Friday, May 27, 2016

The Flash Season 2, Episode 23: The Race Of His Life

It's the season finale of The Flash!

This week we bid adieu to Zoom once and for all (I hope), we find out the true identity of a mystery character, and the legacy of a Golden Age speedster is finally restored.

Overall it was a very uneven season. This is due in no small part to a lack of focus on the core characters and their storylines. The series got sidetracked introducing a new half of Firestorm (after actor Robbie Amell's untimely departure to pursue a movie career), and it spent a ridiculously inordinate amount of time setting up The CW's new Arrowverse series, Legends Of Tomorrow. By the time all those obligations were fulfilled, the series' momentum was gone, and it never quite recovered.

It also didn't help that this season's overall storyarc was a carbon copy of last years an older mentor to Barry turns out to be an evil speedster who wants to steal his speed, kill him, or both. Some free advice to the writers no more evil speedster storylines for a while, eh guys?

This season's big bad, Zoom, was problematical as well. Has there ever been a character with so much potential who turned out to be such a disappointment? Visually he was amazing, what with his soulless black eyes and his unsettling, torn membrane of a mouth. Add in actor Tony Todd's otherworldly, intimidating growl and you had one terrifying figure.

But like most characters shrouded in mystery, the more we learned about Zoom, the less menacing he became. Especially when revealed his true identity and we saw actor Teddy Sears' baby face under the mask. Some mysteries are better left unsolved.

Zoom's every-changing motivations didn't do the series any favors either. He swapped master plans more than Princess Leia changed outfits in The Return Of The Jedi. He started out wanting the Flash's speed. Fair enough. Then after he "conquered" Earth-2 (which looked curiously unaffected when we eventually saw it), he decided he wanted to conquer Earth-1. Then he went back to trying to steal the Flash's speed again, and succeeded. Then in the last couple of episodes he suddenly decided he wanted to turn Barry to the Dark Side. And finally in this season finale, completely out of the blue, he decided he wanted to blow up the entire multiverse. After a while it became exhausting trying to keep up with what he was trying to do from week to week.

Season 2 also seemed to be less about actual plot, and more about shocking revelations and plot twists whether they made any sense or not. Take Zoom's true identity. I have this sneaking suspicion the writers didn't even know who he really was when they introduced him. I can easily imagine the following conversation in the writer's room:

Writer #1: "Guys, I have an amazing idea! What if we say Zoom is really Jay Garrick?"
Writer #2: "That's awesome! But how's that possible? How would we explain it?"
Writer #1: "I have no idea. But think what an amazing cliffhanger it'll be!"

Hopefully Season 3 will be feature much less of this "stunt plotting" and get back to actual solid storytelling.

That's not to say things were all bad though. There was quite a bit of good on display in Season 2. Grant Gustin did some of his best and most powerful work yet as Barry Allen. Tom Cavanagh was also amazing, playing the same, yet very different Earth-2 Harrison Wells. Iris' character was much improved this season as well, and was far, far less annoying than she was in Season 1. Danielle Panabaker surprised everyone as the wonderfully evil Killer Frost. And the whole visit to Earth-2 was awesome, and very well done, giving the entire cast a chance to cut loose and play alternate versions of themselves. It's just too bad there wasn't more like this.


The Plot:
Picking up where we left off last week, Zoom kills Barry's dad Henry Allen right before his eyes. Barry attacks Zoom, and the two speedsters dash through Central City. Zoom somehow duplicates himself. Barry manages to catch one of the Zooms, who begs him to "End me." Just then the other Zoom kills the first one from behind. The remaining Zoom says Barry's "almost ready" and runs off. Well, that was certainly weird.

Cut to Henry's funeral, which, as is the law on all TV shows, takes place on an overcast, rainy day. Barry's too upset to deliver a eulogy, so Joe steps in and does the honors.

At the West house, Barry asks the STAR Labs Gang what they plan to do about Zoom. They reply nothing
— after all, what can they do? He's a psychotic speedster who can travel between dimensions and kill them all at will.

Just then Zoom runs past the house, and Barry follows. When he catches up, Zoom challenges him to a race. Yep, that's right. This nightmarish figure the writers want us to be terrified of wants to race the Flash. What is he, six years old? He says if Barry doesn't agree, he'll start killing his friends and family one by one.

Back at STAR Labs, Harry discovers Zoom stole a Magnetar, whatever the hell that is, from Mercury Labs. If fully charged, the Magnetar can be used as a weapon of mass destruction. Barry says he has no choice then but to race Zoom and defeat him. 

Joe tries to talk Barry out of racing, but he says he has to do it. Joe realizes that Barry doesn't just want to win, he plans to kill Zoom in revenge. Joe says he's sorry for what's about to happen, and Harry shoots Barry with a trank dart. Barry wakes up in the Secret Super Jail. The whole Gang tells him he can't race Zoom on his terms, as the supervillain will surely cheat and everyone will die. They shut the cell door and leave.

Harry says he has a plan to take down Zoom, which involves using Caitlin as bait, shooting him with power-sapping "boots," having Cisco "vibe" open a portal and toss him back into Earth-2. It's a great plan, except for the fact that even if it works, Zoom can open a portal of his own and come right back five seconds later.

As the Gang prepares their plan, Jesse tells Harry that he can stay here if he wants, but she's returning to Earth-2. I guess there aren't enough blimps and art-deco buildings here on Earth-1 for her taste.

The Star Labs Gang sets up their trap in an industrial park, and soon Zoom appears. Caitlin approaches him and says she made a mistake walking out on him, and he's the only one who understands her dark side, or something. Zoom says he understands and then tries to kill her. He goes right through her, revealing she's a hologram. Harry boots Zoom, but Joe's gun conveniently jams. He finally runs out and manually inserts the trank darts into Zoom! Cisco opens a portal, but unfortunately both Zoom and Joe are pulled into it. Drama!

Back at STAR Labs, Cisco tries to vibe and see if Joe's OK, but can't find him. Harry says Zoom booby-trapped the Magnetar so it'll explode and destroy the Earth if he tries to stop it. Just then Wally waltzes into STAR Labs and asks where Joe is. They tell him he's on Earth-2 and they have no plans to rescue him, as they all agreed to never open another breach again, no matter what. Wally goes ballistic and releases the Flash from Super Jail. 

Over on Earth-2, Zoom has Joe strung up in his lair. He taunts Zoom, saying Barry won't race him. Iron Mask is still in his cell, tapping away. Joe asks who he is, and for some reason Zoom decides to tell him. He says he visited many other Earths in the multiverse, taking out speedsters and stealing their powers. He found Iron Mask on one of these Earths, and tried to take his speed, but couldn't. He then brought him to Earth-2 and locked him in his dungeon as a trophy. As a final insult, he took his identity of Jay Garrick (!) and masqueraded as a hero on Earth-2.

Back on Earth-1, Barry's furious that the Gang locked him up and went after Zoom themselves. He says he'll race Zoom and beat him with or without them. Feeling they have no other choice, the Gang agrees to help. Cisco vibes a message from Barry to Zoom, saying he agrees to race him if he brings Joe back unharmed. Zoom agrees.

They meet back at the industrial park. Somehow the Magnetar has grown from the size of a compact car into a ferris wheel-sized loop. I guess Zoom modified it while we weren't looking? I honestly don't know. Zoom appears and brings Joe along, and begins monologuing. He says that as he and the Flash race, each loop they make around the Magnetar will charge it, and when it reaches its full potential it'll unleash an energy pulse that'll destroy all the Earths in the multiverse— except for Earth-1, of course. That must be one hell of a pulse.

The Flash and Zoom begin racing. After a few hundred laps, Barry creates his own time remnant, which frees Joe. Zoom then pulls the real (?) Barry from the Magnetar and they start battling again. Meanwhile Time Remnant Barry begins running around the base of the Magnetar to counteract its pulse. He runs so fast he disintegrates, destroying the Magnetar in the process. Time Remnant Barry just sacrificed himself to save the multiverse!

Original (?) Barry manages to defeat Zoom. He pauses for an instant, as he decides whether to deliver the killing blow. Suddenly a couple of Time Wraiths appear and snatch Zoom away. His body begins withering and desiccating as they carry him into a breach, where he'll never bother anyone ever again (at least until the writers decide to bring him back).

Sometime later at STAR Labs, Wally's puzzled as to just what a time remnant is, and how Barry created one. You ain't the only one, Wally! Barry tries to explain it, but Wally stops him, saying he's sorry he asked. You know, writers, when a plot point doesn't make any sense, you can't just sweep it under the rug by having a character say they don't need an explanation. That's cheating and lazy writing.

Apparently Barry somehow made a quick jaunt to Earth-2 and brought Iron Mask back with him. Cisco and Harry remove his mask, and revealing he's the Earth-3 Jay Garrick, who looks exactly like Henry Allen. Barry freaks out and leaves.

Jay dons his old suit (that I guess was stashed in a locker in Zoom's dungeon?) and cuts a dashing figure as the Earth-3 Flash. He decides to wear the Mercury helmet that Hunter Zolomon wore when he was pretending to be Jay Garrick, saying it's time he took something from Zoom for a change. Personally I don't think I'd want to wear my sworn enemy's helmet, but that's just me.

Jay asks how he's going to get back home to Earth-3. Harry says he might be able to help, as he's decided to go back to Earth-2 with Jesse. They all say tearful goodbyes, as Cisco opens a breach and Jay, Harry and Jesse jump through.

Back at the West house, the Gang is celebrating. Barry and Iris talk on the porch. He says he's too broken inside to enter a relationship with her right now. She says she understands, and will wait for him as long as it takes.

Barry says, "That's why I'm so sorry, but I have to do this." He takes off running; so fast that he goes back in time. He travels back to the night of his mother's murder. He stops Eobard Thawne from killing her, which will no doubt have serious and extreme consequences in Season 3. He looks up and sees the version of himself who witnessed the murder (see Season 1) fade away. He turns to his terrified mother and says she's safe now. 

• So in this episode, Zoom's master plan is to challenge Barry to a race. Are you freakin' kidding me? What is he, six years old? 

This kind of goofy plot used to happen in Silver Age comics all the time, and it would work fine on The Flash if this was any other episode. But Zoom just killed Barry's father right in front of him. It's a whiplash-inducing change in tone to suddenly have him want to race immediately afterward, like they're schoolyard rivals.

The writers make a valiant attempt to smooth over this by making the race part of the Magnetar-charging process. Nice try, guys.

• I'm not even going to attempt to try and understand the whole "creating a time remnant" thing. Apparently 
if you're a speedster you can run back in time, grab an earlier version of yourself and bring it to the present to help you out. No matter how you look at it, that doesn't make any damned sense. 

If your past self is killed, then the current version of you should immediately wink out of existence. That doesn't happen of course, because the time remnants are from a "dead end" timeline or some bull hockey. Sigh… I need to lie down. I'm getting one of my sick headaches.

It's so easy to create one of these time remnants that Barry successfully does so on his first try. And apparently it's even easier to convince this "other self" to sacrifice its life to help your cause!

• According to Henry Allen's tombstone, he was sixty one years old. Actor John Wesley Shipp is sixty one as well!

• Wally apparently learned Barry's secret identity between episodes. I'm very thankful he was OK with it, and we weren't subjected to another "How Could You Lie To Me?" scene from the West family.

I think at this point Captain Singh is the only character on the show who doesn't know Barry's the Flash.

• In order to keep Barry from doing anything stupid, Harry shoots Barry with a trank dart, knocking him out. Barry wakes up in the Secret Super Jail, and sees the entire gang standing there staring at him.

Did the entire Star Labs Gang really all assemble outside Barry's cell and wait around for an hour until he woke up?

• The Star Labs Gang comes up with their own plan to defeat Zoom. They'll lure him into the open, boot him, then toss him through a breach into Earth-2. Somehow they're convinced this will end his threat forever.

I don't understand how they can think that. We've already seen that Zoom can simply pound his fist on reality and open up a breach anytime he wants. What's to keep him from opening another one and returning a second after they banish him?

• In his dungeon, Zoom gives Joe an abbreviated version of his life story, saying:
 "I got my speed the same way Barry did. When I got struck by the dark matter and electricity, I became Zoom, the fastest man alive. Wasn't long before I had this Earth on its knees. But it wasn't enough. I wanted more. I wanted to be faster. So I created a speed drug. Velocity-9."
Zoom did absolutely no such thing. Masquerading as Jay Garrick, he convinced the Earth-2 Harrison Wells to create a drug that would make him faster so he could defeat Zoom. Wells whipped up Velocity-1 through 5, but they were all failures. "Jay" actually did create Velocity-6, but it caused him to lose his powers and began killing him.

The Earth-1 Caitlin Snow then helped "Jay" with his plan. She refined the formula, creating Velocity-7 and 8 before finally coming up with the successful Velocity-9.

I don't know if the writers were trying to simplify the history of Velocity-9 here, or if they just plain forgot what happened earlier. Either way, Zoom's wrong.

• In the comics, Earth-2 was where all the Golden Age superheroes (such as Jay Garrick) lived. There was also an Earth-3, which was filled with super villains, and the only hero was Lex Luthor.

It looks like The Flash writers have reversed this for some reason. So far very single metahuman from Earth-2 has been evil. And in this episode we find out that the real Jay Garrick is from Earth-3. So why the switch?

I'm betting that because they wanted to introduce the metahuman doppelgängers first, so it would have been (even more) confusing if they said they came from Earth-3, when no Earth-2 had yet been introduced. So I'm willing to give them this one, even if it's wrong and kind of clumsy.

• When did Cisco develop the ability to open up portals to Earth-2? Up until this week he had little or no control over his "vibe" powers, and could only use them to see flashes of the future or peer into Earth-2. It almost feels like there's an episode missing here.

Last week in Invincible he could suddenly fire some sort of sonic blast at Black Siren, so I guess sudden power manifestations are the norm with him.

• When Harry first mentions the Magnetar, we cut to a flashback of Zoom finding it inside Mercury Labs (he's at the left hand side of the screen above, gazing at in in wonder). Note that the Magnetar is a bit larger than the average doorway.

We see it again in the industrial park, as the Gang makes their play to send Zoom back to Earth-2. He stands in the middle of it, making a few last-minute adjustments. At this point it's still fairly small.

The next time we see the Magnetar, it's inexplicably expanded, now roughly the size of the London Eye. What the...? That skyscraper-sized contraption was not there the first time we saw the industrial park. If it was, Cisco would have commented on it, as he does here.

So where the hell did it come from? Zoom was back on Earth-2 from the time the Gang "banished" him until he returned for the big race. Did he use his superspeed to build this mammoth construction in the seconds before the Gang arrived? 

Once again, it feels like there are big chunks of story missing here. I'm wondering if the episode was running long and they had to start trimming scenes?

• Zoom reveals his second Master Plan of this episode— using the Magnetar to destroy the multiverse. As he and Barry race around the Magnetar, their Speed Force lightning will charge it up, releasing a powerful pulse.

But why does Zoom need Barry for that? Even if it takes more than one speedster to charge up the Magnetar, why couldn't Zoom just conjure up another time remnant of himself to help?

• At long last Barry beats Zoom senseless, and pauses as he's about to kill him. Which life-altering decision will he make? Will he give into his anger and kill his enemy in cold blood? Or will he show him mercy, proving he's a hero? 

The answer is apparently none of our goddamned business. Before Barry can finish wrestling with his decision, the Time Wraiths show up and whisk Zoom away. That was certainly convenient!

• Isn't it funny how the Dementors, er, I mean the Time Wraiths, get pissed when a speedster travels in time, but are fine when Rip Hunter and his crew do it every week over on Legends Of Tomorrow

Oddly enough they don't even bother Barry when he makes a major alteration the timeline at the end of the episode.

• As the Time Wraiths carried Zoom away, his face becomes withered and gaunt, and he looks not unlike one of the zombies from The Walking Dead.

I wonder if this was a nod to the Black Flash? In the comics, he's basically the Grim Reaper for speedsters. Could Zoom return some day as the Black Flash?

• I called it! Well, sort of. For months I've been saying that Iron Mask would turn out to be the real Jay Garrick. Especially after he was frantically tapping out the letters J, A and Y in Escape From Earth-2

Once Zoom revealed he was Jay Garrick, aka Hunter Zolomon, I changed my mind, and said Iron Mask would somehow turn out to be a version of Henry Allen.

Welp, looks like I was right in both cases. Iron Mask was both Jay Garrick and (sort of) Henry Allen.

• Seeing John Wesley Shipp in a version of the Flash costume again was the highlight of the episode. Best of all the costume's pretty darned close to the one in the comics, and it even features bright primary colors, instead of the dark, muted hues we usually get in modern superhero movies and shows. Amazing!

That said, the costume seemed to fit Shipp a bit oddly, almost like there wasn't time to properly size it.

And it was reeeeally contrived when Real Jay decided to wear Fake Jay's helmet, saying, "Well maybe I can continue that sentiment. Take something from him for a change, make it my own."

Oy. Why not just make the helmet a part of his costume from the start? Why would anyone want to wear something that belonged to their mortal enemy? And how the hell is he going to keep a metal helmet— without a chin strap— on his head when he runs at superspeed?

• I'm very, very happy the writers found a way to restore the Jay Garrick Flash as a hero. The Golden Age Flash is one of the very first superheroes, debuting way back in 1940. It bothered me quite a bit that the writers turned him into a psychopath this season, as Zoom tainted his name. Hopefully we'll see more of this true version of Jay Garrick soon, to wash away the memory of his impostor. 

• After Zoom's defeated, everyone just sort of ignores the fact that Barry just created a duplicate of himself and they all watched it die. Even Barry doesn't seem all that torn up or weirded out by witnessing his own death. 

When Barry tries to explain the concept of time remnants to Wally, he says it's something he can't do very often. Let's hope so! In fact I hope the writers all vow to never use this ridiculous plot crutch ever again!

• Harry and Jesse bid the STAR Labs Gang a tearful farewell as they return to Earth-2. I wouldn't worry too much about this development. There's no way in hell the show's going to let actor Tom Cavanagh leave. And they wouldn't have introduced a character nicknamed Jesse Quick if they didn't have big plans for her.

• At the very end of the episode, Barry makes the incredibly selfish and boneheaded decision to alter the timeline and prevent his mother's murder. Idiot.

This is no doubt going to cause a huge chain reaction and have major, MAJOR repercussions for the entire cast in Season 3. If the writers play by the rules of time travel, then the fact that Barry's parents are alive and well means he never went to live with the Wests. If he didn't do that, then he probably wouldn't have fallen in love with Iris, and I doubt he'd have been inspired by Joe to become a CSI. If he didn't follow that path, then he wouldn't be in his lab the night of the particle accelerator explosion, or get hit by lightning, meaning he wouldn't become the Flash. In fact there probably wouldn't be an explosion in the first place, as stopping Eobard Thawne means the real Harrison Wells didn't die.

And those are just the potential changes I can come up with off the top of my head! There would no doubt be even more.

As I said though, these changes would happen if the writers play by the rules. As we saw last season and many times in this one, they gleefully ignore the laws of cause and effect as it suits their scripts. For example, at the end of last season, Eddie Thawne killed himself to wipe Eobard Thawne out of existence. Taking Thawne out of the picture should have resulted in the same changes I listed above. It did not. Nothing seemed to change for Barry and the cast at all. In fact, Eobard Thawne even returned this season in the aptly titled The Reverse Flash Returns. Who knows if there'll actually be any changes this time around?

I have a feeling they might actually go through with altering the timeline this, er, time. I'm betting Season 3 will open with everything radically changed. Barry's not the Flash, and he lives with his parents. If he knows Iris at all, it's because he frequents Jitters, where she's a barista. He won't know the STAR Labs Gang at all. After a while Cisco's plot-convenient vibe powers will reach through the timeline and let him know something's terribly wrong. He'll then realize Barry's the focal point of the disturbance, and will track him down. Barry will then be faced with the unimaginable— he'll have to decide whether to continue living in a reality that's "wrong," or sacrifice his mother to restore the timeline. There, The Flash writers. I just wrote Season 3 for you.

It looks like the writers are gearing up for an adaptation of the Flashpoint comic miniseries published in 2011. In the comic, Barry Allen wakes up to discover his world has radically changed. He's no longer the Flash, his mother is still alive, Captain Cold is Central City's greatest hero, and Superman and the Justice League don't exist. Somehow he can remember the previous timeline.

Barry eventually discovers that he's responsible for changing history, by going back in time and preventing the Reverse Flash from killing his mother. It's a long and very complicated story, but Barry manages to recreate the accident that gave him his powers, and he goes back in time again to prevent himself from stopping the Reverse Flash. He succeeds, the Reverse Flash kills Nora Allen, and the timeline is restored. Sounds pretty familiar, eh?

• Best Line Of The Episode:

Harry (to Cisco): "Have you ever worked with a tool before?” 
Cisco: “I’m working with one now.” 

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