The Flash: 214 “Escape from Earth-2” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Last week, The Flash picked up speed with a season-best episode that allowed us our first substantial look at Earth-2, with all the doppelganger action you’d expect. Welcome to Earth-2 was primarily concerned with exploratory wonderment and drawing the contrasts between the two worlds, but with last week’s cliffhanger seeing Zoom capturing Barry, it was time for The Flash to go full speed ahead with the Zoom storyline…
Despite being a relatively consistent show, The Flash’s weakest episodes tend to come after its strongest ones – but that wasn’t the case here. Escape from Earth-2 wasn’t quite as great as last week, but this was still a strong instalment that confidently stuck the landing with our excursion to Earth-2. Fittingly, it’s on the parallel world where the episode derives most of its success, with the Earth-2 storyline benefiting from a propulsive pace and solid character material that ensured those scenes were consistently compelling.
A major contributor for the strength of Earth-2’s storylines was the increased focus on Zoom. Escape from Earth-2 offered few answers to the recurring mystery over his identity, but that’s actually becoming an increasingly less relevant question to this reviewer. Zoom is a terrific villain, exuding a genuinely chilling presence whenever he’s on screen with his unsettling lack of remorse, mercy and… well, just about any human emotion, but I think the reason why Zoom is working so well is that he’s completely unknowable. Zoom is a deliberate cipher of a character – his motivations are nebulous and uncertain beyond stealing the Flash’s speed, and there’s generally very little humanity for the viewer to latch onto like there was with the Reverse Flash. This sense of total mystery is allowing Zoom to feel genuinely powerful and unpredictable, and Escape from Earth-2 only increases Zoom’s fearsomeness in that regard by taking pains to portray his merciless brutality that occurs with very little justification – there’s no particular reason for Zoom to beat up Barry, but that just helps to make him more volatile as a bad guy. Zoom’s identity is undoubtedly an intriguing mystery, but right now he’s working excellently as a blank force of nature, and hence any plot twist that would heighten his humanity seems almost unnecessary.
Speaking of mysteries, Escape from Earth-2 layers another one on top of the Zoom mystery in the form of Zoom’s iron-masked prisoner. It’s another guess-the-identity mystery, but it works because we’re given some substantial, very intriguing clues about this guy’s place in the Zoom saga. The masked man’s tapping out of ‘Jay’ increases the intrigue of the relatively pedestrian Earth-1 storyline by raising questions about the legitimacy of Jay’s actions, making innocuous moments such as Jay going to ‘take a nap’ seem notably suspicious, but it assumes a far greater significance when the end of the episode is considered. Is ‘Jay’ the masked man? Is he Zoom? Does Jay’s Earth-1 counterpart factor into this? Is it all just a red herring? It’s enough to make his reviewer’s head spin, but that’s what The Flash does when it’s at its freewheeling best; adding complications to seemingly simple mysteries that render previously simple answers as ‘impossible’ (take the moment where the Reverse-Flash beat up Wells, for instance).
If Welcome to Earth-2 was concerned with exploring the differences between our Earth-1 and Earth-2 characters, then Escape was focused on two doppelgangers revealing their underlying similarities to their familiar, heroic Earth-1 counterparts. With Killer Frost, Escape takes her rejection of the name ‘Caitlin’ last week and uses it as the engine of a compelling, ultimately satisfying character journey. The episode is about as patient as it can be with this journey, showcasing plenty more of the unrepentantly villainous side of the character, but it adds depth and emotional resonance to Killer Frost’s actions by implying that her card-carrying, evil persona is merely to convince herself that she’s no longer Caitlin, because that more sympathetic side is far more prevalent than she wants to believe. Coupled with the fact that both Killer Frost and Earth-1 Caitlin save the day by incapacitating the villain, Killer Frost’s character journey is a solid exploration of how compassion and empathy lurk under people who appear to revel in their lack of morality. The ending to Killer Frost’s story is a satisfying one, too, revealing her inability to stand back and watch Zoom harm innocent people and allowing her a moment of redemption while keeping her fate ambiguous enough to warrant a return in the future.
Meanwhile, Earth-2 Barry finally received a fair bit of screen-time after sleeping through last week’s instalment. He’s a really fun presence here, with Grant Gustin clearly having a great deal of fun playing a fussy, milquetoast take on Barry that still retains a notable sliver of Earth-1 Barry’s familiar heroism. Earth-2 Barry’s character development is subtler than Killer Frost’s, with most of the build-up functioning as comic relief but it comes together nicely as a minor hero’s journey at the end of the episode, highlighting how ordinary heroism can be just as important as the spectacular brand of heroism that Barry practices. The pep talk in Zoom’s lair covers familiar ground on paper, but it stays on just the right side of cheesy thanks to Grant Gustin’s earnest performance in this scene that seems to shift just a little bit closer to the voice and mannerisms of his Earth-1 counterpart. Inspiring pep talks have kind of lost their resonance on The Flash lately, but this one just about worked because it did more than simply pushing Barry to go faster, meaning that it didn’t feel quite as rote and clichéd as these kind of scenes have done lately.
On Earth-1, Escape from Earth-2 didn’t quite keep up the intrigue. There are good moments to be found, such as Caitlin defeat of Geomancer and the final bit in the breach room at STAR Labs, but it’s all a little underpowered and sluggish. Zoom proved to be a boon for the Earth-2 storylines, but Geomancer has quite the opposite effect as the Earth-1 villain. He’s a frustratingly boring villain, lacking any kind of substantial motivation or characterisation and failing to really add a great deal to Jay’s character journey due to the fact that Jay’s not even there to defeat him. Adam Stafford tries to spice up Geomancer with a performance that aims for the kind of self-conscious cheesiness as Captain Cold, but it simply comes across as camp and misguided, detracting from Geomancer’s threat. Jay’s storyline, meanwhile, is fine again – it’s fun to see him speed about and save lives as the Flash, but it’s not hugely notable stuff, especially because every development for his character exists to service the final twist, meaning that it’s not too gratifying to watch until the end. Earth-1’s plot has its moments, and ends on a high with the tense and suspenseful final act in the breach room, but it’s a little disjointed. Geomancer should have been the central figure of this storyline that held everything together – but as he only appears intermittently at random moments, the Earth-1 storyline lacks the propulsive cohesion of the Earth-2 side of the coin.
Of course, we have to talk about Jay. As many (read: potentially infinite) fans have pointed out, the staging of the final twist is a little clunky, relying on Jay being dumb enough to stand in front of the breach, but it’s still a shocking twist to end on, particularly considering the masked man’s message from earlier on in the episode. It’s tantalisingly ambiguous, leaving plenty of possibilities open about Jay’s whereabouts and whether he’s alive or dead, and completely turns what had looked like a conventional redemption arc for Jay on its head. It’s only really definitive in one way, in that it confirms beyond doubt that Jay’s not Zoom, and that he’s not the man in the mask… or does it? There’s still Hunter Zolomon, Jay’s Earth-1 counterpart in the picture after all…
Damn you, The Flash.
Bogged down somewhat by a choppy Earth-1 storyline, Escape from Earth-2 is nonetheless a great conclusion to this two-parter, advancing the season arc hugely with additional clues and mysteries while continuing to mine the doppelganger concept for compelling character development.