This review contains spoilers.
2.23 The Race Of His Life
So, all of our complaints this year that the second season of The Flash was basically a rehash of the first? They’re feeling pretty valid right about now. This finale didn’t just use another speedster, other earths and a dead parent to motivate Barry, but it flat-out undid the emotional climax of the first season and used it as its cliffhanger.
(Before I go on – yes, I’m aware that this happens in the comics, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything for the show moving forwards).
This was, in many ways, the only finale we could have had following a disappointing second season of the show. There have been great things about season two, of course, but finales are designed to feature a big showdown and, unfortunately, the show has struggled to make us care about Zoom ever since his real identity was revealed.
That means that the personal stakes are what we have to hold on to and, while not nearly as strong a through-line as last year, the episode did an okay job of putting us in Barry’s headspace. I’m not saying I’m especially against that final twist, then, but it does make me worry for season three. Are we about to be greeted by a show that doesn’t have Barry and Joe’s relationship at its core?
Barry’s been a broken man for much of this season, and when Barry’s sad he makes stupid decisions. The death of his father pushed him over the edge, but what was missing from the impulse to completely rewrite time was any rift between him and the Wests. Henry’s death is about the only thing that’s changed since last season’s finale, in which he chose to let his mother die over losing his surrogate family.
They could easily have used Wally differently, or at least cut his line about Joe being both of their fathers, but that bond has been left consistently strong.
I guess what I’m saying is that the season had multiple ways in which it could test those connections, from the discovery of Iris’ mother and Wally to the abandonment of Henry once he was out of jail to the comparative goodness of Earth-2 Harry and his love for his daughter. With the Wests happy and adjusted, that could have made Barry feel out of place. The trouble is, we never saw much of that on screen.
The biggest problem in this finale is Zoom. I don’t know what we could have expected for a final showdown that serves as a full stop to an arc I don’t think anyone’s particularly interested in, but a big race wasn’t it. It’s almost comical in its pettiness and insanity, but I guess that’s just Zoom in a nutshell.
His love for Caitlin has always felt forced and has criminally underserved her character this season, and the reveal that Henry Allen aka the real Jay Garrick was the man in the iron mask has been so sign-posted that the majority of the internet had already worked it out (though it was cool to see him in costume).
I could have sworn at points in the episode that Zoom’s plan to destroy the multiverse was a way for the writers to potentially have Supergirl on Earth-1 for the next season. Sure, the deal for the show to move to The CW probably wouldn’t have been finalised by the time this was being conceived, but Berlanti and co. must have know it was a possibility. Might the race have resulted in some damage to the barriers between other Earths?
There were also some pretty big apparent departures I could stand to see reversed – Wells and Jessie, most notably. Of all the bad moves The Flash made this season, bringing Harry over to Earth-1 was most definitely not one of them.
This show has always been about fathers and children, which is why the Barry/Zoom conflict didn’t work nearly as well as the one between Barry and Thawne last year, and so having another guy looking for his daughter while wearing the face of the team’s greatest enemy was absolute genius. Bring him back now, show.
All bets are off now, of course, because Barry’s essentially changed his entire world. Does he have the speed force if his mother never died that night? Might something happen anyway that leads to him being taken in by Joe and Iris? How does this change Oliver’s timeline? Of course, my hope is that the Laurel death was all a big fake out and Katie Cassidy will be back for season five of Arrow.
The show can pretty much do anything and I’d buy it, because Barry’s impulse to erase the timeline we’ve come to know and love is something that needs to be rectified, stat.
Right now, this feels exciting yet vaguely ominous. The Berlanti-verse has a tendency to just double-down on the things we like in the hope that we’ll keep on liking it – speedsters, Wells, Grant Gustin crying – but that has resulted in as many misses than hits this season. Hopefully this twist serves up something new for season three, and that next year The Flash can go back to surprising us on a weekly basis.
That’s if time itself hasn’t been wiped from existence, of course. Silly Barry.
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Invincible, here.
UK viewers: The Flash season 2 currently airs on Tuesdays on Sky 1.