The Flash: 202 “Flash of Two Worlds” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
If last week’s season opener was all about tying up loose ends from last season, then this week’s instalment was the inverse as we got our first look at the season’s Big Bad, the introduction of the multiverse, a substantial appearance from the Earth-2 Flash and an entrance for Barry’s new love interest. Flash of Two Worlds certainly didn’t shy away from bringing new elements in, but did they cohere well enough?
I shouldn’t have doubted this show. There were flaws here and there, but Flash of Two Worlds deftly managed a difficult balancing act, giving a satisfying and substantial introduction to just about every element. The concept of the undoubtedly complicated multiverse seemed to be a tricky prospect to introduce relatively soon after time travel, but, thankfully, this show has Victor Garber. The idea of a scientist giving a lesson to a character that doubles as a lesson to the audience is an old trope, but, aided by Garber’s consistently zany performance, Flash of Two Worlds managed to originally and comprehensibly explain the mind-bending worlds of alternate universes in a way that felt relatively organic and even a little amusing thanks to Joe’s utter bafflement (knowing that some viewers will be confused, The Flash wisely uses one of its best characters as the audience surrogate). After its early success with time travel, it’s becoming pretty clear that The Flash has a real knack for making bonkers comic-book concepts seem simple – lesser shows may have collapsed under the knotty weight of these heavy science-fiction concepts, but Flash of Two Worlds proved to be a strong introduction for a concept that could be used in quite literally an infinite number of ways, breaking it down in a way that made complex theoretical science seem almost simple.
Number two on the new arrivals list was Jay Garrick, the Flash of an alternate world. Jay losing his speed might seem like a contrivance to keep Barry as the only heroic speedster, but the idea of Jay as an experienced, world-weary mentor to Barry seemed to be yielding some strong results here – Teddy Sears delivers a decent encapsulation of Jay’s experience and slight sense of isolation here – and it seems like The Flash isn’t shying away from confronting the similarities to Harrison Wells, explicitly making that a plot point in a way that effectively displayed how Wells’ betrayal has impacted upon Barry’s psyche, and how Barry hasn’t entirely escaped the funk he began last week in. There was also the beginnings of an emotional arc for Jay regarding his loss of identity following the loss of his powers – it’s slim pickings for the time being, but it’s encouraging that The Flash appears to be delivering emotional consequence to a plot point that does smack of convenience and artificiality. As for the seemingly burgeoning interest between Caitlin and Jay – unfortunately, that plot point fails to hit the mark at all. It may have been six months in-universe since Ronnie’s death, but for the viewers it’s been merely one episode, making the clear attraction seem like a rushed and vaguely tasteless attempt to crowbar in some CW-mandated romance despite the fact that Caitlin’s previous love interest is fresh in every viewer’s mind. It could pay off later on down the line, but The Flash really ought to have held off for a couple of episodes before exploring Caitlin’s attempts to move on.
Speaking of romance – Barry’s new love interest, Patty Spivot, also made her entrance here. You can really see the writers straining to present Patty as a thoroughly likeable, relatable character viewers can really see fits Barry, and there’s a sense every now and then that the writers are trying a little too hard in their bid to make Patty an instant hit as a character, and sacrificing naturalism to fast-track Patty and Barry’s relationship. Still, their attempts do pay off, and Patty’s introduction is a genuine success. There’s clear, instant chemistry with Grant Gustin, and the geeky side of the character shows that The Flash’s writers are trying to do something entirely different than what they did with Iris – but most of all, it’s nice to see a capable, resourceful female character who can get involved in the action rather than sit on the sidelines. There’s welcome depth and vulnerability to the character beyond the capability, too, and the fact that Mark Mardon (Weather Wizard mark 2) was the cause of her metahuman obsession helps to deepen the show’s mythology while providing a motivation that’s enriched by viewer knowledge of previous episodes. However, there’s one fumble made with Patty, and that’s the choice to make her into a textbook damsel in distress for Barry to rescue. It’s logical, story-wise, but it’s an eye-rolling use of an exhausted and antiquated cliché that’s all too common in superhero TV, and an egregiously lazy and old-fashioned way to bring Patty and the Flash together. Arrow’s been guilty of this, too, and the showrunners should know a little better by now.
The Earth-2 metahuman of the week (we’ve had a slight upgrade) was Eddie Slick aka Sand Demon. Admittedly, Sand Demon is poorly developed, with the universal motivation of being sent by Zoom to kill the Flash robbing metahumans of even the pitiful level of depth they had before – but there are a couple of encouraging signs here. Flash of Two Worlds briefly makes enjoyable use of Sand Demon’s Earth-1 replica for a fun if brief switcheroo, and while the idea of Zoom sending superpowered minions to kill the Flash robs villains of their individuality, reducing them to glorified goons, it does provide fresh impetus and drive to the metahuman of the week plots that feels more sophisticated and exciting than the previous idea of metahumans milling around Central City until they decided to commit a crime. Zoom using the metahumans as his minions is actually a pretty good summation of the guy’s fearsomeness, and it’s simply a cleaner motivation for villains that links directly into the year’s story arc, providing an element of serialisation even to seemingly standalone episodes.
Sand Demon is actually overshadowed here by the aforementioned ‘demon’ Zoom, who made a couple of brief appearances here. Zoom’s appearances may have been little more than teasers for what’s to come, but there are a couple of things that are immediately apparent from his first appearance: Zoom is intimidating as hell, with a chilling vocal performance from Tony Todd that really does make Zoom sound like the demon that he’s been hyped as. Additionally, there’s an encouraging indicator that Zoom won’t be the Reverse Flash clone that people were concerned he would be – immediately, he’s a more nebulous and cryptic figure than the Reverse Flash, possessing no apparent relation to Barry aside from an entirely mysterious but extremely powerful grudge against him. Presumably, Zoom won’t be making a truly substantial appearance till the mid-season finale, but it’s one hell of an introduction for the new Big Bad nonetheless.
What really makes Flash of Two Worlds shine is the utterly barmy nature of it all. This is a wackier episode than anything The Flash has ever done, and that’s saying something – but somehow, it manages to imbue some level of gravitas and meaning into innately ridiculous ideas like Jay Garrick’s Mercury-inspired helmet and a man made of sand. It’s the philosophy of eschewing any kind of gritty realism and simply aiming to be a faithful live-action adaptation of a comic book that’s worked consistently for this show, and it’s paying off even further as the show delves into increasingly crazy concepts. This is an episode that accurately recreates the iconic ‘Flash of Two Words’ cover as Barry and Jay zip over to help Patty, and I’m really not sure I expected anything like that when the show kicked off with a relatively conventional trio of opening episodes last year. The fact that we have an episode starring a faithful version of Jay Garrick that delves into the idea of Earth-2 is frankly amazing, but it’s a testament to the way The Flash portrays all this that it never feels impenetrable or exclusively tailored to comic book fans. Flash of Two Worlds works as both a slice of hugely entertaining science fiction for any viewer to enjoy, and as a faithful comic-book adaptation, and that’s pretty damn impressive.
And then there’s the stinger, a reassuring return to the mind-bending twists that closed off almost every episode of season one. This one was a real doozy, however, as Tom Cavanagh made his shock return as the Earth-2 version of the real Harrison Wells. It’s the framing of the scene that really elevates this killer twist, building slowly to the reveal of the ‘saviour of Central City’ and leaving us with a seemingly innocent line from Wells that seems so much more sinister with the viewer knowledge of what ‘Wells’ had done over in Earth-1. It’s hard to see how Earth-2 Wells will be a particularly regular fixture, but it’s thrilling to see Tom Cavanagh back nonetheless, with Cavanagh loading his brief line with all the subtle and insidious menace he can muster. Welcome back, Harrison Wells.
Flash of Two Worlds feels like the true beginning of season two, with a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to a multitude of characters that never once threatens to collapse under the weight of tasks it has to perform. It’s not The Flash at full speed, but this is an encouraging indication that the writers haven’t lost sight of the comic book insanity that made season one so fun.