Overview: The Flash features universe-hopping shenanigans, a giant shark man, and a disappointing endgame. 2015-2016; TV-PG; CW; 23 episodes.
*Note: This article features spoilers for Flash and one big one for Legends of Tomorrow*
The first season of The Flash is a feat of superhero storytelling only surpassed by Jessica Jones, Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, and Spider-Man 2. It goes without saying that the sophomore season would have an absurd standard to live up to. The big question was whether or not it would live up to the bar it set for itself.
Yes and no.
Life in the Fast Lane: Yes, this season of The Flash found individual higher highs in terms of standalone episodes (Evil Mark Hamill at Christmas), ambition (Multiverse!), and special effects (KING SHARK). The adventures were more bombastic and fully devoted to source material. The love of science and camaraderie was (mostly) at an all-time high. Zoom was straight up terrifying at first. Did I mention King Shark? We should talk about how great the reveal was and how absurdly entertaining his self-titled episode was. Barry fights a buff man shark for crying out loud. This is peak television.
Team Flash has come a long way and so have the actors. Each person gets nice and cozy in the roles we’ve come to love them for and even got to get hilariously different when we met their Earth-Two counterparts. Danielle Panabaker unfortunately gets the short end of the stick, but she continues fully committing to the series and thankfully gets the most entertaining role-reversal once she plays up the Killer Frost reversal. Carlos Valdez is downright transcendent as Cisco Ramon with his adorkable quips and devotion to fanboyism for all things superhero – it’s also inspiring to have a latino actor and character get to be the best supporting character in the series, so thank you for that. Candice Patton as Iris West is completely over her underwritten season 1 story and is officially a proactive member of Team Flash, filling in a Lois Lane type role with the group’s antics, still remaining strong as ever in her own shoes. Jesse L. Martin continues his campaign of “Best TV Dad Ever” as Joe West, the warm and inspiring father figure to the team who comes across a circumstance he could never have anticipated with his son, Wally.
Keinyan Lonsdale doesn’t immediately live and breathe the Wally West I know and love (Barry inherited some of his traits), but the arc his character undergoes is sweet enough to work for me. His youth and desire to headfirst into danger for the right reasons are hinted at when he drag races to pay his mom’s medical bills, finding solace in his need to go fast before turning it into his devotion to help others by the finale. I can’t wait to see this kid as a full fledged speedster.
Tom Cavanaugh returns in a vastly different role of Earth-Two Harrison Wells with a daughter, Jesse, played by Violett Beane. Cavanaugh’s performance last year gave him an unbelievable arc to play over the course of the season, but this season he gets to turn in a reverse of his Reverse arc. He is an untrustworthy ally revealed to be a hero. He comes to love Team Flash in his own way and fits perfectly into his new dynamic on the show. Beane is also a fun presence, nestling in alongside Wally as one of the newcomers and lovely extended Flash family member.
However the heart of the show will always be Grant Gustin as Barry Allen. His charisma and love for his friends is palpable through every scene, always fighting the good fight. I just wish his character’s arc had been significantly better.
Enter Zoom: And sadly, the no comes in with the back half of the season. It didn’t ruin my enthusiasm for the show, but it did tamper my expectations of what the writers are capable of accomplishing. The focus on Zoom as a villain was initially terrifying. The speed force bastard child – an equivalent of Bane and one of those vampires from Blade 2 – was initially a terrifying threat. A through and through monster. His first major appearance on the show completely humiliates Barry in front of the city he swore to protect. He nearly kills Barry in his first appearance. So what did this avatar of speed-death want?
Initially it was revealed Zoom wanted Barry’s speed. Similar to the previous season but still a suitable motivation. Mix that with the reveal of both Jay Garrick – Flash of Earth-Two – and Zoom are both dying from their tampering with the speed force. Now that’s a healthy motivation. Only it didn’t stop there. Zoom wants to take over our Earth, be the fastest speedster in the multiverse, prove Barry and he are the same, and to race Flash to the death. (And I’m all about the idea of a final fight being a literal race between Barry and Zoom. It’s comic book-y in a way that’s sincere and appropriately ridiculous.) Also Zoom is Jay Garrick, but Jay Garrick’s name is Hunter Zolomon because comics.
This Hunter Zolomon twist almost ends up falling flat on its face but manages to stumble toward a mostly successful finishing line. Apparently a notorious murderer and psychopath on Earth-Two, Hunter Zolomon somehow becomes Jay Garrick and Zoom to give the people hope only to take it away. I was immediately rolling my eyes when I discovered this to be the “shocking” revelation. We only heard Zoom speak about his motivations instead of watching them unfold. Then comes the last minute reveal that there is a Jay Garrick from another Earth and it all makes enough sense to get by. I just wish the Man in the Iron Mask reveal had come sooner.
My initial prediction was that Zoom was Jay Garrick but the man in the Iron Mask was also Jay Garrick. In the Earth 2 version of the particle accelerator explosion (before we found out Hunter Zolomon was just an evil crazy person – Jay Garrick did exist, but when he was granted the powers of the speed force he was split into two versions of himself: the dark (Zoom) and the light (Flash). So the man in the Iron Mask is still Jay Garrick, but it’s the “good” Jay. This is just fanfiction at this point but the same story could have been accomplished without all the bloat I described above.
As much as I’ll never tire of hearing variations of “Run, Barry, Run!” I wish the race between the two Flashes was established better. We had the Zoom motivation of wanting to best Barry and steal his speed so that thread should have been followed through. No, the episode where Barry gives up his speed to Zoom doesn’t count. That episode is the worst in the series short history by a surprising amount of mileage. The mental backflips used to incorporate that level of stupidity by the smartest group of scientific minds in the DC TV universe was beyond disappointing.
I can forgive a lot of missteps if a story ends with its strongest footing heading out the narrative door – Supergirl‘s first season is a damn treasure – but when there’s a stumble, I’m more concerned for the eventual return. And the idea of Flashpoint Paradox is an intriguing one but you know what would make it legitimately thrilling? If it was worked into the narrative instead of Barry undoing the fantastic arc he had in the first season.
Flash of Too Many Worlds: Season 2 was either spread too thin or had too many moving pieces to come together as wonderful a whole as the first year. As much as it breaks my heart, I don’t think we needed Patty Spivot on this show . . . yet. Shantel VanSanten was a perfect addition to the show. Beautiful, courageous, and just as dorky as the rest of Team Flash, there was zero reason not to keep her on board. But the season’s focus lay elsewhere with the threat of Zoom looming over multiple Earth’s and exploring the speed force. These directions both led to standout individual episodes in the one-two punch of “Welcome to Earth-2” and “Escape from Earth-2” while one of the emotional high-points of the series “The Runaway Dinosaur” was the perfect punctuation to bring us home in the finale with the Zoom conflict – it even proved me wrong about Kevin Smith’s directorial capabilities. But with exception of A+ material in standalone stories, the season has too many moving parts that either don’t belong or are not operating at their full capacity.
Though the season ended on an ultimately uneven note, and let’s not sidetrack that the show had severe missteps, the entire season still sprinkled in plenty of goodness.
As much as I disagree with the context, I can’t help but think of the recent article by our own J. Rosenfield where he discusses emotion vs. logic. Everything that happens in The Flash season 2 makes enough logistical sense to be entertaining enough. For example: time travel doesn’t matter because it’s theoretical. They can make up whatever they want for comics as long as they stick to their guns or explain the diversion well enough to change their notion of the concept. Many things occur where action A leads to action B down the line resulting in a certain outcome. But there’s no emotional truth to this season. It seems odd that this season of The Flash actually undoes the freshman outing as a rebuke of it. There’s no exploration of the ideas, and there are episodes devoted to the extension of the themes that made the first season emotionally powerful, but the season was too disjointed by the finale to drive home any other point – intentional or otherwise – that everything Barry learned had to be undone because they really want to do Flashpoint Paradox. It’s a fine story that would work as the basis of a fun event story but I pray to the speed force it won’t last more than a handful of episodes.
I think it would actually be a good idea if these 23 episode superhero shows took a break from season long storytelling to commit to smaller individual arcs while slowly escalating the season plot. Not every episode needs to devote itself to standalone or serialized storytelling. The fundamentals of superhero stories are the commitment to long form stories but there are always smaller stories tucked into it – or at least I think there should be. Look to no better example to this than Spectacular Spider-Man‘s approach to seasonal arcs mixed with the individual 3-4 episodes mini-arcs. That show only lasted for 26 half hour episodes but it never ran out of steam or spun its wheels. And credit where credit is due: writing for television is exhausting. You have to craft an entire season worth of material, keep it fresh and innovative, keep track of X amount of characters and plot . . . It’s not an easy gig. Maybe it’s a testament to how good the writing was this season even when noting how bad the writing could get.
I did my fair share of complaining, but I still liked this season. There was plenty to love with even the worst story decisions being thrown in our direction. When the vast majority of the season worked, it worked wonders. The action was better. When the correct emotional truths were on display, they were the appropriate level of heartbreaking and heartwarming. Zoom even got a terrifying defeat at the hands of the speed demeanors wraiths. (He’s totally coming back as Black Flash, right?) And who could deny the absurd fun of the second crossover. Word is we’ll see the Justice Society of America next season. There’s plenty to look forward to.
With the vanishing act of the past timeline Barry, Flashpoint Paradox is all but confirmed to happen. I don’t want to see a soft reboot of the show but this is a concept worth exploring, if only to finally finally help Barry get over the death of his mother. There’s no issue with being saddened by the loss of a loved one, but this isn’t real life; it’s fiction. The resolute impact needs to stick its landing. Barry has come to terms with this twice already. If that third time is the charm, the show and its fanbase will be all the better for it. Then we can get back to what makes the show special: pulp adventure with the fulfilling qualities of love and family above all.
Featured Image: Warner Bros. Television Distribution