It’s that glorious time of the year again: the time when network shows start getting to the point. The Flash rarely has an off-week, but it tends to be better when it’s moving its serialized plot line forward. This week, after a few episodes of meandering, The Flash recommitted to its season-long story arc with “Versus Zoom” — and boy was it heartbreaking.
It was obviously very difficult for The Flash to keep all of its backstory surrounding Zoom mum for so long. After almost a season of keeping the man behind that frightening mask a mystery, the show went all out to explain what made little Hunter Zolomon become Zoom. The Flash threw a lot of information at us in this episode, and while it wasn’t all articulately delivered, but it certainly paints a tragic picture. Hunter Zolomon saw his father kill his mother in front of his eyes. He had no one to take him in after that, ending up in a Dickensian orphanage, and eventually was transferred into the foster care system. It’s all very Lord Voldemort-y, even though Cisco insists on making Darth Vader references through much of the episode.
Hunter eventually turned into a serial killer, murdering 23 people (and presumably not eating them, despite Cisco’s Hannibal reference) before he was captured. Though Earth-Two apparently does not have the death penalty, they have no qualms with electric-shock “therapy.” Hunter was in the chair when Harry’s particle accelerator went off, turning him into the most evil speedster to ever walk the multiverse. (Sorry, Eobard Thawne, but you’re going to have to up your villain cred if you want to compete with Zoom.)
This is a perfectly fine villain backstory, and it gives Jay/Zoom/Hunter a bit of context. Granted, it also felt a bit rushed and silly, but thems be the breaks when you’re on a show with doppelgangers and Cisco’s goggles and speedsters who regularly use their abilities to pick up the best pizza. What matters with the Zoom storyline even more than the fact we have solid empathy for the crazed murderer is that he creates a sense of stakes. I was worried that once we knew who Zoom was, once he became a mortal man with a tragic backstory (and a terrible, Oliver-on-the-island-inspired haircut), he would lose some of his fearsome edge. This has not been the case. Zoom is as scary as ever.
Though Team Flash makes a play (involving cardboard cut-outs of Hunter’s long dead parents) to catch him, they never seriously have a chance. Zoom has only ever fearfully outmatched these guys and, even with Barry’s flashy new tachyon enhancer, he still does. It’s too early in the season for the power dynamic to fall otherwise. However, like Harrison Wells, Zoom’s true terror comes not in his abilities, but in his emotional intelligence and insight into Barry’s life. The Flash understands that to truly commit to the (kind of revolutionary) theme of emotion as power, it can’t just be in its heroes; it has to be in its villains, too.
This episode put a lot of early voiceover work into creating a parallel between Hunter and Barry. It muses: Could Barry have turned into Zoom if he didn’t have the Wests to take him in and give him a loving home? Lucky for Barry, he never had to find out. He’s always had more than enough family. He’s always been lucky in love. This is a fundamental story point of The Flash, and the show’s commitment to this theme is what makes it the most rewarding, heartwarming on-screen superhero tale out there right now — on either TV or the big screen.
“We’re more than just your friends. We’re your family,” Barry tells Cisco. The willingness to love and be loved is a superpower Barry had long before he got his super-speed. It’s a value Joe reaffirms for him every chance he gets. It’s what makes Barry a hero. “Family, such a weakness,” Zoom taunts Barry. “Not for all of us,” Barry refutes, something he truly seems to believe even after he has sacrificed his speed to Zoom. Something this show believes, too.
Barry’s decision to give his speed over to Zoom is obviously a game-changer. Given that this show is called The Flash, no doubt Barry will somehow recover his speed before too long. But, unlike the show from which it was spawned, The Flash is more than comfortable doubling down on its theme that the bonds of love that make us family are more important than any skill or ability (though said skills or abilities do, in fact, help) — sorrynotsorry, Oliver Queen.
Team Flash isn’t just down one speedster, however. It also lost Caitlin in the encounter with Zoom. “He has no one. He is all alone,” the social workers say of little Hunter Zolomon when he first arrives at the orphanage. Zoom may talk a big game, but he doesn’t truly believe that family is a weakness, does he? Or, if he does, it is a weakness he cannot help but fall prey to. Caitlin is the only person Jay seems to care even a little bit about. It doesn’t hurt that she earnestly says the things that break through his carefully built walls. She echoes his mother’s final words, thrown fearlessly at her husband moments before he would kill her.
Then, in an effort to save Barry, Caitlin reminds Jay of the connection they once shared. It works — though not quite as Caitlin probably hoped. Jay drops Barry and takes Caitlin, no doubt to be his creepy captive back at his evil lair. I’m kind of annoyed that Caitlin’s character so often falls into the damsel in distress trope. First Gorilla Grodd, now this. But the fact that Jay truly seems to care about Caitlin in some way makes him infinitely more interesting to me than if he were just a mindless sociopath. “If you have any humanity left, then please let him go,” Caitlin pleads with Jay as he has speed-less Barry in a chokehold. Technically, he lets go, so I guess that answers that question?
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
-I know Hunter had a vastly different hairstyle than Jay, but how did no one recognize him as notorious serial killer Hunter Zolomon?
-“Without them, I don’t know where I would have ended up or what I could have become.”
-“Follow me. And don’t dawdle.” I see what you did there, The Flash. Dawdling.
-So, I guess Barry went to visit Supergirl between last episode and this one? Totally weird that he didn’t even mention it, but whatever. Anything to ensure future The Flash/Supergirl crossovers.
-“I have an idea, Allen. Let’s keep the breaches closed forever.” Harry does not mince words, and I kind of love him for it.
-“The best plan we’ve come up with so far is to set off a nuclear warhead next to the city’s electrical grid, so…” Cisco says this like Team Flash would obviously not consider such a dangerous plan, but they did once enact a plan that resulted in a world-destroying singularity to another universe, so…
-“She’s smart. She knows how to stay hidden.” Harry has Joe looking for his daughter, which understandable, but maybe you should just respect her wishes and let her come back on her own terms? She’s probably hanging with Henry Allen in the place where TV characters go when they aren’t series regulars, but don’t really have anywhere to be but with the series regulars.
-Speaking of Henry Allen, do we believe that he is The Man in the Iron Mask? Zoom said we wouldn’t believe who he is, but we feel like we’ve guessed everyone at this point, so we probably would?
-“Look, I think it’s just as dumb as you do…” Joe’s reaction to Harry’s request that he help convince Barry not to return to Earth-Two. This is the difference between Joe West’s parenting style and Harry Wells’: Joe (mostly, unless you’re Season 1 Iris) lets his kids make their own decisions. Harry, well, doesn’t.
-“All I’m missing is the guyliner and the transformation’s complete.” But maybe Cisco should start wearing guyliner…
-“They really have a special bond, don’t they?” Caitlin on Barry and Joe. Welcome to the best part of this show, Caitlin. It’s only taken you almost two seasons to put into words what was apparent from The Flash’s pilot episode. (We still love you, tho.)
-“Everything seems to be telling me that Barry and I are meant to be together.” Whoa. #WestAllen alert. This is not a drill. Is Iris truly considering making a move on Barry? I’m not gonna lie: this felt a little out of nowhere for me. And the entire convo between Caitlin and Iris felt forced, but I have been waiting for The Flash to pick up the WestAllen plot thread for way too long. Let’s just hope it happens a bit more organically moving forward…
-“Thanks, Dad.” Wally called Joe “dad.” This show really knows how to pull at the heartstrings. (Also, was that a Frederick Douglass poster Joe was putting up in Wally’s new room? Editor’s Note: Yes!)
-“What if this is how I become Vader?” “Dude, you’re not going to become Vader.”
-“Who ever said aesthetics aren’t important?” See, Vader would never say this.
-“Hey, Cait. I know how hard this is going to be for you, but we have to stop him.” Did Barry call Caitlin “Cait”? Follow-up question: Was Caitlin’s yearning look towards Barry during her convo with Iris supposed to be a clue that she might have feelings for Barry, too, or was it supposed to be a clue that she was thinking about Jay, or was it supposed to just be a reference to the fact that Caitlin’s love life has been the most tragic through-line on a show that has multiple storylines about moms dying?
-“You aim it, and then you pull the trigger.” “Smart ass.” Petition for 100% more Joe/Harry scenes.
-“You’ve always believed in me. Thank you.” Was anyone else worried that Cisco was going to be the one taken after this line to Barry?
-I like that Team Flash is getting the most possible uses out of the cardboard cut-out maker they apparently got when training Linda to be a fake-villain.
-“You made a mistake. You told Caitlin who your doppelganger was.” “I had to do something to get her to stop trying to fix me.” This line came off as annoyed in the moment, but could it have also been fond?
-“We would have helped you. We would have done anything we could to save your life.” Oh, sweet, precious Barry. Some men aren’t looking for anything logical. Some men just want to watch the multiverse burn.
-“We’re not so different, you know. What happened to us when we were kids. You could have just as easily become me.” “No, I’d never become like you.”
-“Someone he cares about cares about you.” So Wally finally knows the truth about Barry. I am glad he knows, but I wish The Flash had spent a little more time on the Barry/Wally dynamic before this.
-“One day, I’m gonna knock that smug expression clean off your face.” It’s kind of great that Harry hated Jay even before he found out he was Zoom.
-“It’s so fun pretending to be a hero.” “You are no hero. You’re nothing but a monster.” Will Jay try to prove himself otherwise to Caitlin in next week’s episode? If he does, something tells me he isn’t going to be entirely successful…