Thursday, February 25, 2016

Profound Effects Of Earth-2 Follow The Flash When He Is Hunted By "King Shark!"

The Good: Impressive performances, effects, character development
The Bad: A-plot is somewhat simplistic and straightforward
The Basics: "King Shark" is a brilliant character study for the main characters in The Flash mixed with the return of one of the most amazingly rendered metahumans!

When the character of King Shark first appeared on The Flash at the climax of the episode "The Fury Of Firestorm" (reviewed here!), fans of the source material for the show were left both impressed and dismayed. The sense of being blown away absolutely came from seeing the villain rendered so amazingly; the disappointment bloomed when his appearance was exceptionally brief. Fortunately, "King Shark" rectifies the problem by bringing back the character as an antagonist for the episode.

The real story in "King Shark," though, is the effect the prior two-parter had on the main characters. Not since the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Family" (reviewed here!) have the characters of a show so profoundly wrestled with the effects of a two-parter that preceded it. "King Shark" picks up immediately after "Escape From Earth-2" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode intelligently without some spoilers to the two-parter that preceded it.

"Escape From Earth-2" climaxed with the apparent death of Jay Garrick at the hand of Zoom as the final breach between Earth-1 and Earth-2 was sealed. The sealing of the breach trapped Harrison and Jesse Wells on Earth-1 and left the Earth-2 Cisco, Ronnie Raymond, and Joseph West dead (and, by implication Killer Frost - after all, Zoom broke out of her influence and he isn't exactly the forgiving type!). That leaves a lot for the protagonists of The Flash - at least Barry and Cisco - to wrestle with.

Having witnessed Jay's death, Caitlin goes into shock and Wells reveals that the breach being sealed means that Earth-2 is on its own in its fight against Zoom. Wells suggests to Cisco and Barry that they not share information with their Earth-1 friends about what they encountered on Earth-2. At a secret A.R.G.U.S. facility, Diggle and his wife Lyla - who has taken over A.R.G.U.S. - King Shark breaks out. While the Wests try to integrate Wally and have him bond with Barry, Cisco becomes concerned over how distant and cold Dr. Snow is acting. Lyla and Diggle arrive at S.T.A.R. Labs to warn the team that King Shark is en route with a murderous rage for The Flash.

Dr. Snow and Ramon visit Dr. Tanya Lamden, the wife of the late Earth-1 counterpart to King Shark. Snow's reactions to Lamden lead Cisco to confront her and express his fears about who she could become. When King Shark attacks Barry at the West's house, he finally breaks down to confess to Joe and Iris what he went through on Earth-2.

"King Shark" makes a number of allusions to Jaws (reviewed here!), which are fun and the truth is there is very little wrong in "King Shark." In fact, the only things that come immediately to mind are the fact that Harrison Wells tells Barry and Cisco not to talk to Caitlin about Earth-2 directly behind her on the assumption she is actually unconscious and the lack of exploration of Jesse's character. In an episode that has an oppressive tone through most of it, it seems odd that no one mentions or explores the emotional ramifications of Jesse Wells being tortured for the prior few months. The episode also references Arrow events that make no sense without context (i.e. those of us who do not watch Arrow have no idea what Felicity Smoak might be going through that Barry obliquely asks Diggle about).

But what the episode is is a brilliant exploration of people dealing with shock and trying to live among those who do not understand their profound sense of loss and horror. Dr. Snow's loss over losing Jay (on top of losing Ronnie twice) is coupled with Cisco's inability to articulate seeing his alternate self killed and working so closely with Killer Frost for the days he was on Earth-2.

"King Shark" blends the predictable action-adventure story one expects from The Flash with a brilliant character study. The actors - both main cast and guest stars - absolutely rise to the occasion. Having last seen Audrey Marie Anderson as a young actress on Once And Again (season two is reviewed here!), the gravitas with which she embodies Lyla Michaels makes her virtually unrecognizable! Anderson takes a supporting role in "King Shark" and makes her electric to watch with her steely facade.

Danielle Panabaker might start the episode like she is still coming down from playing Killer Frost in the prior two episodes, but she turns it around when Dr. Snow delivers her big monologue for the episode opposite Carlos Valdes's Ramon. Panabaker has played Dr. Snow as emotionally distant before and in "King Shark," Snow's reaction is much more aggressive and angry than her prior loss-reactions and it plays better the second time one watches the episode.

Keiynan Lonsdale finally steps into a more significant role as Wally West in "King Shark." Wally West has been a distant supporting character thus far with an exceptionally limited arc; in "King Shark," his motivations and "voice" finally come through. Lonsdale uses his scenes to define Wally and his mood and personality outside his reactions to being obsessed with speed or wrestling with suddenly meeting his father. Lonsdale holds his own opposite Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin without coming across as petulant or snotty.

And, in "King Shark," Grant Gustin is a tough actor to compete with! Gustin's range in the episode is profound. He plays angry, repressed, empowered, and broken and the progressions are made to feel entirely organic by Grant Gustin. Martin's subtle force in a single question inspires Gustin's Allen to confess and it feels very real. Gustin's rawness in his key scene is arguably his most powerful moment of the season, if not the entire series to date!

Despite the simplicity of some of the metahuman plot points in "King Shark," the episode is one of the best. The effects for the titular character are jaw-droppingly good - the Sharknado films look utterly amateur by comparison! - and they help balance out an emotionally heavy episode that realistically explores how people deal with shellshock. It is episodes like this that make it an utter shame how narrow the nominees for television awards are and how overlooked genre shows are.

For other works David Hayer has been involved with, please read my reviews of:
X-2: X-Men United


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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