This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 2 Episode 23
I’m not sure I’ve ever been as conflicted about a single episode of The Flash as I am about “The Race of His Life.” Don’t get me wrong, this is an improvement over last week’s disaster (and a handful of other bad episodes this season) in as many ways as it possibly can be. The problem is, it’s still part of an extraordinarily flawed season, and in wrapping that up, it still has to deal with the residue of all of the dopey decisions the show has been making since February.
It has been put out there that perhaps I was a little too hard on last week’s episode. I still don’t think I was, but allow me to explain a little further, as it sums up my overall problems with this season. The death of Henry Allen wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the timing of Henry Allen’s death was. Barry’s overall arc from conflicted to at peace/overconfident to defeated/tortured is fine, and even sensible, except it shouldn’t have happened over the course of two or three episodes.
To go from Barry making peace with everything in “The Runaway Dinosaur” to acting like an overconfident jackass in “Invincible” (and paying the price for it by episode’s end) and then back to a place worse than he was at the start of season one in the space of two hours of TV is a huge problem. “The Race of His Life” was mostly good enough to make me forget (but not forgive) this issue… until its ending, where Barry makes another completely baffling decision, and one that I think will ultimately be damaging to the show in the long run. But we’ll get back to that in a minute.
But at least “The Race of His Life” had the show’s heart again. The whole “go Team Flash!” vibe was back and in place, and it’s once again just so easy to get warm and comfortable with these characters. Despite my problems with how Barry has been written for the last few weeks, Grant Gustin was exceptional this week, and as long as he can bring it and Carlos Valdez, Candice Patton, Jesse L. Martin and the rest are around, it will be tough to ever write this show off.
My problems with the way Henry’s death was handled and the absurdly compressed nature of this story aside, his funeral was genuinely heartbreaking. Here is a good man who had everything taken from him, and as a result doesn’t even have enough friends left in the world to show up at his funeral. That hurt, and it was a good way to twist the knife for fans and illustrate Barry’s frustration.
And while I was a little annoyed by Wally’s half-assed vigilante stuff in “Invincible,” I think he came off extraordinarily well. It’s good that Wally doesn’t have any anger in his heart about not knowing Barry’s secret until it had to be revealed the way it was. This is a totally different dynamic than anything we’ve seen with the hero/potential sidekick on any of these shows, and I’m glad that they still haven’t rushed to fit Wally for a set of tights. When it happens (and it will happen), it’s going to matter. And if they really do it right, he might be able to support this show as the lead if the time ever comes.
But really, this season never recovered from the fact that Zoom was such a two-dimensional villain. The tradition of putting the worst examples of hack supervillain dialogue imaginable in his mouth (all of his cut-rate Darth Vader “embrace your anger” nonsense and the “I need someplace to hang my cowl” were particularly inexcusable), his whole “I will destroy the world…no all of the worlds!” plan was positively giggle worthy in its stupidity. Compare the Garrick/Zolomon mystery and Zoom’s motivations to that of Wells/Thawne last season and there’s no comparison whatsoever. One was brilliant, nuanced, and a genuine mystery, while this year we got a moustache twirling psychopath.
And while Zoom was written with big dumb motivations, the character himself is also pretty dumb. I mean, seriously, he fell for the “Caitlin is so obviously bait” thing, right down to her seemingly reading her speech off of cue cards? I confess, though, I didn’t see the hologram angle coming (I’m really tired, folks), I fist pumped when the team took him down, and then I was shocked (again) when Joe went through the portal with Zoom.
Did my heart pound at the reveal of the “real” Jay Garrick, even though we all saw it coming from miles away? Of course it did. Seeing John Wesley Shipp in a new Flash costume, an interestingly modernized (and primary colored!) Golden Age Flash suit, well… c’mon. Of course I melted. It got me, and the showrunners absolutely knew that it would get me (and probably a bunch of you, too). It legit brought tears to my eyes.
But even that felt like an apology for the shoddy treatment of Henry Allen and the Jay Garrick character. There’s a part of me that genuinely believes this season wasn’t properly thought out, and that turning Jay into Zoom/Zolomon wasn’t part of the plan, and that the whole “out” with the Man in the Iron Mask/Henry/Real Jay and everything else was a ripcord the writers had no choice but to pull.
And here’s the thing… I’m not sure how well they really considered this episode’s climax, either.
In last year’s five star review of the the season one finale, I wrote that on this show “everybody’s superpower is selflessness.” Barry allowing his mother to die when it was within his power to change the past was an incredibly selfless act, and one that showed unbelievable maturity for the young hero. This season, for all my complaints about it recently, did a remarkable job of illustrating all the different ways he internalized the consequences of that decision, and I loved that it manifested in a particular kind of superhero workaholism. I just figured it was going to be something else to drive and motivate him.
And then “The Runaway Dinosaur” happened, and we realized this was something that Barry very much had to make peace with. And he did. And it was lovely. And that’s what makes Barry’s decision at the end of this episode so infuriating.
To go back in time like that and change the past is not only a selfish act, it’s a maddeningly shortsighted one. After all of the different consequences Barry has seen for these kinds of things, and so very soon after he made peace with this whole thing, to have this happen a mere three episodes later…it feels wrong. Barry isn’t a novice hero anymore, and after the wise beyond his years decisions we’ve seen him make in the past related to exactly this moment, it all feels like a tremendous regression. The Flash was so good in its first season (and a good chunk of this one) because of how convincingly it moved Barry and everyone else forward at all times. “The Race of His Life” and a result The Flash Season 2, feels like an enormous step backwards.
And given the likely shape of season 3 based on these events (more on that in Flash Facts in a moment), I’m not entirely sure that this is a problem that’s going to get fixed any time soon.
Let’s get into the next section, though…and it’s a long one…
– Henry Allen’s tombstone places him as born in 1955, which is the same year that John Wesley Shipp was born.
– Harry Wells tells us there are “infinite” Earths in the Multiverse. I believe that’s the first time we’ve heard that particular combination of words around here. Do I really need to spell out the Crisis on Infinite Earths connections any more than I already have in so many previous Flash Facts installments? Probably not. BUT…
– Saying that this Earth is the access point to every other Earth in the Multiverse is kind of meta. Since it was via The Flash that we first learned of the DC Multimedia Multiverse, then this show very much is the nexus of DC and WB’s multimedia strategy. This is pretty cool, I have to confess. With that in mind, I would have been totally okay with it if it turned out Zoom was able to destroy the universe where Batman v Superman took place and that the next batch of DC movies would get the characters right.
– The giant device that is poised to destroy an entire Multiverse is straight out of Crisis on Infinite Earths, as is the way Flash (or his time-remnant) sacrifices himself to stop it. In Crisis, Barry did pretty much exactly what you see here, running until he simply disintegrates.
This would be pretty awesome, but it does kind of rob a potential future Barry sacrifice of a little bit of its drama (and remember, we’ve seen that teased literally since the first episode).
– It was a beautiful moment seeing John Wesley Shipp playing a Flash again. I’m sure I don’t have to remind anyone that he was a wonderful Barry Allen on the original Flash TV series, which really should have run for more than one season. In fact, let’s just take a moment to appreciate that costume…
…and I gotta say, I loved the fake Jay/Zoom costume, muted colors and all. But this was just a nice touch. The bulkiness of it even kind of recalls the bulkiness of Shipp’s Barry/Flash costume from 1990.
– Real Jay quips that he’s from “Earth 3.” In the comics, Earth 3 was the planet in the multiverse where everything/everyone was hopeless and evil…so basically the way that Earth 2 was portrayed this season. I wouldn’t get too hung up on that number designation, though. I do hope that there’s a Justice Society on that world…and I do have to wonder if that’s where the Rex Tyler we met at the end of the Legends of Tomorrow season finale came from!
– The ending of this episode seems to be pointing to some kind of adaptation of Flashpoint for next season. I’ll write more about this in a longer article very soon, but basically, Barry stops Reverse-Flash from murdering his mother…and it screws everything up, and the world is much worse for it in the long run. Like the Crisis/Flash death nod just minutes earlier, it feels like this episode was just in a hurry to get to every important Flash moment it could think of.
I just hope that they have a better plan for The Flash Season 3 than they did for this season. I’m not terribly interested in an entire season set in an alternate timeline where everyone is playing weird versions of themselves. We had enough of that with the doppleganger nonsense this season, and I would hope this show is smarter than that going forward.
Ladies and gents, thank you so much for hanging out with me every week this season. It’s a privilege to do this job, and a pleasure to read your comments and talk nerdy Flash stuff with you all. I’ll have more to say about this episode in more articles, and lots more to say about The Flash in general all summer long while we wait for Season 3 to premiere.