In writing about The Flash since it started, I've never devoted all that much space to Iris West (Candice Patton). It's mostly because the show has never afforded me a good opportunity to do so beyond routinely decrying how poorly they often use the character, while praising Patton for making the most out of a thin role (and she was really good last season, no denying).
She was the clueless and patronized focal point of a love triangle in Season 1 and then sort of drifted around the edges of the team in Season 2, providing moral support but also generally waiting for Patty Spivot (Shantel VanSanten) to leave so she could confess her feelings for Barry (Grant Gustin), while also coming to grips with her mom's arrival and then death. She also did some reporting every now and then, but it didn't seem like the show was too interested in that storytelling avenue.
Up to "Dead or Alive," Season 3 hasn't done much better by her. She's happy in a relationship with Barry, a role that still primarily defines her. Her job at Central City Picture News comes and goes in importance, as the show finds convenient. She still hangs around S.T.A.R. Labs to buck up the other metahumans around her. These are all relatively uninteresting roles on the show to play, since they rarely deliver much in the way of agency for Iris or have her in storylines that aren't about furthering someone else's narrative.
With knowledge of her impending doom in May, however, the show may be ready to actually do something with Iris that isn't just about another character.
In "Dead or Alive," Iris decides to get the scoop on and assist in the capture of a weapons merchant who has supplied fancy rifles to the criminals of Central City, including last week's baddie-of-the-week. While she enlists Wally's (Keiynan Lonsdale) help, the operation and the motivations are entirely hers:
"Honestly, these could be my last few months on Earth. [...] I'm just being realistic, Wally, I get to do that. Look, I want my life to mean something, more than just as a daughter or as a sister or as a girlfriend, but as a reporter. This story can do that. It can say that I, Iris West, mattered."
While this rationale for such reckless action is steeped in a kind of death wish (I don't really buy that Iris isn't afraid to die, but that's more on the show for not better fleshing her out) mixed with a dash of feeling untouchable — remember that this whole plan culminates in her standing in front of the aforementioned arms dealer with the rifle right on her chest because she knew she wouldn't and couldn't die there — it is Iris's choice to do all of this. Unlike the last major time the show let her do some reporting, back when she attempted to report on the street racing stuff in Season 2, it was more about Wally than it was necessarily showing a seedy underside of Central City's young adult population and getting the police to take notice.
The success of this particular endeavor may just — and should, for the sake of narrative and character — cause Iris to become bolder and bolder in the name of a story, to leave the marks on the world that Francine (Vanessa Williams) did not. The Flash has too long sidelined Iris, and much of her dialog and her actions in "Dead or Alive" feel like the show acknowledging this and finding a way to remedy it through her (very unlikely) death.
I am, sadly, hesitant to be too optimistic for a few reasons. One is that Irispoint is still being using to further another character's development, this time Wally's instead of Barry's. Coming to terms with the fact that Barry just won't be fast enough in a few months, it'll now become about making sure that Wally, already improving rapidly, is fast enough to save Iris in case the future cannot be changed enough to even stop Irispoint from happening. Of course, they're ignoring the fact that Wally isn't anywhere to be seen in this future, and so maybe by having him try to get fast enough, they've already made it so that he's not there? Time travel, man. Tricky, tricky stuff.
The other reason is that the show's protagonist and mouthpiece, Barry, is quick to define Iris in those roles that, as she explained to Wally, she wants to transcend. After saying that she wanted to leave behind more than Francine, Barry says that Francine "left behind a brave, wonderful son and the woman that I love." While I don't think anyone should doubt that Barry is just seeing Iris as a romantic partner — he's aware of her many, many virtues — he defines Wally as brave and wonderful, but Iris as the woman he loves, not as an individual with her own qualities.
Iris doesn't push back on this at all, and it's writing like this that makes me wary about fully expecting the show to go whole hog on Iris West, death defier and legacy maker. They're already trying to walk it back a little bit. We could chalk it up to Barry being a dingus and me being prone to overthinking things, but I always get antsy when any show has a character, especially a female character, define herself in explicit terms only to have a male character be like, "Well, what about this, maybe?" and there not be any pushback from the female character.
I guess we'll see. After all, we have a whole future ahead of us.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.