The Flash: 215 “King Shark” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
‘Zoom wants you dead!’. It was those words, coming from the mouth of a talking man-shark, that immeasurably perked up a pretty humdrum early episode of season two – it might have been a brief appearance, but the impressive CGI and the sheer wackiness of the character made that particular shark’s appearance a very memorable moment of season two. This week, however, King Shark was back for round two, where he finally assumed the status of main villain for the week…
As The Flash has just come off the heady mix of revelations and answers featured in the Earth-2 two-parter, it’d be forgiven for slowing down a little and giving everyone time to catch their breath after the latest confrontation with Zoom. While King Shark changed tack after the plot-driven craziness of the Earth-2 episodes to a more emotional focus, it managed to ably continue the momentum that The Flash has built up in the last couple of episodes for another strong instalment. Crucially, for an episode that looked like a slice of filler from the promos, King Shark felt absolutely necessary as a coda to the Earth-2 episodes that explored the emotional fallout of that trip while pushing forward the Zoom arc in… ahem, unexpected ways.
But first, it’s worth talking about the titular bad guy. The CW’s budget is notoriously meagre, but The Flash has always done a great job of presenting well-designed, relatively realistic CGI creations such as Gorilla Grodd nonetheless – and King Shark is yet a thoroughly impressive CGI villain. By necessity, like Grodd, he’s viewed sparingly in glimpses right up until the final fight, drumming up suspense and building up a clear sense of fearsomeness that ensures that, going into the final fight, it genuinely feels like Barry is going up against an imposing opponent who’s already been shown as someone who can eat whole groups of ARGUS agents for breakfast. The CGI is terrific considering this show’s extremely limited budget – the effort and innovation put into his design means that there’s genuine tension and excitement in the action sequences, with the detailed CGI ensuring that King Shark, despite the absurd premise of the character, can be taken at least as seriously as the episode wants us to. The early scenes with King Shark act as a fun way to build-up his strength, and it all builds efficiently towards the final battle with Barry where King Shark finally lets loose with its central character. The pay-off here is joyously fun – bonkers, high-concept entertainment that provides us the memorable sight of a speedster running on water while throwing lightning at a huge, mutated shark man. In an episode that’s slightly sombre in tone, this was a bright spot of rewarding, audacious silliness that looked absolutely great thanks to the impressive work done by the visual effects team.
King Shark is, as mentioned in the last paragraph, overcast with grief and guilt, but that’s reflective of Team Flash’s shattered psyche following the ‘death’ (quite frankly, I have no idea what to think about that) of Jay. Barry’s guilt this episode seems repetitive on paper, but it’s a solid way for The Flash to acknowledge Barry’s selfishness in assimilating into his Earth-2 family when he should have been working to save Jesse, rectifying a notable flaw from those episodes and using it as a crucial ingredient of Barry’s character development. Likewise, Caitlin’s mourning process following Jay exploits the tension that could be found in friendly Earth-1 characters showing signs of shifting closer towards their less-than-friendly counterparts, with an intriguing study of how the cumulative effects of losing people in her life (it’s a bit tedious that it’s always her love interests, unfortunately) could appear to push her towards a place where she worryingly resembles her villainous counterpart, who dealt with her grief in a pretty destructive manner.
Crucially, King Shark sticks the landing in satisfying fashion with these character arcs with cathartic endings that feel pleasingly mature and an encouraging indicator that the writers are progressing beyond the similar character conflicts they keep circling back to. King Shark patiently sketches out the troubles these characters are facing after the events of the last couple of episodes in a thoughtful and expansive manner, but it’s the way that it then allows these characters to eventually grow to deal with their emotions in a positive and productive way that shows the emotional maturity on display in the writing here, and a clear desire to avoid the repetitive multi-episode bouts of angst that have plagued both this show and Arrow. The characters’ struggles are studied, dealt with, and channelled into something more positive within the hour here, and there’s something pretty efficient in that.
It does help that King Shark has Diggle or two on board to push forward these emotional conflicts. Neither Diggle nor Lyla get a great deal of screen-time, but their sparing usage means that they don’t obstruct the episode, simply being deployed when it’s necessary rather than being trotted out for every other scene at the expense of actual Flash characters. It’s Diggle who gets the bulk of the emotional heavy lifting here, with John Ramsey bringing his eminently likeable brand of sage wisdom in a solid pep talk scene that manages to put an end to Barry’s guilt in a natural way that would never have happened if a familiar character wasn’t on hand. It’s fun to see Diggle and Lyla cracking jokes about Barry’s speed and fighting killer sharks, but their presence ultimately works because it’s a neat storytelling shortcut for both the King Shark storyline and Barry’s development that means that the episode isn’t bogged down with explaining its characters – we’re automatically familiar with Diggle and Lyla, so they can slot in as if they’ve been on the show all along while still bringing a fresh perspective on events to the table.
The stumbling block for King Shark, unfortunately, is Wally. Back in the mid-season premiere, I commented on the slow-burning nature of Wally’s storyline and how it wasn’t all that gratifying to watch in the short-term. That’s still very much the case here – it’s clear to see what the writers are trying to do with the character, but there’s more frustration than entertainment value in seeing Wally abrasively clash with Barry and chastising him for being called a coward; it just comes across as petulant and annoying to watch, even if it’s justified from Wally’s point of view. The main issue is that The Flash hasn’t had time to really sketch out any kind of relationship between Wally and Barry, so the sudden focus on their uneasy sibling dynamic feels forced and unjustified by what we’ve seen on screen thus far – there’s no investment, because all of these issues have just sprung from nowhere after a few weeks of no Wally drama at all. There’s glimpses of a good story to be told here, but it’s being told in a haphazard, inconsistently paced manner that’s making it unfortunately hard to care about it all, because it’s actively frustrating viewing rather than intriguing character material.
I was pretty certain that this episode would be a quiet breather with minimal movement on the Zoom storyline… how wrong I was on that front. The Zoom reveal comes from out of nowhere, and it’s a pleasant surprise that heightens this episode’s importance and contribution to the season arc no end. As for the reveal itself? Last week, I talked about how I wasn’t hugely bothered about Zoom’s identity because the villain was working so well as a blank force of nature – but accepting that an identity reveal was inevitable, Jay Garrick (or Hunter, or whatever we’re calling him now) was the smart choice, purely because it has the combination of shock factor and intriguing consequences for Team Flash that makes a reveal like this work. Truth be told, I can’t really comment on how ‘good’ this reveal is without the forthcoming explanation – which could conceivably be awful, convoluted nonsense, pure brilliance or anything in between – so all that’s worth noting here is that this is an intriguing reveal executed very well indeed. It’s a reveal that comes at just the right time, pushing The Flash into its spring break with one long list of questions for viewers to chew over, and with the moving pieces of this increasingly complicated season once again in flux. Now, we only have to wait until March 22 to find out what happens next! Wait… that’s a month off.
A solid coda to the Earth-2 shenanigans that ably and efficiently deals with the emotional fallout of that bonkers two-parter, King Shark provides compelling drama and bonkers man-shark action in equal measure, topped off with a huge, confusing/shocking/infuriating (delete as applicable) Zoom reveal. It’s just a pity that the show is still shooting blanks with Wally, a character who still holds so much promise, but continues to be a whiny, petulant figure.