The Flash finished off an uneven season with an uneven finale that couldn’t overcome the burden of an underdeveloped, illogical villain. With Zoom, The Flash fell victim to a common drama mistake of a contemporary TV era: it prioritized the plot twist over the well-developed character arc. In a time too often defined by “OMG moments” that will make for good live-tweeting, it is becoming increasingly common to withhold information from the viewer until the last possible minute for maximum effect. Unfortunately, this generally leads to underdeveloped plots and characters.
Take Hunter Zolomon, for example. TV is never particularly good at selling “crazy” villains. When it comes down to it, The Crazy Supervillain is a lazy archetype and one that usually isn’t very interesting to break down on the thematic level. Why did Hunter do what he did? Because he wanted to destroy the multiverse. Because he wanted to prove that he was the fastest. Because he wanted to prove that Barry would be just like him, if he lost everything, too. Take your pick. Perhaps if The Flash had chosen just one of those motivations for Zoom and given us a fully-developed understanding of how he came to think in such a destructive, selfish manner, then this season finale (and the episodes that came before it) would have worked. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.
“The Race of His Life” was an episode that literally had to have one of its characters (Cisco) say out loud, essentially, “I know Zoom’s plan doesn’t seem to make sense, but, when you think about it, it actually does.” Just because you have one of the main characters recognize the irrationality of Zoom’s plan doesn’t mean we will forgive you for it, show. Sure, Team Flash eventually learned that there was more to Hunter’s moustache-twirling plan — Zoom wasn’t just racing Barry for the sake of it, but rather as part of a nefarious scheme to destroy all of the multiverse save for Earth-1 — but it didn’t make any more sense. And it didn’t make sense that Barry would risk the multiverse to either a) try to kill Zoom or b) try to save Joe. I love Joe as much as the next person who watches this show, but one man is not worth an infinite number of worlds. That’s just simple math. Joe wouldn’t make that trade, either.
I see where The Flash was going with the initial thrust of this episode’s plot. In the immediate aftermath of Henry’s death, Barry is distraught, angry, and not thinking straight. This is the second parent he has more or less seen die in front of him and it’s not fair. It’s not fair that Barry risks his life every day to save the innocent, but he can’t even save his own parents. However, it’s also not fair for Barry to prioritize his own revenge over the fate of infinite worlds filled with infinite people who are heroes in their own ways. The rest of Team Flash understands that, and they won’t let Barry make that executive decision.
The show itself is frustratingly wishy-washy when it comes to reinforcing this decision. Ultimately, it calls into question the rather good (unanimous, save for Barry) decision Team Flash made through the character of Wally. When Team Flash’s plan to banish Zoom works, but they banish Joe with him, Wally releases Barry, who immediately convinces the rest of the team to help save Joe. They’re right back where the initially started: with Barry choosing to race Zoom, regardless of the consequences. It’s a muddled detour to reinforce the idea that Barry actually knows best — or, at least, they he doesn’t listen to the counsel of his closest and most trusted friends. Barry’s legitimate interest in teamwork and the value of seeking wisdom outside of your own ego used to be one of the qualities that set this superhero apart. I hope Barry regains it in Season 3.
Ultimately, Barry defeats Zoom not by beating him in a race so much as using his knowledge of the Speed Force to manipulate the situation in his favor. Barry creates his own time remnant, not only giving him an extra speedster ally in the fight against Zoom, but attracting the attention of the dementors who police the Speed Force. They literally tear Hunter apart for his machinations with the timeline and, presumably, his efforts to destroy most of the multiverse. It’s a clever enough plan, I guess, one somewhat grounded in elements from the rest of the season, but Barry explains it after the fact, and it’s unclear how Barry himself would understand the dementors enough to use them for his aims.
This after-the-fact, hurried explanation is yet another example of The Flash placing too much value on the last-minute surprise. I much rather would have potentially seen the dementors coming through a more thorough understanding of how the Speed Force actually operates or what time remnants are, than to not understand why this worked in the first place.
It was also disappointing that Team Flash just skated over the fact that Barry’s time remnant — a.k.a. an earlier version of the Barry we know and love — sacrificed himself for the people he loved (and, you know, the rest of the multiverse, I guess). This is an incredibly tragic and morally complicated thing that Time Remnant Barry did, one that could have taken up an entire story arc of this show.
A braver show would have done this. In fact, Farscape did. In Season 3, the show split its main character into two, spent half a season with both of them, then killed one of them off. It was tragic and complicated and like losing the main character of the show because it was losing the main character of the show. Time Remnant Barry Allen wasn’t just a shadow or a whisper of Barry Allen. He was Barry Allen, and, though Cisco (again, in another surrogate character tells the audience what not to question moment) asked us not to think about what this meant for Time Remnant Barry Allen.
With Zoom gone, Team Flash had but one more mystery to solve: the identity of The Man in the Iron Mask. Well, like many at home had probably guessed (because, seriously, what wasn’t guessed after a half-season of this mysterious character), the mystery man was the real Jay Garrick, captured by Hunter Zolomon from another Earth. This probably made fans of the Jay Garrick character from the comic books happy (they were understandably mad when they found out this iconic hero was turned into a psychopathic killer), but it felt like another plot twist for the sake of plot twist moment from where I was standing. Presumably, Jay Garrick will eventually come back into play, but, for now, it just confused me that a man who had just spent months in captivity with an iron mask over his face was able to carry on complete conversations and calmly ask for a ride back to his own planet without so much as one staring-off-into-space incident.
Jay Garrick also happens to be Henry Allen’s doppelganger, a reveal that sends Barry for an understandable loop — and, ultimately, sends him traveling back in time to save his mom’s life before Eobard Thawne can take it. Basically, he is making the opposite choice of the decision he made at the end of Season 1, when he decided that he was happy with his life and he had to let go of the past. For me, this moment was one of the more successful ones of the episode and saved what would have been the finale from being wholly disappointing. Though The Flash Season 2 has been uneven, it has been consistent in Barry’s angst. In the Season 2 premiere, Wells told him that he would never be happy, and Wells had a way of getting inside of Barry’s head and staying there. Barry’s actions at the end of the finale are the actions of a grieving, confused speedster — which is to say, who Barry has been for the entirety of this season. They also potentially change everything…
The Flash seems to be setting up its Flashpoint Paradox storyline, a story arc in which Barry changes the future. These storylines are incredibly difficult to pull off well, but can be infinitely rewarding when done meticulously and with great character-driven care. After the uneven season we just watched, I’m not sure if I trust The Flash to be able to do this story justice. But it does still have enough narrative cred built up with me for me to be excited to watch it try. I will always prefer an ambitious show to one that plays it formulaic and safe. And, even after watching a Season 2 finale plagued with plot holes and underdeveloped character motivations, I could never accuse The Flash of being unambitious or playing it safe. For those reasons, and for many more (though, perhaps, not as many as following the Season 1 finale), I am Team Flash all the way.
Episode Rating: ★★★ Good
Season Rating: ★★★ Good
Before Barry took off to save his mom, Iris agreed to wait for him. Presumably, she didn’t mean through a timeline shift, but it’s looking inevitable.
“You see, Barry. There can be two of you. You just have to be ready to kill yourself.” — Zoom, being the worst evil mentor ever.
I know Oliver Queen is busy avoiding a nuclear apocalypse and everything, but I am pretty pissed that he didn’t make it to Barry’s dad’s funeral.
I’m not sure if I can handle a timeline where Joe West isn’t Barry Allen’s dad.
“Classic psychopath. Why can’t they ever just say about they’re gonna do.” — Cisco, on Zoom. Seriously, though, it’s like Cisco was trolling us critical viewers.
“I just miss him so much already.” — Barry Allen
“One pulse to destroy them all.” One ring to find them. One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness, bind them.
“Bro, I went back and forth. I was like a good 60/40 at first.” — Cisco, on his vote to lock Barry up. I would have really liked to see the scene of them discussing this. But, again, The Flash prioritized the shock of having Harry shoot Barry over character and thematic development.
OK, but did anyone else laugh when the episode cut to Zoom ratcheting up the magnetar?
Harry’s goodbye scene was properly moving. This is a character whose motivations we do understand and whose character growth we have seen. When he tells Barry: “I’m a better man than I was when I got here,” we believe him. We’ve seen it.
Also, is Harry really not going to be in it next season? I guess this might be a moot point given that Barry presumably reset the timeline, but, still… I’ll miss him. Jesse, too.
“Zoom took Dad.” — Iris, to Wally. #WestWorldProblems
“Iris, I already lost my mom. If Dad…” — Wally, acting the heck out of this scene.
“I will say, if anything, Barry sure has an ample number of fathers to kill.” — Zoom, being funny.
“It was killing you.” Joe, smiling to Zoom. Jesse L. Martin’s delivery of this line was perfect.
Barry: “Don’t worry. I’m gonna save your dad.”
Wally: “No, you’re gonna save our dad.”
“They’re not my fan club. They’re the reason you’re running.” — Barry, to Zoom about his loved ones. If only he remembered them when rescuing his mom and presumably resetting the timeline.
Harry: “Have you ever worked with a tool before?”
Cisco: “I’m working with him now.”
“You have great kids. Take care of them.” — Harry, to Joe.
“Don’t be surprised if I project myself over to Earth-2 every once in awhile, just to throw your stuff across your office.” — Cisco, to Harry.
“We just won. We just beat Zoom. Why does it just feel like I lost? … I feel more broken than I’ve ever felt in my life.” — Barry
“You’re not gonna kill her this time. You’re not gonna kill her ever again.” — Barry