Welcome back to my weekly review and recap of The Flash. To catch up on previous coverage, click here.
There were two ways this year’s season of The Flash could have ended and considering the cliffhanger season one left us on, it’s not so surprising that season two also went out with a bang and a gut punch and a whole lot of accelerated emotional stress. There is part of me though that wonders what could have been if the show had gone with a more delicate approach. If Barry, instead of racing back in time with his grief still a gaping wound in his chest, had instead simply walked away. Had parted from Iris, broken, but with full knowledge that he had the time and space to rebuild himself, from his hollow shell out. In the dimness of the night, with only the street lamps to illuminate him, it would have been picturesque, evoking a melancholy tone for a season that’s been sporadic with Barry and his emotions. It would have been haunting even, to part with our hero over the course of the hiatus with the knowledge that he so desperately needed peace that had been ruthlessly taken from him.
And yet, The Flash chose the bang! and the whoosh! and what were left with was a thrilling closing minute, if less satisfying one than the version we so nearly had. Barry, right after telling Iris that he would always love her and watching as his makeshift family gets on with their lives in the West household, races back in time and stops the Reverse Flash from killing him mom, and all I could think of was how on earth the creative team was going to rectify that one. It’s a game changer, but is it the right kind?
Despite a few stumbles here and there, overall The Flash has retained its consistent, confident touch throughout its second season. It’s a tough battle to have to live up to your own high bar, and season one’s was placed pretty damn high, and while the series may not have quite achieved it as often as its first year, its highs were just as wonderful, exciting and emotional as anything season one did. Episodes such as “Enter Zoom”, “Welcome to Earth Two”, “Escape from Earth Two” and “The Runaway Dinosaur” showcased just how great The Flash can be, with moments of genuine threats against our hero, bombastic, rousing moments of heroism and, as what has become the case for the series, moments of heartfelt emotion as Barry Allen tries to grapple with the pain life has dealt him and come out the other side as the same optimistic and generous person he was before.
It’s this line that the season closer offers us, evoking a similar ideology as the popular The Killing Joke where the Joker tries to prove to Batman that anyone can become evil if they have a bad enough day, using Commissioner Gordon as his guinea pig. It’s this theme that leaves me with a slightly soured opinion at the end of “The Race of His Life” because while no, Barry didn’t end up killing Zoom, he made such a crucial, possibly universe alternating decision that his selfishness almost eclipses the justified reasoning of why he did it in the first place.
He finally acted solely on his pain and something I’ve always loved about Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen is that in the past he’s used his personal tragedies as a guiding light, and this time his uses it as justification. We don’t know what the ramifications of his actions are going to be, but we can guess they won’t be good. My hope? That this all wraps itself up within the first episode of season three, and that the show moves past it.
Moving past it myself, there was quite a lot that I enjoyed about the finale, which leaned in heavily on spectacle and emotion, but if there’s one thing that continued to not land it was Teddy Sears’s very odd, very stilted performance of Hunter Zolomon. It simply never clicked, especially if (unfairly) it’s compared to Tom Cavanagh’s in season one as the big bad. Zoom goes out with a bit of whimper, which is disappointing considering his entrance to the series, and his first face off against Barry was so powerful.
The episode was clearly an episode where the heroes, both equipped with super powers and not, were supposed to shine, and they did. Iris’s continued mounting presence on the show is a good thing and one that the series should keep up in series three. The two front step heart to hearts that she and Barry had in the episode were lovely reminders of how much have been done with these characters and just how strongly we’re rooting for them. The shot of them kissing with the beam from the light crossing between them was a beautiful shot that emphasized just how integral not only Iris is to Barry’s life but how important their relationship could be to the series. Maybe, just for once, The CW will pick a couple and stick with it, choosing instead to develop characters outside of their romantic entanglements.
Iris aside, the supporting characters worked more as group dynamic than individual parts which worked to their strengths especially towards the end when it was clear that Barry was surviving based on the good will of his friends. Wally got a few moments to shine, but it set up more the idea of him now knowing the truth about the Flash and what it will mean for their dynamic moving forward.
In the end though, just as it was in season one’s “Fast Enough”, this was Gustin’s hour, and he was phenomenal.
I won’t pretend to understand the time replication or the shadowy knock-off dementors that came to cart Zoom away, but I understand emotional storytelling and Gustin delivered it in spades. He’s still got plenty of room to grow in certain aspects of his performance, his anger is sometimes stilted, but he knows how to dig deep and pull at the childlike heartbreak that you feel when you lose someone you love. His messy tears in the opening to the crumpled mess he becomes when he realizes that Zoom’s captive in the mask was his father’s doppelganger, the real Jay Garrick, to his misplaced anger when his friends locked him up – he evokes a pure sense of loss. He was simply terrific, and he gave a lot of weight to what was already a sad story. Like Iris said, he’s experience a lot of loss in his life, more than most, and his body language reads all of it.
It’s his performance, that front step kiss and the possibility of Barry walking away from it all for a while that will endear me to this episode. It’s the last minute that will make me scratch my head in confusion wondering why the writers would choose to do this story now (this Flashpoint Paradox inspired one) instead of in season one.
Maybe because to The Flash, he’s finally lost it all?
Certainly not an uplifting way to end the season, but one that has resulted in some passionate responses already. We’ll have to wait and see what Barry’s next move will be and if it will make any sense.
I’ll see you all in the fall for season three!
Episode Grade: 7/10
Season Grade: 8/10