Thursday, 11 February 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E13 - 'Welcome to Earth-2'

It would probably be fair to say that, since the moment when the audience was giving its first look at Earth-2 earlier in the season, audience anticipation for the inevitable episode to be set entirely within this strange new would would have been fairly high. Because, of course it was going to happen eventually. The retro-futuristic style of Earth-2 was, simply, too exciting a prospect not to be explored in more detail - and, then, there's the simple joy of having more fun with Earth-2 doubles of the established cast of characters.

The previous episode's final reveal that we would, most definitely, be heading to Earth-2, here, definitely raised my expectations for this episode, considerably - perhaps even unfairly so, to an extent. Though, fortunately, the second season's thirteenth episode also proved to be one of the true high-lights of the show, so far.

Beginning with that first trip through the last remaining portal between the two Earths (Barry having done a quick and thorough job of closing the rest as the episode opened), the episode wasted no time in giving the audience what the show's creators must have known we wanted. Accompanied by Barry and Cisco, Earth-2's Harrison Wells is finally able to return home to resume his desperate mission to rescue his daughter. As the trio arrive, though (and, after a few moments of 'sight-seeing' for Barry and Cisco), the true gravity of their situation reveals itself. It seems that, in the time that Wells has been gone, Zoom's activities have become increasingly violent - resulting in a strictly imposed, city-wide, curfew as the harried Central City police desperately try to protect the innocent citizens.

Realising that they don't have much time, Harrison is adamant that they need to find Zoom's base of operations as quickly as possible. Of course, they encounter almost immediate difficulties with the revelation that Cisco's 'vibe' abilities don't actually work on Earth-2. It's a fairly obvious development, sure - but, it's also an effective way of raising the stakes for the trio, as they are suddenly forced to come up with a hasty back-up plan.

Fortunately, just such a plan presents itself when Barry happens to catch a glimpse of his own Earth-2 double on the nightly news. Realising that Earth2's Barry Allen also works with the Central City Police Department, Barry quickly snatches up his double - determined to, temporarily, take his place in order to gain access to any information that the police may have about Zoom.

Of course, this new plan develops its own complications when Barry meets Detective Iris West - quickly learning, during what must have been a very confusing moment for someone who has struggle with his own feelings for Earth-1's Iris, that on this Earth, the two of them are actually married. Despite Wells's warning against letting himself get distracted from their true purpose, Barry finds himself getting emotionally involved.

At the same time, two of Earth-2's most notorious villains, Killer Frost and Deathstorm (Earth-2 doubles of Caitlin Snow and Ronnie Raymond) learn that travellers from another Earth have arrived in the city - and, working on behalf of Zoom, set out to track the new arrivals down. When Earth-2's doubles of Iris and Joe find themselves caught in the middle, Barry all but abandons their original plan to focus on Zoom, in order to help them.

Pretty much every moment of this episode that takes place on Earth-2 is fantastic - with the episode managing to find a great balance between the comedy of Barry and Cisco's reaction to this new world, and the character drama that results once Barry allows himself to get emotionally involved. A brief phone conversation between Barry and his mother, who is still very much alive on Earth-2, would have to be the main high-light, in terms of pure drama. While not played for the same level of drama, the idea that Earth-2's versions of Barry Allen and Joe West actually strongly dislike each other also provided a few moments of tension. Candace Patton and Jesse L. Martin also each had some great material to worth with, here, as they played versions of their already well established characters that managed to be both very different, yet still familiar - with Iris taking on the role of a tough CCPD detective, while Joe found himself reinvented as a lounge singer (and, a very talented one, too - though, I suppose that wouldn't have come as any surprise to fans of Jesse L. Martin).

Killer Frost and Deathstorm weren't exactly the most complex villains to have ever appeared on The Flash - but, they proved to be effective enough. Of course, the main draw for these two characters, in particular, is their status as villainous doubles of characters that the audience has already come to know - and, it seemed fairly clear that both Danielle Panabaker and Robbie Amell were determined to make the most of the opportunity to play villains. Even if their appearance in this episode did feel a bit like a gimmick, by the end, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable one.

The episode also managed to fit in some surprising appearance, along with the expected ones - with the stand-out probably being Floyd Lawton (known as 'Deadshot' on Earth-1), appearing as an almost comically inept officer of the CCPD. Though, Earth-2's version of Cisco finally revealing himself as the villain, Reverb, would probably come in as a close second. Then, there were the smaller moments - such as the brief appearance of Henry Hewitt (last seen, in a much more villainous role, in the season's fourth episode), and a brief reference to 'Mayor Snart' that I almost missed.

Of course, while the focus of the episode was clearly Earth-2, the rest of the cast left on Earth-1 weren't entirely brushed aside. With Barry gone, it was probably inevitable that an opportunistic meta-human would eventually arrive to take advantage of the suddenly defenceless city - and, while Geomancer (Adam Stafford) would probably have to rate as the most one-dimensional villain to ever feature on the show he did, at least, pose a plausible threat.

With Barry currently on Earth-2, it falls to Jay Garrick to temporarily resume his role as the Flash - taking a dose of Velocity-7 (Caitlin's improved version of the Velocity-6 drug developed by Harrison Wells on Earth-2) in order to regain his own speed for long enough to defeat Geomancer. It may not have lasted very long, but this was still a pretty great moment for Jay Garrick - a character who has often felt short-changed by the season, as a whole.

Seeing Jay, here, firing off sonic blasts by rapidly hammering on his helmet (something that managed to be both kind of goofy, yet still pretty impressive) may not entirely make up for the disappointing ways in which the character has been brushed to the side throughout the season - but, it definitely feels like a good start. Also, the revelation that it wasn't actually Zoom who had stolen Jay's powers, after all, was an interesting little twist. The idea that it was actually Jay's own fault, caused by his use of Wells's Velocity-6, added some extra complexity to the character that had also been missing. Like with previous episodes, the sub-plot given to Jay Garrick was still, unfortunately, something of a weak-link - though, at least this time, that had more to do with the high quality of the main plot, than it did with any lack of quality, here.

This thirteenth episode of the second season of The Flash would have to go down as, quite possibly, the best episode of the show, so far. The primary, Earth-2 based, plot-line was really everything that I had hoped it would be. Also, the episode even managed to find time to give Jay Garrick a moment in the spot-light back on Earth-1 - which, as someone who has always been frustrated by the poor use the show has made of a character with so much potential, I was definitely grateful for. And, of course, this was only the first half of a two-part story - with the episode ending on a pretty great cliff-hanger as Zoom, once more, re-emerges. I'll just have to hope that the next episode manages to maintain the momentum established here, as it brings Barry's Earth-2 adventure to a conclusion.

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