[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for The Flash Season 2, Episode 13.]
As last week's episode brought the cast of The Flash onto the same page, joining forces to rescue Harrison Wells' daughter from the clutches of Zoom by taking the fight to his Earth, the episode that actually showed that leap had plenty to deliver on. Surprisingly, the team had made little progress in their aims by the end of the episode - but considering how the time on Earth-2 has been spent so far, we doubt many fans will be complaining.
In "Welcome to Earth-2", directed by Millicent Shelton and written by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg and Katherine Walczak, Barry (Grant Gustin) takes the place of his Earth-2 counterpart to safely look into Zoom's kidnapping of the young Jesse Wells. But before his investigation can get underway, the doppelgangers of Iris West (Candice Patton), Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and some former friends turned metahuman foes show up to change the game. Back at home, Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears) has to battle a personal demon to protect Central City in his counterpart's absence.
After weeks (or months, as it seemed to feel like) without any real progress into the conflict with Zoom, a trip to Earth-2 turned out to be just what was needed for the show as a whole. True, the conflict doesn't take up a majority of the episode, but the energy, excitement, emotion and fun brought into the mix by the new characters seems to be coming from the writers directly. With the showrunners handling the story duties as The CW expands its TV universe into a Multiverse, the result is as refreshing, comedic, and entertaining as fans have come to expect.
In the end, the satisfaction may be a result of the cast's talents being underused so far this season. Grant Gustin is as charming as ever, playing double-duty as Barry and his powerless, but just as enthusiastic Earth-2 version, but it's the other cast members who get to flex their muscles.
As Barry's assertive wife, Patton offers an Iris that is still the same at heart, but able to indulge in the lighter spirits and fun that her Earth-1 tragedies have ruled out (for now). The same goes for Joe, with his relationship to Barry turned completely on its head, or Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), re-imagined as the villain of the story (until Zoom arrives, at any rate).
Aside from the obvious fan service of seeing Barry and Iris get to actually lock lips, the doppelganger mechanism is used to perfection. Where veteran fans will be thrilled to see Killer Frost (Danielle Panabaker) and Deathstorm (Robbie Amell) appear in their famous comic book forms, even casual viewers may find these versions of the characters more appealing regardless of all other factors.
Either way, they're still up to the task of offering a slightly-more-compelling 'monster of the week' than fans have proven they're willing to accept.
It seems the showrunners are almost inviting fans to join in on the fun, after weeks of plotlines flirted more with angst and stagnation than fantasy and excitement. After all, everyone knows that Barry Allen and his friends will survive the trip in one piece - why not use the lowered stakes to simply brighten things up, and get colorful, instead of contemplative?
Whatever the future may hold for these versions of the characters, it's clear that what viewers know as "Earth-2" is better known to the writers as a "playground."
Although most of the episode doesn't actually deal with Zoom, the final scenes change the status quo considerably. To this point in the season, the plan has seemed clear: Barry must train to be faster, as the S.T.A.R. Labs team tries to come up with some way of giving Barry a fighting chance if, and when, he finally faces Zoom. Since that ship has now sailed, with The Flash now a prisoner of Zoom's alongside Jesse Wells, it's impossible to know just what comes next.
That's just as much of a problem for the team back home, consisting of Caitlin, Jay, and Joe. It appears that Jay Garrick will finally get the chance to carry his own storyline with Barry out of the picture, battling his previous addiction to speed in the form of the drug 'Velocity 6/7/8.' His first attempt at a return to superheroics was underwhelming, but if the writers manage to give each of their speedster heroes a worthwhile journey, then all the better.
Taking the larger story shifts and villains, "Welcome to Earth-2" couldn't have come at a better time, delivering the kind of humor, heart, suspense, and comic book action that The Flash proved so skillful at from its first episodes. It's hard to know if the trend can continue, but enthusiasm for the remaining half of the season is the highest its been in weeks. Perhaps the cast should turn this Earth-2 detour into a more permanent residence...
The Flash returns next Tuesday with "Escape From Earth-2" @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: