Barry Allen cannot catch a break. Such is the fate of being the protagonist of a melodramatic show. Tonight’s episode of The Flash ended with Zoom killing Henry in front of his son. It was a narrative move we’ve seen before; on Arrow, Slade Wilson pulled an almost identical move at the end of Season 2, killing Moira Queen and breaking Oliver Queen’s resolve heading into the season’s final chapter.
The Slade Wilson/mirakuru army story arc was Arrow at its absolute narrative peak. Slade killing Moira in front of Oliver and Thea was heartbreaking, unexpected, and the act of a villain we fully understood and maybe even had some sympathy for. Zoom’s murder of Henry Allen, though tragic and affecting, wasn’t quite as effective. Unlike Moira, Henry has never been a main character on this show (not that his death doesn’t still devastate, but he is less developed and we, therefore, feel his loss more for Barry’s sake than for the character’s own sake). Unlike Slade Wilson, Zoom’s characterization as a villain has been painted in broad, uneven, and unsatisfying strokes. And, unlike Arrow’s “Seeing Red,” The Flash’s “Invincible” wasn’t quite so good at hiding its hand. From the beginning of tonight’s episode, it was apparent that The Flash felt Barry needed to be taken down a notch. We know this because almost every single character tried to explain to him in small words why he shouldn’t be so optimistic about facing Zoom. These repetitive scenes reeked of plot mechanics. Mostly, because it was unclear why Team Flash was so worried about Barry’s optimism.
Sure, the change in Barry’s behavior after his trip to the Speed Force felt a little bit like he was drinking the Kool-Aid of some non-corporeal spiritual cult, but — after a season of Barry more or less moping — you’d think his friends and family might have been glad to see a smile on his face and a spring in his step? Team Flash’s concern over Barry’s overconfidence might have been more organic if Barry a) demonstrated dangerous levels of overconfidence in a fight (Black Siren’s dominance didn’t seem a result of overconfidence, and the battle came after many of Team Flash’s pep talks had already happened) or b) the metahuman threat felt as immediate in the last 55 minutes of the episode as it did in the first five.
Barry’s overconfidence was oddly thematically echoed by Wally. However, while the value of Wally’s efforts to try to save the people of his city was ultimately reinforced by the show (via Barry’s chat with Joe about it), the value of Barry’s efforts to save the city with a spring in his step were undermined by Zoom’s murder of Henry.
Let’s take a minute to chat about Zoom’s motivations here because they continue to be a narrative problem for this show. Zoom killed Henry Allen because he wants to prove to Barry that they are the same, that — if Barry had suffered all that he had suffered — then he, too, would be a monster. It’s a heartbreaking motivation because it assumes a certain amount of hopeful delusion on Hunter’s part. He wants to understand why he is the way he is. He wants to know that, even if he is a bad person, it’s a result of his life experiences, rather than some kind villainy inherent inside of him.
Though I don’t think The Flash has done a good enough job telling Zoom’s story, that motivation works so incredibly well within the thematic context of this show. The Flash insists that Barry isn’t a hero because there is something inherently special about him, but because he chooses to be good. This is an incredibly powerful idea because it allows people who have made mistakes or who don’t think of themselves as inherently good to make that choice at any time. It suggests that our natures are not fixed, but rather a choice we get to make about ourselves and the world. This is, perhaps, best demonstrated in Joe’s Season 1 speech to Barry: “You always wanna be the person who sees the best in people … As fast as you are, that is your real power.”
Unfortunately, this theme is confused by Season 2’s recent inclusion of the Speed Force, destiny, and the idea of an all-knowing power watching over the events of the multiverse and choosing who deserves to win and who deserves to lose. (It is also confused by the fact that so many metahumans and Earth-2 doppelgangers are mega-evil — like a disproportionate amount). Perhaps, The Flash’s recent turn to predetermination and “The Chosen One”-like tropes as a theme will be subverted with Henry’s death and what follows, but, for now, I’m not completely sure what The Flash wants us to believe when it comes to what makes someone “good” and what makes someone “evil.”
My thematic criticisms and unfavorable comparisons to Arrow Season 2 might imply that I didn’t like this episode, but there was a lot to love about “Invincible.” It saw Team Flash working as a quippy, loving team. It saw Cisco and Caitlin cosplay as their Earth-2 doppelgangers (not to mention Cisco using a new Vibe power!) And, perhaps most charmingly, it saw Katie Cassidy guest star as Black Siren.
From the very first Black Siren shot, it was apparent that Cassidy’s Black Canary storyline on Arrow could have been about a million times cooler. The low, tracking shot that introduced Black Siren as she straight-up took down an entire building with her canary cry (um, siren cry?) was cooler than anything Laurel ever did on Arrow — and that’s coming from someone who thought Laurel Lance has been one of the stronger aspects of Arrow’s last two seasons. Cassidy wasn’t asked to do much here, but she does bitchy villainous oh-so-well. I would have liked to see more interaction between her and Zoom, but, with Black Siren locked in S.T.A.R. Lab’s metahuman prison, this might not be the last we’ve seen of her.
Another big component of “Invincible” was Caitlin’s return to Team Flash. Apparently, she took Zoom up on his offer to leave, walking right back into S.T.A.R. Labs without so much as a “Why didn’t you try to save me?!” It always felt weird to me that Team Flash didn’t make a bigger deal about trying to save Caitlin from Zoom’s clutches when Barry literally crossed into another universe to save Jesse from Zoom’s prison. The Flash has never really known what to do with Caitlin as a character — or, when they do have interesting ideas, don’t really give the character the time she deserves to develop them.
This was true in tonight’s episode, as well, which worked through Caitlin’s trauma pretty quickly. I’m always up for a nice Cisco/Caitlin friendship scene, but I’m also sick of Caitlin’s character arcs getting pushed to the periphery. Give me Caitlin getting mad at Team Flash for not trying to rescue her. Give me Caitlin yelling at Barry for thinking himself invincible when she just went through an experience that proves that anyone can lose control of their own lives and suffer trauma. Give me Jesse approaching Caitlin to talk to her about her PTSD because he has gone through the same exact thing. Keep Caitlin’s comfy wardrobe, though. Because that was awesome.
A lot happened in the last five minutes of this episode that sets up some major moments for the season finale. In addition to Henry’s apparent death, Iris and Barry decided they were going to give this “thing” a try, Wally found out that Barry is The Flash, and Cisco potentially Vibed the end of the world. That latter one feels particularly pressing. Does Earth-2’s apparent end also spell Earth-1’s apparent end? Has Zoom caused this and, if so, why?! (Not that, as we’ve discussed, anything Zoom does makes sense.) And, finally, who the heck is The Man in the Iron Mask?
OK, that last one wasn’t actually referenced in tonight’s episode, but you better believe it’s going to come up in the season finale, and I’m still holding out hope that Henry isn’t really dead. Yes, it’s silly. And The Flash going back on deaths is a dangerous habit to get into (just ask Arrow), but did you see Barry’s heartbroken face as Zoom stuck his arm through Henry’s heart? Yeah, anything to not make Barry cry sad tears. (Happy tears are not only fine, but encouraged.) That’s my campaign platform for 2K16.
Could Zoom have pulled a similar move to when he killed Jay Garrick — a.k.a. himself from another point on the timeline? I have no idea why he would want to avoid killing Henry Allen, but much of his motivation is unclear. Could a Henry Allen be The Man in the Iron Mask? Will we find out in the season finale? Tune in next week. Same Flash time, same Flash channel.
Rating: ★★★ Good
Central City has dubbed the escalation of evil metahuman activity the “metapocalypse.” You just know cable news was somehow behind this.
“He did bring me out of my coma, it is bound to make someone a little overly chipper.” — Jesse, on Barry’s “overconfidence.” Give her more to do, please.
“It’s not like he exactly used kid gloves on the rest of us.” — Cisco, on Zoom’s treatment of Caitlin vs. the rest of Team Flash. Is Cisco really trying to out-trauma Caitlin here? Because not only is it not a useful exercise, but please don’t compare your admittedly terrible, yet periodic run-ins with Zoom over Caitlin’s multi-week hostage-taking by the creeper who claims to be in love with her and who kills others on the regular.
“I saw a bird. Like, a dead bird.” — Cisco
Oof. The CGI on the Barry Rescues Dr. McGee scene. It’s OK. I still love you, Flash.
“Come on, Barry. I’m a scientist. We’re paid to be perceptive.” — Dr. McGee on figuring out The Flash’s identity.
Don’t think I didn’t notice what you did there, The Flash, finally letting Henry Allen (a.k.a. John Wesley Shipp) and Dr. McGee (Amanda Pays) meet. Shipp and Pays were the stars of the 90s The Flash TV show.
Wally: “I have to show him I was worth being saved.”
Joe: “You are worth it.”
Jesse has Caitlin checking if her genetic structure has changed (this would have been a good time to get in that PTSD chat we talked about). When are Jesse and Wally going to turn into Kid Flashes? Because I’m ready. Also, was the fact that Jesse’s headphones didn’t work on her some kind of sign that she might be developing metahuman abilities?
“For the first time, I’m just not afraid anymore.” — Barry
Zoom: “You and me, we’re really just the same person.”
Barry: “You keep saying that, but it’s never gonna make it true.”
Caitlin: “We don’t even know how many minions he has.”
Iris: “There could be hundreds. A thousand.”
Pretty sure there’s like 30, tops.
Joe: “He ain’t you, Barry. He can’t just go mach 50.”
Barry: “Mach 50 isn’t a real thing.”
“No, it’s all of ours. This is my city, too, now, and it’s up for all of us to protect us.” — Wally
“This is where I play stupid and you explain science.” — Joe
Harry: “Aww, detective, I didn’t know you cared.”
Joe: “Yes, you did.”
“Guess I was just in the right headspace to play a cold, vicious killer.” — Caitlin
“I can’t wait til you have kids and they torture you. I’m gonna laugh in your face.” — Joe, to Barry
Iris: “So, I guess you are invincible.”
Barry: “Told you.”
“The speed force is with us.” — Barry, total nerd.