[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS up to The Flash Season 2, Episode 18.]
The secret was out, but now it's really out: the big bad of The Flash 's second season has been in plain sight the entire time, delivering yet another speedster mentor who was really out to steal Barry Allen's speed for himself. Jay Garrick is Zoom-- well, actually, Hunter Zolomon is Zoom, and Jay Garrick is... nobody. The most recent episode of The Flash may have clarified the lingering questions and riddles of the season's earlier cliffhanger in the least elegant way - having the villain literally explain each step - but answers are answers, and fans got more than they bargained for.
Still, it's been a fairly complicated and time-travel-ish path to this point, so to make sure that each and every viewer can finally put things together, we've broken down the secret plot of the season from start to finish. Most fans have probably put together some, if not all of the twists and explanations, but the actual story is now simpler than we would have predicted. Well, as simple a plot involving time travel, parallel worlds and dual identity murderers really can be.
Hunter Zolomon's Origin Story
Ever wonder what makes a serial killer in the world of The CW's superheroes? According to Harrison Wells - upon learning that 'Jay Garrick' may be an alias, with 'Hunter Zolomon' his actual identity - it's the terrible childhood that befell Zolomon, forced to witness his father abusing his mother. Whatever the cause (trauma from his time at war overseas is implied), James Zolomon decided it was best to kill his wife in front of their son, Hunter. In a twisted bit of fate, it was the same act many (including Joe West) believed Barry Allen had witnessed himself.
Dispatched to the Central City Orphanage (which on Earth-2 seems to be built on the ruins of the Queen mansion?), Hunter was sent on his way to becoming a serial killer with odd notions of what 'being a hero' truly means... something he got from his father, we suppose. But after murdering a total of 23 people, becoming famous on the serial-killer-free Earth-2, Hunter was committed to an insane asylum, and forced to undergo electro-shock therapy as treatment.
Zolomon Becomes Zoom... & The Flash?
Although the actual origin story as shown in The Flash is a bit of a mystery - after all, we're just being shown what happened to Zolomon, when no character present could actually confirm what happened - but it seems to play out as seen here. Again, it's possible that Harrison Wells of Earth-2 was completely aware that the S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator explosion of his Earth turned Zolomon into the monster known as Zoom. But it would then be unclear how he would know that, but not... you know, what Zolomon looked liked without a beard.
Either way, it was during one of Zolomon's electricity-fueled 'therapy sessions' that the "dark matter" infiltrated the building, sending everyone in the room flying, and apparently flooding Zolomon's cells with the same Speed Force energy that turned Barry Allen into The Flash.
In one moment, giving birth to the speed demon known as Zoom, and at the same time, the heroic alter ego that Zolomon would create. Because playing Zoom and the plucky hero fighting him was in the words of the man himself, "fun." And Earth-2 was his playground.
Experimentation with Velocity 6 Begins
While it's a little surprising that such a deeply disturbed individual could keep up the role of a superhero for so long, Hunter couldn't stay in control forever. And when he discovered that Harrison Wells was concocting a formula dubbed 'Velocity' that would ramp up a person's speed, his next adventure was obvious. Whether Wells' experiments with the drug were made known to 'Jay' (as a potential gift that would allow him to defeat Zoom) or simply uncovered and stolen by his Zoom persona, Velocity 6 proved a successful batch.
Unfortunately, as Jay soon explained to Caitlin Snow, and the entire team got to see up close with the speedster Trajectory, the added velocity came at a price. It would boost the Speed Force in a person's cells, but eventually, start to kill the body on a cellular level.
Since Hunter actually seemed to develop a real connection to Caitlin (not all that surprising, given that the only other woman he loved was murdered in front of him), we can put some weight into his explanation. The drug proved addictive, and while it turned his lightning blue to show how it was changing his body chemistry, it was eating away at his cells so quickly, only the super-healing effects of the Speed Force could keep death at bay. And when Trajectory pushed those same limits with her own mix of Velocity, the Speed Force couldn't keep her from being turned to dust.
But something had to give, and as Hunter explained to Caitlin, his continued drug use severed his connection to the Speed Force, leaving the drug as his only source of power... while it would also kill him in due time.
The only solution, then, was more speed. But not from a bottle or electric chair - he'd need a legitimate speedster to tap into for himself.
What perfect timing, then, that just as his options seemed to be running out along with his days, that a hole should be torn in the sky above Central City, granting access to a brand new world. It's still unclear just how Hunter managed to traverse the singularity, but judging by his knowledge of breaches, quark matter and experimental physics, it's clear that he was a murderer, but not an idiot. With breaches all over the city, Hunter took the trip to see if his answer could be found on the other side.
What he found was an answer to his prayers: a parallel universe speedster who acquired his own connection to the Speed Force the same way he had, taking the same heroic name and mission. But he had yet to truly tap into the incredible speed that Hunter needed, which meant he had some work to do.
And so began the surveillance, learning his target's every motivation, acquaintance, and footstep, until he set the plan in motion. In short, fattening up his golden goose before he would slaughter it to gain even more power.
Hunter Makes His Move
It probably should have raised some suspicions at the time when Hunter-- sorry, 'Jay' arrived at S.T.A.R. Labs, having learned everything there was to know about this world's resident super speedster (and his family and friends). Potentially recognizing that Barry was still in need of a mentor, Hunter arrived to offer just that, perfectly camouflaged in the 'oh golly' personality that won him so many fans on Earth-2. So as not to arouse suspicion, he also decided not to use the speed that Velocity gave him - meaning the tests performed on him to determine any ulterior motives would come back negative, since he really wasn't connected to the Speed Force any more.
Everything seemed to be going perfectly to plan, as Hunter would blackmail Earth-2 criminals into murdering Barry Allen, pushing the hero's abilities farther and farther, accessing more and more of the Speed Force he so badly needed to one day steal. It would have worked without incident, too, if Caitlin hadn't started looking a bit closer at Hunter's test results, realizing that he wasn't as normal as he claimed. He was dying, and had to keep her from interfering with a plan that was proceeding beautifully.
Throwing Caitlin Off The Scent
When Caitlin revealed that she had already done some digging, and discovered that the name 'Jay Garrick' couldn't be found on this Earth, Hunter realized that he had to act to keep his secret (otherwise Caitlin could realize Hunter was using an alias). Whether he then found his doppelganger, or had discovered him earlier out of curiosity (who wouldn't do the same), Hunter escorted Caitlin to a park where she could see his doppelganger in the flesh. You see, Jay wasn't the alias, he claimed, it was this man who went by a made up name.
And, having already found his doppelganger with this crazy, 'Hunter Zolomon' title applied by his adoptive parents, he had already found that they were no longer genetic matches and therefore couldn't be turned to for healthy tissue. It was a clever move on Hunter's part, taking advantage of Caitlin's trust... and apparently, making the massive gamble that she would never share this information with the other Earth-2 resident in the next room. Or, in his defense, it's possible that Hunter Zolomon may not have known just how famous he had become. Whatever the case, things returned to normal, with Barry growing faster and faster. But when Barry decided to head through the breach to face Zoom on his own turf, Hunter suddenly has a new problem to solve.
He Can't Be Two Places At Once
Whether by plan or by prediction, Hunter knew, or suspected that Barry, Harrison Wells and Cisco traveling over to Earth-2 could cause the breach between the two worlds to collapse. And anyone with the smarts of your typical comic book move TV show viewer would be able to tell that Jay actually disappearing when Zoom was on Earth-2, or vice versa was suspicious. So, as he explained to the entire team in the most recent episode, "Versus Zoom," he needed to find a way to be in two places at once: the answer was a time remnant, retrieved from the past.
If you were wondering if or when Harrison Wells' explanation of why Eobard Thawne could still be alive would come back into play, it's here. Hunter saw the problem coming so he took a trip back in time (don't look too closely at that though, since we're guessing the writers don't want fans wondering how accessible time travel is to Hunter Zolomon) to cross paths with a former version of himself - just as Barry did when he recently sought help defeating a Time Wraith. Since his former self was as insane as he is, the beauty of the plan convinced him to come along for the ride - despite it ending in his own death.
"So," the science fiction buffs will no doubt ask, "how could Hunter kill himself in the past and still remain alive in the present?" It's a question that the writers smartly posed, and answered earlier in the show's second season, when Eobard Thawne arrived - for the first time, in his mind - after Eddie Thawne had killed himself, rendering his offspring nonexistent, and dissolving Eobard Thawne in an instant. Eddie killing himself should have erased every action Thawne ever took, right?
Wrong. As Harrison Wells explained, the past wasn't change by Eddie's actions since Eobard Thawne was, presumably, lost in the timestream to enough of a degree to go on existing. Although Thawne's past would never happen again, it already did for him,meaning his past actions - like arriving to discover Barry Allen's time period - would play out as it had. A man without past or future, he became, in the words of Wells, a "time remnant." The same logic is at work in Hunter's plan, presuming (correctly) that killing another version of himself wouldn't change his own existence. To put it simply: he didn't go back in time and kill himself, he killed another Hunter in the present.
The science here is obviously messy and unclear for that very reason, but Hunter's plan seemed to have been carried off perfectly. Travel back, tell your younger self of the plan, have them remain on Earth-1 with Caitlin and Iris as he wreaks havoc on Earth-2, and finally, tie up the last loose end in truly memorable fashion.
The Last Push Barry Needed
An arm through the chest is a hard thing to forget, but you have to hand it to Hunter: his master plan accomplished multiple tasks at once. Going back and partnering with his younger self allowed him to be on two Earths at once, but it also provided the perfect moment to guarantee his plan would go off perfectly. Not only would 'Jay's death confirm once and for all that Zoom had to be some other being, or person, but the loss of yet another mentor would drive Barry to become as fast as possible like nothing else could. Revenge is a powerful motivator, and as Hunter sat on Earth-2 and waited, Barry performed as if his strings were being pulled from another world.
Of course, the truth of Jay's death raises one major question: what did Hunter mean when he returned to his Earth-2 lair to state that "this complicates things"? While it now seems to be breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience, Hunter could have been referring to the closed breach, with absolutely nobody on his side as collateral, leaving only Barry's need to defeat him as the reason their paths should ever cross.
The real irony, of course, is that Hunter murdered his Earth-1 self before he could tell him Caitlin seemed well on her way to finding a permanent, non-harmful version of Velocity... oh well.
The Final Bargain
As expected, Barry seemed unable to just let Zoom go on terrorizing another parallel world - or, maybe, he actually did remember his promise to rescue the masked man in Zoom's dungeon, despite never mentioning it again. With the help of Cisco and Wells, Hunter got the breach he'd been waiting for, and headed to Earth-1 to reap the speed he helped sow. He was surprised to find that Wells and Allen had actually managed to amplify his speed well beyond his own, but simply kidnapping the newest member of the West Family took care of any imbalance.
And as he had planned from the very beginning, he stood opposite Barry, faster than ever, accessing even more of the Speed Force that would return Hunter's health and grant him nearly limitless speed. In exchange for a boy he hardly knew, it was his... for now, anyway.
The Mysteries That Remain
His plan seems completely reveal for now, or at least self-contained without dealing with the other mysteries that do remain. There looks to be more than just speed behind Hunter's experiments with Velocity, for one, going by his transformation just before escaping from the trap set by Barry and his friends. Claiming that "you can't lock up the darkness,", Hunter's eyes and voice became those of Zoom, before speeding away yet again. Assuming that it isn't merely a vocal trick for the sake of being 'extra spooky,' there are symptoms or illnesses - or even... beings? - Hunter is dealing with that we have yet to discover.
The mystery of the man in the iron mask also remains, with Barry asking Hunter who the man really is (but again keeping quiet about his promise to rescue him). And in true Flash fashion, the writers answer almost all of the lingering questions while raising entirely new ones. Hunter does offer an answer of sorts - that "you wouldn't believe me if I told you" - so it seems to be a question that absolutely will be answered, but may be a little too outlandish to heap onto the already ludicrous proceedings.
So there you have it: Hunter Zolomon's master plan, from the moment he decided it would be even more fun to play both a supervillain AND his heroic nemesis, to the jaw-dropping and completely confusing death of Jay Garrick at the hands of Zoom.
We hope that seeing the plan in a simple order helps dispel some of the confusion that may cause fans to feel that they've missed an important beat, and can get every fan on equal footing as the show launches into the final episodes of its second season.
The Flash airs Tuesdays @8pm on The CW.