Tuesday, April 19, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Flash' - Cisco Learns How to Re-Open the Breaches While Zoom's Backstory is Revealed in 'Versus Zoom'

The CW's The Flash - Episode 2.18 "Versus Zoom"

Equipped with the tachyon device, Barry believes he is fast enough to stop Zoom and wants to open the breaches to catch him. Harry strongly advises against that plan but after Barry convinces him, Harry reveals that Cisco has the power to re-open the breach. Hunter Zoloman's painful story on Earth-2 is revealed.

Zoom has been an interesting main villain for the second season of The Flash. He has been a very terrifying presence whenever he appears. The show has done a fantastic job in capture the true menace in this bad guy. And yet, the emotional and personal side of the character has been such a mystery. The show propped up the mystery of who was under the mask. When it finally came for that reveal, it was disappointing because it was shown to be Jay Garrick. This season really didn't know what to do with Jay. He was simply another person who would be hanging around STAR Labs and the team. Sometimes he would help Barry defeat meta-humans but most of the time he really wasn't doing anything. That blandness made the Zoom reveal very weak. It was as if the show was just biding time until that reveal could finally happen. And thus, "Versus Zoom" has to spend a lot of time filling in the gaps of who Jay really is and why he's ultimately doing all of these horrifying things as Zoom.

Jay actually has a very similar origin story to Barry. On Earth-2, he was born as Hunter Zoloman and witnessed his father killing his mother at a young age. That immediately connects with the tragic backstory that Barry has. And yet, Hunter had no one to take him in and raise him. Barry was very fortunate to find a new family with Joe and Iris. However, it's also important that Hunter is a twisted individual no matter what. His experiences in this world didn't turn him into this villain. If he had Barry's relentless optimism, he wouldn't have become a serial killer in his adulthood. Hunter's father was a legitimate killer and Hunter grew up to be one as well. Barry's father wasn't so Barry spent his entire life trying to prove his innocence of this horrific crime. The parallels between the two are apparent but they are still distinct as well. Both of them were destined to become the people they are today. Nothing could really change that.

All of this honestly only further proves just how one-note and generic a bad guy Zoom really is. Exposition from Wells-2 informs everyone that Hunter was a famous serial killer who was undergoing electro-shock therapy the night the particle accelerator released dark matter into the world. That's how he got his powers. That only amplified the darkness within him. Nothing can stop that monstrosity from coming out. It's vicious and ruthless. But Hunter also boasts of how much fun he has in giving people hope only to violently rip it away from them. It's important that he chose to dress up as both Zoom and the Flash. He could have just terrorized Central City on Earth-2 as Zoom. Instead, he became the Flash in order to provide a false sense of hope. That's exactly what he did when he traveled to Earth-1 as well. He wanted to get close to Barry, Cisco and Caitlin only for the inevitable Zoom reveal to be much more painful. It's just a storytelling device that is perhaps a bit too complicated to truly work. This hour has to find some way to explain how he was in two places at once and it's all just a little too difficult and forced.

Additionally, "Versus Zoom" plays into the fact that the Jay-Caitlin romance was actually genuine. She has the power to sway him into not killing Barry when given a chance. That moment just rings so false because there really wasn't any kind of spark between the two characters. So much of that was because Jay was so bland and didn't have purpose. His turn to the dark side does give Teddy Sears a bit more to play with here. It continues to show that villains can be more entertaining characters. But this show has exceptionally proven that good guys work incredibly well too. They just didn't try to show that with Jay largely as a way of convenience. But that keeps the inevitable moment between Zoom and Caitlin from landing well here.

It's because Barry has convinced Cisco to learn how to reopen the breaches between the two worlds that Zoom is able to return to all of their lives. Barry has gotten faster from the advice that Eobard gave him when he traveled back in time. And now, he's planning on using that increased speed to defeat Zoom in battle. And now that he knows that Jay is Zoom, he can actually face off with him fully knowing the personal side of the man behind the mask. It's still a lot of rushed backstory to drop throughout this episode. But it is still legitimately captivating to watch as the Flash and Zoom race across the city trying to beat the other. Barry has the upper hand because of what he knows about Jay. And yet, Jay proves that he still has many surprising abilities that Barry is not prepared for. All of this builds to Jay kidnapping Wally in order to get Barry to hand over his speed. It's a devastating moment because Jay knows how to hit Barry where it will hurt the most as well.

The episode closes with the very surprising moment of Barry draining all of the speed force out of his body and giving in to Jay. Zoom is finally successful with what he has wanted this entire season. He wanted Barry's speed. And now, he has it. Barry is just another normal human being now. He is no longer the Flash. That's a shocking way to close the episode. The hero has been defeated by the villain - with a few more episodes to go this season. Jay allows Barry to live because Caitlin reaches out to his human side. And yet, that only gets Caitlin kidnapped. So, this fight between the two speedsters is far from over. Zoom has Caitlin. Barry will do whatever it takes to rescue her. He just has to find a way to regain his speed while still protecting his loved ones who are still on this Earth.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Versus Zoom" was written by Joe Peracchio & David Kob and directed by Stefan Pleszcynski.
  • So Jay killed a time remnant version of himself when it appeared that he had died when the team was closing the final breach earlier this season. Again, the show has done a poor job explaining what a time remnant is. So, it's just a whole lot more work to think about it than it's really worth.
  • This is a fantastic episode for Cisco as he embraces more of his powers in order to help Barry defeat Zoom. He fears that all of this power will turn him to the dark side just like it did to Reverb on Earth-2. It allows for Cisco to make a Star Wars analogy. But it also sets up a wonderful moment with Barry who says their friendship will keep that from happening. 
  • Zoom kidnapping Wally becomes a personally devastating moment to Joe largely because he has finally connected with his son in a genuine way that made Wally want to call him "dad." That moment happened in order to give stakes to the emotional dilemma later on.
  • Iris remains torn about her feelings towards Barry. That is all that she does in this episode. It's great that she can just casually hang out at STAR Labs this season and point a gun at Zoom when he shows up. But it all just seems to be pointing her towards Barry which isn't really working because it seems too destined to happen because of what the future and Earth-2 say.
  • Also, Iris decides not to go out on a date with her boss because of her feelings for Barry. Not because, you know, you shouldn't go out with your boss! The show is just really laying on the cliches with her lately.
  • Jay is more than willing to answer a number of questions that the team have for him once they decide to cooperate. And yet, he still refuses to tell Barry who is behind the iron mask. It's basically the show saying that's the new big mystery the audience should be speculating about.
  • Wells-2 talks about how popular serial killers are on Earth-2. Hunter Zoloman even had a podcast about him. However, did no one think that Jay Garrick, the hero protecting the city, looked similar to this famous murderer? Or was the difference in hair all it took to conceal his identity?