Danielle Panabaker/The CW

The alternate universe episode featuring evil versions of regular characters is at least as old as ”Mirror, Mirror,” the Star Trek classic with a goateed Spock that Cisco (of course) mentioned tonight. “Welcome to Earth-2” is like “Mirror, Mirror” on Velocity-6. You just know the writers have been saving up ideas for this one all season; they were fired up and weren’t going to miss a trick. In only an hour, the episode navigates every possible twist and turn differentiating the two Earths, serving up several baskets worth of Easter eggs along the way. It was so much fun, I couldn’t be happier we get another hour of it next week.

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This trip to Earth-2 couldn’t have come at a better time. Since its return from hiatus, The Flash has been sluggish and morose, and the Zoom arc has fizzled. “Welcome to Earth-2” jump-starts both the storyline and the season as a whole: everyone looks energized by the change of pace. As the episode opens, Barry is sealing all the trans-dimensional breaches except for the one in STAR Labs. That’s the one he, Harry, and Cisco will use to travel to Earth-2 and save Jesse Wells from Zoom. As they depart for the parallel universe, however, the speed cannon is destroyed in the process, leaving Caitlin and Jay with 48 hours to fix it or risk Barry and company being trapped on the other side forever.

The other side is, to put it mildly, a hoot. We’ve caught glimpses of Earth-2’s gleaming golden retro-futurism before, but now we get a deep dive, and the revelations come fast and furious. Barry’s Earth-2 doppelganger is a Nerdy Allen, still working as a CSI for the Central City police. In this world, however, Iris is Detective West, and her partner is Deadshot, this version of whom can’t hit the broad side of a barn. (Eddie Thawne, curiously, is nowhere to be seen. This would seem to be the perfecto opportunity to bring him back, but I guess Rick Cosnett is busy on Quantico.) And, as Barry learns when he steals his double’s identity to research Zoom’s location, he and Iris are married. (Cue West/Allen shippers passing out face-first into the onion dip.) Not only that, but his mother is still alive.

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It’s the old ”superhero experiences the life not lived” trope, last seen as long ago as last night on Supergirl, but it adds a dash of melancholy to the episode, especially once Barry learns that the Joe West of Earth-2 is a crooner who can’t stand him. There are always tradeoffs in life, and no universe is perfect. For instance, Caitlin and Ronnie are still together on Earth-2, but here they are Killer Frost and Deathstorm, minions of Zoom. The same is true of Cisco’s slicked-up doppelganger, here known as Reverb and much more powerful than Vibe.

It’s almost too bad we have to occasionally cut back to Earth-1, where Caitlin, Jay, and Joe are dealing with a pretty run-of-the-mill metahuman called Geomancer (Adam Stafford, doing a poor man’s Wentworth Miller). At least it’s an opportunity to get Jay back in his helmet and up to speed as Caitlin tries to perfect the Velocity formula. We’ve spent more than half a season with a powerless Golden Age Flash, and it’s past time to put an end to that.

Any complaints about this one are quibbles, however. All of the actors are having so much fun, it’s hard to single anyone out, but I’ll go with Danielle Panabaker anyway. Caitlin has not been well-served this season, reduced to spouting jargon and carrying on an unconvincing semi-romance with Jay, but as Killer Frost she finally gets to cut loose and get in on the action. Candice Patton also deserves a shout-out for her turn as the aggressor in the West/Allen relationship, and Robbie Amell…well, okay, he was basically Robbie Amell.

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The hour takes a dark turn when Zoom finally appears. He kills off alt-Cisco in exactly the same fashion the Reverse-Flash did our Cisco in the erased timeline, then takes Barry captive in a cell across from Wells’ daughter. In a way, this episode should get a grade of “incomplete,” since it ends with so little resolution and there’s another hour to go on Earth-2. That’s a technicality, however, because this is just about as good as The Flash gets.

Stray observations

  • The STAR Labs team’s trip through the speed cannon was a whirlwind of teases from the DC universe. I’m sure I didn’t catch them all, but Grodd, Jonah Hex, and Supergirl were all definitely in there. (Does this mean Supergirl takes place on Earth-2…or maybe some other Earth entirely? I guess we’ll find out when Grant Gustin guest stars on the CBS superhero show in March.
  • Cisco: “I got no spit.” Harry: “Jaws.” It’s a great relief to know they have Jaws on Earth-2, just in case I ever end up there. (Unless, of course, Harry has seen it since his arrival on Earth-1.)
  • Cisco’s bizarre reading of “doppelganger” has to be a tribute to Twin Peaks’ Man From Another Place.
  • Really, Cisco? The hacky “Toto, we’re not in Kansas” line? You’re better than that, or your writers should be.
  • Henry Hewitt lost out on the Firestorm gig on Earth-1, but here he’s a good guy. Apparently.
  • If Earth-2 is any indication, Cisco’s metahuman detection app is going to make him a very rich man.

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