Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Flash "The Race of His Life" Review
Back in my review for "The Runaway Dinosaur," I mentioned how important Nora Allen is to the Flash comics within the confines of Geoff Johns' take on the character, alluding to both the Flash: Rebirth and Flashpoint storylines. Naturally, given the recency of Johns' work on the character, and his standing within DC Entertainment overall, it made sense for our TV incarnation to draw heavily from those stories where appropriate, but to also diverge where necessary, too. Diverging is good, especially from comics and their decades worth of continuity that just mucks things up (that comic books still keep trying to solve that issue is why I keep lapsing as a reader).
All this wind up is to say that I'm legitimately surprised that The Flash riffed on Flashpointhere. I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty of Flashpoint—believe me, no one wants that—and merely limit it to saying that stopping Nora Allen's murder basically changed the entire face of the DC Universe in the comics until it got all welded back together as the new New 52 (or I suppose the Old 52 now since Rebirth kicks into gear tomorrow; whatever, comic books). So, yes, I'm surprised, but I'm also rolling my eyes at Liz Lemon levels since there's no way Nora Allen can be allowed to live.
I know that's a very extreme thing to say, but it's pretty true, too. Here's the thing about Barry saving Nora: It should, logically, change the entire face of the Earth One DC Comics show. That means Arrow should be different in Season 5, that means Legends of Tomorrow should be different in Season 2, and also Vixen, if it gets a Season 2. (Yes, I suppose that also means the imaginary Season 3 of Constantine should be different, too. Adjust your fanfics accordingly.) But basically, time travel has repercussions, and not just within The Flash. It'd be one thing if all these shows were separate, but they've constructed a shared narrative universe, and that means these shows are all connected.
Who knows what ripple effects Nora being alive would have? Mick Rory on Legends of Tomorrow wouldn't be Heat Wave since there'd be no heat gun, presumably. Arrow's even more of a headache. Even if Oliver Queen ended up as the Arrow, would Barry Allen be a CSI who showed up in Starling City to help in the Season 2 storyline? Would Oliver Queen have died as a result of what happens in "The Scientist" since Barry wouldn't have been there? And this is just off the top of my head.
Obviously, these questions are irrelevant. Arrow and Legends won't be brand-new shows in the fall. Either this shared narrative universe that The CW and Greg Berlanti and his team have constructed is a sham that's only connected for the sake of the occasional guest spot and crossovers once a season, or Barry realizes that he doesn't want the life he's created by saving Nora and this all gets undone in the Season 3 premiere and snaps back into place (Barry didn't respond well to being "normal," after all). Of course, the writers and producers could just decide to say, "Screw it, we're sticking with it, impacts on other shows be damned. But Barry's still the Flash, don't worry." Which wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility. Time travel in this franchise barely has rules, and The Flash has rejiggered its timeline without any actual consequences to other shows one or two times now, so maybe something this big won't matter.
But I suspect it'll be undone in some fashion, which is why I'm more annoyed than I'm actually angry or frustrated. I'll readjust my response after Season 3 begins as well since I have vague hopes that by undoing it, there'll be a degree of emotional maturing for Barry. Which is also why I'm not as angry or frustrated as I probably should be since Barry's actions made emotional sense. While I'm someone who feels like Barry should really understand and treasure the surrogate family he's developed, losing Henry in the way he lost him—in his old home, in the same space Nora died, at the hands of a speedster—was exactly what would send Barry over the edge. Even if the show had done a crummy job with Barry's head space in the episodes leading up to "The Runaway Dinosaur," that episode, "Invincible," and "The Race of His Life" formed a cohesive enough emotional arc for Barry that him abandoning everything, including finally being able to be with Iris so he could have both his parents back, made an immense amount of sense.
Helping things along on that front—and I haven't praised him much recently—this was Grant Gustin's Emmy submission episode (total dream ballot; he'll never be nominated for The Flash). We knew Gustin could do heavy sadness from previous episodes, so his work in Henry's death scene wasn't unexpected, but it was still pretty darn affecting (I would've liked to have had it last week, but whatever). Similarly, how he played Barry's admission that he was too hollow and broken to be with her right now was deeply moving. What locked in the performance, however, was his conveying Barry's anger as Joe talked to him. That was new. Barry's not often angry, let alone that angry, but Gustin sold this side of Barry we've never really seen before. It elevated a lot of stuff that was already pretty solid on paper to a next level work.
And that's what you want in a season finale: fireworks. I think that Grant Gustin was the primary supplier of those since his work and the decision to save Nora Allen were what stuck with me. They were the fireworks. The rest of "The Race of His Life" was largely just a victim of the season's uneven and sluggish plotting. Parts of the finale couldn't help but feel a little underwhelming in the grand scheme of things since they never really reached even "whelming" status as Season 2 progressed.
Zoom's desire to destroy the entire multiverse save for Earth Prime was pretty much a big shrug as an endgame. Why should we care? I mean, yes, countless lives were lost as a result of Zolomon's bloodlust and/or desire to just be better than everyone else in the entire multiverse, but it was such an abstract stake in the narrative that it barely seemed to matter. Zoom's whole dark side of the Speed Force shtick toward Barry, while not out of left field, was an odd addition to the mix. Presumably it was there to keep Barry in a place to be easily manipulated, but it was really hard to sort out if Zoom was legitimately looking to drag Barry down into the darkness with him. Again, Zoom's been a mess of a character, so the only thing that has made sense all season was his desire for Barry to get faster since it would both cure him of the Velocity 9 disease and help power the Magnetar. It was just ridiculously hard to muster up any interest in any of it after a season of opaque plans within plans and shallow motivations.
If there were two things I did care about in this finale outside of Barry and the universe-altering actions at the end of the episode, they were Earth Three Jay Garrick and Harry. So, yes, Earth Three Jay Garrick was the man in the iron mask all along. It wasn't a huge-huge moment, and putting a speed-dampener in the helmet to justify its existence was a bunch of nonsense because a speed dampener could've been put anywhere, but it was still pretty cool to see John Wesley Shipp in a Flash-esque costume again. I probably would've freaked out way more if he had been the Barry Allen from whatever Earth Shipp's The Flash from the 1990s exists on, but an Earth Three Jay Garrick was pretty cool. Like with Grant Gustin's performance this week, Shipp's work as Jay Garrick was pretty great. Jay Garrick was grizzled and old, and Shipp did a lot to make sure he felt distinct from Henry, from his posture to his voice. I doubt we've seen the last of the actual Jay Garrick, and so I'm looking forward to more of that.
But Harry! My love for Harry and Tom Cavanagh's work as Harry has been well-documented at this point, so I won't rehash it here. I will say that I need him back on Earth Prime immediately. I don't care about the narrative contortions to justify it; I just want it to happen. He's too good of a character and it's too good of a performance for the show to lose. I appreciated that, in a sign of actual maturity, Jesse realized how happy Harry is on Earth Prime, and so it gave him (and the show) an out to stick around, but I liked that Harry ended up being true to his word about loving his daughter so much that he would give up anything for her. While I want him back, it was a good way to wrap up his storyline.
That Season 2 ended up being a something of a sophomore slump was a disappointing unsurprise. I say "unsurprise" because Season 1 was, generally, so, so good that a down shift in quality almost seemed like a given. Part of it was the Legends of Tomorrow set-up that likely led to the wobbly Zoom storyline, though the show had plenty of space to remedy the latter instead of fighting Tar Pit and even King Shark. It just decided to prioritize mystery and "twists" instead of solid storytelling and character arcs. Hunter Zolomon-as-Jay Garrick just never felt like a real betrayal to the team, and its largest impact, which should have been on Caitlin, barely registered. Instead, it just fed into the show's weird fascination with making Caitlin's life as horrible as possible. The season ended up with a soft story spine (and a sometimes darker tone that didn't do it any favors) that the producers and writers never seemed interested in fortifying since the goal was obviously always to get to this exact point, no matter what.
A bad overarching story isn't enough to tarnish otherwise strong elements of the season, however much it dragged down those elements. The Earth Two doppelganger shenanigans were never not entertaining, whether it was Harry or Dr. Light. I really enjoyed Barry and Patty's relationship, even if that storyline wheezed its way to the finish, since it showed us Barry in a happy place that wasn't just about being a superhero. And speaking of superheroes, the development of Cisco's powers ended up working better than I thought they would, serving for both good Cisco development and much-needed plot devices that kept the Earth Two stuff chugging along without needing too much back-bending.
However, if there's one big takeaway from Season 2, it's how good the Wests are, and how great Iris ended up becoming. While Francine barely qualified as a character, she provided enough story material for Joe and Iris to work through secret-keeping issues that plagued them both last season, and she also brought Wally into the fold, which was a real treat considering how very good Keiynan Lonsdale as Wally has been this season. He's not only very good in the role, but he immediately clicked in with a cast that became one of the best on TV very quickly in its first season. 
Iris, however, was the character who needed the most rehabilitation after last season turned her into the only person who didn't know Barry was the Flash for way too long because the men in her life thought she needed protecting. While the show struggled with what to do with Iris outside of being on Team Flash or Family West—her job and life at the Central City Picture News still hasn't come together—all the work on those other aspects were real steps up from Season 1. Lying to Joe was actually played for dramatic tension that wasn't drawn out; bonding with Wally felt authentically awkward but loving; and her sort of mission control persona on Team Flash (which was on full display in the finale) felt like a natural fit since, if anything's been consistent about Iris, it's that she's a very take charge kind of person.
While her attraction/interest/feeling of destined partnership with Barry was probably a bit too underplayed, it didn't matter since the show did what it could to make sure Iris had agency this season. She got to make decisions, she got to be involved in the action, and she got to contribute to both the team, her family, and the narrative of the show. All of this also demonstrated that, when the show writes good material, Candice Patton is very good at playing Iris. You could see glimmers of a good performance buried behind all the nonsense in Season 1, but given the more emotional material Patton had to play opposite Gustin (she's likewise great opposite him during Barry's "I'm too broken" scene in this episode), Lonsdale, and Jesse L. Martin (still great, but also a bit of a reduced presence this season without Eddie to interact with), she didn't waste the opportunity to step up. 

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