[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for The Flash Season 2, Episode 18.]
There's no doubt that the many breaks, vacations and hiatus enjoyed by The CW's comic book shows tend to stall the momentum and pacing, but that's a problem of the past. For now, The Flash has returned to start reaping what it planted when the season 2 villain, Zoom, made his shocking departure with Jay Garrick wrapped around his finger (literally). In a refreshing turn for fans of the series, most of the secrets seem well and truly out - leaving them to strap in for the action, betrayal, and endgame on its way.
In "Versus Zoom", directed by Stefan Pleszczynski and written by Joe Peracchio & David Kob, Barry (Grant Gustin) adds a new gadget to his arsenal, quadrupling his speed and convincing him he's finally ready to put an end to Zoom, once and for all. But he'll need Cisco (Carlos Valdes) to take a bold step forward to kick off the fight, and even his rigorous training isn't enough to prepare him - or his family - for the ends to which Zoom a.k.a. Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears) is willing to go to steal Barry's speed.
With a Little Help From My Friends...
With the tachyon technology acquired in the previous episode (courtesy of Eobard Thawne), Barry finally achieves his goal of becoming faster than Zoom - even if it is reliant on a gadget, not his own natural link to the Speed Force. Although Barry's skillset has expanded as the plot demanded to this point, it's a pleasant change of pace to see Cisco, not Barry, emphasized as the key to the problem at hand. Aside from giving Valdes an opportunity to show Cisco's superheroic bark may be worse than his bite, it allows Barry to take on a new role on the team.
It's been happening slowly, as Barry - formerly the tip of the entire S.T.A.R. Labs scientific 'spear' (or, depending on the job, its blunt instrument) - has finally begun calling the shots. Traveling back in time may be a different risk than inviting Zoom to a fight, but either way, Barry Allen has emerged as the one this cast now follows into danger. But, as his interaction with Cisco shows, he's determined to bring his friends along with him.
So the plot may demand Vibe suddenly learn how to open breaches between worlds, but with Barry urging him to follow in his footsteps, and Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) knowing when to follow, it's a development that pushes the cast and hero forward as it does the season-long plot. A crafty trick, when done right.
Hunter Zolomon, We Hardly Know You
"Versus Zoom" still packs a few surprises and mysteries, even though it opens by showing what seems to be the origin of the man known as Jay Garrick - in actuality, an Earth-2 resident named Hunter Zolomon. Having seen what people believed to have befallen Barry Allen - his father, murdering his mother in front of him - Hunter wound up an orphan, destined to become a serial killer. Apparently, that gained him a fair bit of notoriety, although no photos of him without the beard apparently ever circulated. The origin reveal doesn't end there, with Wells and Zolomon himself confirming that the particle accelerator gifted him his speed, and launched him on a mission to play the hero, Jay Garrick - to give Central City hope - and his true persona, Zoom - to take it away.
It's an interesting move to reveal so much and leave so little to the imagination. Assuming no world-altering twists are coming, the 'speed demon' identified by his shredded mouth, black eyes, and claws is nothing more than a man. A man who takes pleasure in killing and torturing, but a long step down from the 'monster' he was described as previously. Whether it makes his role as the big bad of the season more or less interesting... well, that will be for individual fans to decide.
It's impossible to overlook the fact that, thus far, the writers have essentially told the exact same narrative of the first season over again. To a shockingly close degree, too: mentor helps Barry get faster, develops close bonds with the team, only to reveal his true plan of using Flash for that speed, and reveling in the torment it wreaks upon the betrayed. That decision isn't to be commended, but if it was the plan all along, then at least the steps along the way have been executed well enough to keep satisfied viewers from noticing.
Lest we forget, there are still some mysteries that remain: the identity of the man in the mask (whose identity Barry "wouldn't believe" if Hunter told him), the "darkness" causing Zoom's black eyes and deepened voice, and, most obviously, how Barry is going to get his speed back.
Thankfully, this time around, the writers seems to have cleared the remaining plot holes, mysteries or shockers before moving onto their next batch.
Wally West as 'Bait'
Although the trajectory of Iris West's (Candice Patton) season-long story is still a bit awkward, and the use of Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) as bait - and not a moment before he was finally getting along with Joe! What terrible luck! - the writers have bought themselves another week. Having Wally pick up the father/son dynamic when Barry is off battling villains is fairly manipulative on a structure level, but both Lonsdale and Jesse L. Martin have found a way to make it heartwarming, if not particularly 'important.' Again, we would hope that the plan for Wally is larger than a deus ex machina, called upon when a hostage is needed. And, in fairness, Barry's instant decision to give up his speed in exchange for Wally's safety shows why The Flash has won fans for its honesty and non-soap-opera drama.
It looks like it will be Caitlin's turn to play the hostage for the next while, anyway. So let's hope Wally's run-in with the S.T.A.R. Labs team leads to even more fruitful plotlines soon.
The Flash continues with 'Back to Normal' next Tuesday @8pm on The CW. Watch a preview below: