Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Flash Season 2, Episode 18: Versus Zoom

Welcome to that wonderful time of the year in which serialized TV shows finally stop wasting time and gear up for their big season finales. Like this week's The Flash, for instance. After months and months of setup, this week we finally get the origin of Zoom, aka Jay Garrick, aka Hunter Zolomon.

It's a very convoluted origin, one that I haven't quite been able to sort out. Why it's almost like the writers came up with a bunch of cool story beats for Zoom, then had to figure out how to link them together in a reasonable manner!

This episode hammers us over the head with the similarities between Barry Allen and Hunter Zolomon, who both witnessed traumatic events in their childhoods. But because Barry had a familial support system to take him in he became a hero, while Zolomon had no one and became a crazed villain.

That's a very simplistic view of psychology there. I'm sure there are millions of people out there who had horrible childhoods and turned out just fine. Conversely there are millions  who would have been much better off away from their families. Just because this is a comic book show, that shouldn't excuse it for such frivolous pop psychology.

I have to say I'm not happy with this week's revelations regarding Jay Garrick, the Earth-2 Flash. Jay made his debut in 1940, was one of the first superheroes of Golden Age comics, and  a major part of DC's history. Turning him into a villain does a grave disservice to a heroic character, and undoes over seventy years of comic book history. It feels like a slap in the face to comic fans. It's like suddenly saying Superman is a serial killer and villain. Whoops! Sorry, bad example. DC already did that with Man Of Steel.

I'm hopeful that Zolomon didn't tell us his entire story here, and that the writers have a plan up their sleeves to redeem Jay. Maybe Iron Mask will turn out to be the real Jay Garrick somehow, and the real Earth-2 Flash will take his rightful place on the show.


The Plot:
We flash back to "many years ago" on Earth-2, where young Hunter Zolomon hears his parents, James and Ashley, arguing. James is an abusive psycho who's just come back from a war. He makes Hunter watch as he shoots his mother right in front of him. Hunter's then sent to an ominous-looking orphanage, his only possession his dad's metal, Flash-like army helmet.

In the present on Earth-1, Barry's trying out the tachyon enhancer he got from Eobard Thawne to increase his speed. He makes a test run and goes four times faster than normal (well, normal for him). He's confident he's now fast enough to defeat Zoom. The only problem is the STAR Labs Gang closed all the breaches to Earth-2. Barry asks Harry for help reopening one, but he refuses, saying it's too dangerous. Sounds like good advice to me!

That night Barry tells Joe about wanting to travel to Earth-2 to stop Zoom. Joe agrees with Wells that it's a terrible idea. Wally comes home to do his laundry, and drops a huge hint about how much his college room and board costs, which sails right over Joe's head.

Barry gets an idea— if Cisco can develop his Vibe powers to match those of his doppelganger Reverb, he can theoretically open a breach into Earth-2. Cisco tries, but only manages to open a small breach (don't worry, Cisco, it happens to all guys now and then). On Earth-2, Zoom senses the breach and runs to it. Cisco hears him, gets spooked and stops.

Harry visits Joe and asks if he's making any progress in finding his daughter Jesse. Joe says nope, but they'll eventually find her. Why are characters on TV shows always obsessed with finding people who don't want to be found? I'm lookin' at you, The Walking Dead. Joe tells Harry that he thinks opening a breach to Earth-2 is a bad idea as well, but knows Barry will never give up trying. He asks Harry to help Barry.

Later Barry tells Joe that Wally wants to move in. Joe excitedly fixes up a spare room for his son. Wally seems happy when he sees the room, and calls Joe "Dad" for the first time ever
. If this was an ABC Family show, the audience would've all cooed, "Awwwwwwww!" during this scene.

Back at STAR Labs, Cisco says he's scared that developing his Vibe powers might "turn him to the dark side," like Darth Vader. Barry gives him a patented The CW Pep Talk, and Cisco agrees to try and open a breach again. Caitlin offhandedly mentions Hunter Zolomon, Jay Garrick's Earth-1 doppelganger (man, it's getting so you need a program to follow who's who and which Earth they're from on this show). Harry suddenly pipes up and says that Hunter Zolomon was a convicted serial killer on Earth-2. Apparently he never noticed that Zolomon and Jay Garrick look exactly alike, and is just now connecting the dots.

Cisco tries opening the breach again. He succeeds this time, and Zoom emerges. Zoom chases Barry through the city and is impressed that he's apparently increased his speed. The Flash lures Zoom back to STAR Labs, where life-sized cardboard cutouts of Hunter Zolomon's parents pop up, distracting him long enough for Barry to fasten a high-tech boot to his foot, trapping him.

Barry begins scolding Jay/Hunter/Zoom, telling him that he didn't need to lie to them— all he had to do was ask and they'd have done anything they could to help him. Zoom taunts Barry by telling him they're not that different. Barry could have easily become like Zoom after seeing his mother die. Zoom then vibrates the boot off his foot and zips away. Barry searches frantically for him, but he's gone.

Back at the West house, Joe discovers Wally's missing. There's a note burned into the wall of his room that reads, "Your speed for Wally." Zoom's kidnapped Wally!

Over on Earth-2 we see Wally's now in Zoom's dungeon. Iron Mask tries to communicate with him by tapping on his cage, but Zoom appears and tells him to knock it off. He tells Wally the only person who can save him now is the Flash. This confuses Wally, since as far as he knows, he's never met the Flash before.

Barry tells Joe he's going to give Zoom what he wants to save Wally. He goes to STAR Labs, where Cisco vibes and tells Zoom that Barry's agreed to the deal. Zoom appears inside STAR Labs, which means he could invade Earth-1 anytime he wanted. Wha...?

Zoom hands over Wally. Caitlin asks Zoom how he managed to make it look like he killed Jay Garrick in front of them. He gives her a very contrived and convoluted explanation, saying the Jay he killed was a "time remnant from an abandoned timeline," which is another way of saying "A wizard did it." Barry asks who Iron Mask is, and Zoom expertly dodges the question by saying, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

Harry then sets up a speed force siphon for Barry, who for some reason is determined to hold up his end of the bargain. Barry gets on the treadmill and begins running, as his speed is drained. Harry hands the siphon to Zoom, who injects himself with it. He then starts killing the now powerless Barry, but Caitlin yells for him to stop. He then zips away with her, presumably back to Earth-2.

• I'm betting it's no coincidence that there's a "versus" in this episode's title, considering DC's Dark Knight V Hopeman is still in theaters as of this writing.

• Something occurred to me this week— every episode of The Flash begins with a voiceover stating "My name is Barry Allen, and I am the fastest man alive."

Up until this episode that was a big fat lie. The Reverse Flash was faster than Barry. Zoom was a lot faster until now. Heck, Trajectory ran so fast the Speed Force disintegrated her! This week Barry's statement is finally, probably true.

• In the flashback to Hunter Zolomon's childhood, his parents are James and Ashley. In the comics, Ashley Zolomon is Hunter's wife, not his mother. Holy Oedipus!

• Note that the Earth-2 flashback takes place "Many Years Ago."

I'm assuming they did this instead of saying "Twenty Five Years Ago" in order to obfuscate just how old Hunter Zolomon is. Why they'd want to hide his age, I have no idea.

• When young Hunter Zoloman is taken to the orphanage, a stern looking nurse says "Follow me. And don't dawdle!" I see what you did there, The Flash writers.

• As Barry tests out the tachyon enhancer he got from the Reverse Flash, he runs so fast he seemingly generates a small wormhole, enters it and then exits a second or two later. When he arrives at STAR Labs, he says, "What... how long was I gone?"

Fans of CBS's Supergirl will understand what all that was about. In World's Finest, the Flash accidentally paid a visit to Supergirl on her parallel world. He's even wearing the tachyon enhancer in that episode when he first meets her, which is a nice bit of continuity and cross-network synergy (Oh god, did I just use the word "synergy?").

CBS owns The CW, so a crossover between the two series was inevitable. Actually I have no idea why Supergirl is on CBS in the first place. It would make much more sense for it to be on The CW.

• During the speed enhancement test, Barry says he can go even faster. Cisco excitedly urges him to do so. Is that a good idea? A few episodes ago in Trajectory, the supervillain of the same name augmented her speed and ran so fast she literally disintegrated. Shouldn't Cisco be worried that Barry could do the same?

• OK, I said Zoom's origin was convoluted, and I wasn't kidding. Here it is, as near as I can figure it:

Young Hunter Zolomon was traumatized when his father shot his mother right in front of him. He was then sent to an orphanage. After his release, he apparently became a serial killer, something which is rare on Earth-2, racking up twenty three confirmed murders. He was then sent to the St. Perez Mental Asylum For The Criminally Insane.

While there, Zolomon was subjected to horrific shock treatment "therapy." During one of his treatments, the Earth-2 Harrison Well's particle accelerator exploded. The dark matter from the particle accelerator combined with the electricity from the shock treatments, giving Zolomon super speed, and turning him into an "unstoppable monster."

Zolomon then used his powers to get a peek at Earth-1, and saw the Flash. He then became the Earth-2 Flash, aka Jay Garrick, to give people hope so he could "rip it away from them" as Zoom.

Is that it? Did I get it right? Zolomon began dressing up as both the Earth-2 Flash AND Zoom, as part of his insane plan? This show's starting to make my head hurt.

• I'm betting that the St. Perez Mental Asylum For The Criminally Insane was named after legendary comic book artist George Perez.

• Caitlin casually mentions there's no Earth-1 Jay Garrick, but there is a Hunter Zolomon. When Harry hears this he immediately recognizes the name. He then gives them a very detailed account of Zolomon's origin story, including his childhood, how he got his superpowers and how he became Zoom.

Um... why is Harry just NOW telling them all this? And how did Harry not realize that Jay Garrick and Hunter Zolomon are the same person? He even says that due to media coverage, Zolomon was instantly recognizable on Earth-2. Yes, Zolomon looked like a crazy homeless person with wild hair and a beard, but still... none of this is making any sense.

• Iris breaks her date with her boss Scott. She tells Caitlin that she cancel because dating your boss is a horrible idea, but because she's seen that she and Barry are married on Earth-2, and in the future on Earth-1.

So she's resigning herself to a life with Barry not because she loves him, but because she thinks it's her "destiny." Got it.

• Cisco's afraid to fully develop his Vibe powers, fearing he'll turn to the "dark side." He references Star Wars by saying, "It's like I'm Anakin Skywalker. I got the midi-chlorians. I've got the goods. The force is strong with me. That is something I can feel. But if I start opening breaches into other worlds, doing all this other crazy stuff Reverb was doing, then... what if this is how I become Vader?"

Cisco, Cisco, Cisco. A true Star Wars fan would never mention midi-chlorians. We all agreed it would be best to never speak of them again.

• Barry gets Zoom to follow him to STAR Labs in order to capture him. Once there, he uses cutouts of Zolomon's parents to distract Zoom long enough to capture him.

How the hell did the STAR Labs Gang— who live on Earth-1, mind you— manage to make high quality, professionally shot, full sized cardboard cutouts of Hunter Zolomon's parents, who lived on Earth-2?

• Why would Barry think that chaining Zoom to the floor with just one "boot" would be enough to hold him indefinitely? Especially when he knows Zoom can vibrate through anything?

• Zoom kidnaps Wally and throws him into his dungeon on Earth-2. Zoom says the only person who can save him now is the Flash. Wally's confused, saying the Flash doesn't even know him. Zoom says that the Flash "cares about someone who cares about you." It was very considerate of Zoom to phrase his sentence in that convoluted way to help preserve Barry's secret identity.

• Several weeks ago the STAR Labs Gang closed all the breaches to Earth-2. This was a Big Deal, as it trapped Zoom on Earth-2 and eliminated his threat forever. Then in this episode Zoom demonstrates he can still travel between Earths at will.

So... why hasn't he done so until now? Professional courtesy? Was he waiting for just the right moment?

• Caitlin asks Zoom how he managed to seemingly kill Jay Garrick in front of them, since they're the same person. Zoom says the Jay they saw die was an earlier version of him, plucked from an abandoned timeline. He says it wasn't easy to convince this younger self to let Zoom murder him "for the greater good." I would think not! Surely there was a better explanation for this.

• When Barry asks Zoom who's the Man In The Iron Mask, he says, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you." I don't know… at this point I'd believe anything, and be happy with any answer instead of all this coy crap.

A few weeks ago I predicted that Iron Mask would turn out to be the real Jay Garrick somehow. I'm still standing by that prediction, mostly because I hope there's still an actual heroic Jay over on Earth-2. One who's not just the alter ego of a psychotic villain.

• Barry agrees to Zoom's deal, and gives him his speed in exchange for Wally's life. Once they have Wally back, the rest of the characters tell Barry he doesn't have to go through with it, but he insists, saying he's a man of his word.

Why? Zoom's a psychotic serial killer and all around asshole. Why honor a bargain made with a madman? No one's going to care if he backs out of a deal with Zoom.

• As Harry slowly and deliberately prepared the Speed Force Extractor, I expected him to sabotage it somehow. Maybe rigging it so it would actually steal Zoom's speed and give it to Barry. But no.

• Harry got all the best lines this week.

When Joe asks Harry how to use the Zoom blaster, he says, "You aim it and then you pull the trigger."

As he hands the Speed Force Extractor to Zoom, he coldly says, "One day I'm going to knock that smug expression clean off your face."

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