Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E15 - 'King Shark'

Judging this episode purely by the available preview information, I have to admit that I was actually a little worried, coming in. The idea of an episode based around a character like 'King Shark', allowing him to return to the spot-light after his too brief cameo appearance earlier in the season, was certainly appealing - but, it seemed oddly placed coming so soon after the previous two episodes. With Zoom once more (finally) brought properly back into focus, it had seemed like a shame to suddenly move away from that and toward a stand-alone episode - regardless of how much fun that stand-alone episode might prove to be.

Thankfully, having actually seen the episode now, I can admit that my initial impression of this episode was incorrect. The presence of King Shark did bring a necessary lightness of tone to the episode, sure. After all, much like with Gorilla Grodd, this entirely CGI creation is another of those classic 'absurd' comic-book moments that the show has done so well. As intimidating as he proved to be, King Shark is still, by his very nature, a character that appeals primarily to that simple love of comic-book silliness that so many fans of The Flash share (again, much like Gorilla Grodd). It's definitely to the creator's credit that they didn't waste any time trying to make him appear as anything else, either. But, King Shark is also fair from all that this episode is about.

Initially picking up only moments after the end of the previous episode, with Jay Garrick having just been pulled back through the rapidly closing rift by Zoom, this episode immediately showed that it wasn't going to be brushing aside anything that had happened on Earth-2. With Caitlin momentarily in a state of shock, and Barry desperate to reopen the breach so that he can rescue Jay, Harrison Wells is forced to admit that a return trip to Earth-2 is effectively impossible - and, that they have no choice but to deal with this new tragedy, and try to move on with their lives.

And, so they do - with a quick montage suggesting the passage of an unknown period of time as each character attempts (with varying degrees of success) to return to something resembling a normal life.

When King Shark does finally appear, it almost seems to come as a relief to Barry - who, at this point, is clearly desperate to have something else to focus his attention on. When King Shark manages to escape from the ARGUS facility where he was, apparently, being held since his last brief appearance (having not been killed, after all), his only true focus is the mission that he has been given by Zoom - still believing that killing the Flash would allow him to return home. Making his way toward Central City, he is trailed by Lyla (Audry Marie Anderson), the new head of ARGUS following Amanda Waller's death, and John Diggle (David Ramsey) - each taking the opportunity to cross over from Arrow.

King Shark is, as I have already mention, a purely 'comic-book' style villain - and, one that is more likely to bring out giddy excitement in the audience, rather than any true sense of dread (he is, after all, a giant shark-man). Though, that being said, the CGI work that went into creating him, in the few minutes in which he was actually on screen, was extremely impressive - and, voice-work provided by David Hayter managed to strike a good balance between absurdly over-the-top villain and genuine threat. The episode's final action sequence, which saw King Shark and the Flash engaged in a chase over water (with Barry running on water while King Shark swam beneath), would also have to count as one of the truly great 'special effects' moments of the show, so far. Also, the sheer number of Jaws related jokes and references that King Shark's appearance encouraged was very much appreciated.

But, King Shark aside, this was still a very dramatic episode of The Flash. Cisco and Barry each found themselves struggling with their knowledge of what occurred on their trip to Earth-2. For Barry, the lingering feeling of guilt that he felt over what he saw as his role in the death of Earth-2's Joe West eventually got the better of him - leading to him eventually breaking down and confessing the true reason for his increasingly strange behaviour to Joe and Iris. For Cisco, his encounter with Killer Frost seems to have left him somewhat paranoid that Caitlin's increasingly 'cold' behaviour following Jay's apparent death might be the start of her following a similar path to her villainous double.

Of the two, Cisco's arc in this episode is clearly the more comedic - with his exaggerated reactions often acting as a means of lightening the mood, somewhat. But, even here, there is still a clear dramatic edge to his interaction with Caitlin - her behaviour is, after all, motivated by her very real grief at losing Jay just as the two were in the process of becoming close. That being said, though, this particular character arc between Caitlin and Cisco did resolve itself with a genuinely hilarious scene in which Caitlin manages to scare Cisco by playing the part of 'Killer Frost' - and, it also come to a close with Caitlin's touching request that Cisco have a little more faith in her.

Along with that, there were more moments of family drama for the West family as, with Wally finally seeming to have become a true part of the family, Joe is eager to push Wally and Barry to get to know each other. This, of course, proved to be a more difficult task than expected, as Barry's efforts to help Wally with an engineering project only served to alienate Wally - and, it was revealed that Wally clearly had issues with Barry's place in the West family. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure I fully understand what Wally's issues with Barry actually are, though. He seems to have got the impression that Joe and Iris have placed Barry up on a pedestal, and resents that they regard him as part of the family - but, it comes across as a bit forced. Also, I have a hard time accepting that this is the first time the exact circumstances that lead to Barry joining the West family were ever mentioned (at the very least, I would have assumed that Wally would have been curious enough to ask). But, still, that final moment between Wally and Joe seemed to indicate that some understanding had been reached - so, while the tension between Wally and Barry wasn't entirely convincing in this episode, they may be able to move things in a more interesting direction in the future.

In all, though, that one (and, admittedly, rather minor) detail was the only true issue I had with what was a pretty great episode of The Flash. King Shark looked great. Diggle's baffled reaction to the increasingly strange world he finds himself in is always hilarious. Lyla's no-nonsense determination to take ARGUS in a better direction promises interesting developments for the future. And, the long-term fallout of the Earth-2 adventure was played out in a serious and satisfying way.

Of course, despite what the team currently think, they clearly haven't seen the last of either Zoom or Earth-2 - and, Barry's end-of-episode declaration that they needed to find a way to reopen a breach clearly indicated that he was determined to finally stop Zoom. So, I am definitely still eager to see how all of that plays out in the future.

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