examples of assistive tech are deceptive, supervillainous, damaging. Also kind of gross. I mean, they went out of their way to make Hartley's ear things all drippy and nasty looking, what was even with that? We're meant to go eeeew because of a pretty ordinary bit of disability tech?
Also, dude has balls of steel, storing explosives in his ears.
They did at least have more than one gay guy in the season so it wasn't an exclusive quality of supervillains. That's progress.
But for disability? We have a wheelchair, hearing aids, and... Barry's need to eat? Which was mentioned once for serious, with the fainting, which honestly should have been compare/contrast with Wells but never explicitly went there. After that the whole thing was just a funny where people envied his figure. Which, you know, on the actor is probably not evidence of illness, but on the character kind of was, so what is with envying thin people?
But who else have we got with a disability?
Heatwave, Mick? Again, visible evidence of difference, the burn scars, is taken as a sign of Something Wrong. The doctor asks him why he doesn't have skin grafts. And, well, he seems to be getting along fine without them? Why... would he need them... if fine? But within the narrative, it's because he's, well, crazy. He likes fire so much he liked burning. And he's going to burn other people so they're just like him. With the scars. Because clearly that's... that's what scars signify, here, that's what disability signifies. That they're angry and want to hurt everyone and make everyone just like them.
I know some of this is legacy badness from old source text, but seriously? This needs fixed.
The Flash needs some depictions of disability that are neutral background and not a sign of deception, creepiness, or intent to harm others.
I mean, that's... that's pretty important.
But season 1 was worse than it needed to be even to keep the exact same story, in really foolish ways.
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