Saturday, September 10, 2016

Multiverse Theory Goes Mainstream In The Flash Season 2!

The Good: Some decent moments of performance, Most of the special effects, Moments of character
The Bad: Repetitive season arc and reversal to season one, Far less scientifically-valid than the first season!
The Basics: The second season of The Flash explores threats from an alternate version of Earth and its megalomaniacal speedster, Zoom, while Barry Allen continues to adjust to being the hero The Flash!

When it comes to works based upon comic book source material, there are few works that were a more pleasant surprise to me than the first season of The Flash (reviewed here!). The point at which the first season ended was an impressive one, but it left a daunting task for the second season. Ironically, the cataclysmic event of the last moments of the first season - the appearance of a massive singularity over Central City - was almost instantly brushed aside and resolved. Despite the ease with which the singularity was closed, the consequences of that event resonated through the entire second season of The Flash.

The Flash Season Two is an unfortunately fractured season as a result. The set-up involves a surprisingly compelling concept; there are holes in the fabric of our universe that lead to locations on an alternate Earth, much like in the Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror" (reviewed here!). There are metahumans from the alternate Earth sent through to our Earth to kill Barry Allen and they all work for a dark speedster from Earth-2 called Zoom. But the set-up for The Flash Season 2 leads to a very poorly-constructed resolution and the latter-half of Season 2 illustrates that the first half of the season wrote a check that the second half could not cash. In fact, in defining Zoom, the second season of The Flash ends up (largely) treading in the exact footsteps of the first season.

Six months after the singularity was created over Central City and was subsequently closed through the heroism of Firestorm, The Flash is on his own and his team has separated. While Central City prepares for Flash Day, Barry and Joe investigate the death of a man who was killed by someone impossibly strong and surprisingly large. When a living version of the same man pops up at the Flash Day ceremony, The Flash reunites his team and they discover that the singularity that Firestorm sealed was not the only event in Central City. Sealing the singularity left fifty-two breaches in Central City. The holes in the universe lead to Earth-2, a slightly more advanced Earth. There, the citizens are menaced by a speedster, Zoom, who is sending metahumans from Earth-2 to our Earth to try to kill The Flash.

Team Flash is soon joined by Jay Garrick (Earth-2's Flash who has lost his speed) and Dr. Harrison Wells, who runs S.T.A.R. Labs on Earth-2 and whose daughter is a captive of Zoom. While Joe and his new partner, Patty Spivot, hunt down metahumans, the S.T.A.R. Labs team tries to stop the alternate world's metahumans from killing Barry and they work to seal the breaches around Central City. When Wells is unable to find a way to defeat Zoom, he begins to develop ways to drain Barry Allen of the Speed Force in order to transfer it to Zoom to save his daughter. When the S.T.A.R. Labs team learns of this, they make a concerted effort to save both Earth-1 and Earth-2 from Zoom once and for all!

The second season of The Flash mimics the first season in a number of ways, some of which are pretty lazy on the part of the show's executive producers. For example, major actions within the two seasons happen at virtually the same spot in each season. In the first season, there is a two-parter exploring Firestorm and in the second season, those same episode slots are filled by a two-parter! Zoom and the Reverse Flash are revealed at pretty much identical points in each season, etc. That structural familiarity accents the fundamental problem with the season's primary adversary and it plays into the problem with the way the final episode of the second season of The Flash leads to an emotionally similar climax.

In constructing an adversary worthy of succeeding the Reverse Flash for the enemy of the Flash, the executive producers of The Flash sensibly used Zoom. In the comic books, Zoom was Wally West's adversary the same way that the Reverse Flash was Barry Allen's enemy. But for the television series, constructing a mystery around Zoom made the executive producers and writers utilize almost all of the same character reversals and that feels particularly lazy. Indeed, the construction of Zoom comes to make almost no rational sense, which is something the producers - who even reference "Mirror, Mirror" should have known. At the climax of that seminal multiverse episode of Star Trek, Spock notes that it is much easier for sane people to act crazy than for a barbarian to play civilized. In that way, the ultimate revelation of Zoom's mundane identity makes no sense in the second season of The Flash, making for a very unsatisfying late-season.

Ultimately, after all of the various attempts to misdirect, Zoom is characterized as a speedster who became a Speed Force Vampire, who needs (just as the Reverse Flash did) The Flash to run faster and faster. This time, though, the adversary wants The Flash to run faster so he can absorb Barry's Speed Force energy. Given how murky that premise is and how late in the season it is before it becomes defined, there is a remarkably unsatisfying quality to much of the second season of The Flash when one views is as a whole work, all at once.

That said, the character development and performances in the second season of The Flash show an evolution that is a progression from the first season, which is nice. Those who watch The Flash are rewarded with reasonable character progressions for all of the major characters. The essential characters in the second season of The Flash are:

Barry Allen - The Flash. Initially disillusioned over how Eddie and Ronnie gave their lives to save Central City (while The Flash got credit), he tries to keep his friends safe by working alone. Spending his nights rebuilding Central City after the singularity appears, he is able to exonerate his father after Wells leaves a video will confessing he killed Nora Allen. He has to help his ex-girlfriend, Linda Park, when her doppelgänger comes through and tries to kill The Flash. He and Patty begin dating. In his first major conflict with Zoom, he is nearly killed and he has to learn to walk again! After his father helps him get his confidence back again after his back was broken, he becomes unwilling to risk anyone else getting hurt, which puts an impossible amount of pressure on his relationship with Patty. He is willing to forgive Dr. Wells when Wells betrays him and that solidifies his resolve to save both Earths. His journey forces him to consider giving up his powers and endangering all he loves to save lives,

Iris West - Daughter of Joe West and an intrepid reporter. She meets her long-lost mother and uncovers her secret. When she learns she has a brother, she becomes protective of Joe. Surprisingly, she is not initially jealous of Barry and Patty. Her work for the Central City Picture News gives her access to Wally's drag racing and it inspires her to intervene with Joe when he is over-cautious as a parent. She is wounded by Tar Pit when Barry's speed is diminished, which leads Wally to finally bond with her. After a series of underwhelming dates with her new boss, she begins to consider the possibility that she and Barry are destined to be romantically entangled,

Joe West - One of the lead detectives at the Central City Police Department, he works with Cisco to establish the Anti-metahuman Task Force. He resists allowing Patty Spivot to join the team, but quickly sees her value when she is professional in helping to apprehend the Sand Demon. When his ex-wife comes back to Central City, he is forced to confess to Iris that he lied to her for years. He continues to motivate Barry. He does not trust Earth-2's Dr. Wells and is unwilling to truly trust Patty, which makes their working relationship untenable. He learns about his new son, Wally West, who he accidentally pressures into accepting him. But after opening his heart and home to Wally, he has to risk losing Barry once again,

Dr. Caitlin Snow - Widowed by Ronnie's sacrifice, she abandons the S.T.A.R. Labs team for Mercury Labs. Cisco draws her back in when Atom Smasher arrives in town and he needs a medical opinion. She is attracted to Jay Garrick when they start working together. With Dr. Wells, she develops Velocity 6, a drug that helps speedsters super-charge the Speed Force within them. She is captured by Grodd and has to betray him to save the gorilla's life. While Barry and his team visit Earth-2, she refines her Velocity drug in order to allow Jay to step in as the Flash. After experiencing even more loss, she begins to shut down emotionally, which makes Cisco worried about her. She is, alas, the season's dupe and finds herself the captive of Zoom as a result,

Dr. Harrison Wells - The creator of S.T.A.R. Labs on Earth-2, he comes through the breach to attack metahumans Zoom. On Earth-1 to save his daughter's life, he is instantly mistrusted by The Flash's team. He outs Cisco for his ability in order to start using Cisco's powers to find metahumans. He feels guilty about causing the dark matter accident on his Earth and its resulting in his daughter getting captured by Zoom. When Patty shoots him, he is rescued by an unlikely individual. He continues to prioritize saving his daughter's life over working with the S.T.A.R. Labs team, which makes him willing to abandon his entire world to Zoom in exchange for his daughter's safety,

Cisco Ramon - The enthusiastic, geeky scientist and inventor at S.T.A.R. Labs, he names most of the adversaries The Flash encounters. He continues to suffer visions of other people and places - often with time displacement - which causes Dr. Stein to recognize him for being a metahuman. To try to verify Wells's story, he "vibes" him and confirms that Zoom has Jesse captive on Earth-2. He takes a chance and starts dating a beautiful new barista, only for her to discover that she is a reincarnated Egyptian priestess. He continues to develop his powers, especially after he sees what his Earth-2 doppelganger can do and realizes he is only using a fraction of his potential,

Patty Spivot - A young police officer who loves reading Barry Allen's forensics reports and argues Joe into letting her join the Anti-Metahuman Task Force. Her father was killed by Mark Mardon, the Weather Wizard, and she wants to stop metahumans who harm others. She does not like lying, especially to Barry when her work requires it. She quickly deduces Barry is (temporarily) blind on their first date. Irked by Barry and Joe keeping secrets from her, she is fast on the trigger when she tracks down Dr. Wells. She is given the opportunity to end Mark Mardon's life at Christmas and shortly thereafter, she comes to believe Barry is withholding something critical from her. She has to consider her deferred admission to forensics school when her relationship with Barry is on the rocks,

Wally West - The son of Joe West and Iris's mother, he was born without Joe ever knowing about him, which leads him to harbor a pretty serious resentment toward Joe. He is into drag racing and is obsessed with speed, which worries Iris and puts him on the wrong side of the law for Joe's comfort. After his mother dies, he begins to spend more time with Joe and Iris, but gets tired of living in Barry Allen's shadow. He wants to design faster car engines until he is inspired by Joe and The Flash to want to help others,

and Jay Garrick - The first major visitor from Earth-2, he was a speedster on Earth-2 (their Flash) when he was fighting Zoom and pulled over to Earth-1. After surveilling The Flash and his team, he reveals himself to them and Barry is immediately suspicious of him. He helps build the speed cannon to stabilize the breach between worlds in the S.T.A.R. Labs basement, which makes Dr. Snow enamored with him. He is initially resistant to take the speed drug Drs. Snow and Wells create. After his first successful attempt to use a drug to bring the Speed Force back into his body, he is forced to confess to Dr. Snow that he is dying and she begins to work to save his life.

The performances in the second season of The Flash are quite good. Grant Gustin continues to develop as both Barry Allen and The Flash. Gustin and Candice Patton play off one another quite well and in the second season, the two are finally able to explore some chemistry between their characters and the actors land it wonderfully. Carlos Valdez continues to develop as Cisco Ramon, which gives the actor more to perform than simply making quips. Like Danielle Panabaker, Valdez has the chance to play multiple characters and both performers do some awesome acting to portray their various characters.

Ultimately, the second season of The Flash is good, but more familiar than it is audacious, which makes it a somewhat tougher sell than the first.

For a more complete guide to the second season of The Flash, be sure to check out my reviews of each of the episodes of the second season at:
"The Man Who Saved Central City"
"Flash Of Two Worlds"
"Family Of Rogues"
"The Fury Of Firestorm"
"The Darkness And The Light"
"Enter Zoom"
"Gorilla Warfare"
"Legends Of Today"
"Running To Stand Still"
"Potential Energy"
"The Reverse-Flash Returns"
"Fast Lane"
"Welcome To Earth-2"
"Escape From Earth-2"
"King Shark"
"Versus Zoom"
"Back To Normal"
"The Runaway Dinosaur"
"The Race Of His Life"

For other works from the 2015 – 2016 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Game Of Thrones - Season 6
Grace And Frankie - Season 2
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 3
The Walking Dead - Season 6
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 1
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 4
Doctor Who - Season 9


For other television and movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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