Thursday, 21 April 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E18 - 'Versus Zoom'

Over the course of the second season of The Flash, the series has managed to do an impressive job of establishing Zoom as a legitimately intimidating threat. Though, to be fair, the way in which they did that was to, essentially, make him a fairly straightforward 'horror' villain. With a combination of intimidating voice (provided by Tony Todd), and imposing appearance (thanks to the show's costume designers), it hasn't even mattered that his motivation had been kept vague until only recently – just having him on-screen was enough. But, of course, with recent developments finally revealing exactly who it is beneath that intimidating mask, the most important question, now, is whether Zoom/Hunter Zolomon is going to be as effective and entertaining a villain as 'Zoom' had been.

This episode does get off to fairly impressive start in that regard, though, with a flash-back to Hunter Zolomon's own childhood on Earth-2. Here, we had what seems like the perfect example of a classic 'villain' origin story – an abusive father who forced the young Hunter to watch while he murdered Hunter's mother. It would have to be one of the most disturbing scenes that has ever been shown on The Flash – something that might still be fairly tame by the standards of other shows, perhaps, but which still formed a fairly stark contrast to the usually light tone of The Flash. It was also interesting to have this opening sequence go out of its way to draw a parallel between Barry Allen and Hunter Zolomon – with attention once more turning toward Barry's own tragic childhood.

The importance of this parallel became especially noticeable later in the episode, too – with the episode's increasing emphasis on the importance of family. While the tragedy that each experienced in their childhood is very similar, this opening sequence also goes on to firmly establish the key difference between them – that being the love and support that Barry received when he was taken in by the West family, while the young Hunter was left practically abandoned in an orphanage.

Beyond that, we also discovered two more important details about Hunter Zolomon – the most important of which being that Hunter Zolomon and Jay Garrick are actually the same person, after all. The mystery of how, exactly, Zoom could have killed Jay in front of the entire team is pretty clearly resolved in this episode – though, I suppose, whether the explanation is one that you can except is another matter, entirely.

Personally, though, I'm not sure that I do. When you combine what we see here with what has also been established on Legends of Tomorrow, it begins to feel as though the creator's just haven't been clear enough on how time travel works in this version of the DC Universe – so, the idea that Zoom could, apparently, travel back in time and make a deal with his past self (so that he could, in a very real sense, by in two places at once), struck me as something that needed much more clarification than the frustratingly off-hand explanation we were given.

Along with that, though, we also had the much more disturbing revelation that, on Earth-2, Hunter Zolomon had grown up to become a notorious serial killer – something which instantly establishes this unmasked villain as every bit as threatening as his costumed persona. I have, over the course of the season, had some issue with the way that Jay Garrick had been treated – and, with the way that he had often been pushed to the side, and left in the background. I have also had an issue with the fact that his relationship with Caitlin hasn't been entirely convincing. But, the reveal it had actually been Hunter Zolomon, a notorious serial killer, playing the role of a 'nice guy' all along definitely adds a disturbing edge to all of those past scenes. It's the sort of reveal that retroactively improves on the events of the past (very similar to the reveal of Chronos's true identity on Legends of Tomorrow, in fact) – so, the creator's deserve some credit for being able to pull off such an interesting twist.

With the basis of this episode been another confrontation between Barry and Zoom, of course, there was still the matter of exactly how the team planned on opening a breach to Earth-2 – and, even, of whether they even should. Joe and Wells both seemed fairly adamant that returning to Earth-2 was a bad idea – but, of course, Barry just couldn't bare the thought of leaving the people of Earth-2 at Zoom's mercy. With Barry finally discovering a means of matching Zoom's speed, it ultimately fell to Cisco to tap into his own rapidly growing powers to make this re-match possible.

The fact that it would be Cisco who would, ultimately, have the means of re-opening a breach to Earth-2 provided a great moment of the character, as he inched his way closer to becoming 'Vibe'. It also made this a particularly great episode for Carlos Valdes – with Cisco's almost overly earnest fear that his rapidly increasing powers might ultimately corrupt him (to the extent of even comparing himself to Anakin Skywalker) leading to a moment that was actually genuinely touching, when it could have just as easily led to eye-rolling from the audience.

Those moments of direct confrontation between Barry and Zoom were also very effective – lacking some of the visual spectacle that we have had in the past, sure, but making up for it with great moments of tense character drama. Teddy Sears's performance in the role of a recently unmasked villain might swing a little too far toward over 'scenery chewing', sure – but, it is still a very entertaining performance.

Unfortunately, as great as all of this is, it does all lead to a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. The idea that it would be Wally West, of all people, who Zoom would choose to take hostage as part of his latest effort to steal Barry's speed struck me as a strange choice. As a means of finally drawing the character more directly into the action, it worked – but, given the long list of other potential candidates, it did feel as though that was really the only reason that Wally would have been taken.

Also, the idea that Barry would be so willing to go along with Zoom's demands, even after ensuring that Wally was safe, just seemed foolish, to me. It's all well and good to play up the 'honourable' nature of your typical super-hero – but, the end sequence of this episode managed to portray the entire team as taking this to a truly absurd extreme. I'm anticipating that the next episode is going to reveal Barry to have had some sort of back-up plan in place – because, otherwise, it just feels like a classic example of a character forced to make poor decisions just for the sake of drama.

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