Thursday, 26 May 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E23 - 'The Race Of His Life'





Warning: Spoilers Below.

As plot-twists go, the death of Henry Allen at the end of the previous episode wasn't really the drastic shock it was probably intended to be. With Barry feeling such a heightened sense of optimism as a result of his time in the Speed Force, it seemed depressingly inevitable that there would be some sort of tragedy to knock him back down. Similarly, with Barry's father only recently announcing that he intended to return to Star City, and with the two sharing so many moments of genuine father/son bonding recently, it had begun to feel just as inevitable that Henry Allen would be source of this new tragedy.

On the one hand, it definitely felt like a shame to see the character's time on the series seemingly come to an end. The initial decision to offer John Wesley Shipp a role on The Flash may have been intended as a entertaining bit of stunt casting (given his previous history with the character), but over the past two seasons, he has also managed to establish himself as a major contributing factor to the initial success of the series. Over the past two season, I've often found myself wishing that we could have seen more of Henry Allen – or, that he would have been allowed to play a more pivotal role in some of the action.

His death at Zoom's hands had, despite not being much of a surprise, still been a genuinely great end to the previous episode, though – so, it is only fitting that it also serves as the opening for the season finale. Picking up at the exact moment in which the last episode ended, we see Barry's very genuine grief turn to momentary rage as he goes on the offensive against Zoom – resulting in a very entertaining action sequence, as the two Speedster pursue each other through the city. We have seen this sort of scene before, of course, but this one still managed to be genuinely impressive.

But, of course, it also manages to end on a very strange note, when we see another return of the 'time remnant' concept that has appeared throughout the season. The whole idea that, during the tense chance, Zoom still took a moment to jump back in time and create a 'time remnant' double of himself, just so that he could kill that double in front of Barry was an effective display of Zoom's crazed obsession, certainly – though, I'm still not sure what purpose it was actually supposed to serve.

It was a great start to the season's final episode, certainly – but, unfortunately, things seemed to grow increasingly disjointed, from there. Slowing the pace, for a moment, in order to allow the aftermath of Henry's death to play out felt like the right choice, of course. But, from there, the episode moves into another odd sequence in which Barry's friends, worried that he might go too far in his desire for revenge, suddenly decide to turn on him and leave him locked in a cell as they try to take on Zoom by themselves.

It was a sequence that just felt out of place, in the season's final episode – especially when it became clear that it wasn't going to be the episode's final confrontation with Zoom. That, strangely enough, was set to take place in the foot-race that Zoom was suddenly very adamant that he wanted to have against the Flash.

With the team's efforts to take on Zoom alone ending with Joe being dragged to Earth-2 as well, it began to feel as though the entire purpose of this sequence was to give Barry the incentive to agree to the race that Zoom wants. But, of course, this was something that Barry had intended to do, anyway – which was a large past of the reason why his friends chose to take the matter out of his hands. So, it was an oddly circular sequence of events which, ultimately, seemed to serve little purpose.

Also, on a related note, I have to wonder why the team always seems so content with simply trying to send Zoom back to Earth-2 – as though there aren't innocent people there, who are going to suffer as a result of their decisions. This isn't the first time that they have been willing to simply trap Zoom on Earth-2, and call it a day, after all – and, it has never really sat well with me.

I think that the main issue I had with this episode, in the end, was just with how oddly rushed everything felt. The group's decision to, essentially, betray Barry's trust in order to try to take on Zoom themselves didn't feel as dramatic as it probably should have, due to the simple fact that the episode seemed to skim over the group's decision, and its consequences, so quickly. Wally's decision to go against the group and support Barry, releasing him from his cell so that he could rescue Joe (while Iris seemed disturbingly willing to simply accept their current circumstances as close enough to a victory) didn't feel like the big character defining moment that it should have been – once again, because it came and went so fast. Meanwhile, the group's sudden change of heart as the chose to go along with Barry's plan, after all,

I think that the main issue that I had with this episode is that everything felt oddly rushed. The group's decision to, essentially, betray Barry and try to take on Zoom by themselves didn't feel as dramatic as it should have because the episode skimmed over the act, and its consequences, so quickly. Wally's decision to support Barry, releasing him from his cell so that he could rescue Joe, wasn't the big moment for him that it should have been – again, because it happened so fast. The group's decision to support Barry's plan, after being so firmly against it at the beginning, felt strange – as did the fact that their betrayal wasn't a bigger issue for Barry.

Then, there's the race itself. With Zoom's ultimate plan being to generate enough energy to power up a device which will allow him to destroy the entire multi-verse (except for Earth-1, of course, which Zoom planned on keeping). It was very strange for the stakes to be so high yet, at the same time, feel so low. Again, thanks to how rushed the episode felt (not to mention the inherent strangeness of the Flash agreeing to race the man who just murdered his father), there was nothing about this sequence that felt tense or dramatic. The fact that we also had the rest of the cast watching from the side-lines, and calling out helpful exposition to keep the audience up to date on what was actually happening, didn't really help, either.

Even the moment in which Barry manages to create his own 'time remnant' double lacked any real sense of excitement – and, this 'time remnant' double of Barry Allen sacrificing himself to shut down Zoom's device lacked any real sense of drama. Again, this is primarily due to how rapidly the episode insisted on skimming over all of the details – though, in this case, the flippant manner in which this other Flash's sacrifice is treated by the cast coming across as unintentionally callous.

Beyond the somewhat underwhelming final confrontation with Zoom, though, the episode is able to get things back on track, somewhat, as it moves into what should be the season's happy resolution. The reveal that the mysterious 'man in the mask' that has appeared throughout the season was the real Jay Garrick, who also happened to be a double for Henry Allen, might not have been much of a surprise, either (given the blatantly obvious hint that was dropped a few episodes ago) – but, it was still another genuinely great, fan-pleasing, moment that gives John Wesley Shipp a new role to play (assuming that he actually does appear in the next season, of course). Also, the 'farewell' scene given by Harrison and Jesse Wells, as they made the decision to return to Earth-2, was genuinely touching.

The most interesting development of the episode, and possibly even the season as a whole, came at the very end, though. Here, we see Barry overcome by his lingering grief and, ultimately, making the decision to return to the night his mother was murdered, once more. This time, though, Barry chose to actually intervene and save his mother's life. What does this actually mean for the future, though? Well, fans of DC's comics might remember Barry's decision to save his mother being what led to the 'Flashpoint' event – the massive cross-over event which eventually led to the creation of the 'New 52' reboot of the DC Universe.

Whether the third season of The Flash has anything this drastic in store remains to be seen, of course – but, it is definitely too pivotal a moment to be glossed over. Either way, though, it was definitely a great way to end an episode that, unfortunately, proved to be somewhat underwhelming. It brought the season to a strong close, and promises interesting new developments for the next season – so, I am definitely looking forward to seeing how things play out when The Flash returns, later this year.

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