For a show about speedsters, momentum has been surprisingly hard to maintain this season on The Flash. Part of that has to do with the scheduling quirks that have led to several weeks-long breaks between new episodes, but a lot of it has to do with how the Zoom storyline has been parceled out along the way, often getting shortchanged by the introduction of new characters or the spinoff duties imposed by the launch of Legends Of Tomorrow. Tonight’s episode marks the beginning of the homestretch for season two, and the show’s best chance to recenter the narrative on the speedsters of two Earths.
“Versus Zoom” takes a step in the right direction by finally answering all our questions about Jay Garrick—or Hunter Zolomon, as it turns out he is known on Earth-2 as well as Earth-1. Like young Barry Allen, Hunter was a child who witnessed the murder of his own mother. The difference is that Hunter’s father really did kill his mother, right after placing his wartime helmet on his young son’s head. With no family willing to claim him, Hunter grew up in a bleak orphanage and became a crazed serial killer. After being captured, Hunter was hit by the dark matter from the accelerator explosion while undergoing electroshock therapy and gained access to the speed force.
It’s an efficient if blunt twist on the Barry Allen story, suggesting a possible alternate future if Barry hadn’t had Joe to take him in and give him a loving home. The episode leans pretty hard on this theme throughout, underlining time and again the importance of a reliable family unit and support system in not succumbing to our worst impulses. Cisco fears that expanding his range of powers will lead him down the dark path of Earth-2’s Reverb until Barry reassures him that he’ll always have his back, just as Cisco has always had Barry’s. Joe frets about Wally not wanting to take his financial help toward getting a new place to live until Barry suggests that Wally may actually be looking for that kind of family support after being out on his own so long. (And isn’t it nice to see Barry being thoughtful and helpful after all his poor decision-making in the last episode?)
Jay is the one holdout in this belief in the supportive power of family.In his mind, family is a weakness, something he proves to himself by kidnapping Wally and offering to return him in exchange for Barry’s (now tachyon-enhanced) speed. Barry agrees, but I’m sure I was not the only viewer who figured this had to be a ruse. What was to stop Barry from faking his loss of speed and Harry injecting Jay with something that would steal his speed? I guess the obvious answer to that one is that this is only episode 18 of the season, but in any case, it doesn’t appear that any trickery takes place. Jay absorbs Barry’s speed and stops short of killing him only because of Caitlin’s pleas. Her reward is to be kidnapped by Zoom, leaving a powerless Flash and his team to contemplate their next move.
Of course, if speed can be transferred in one direction in this manner, logic dictates that it can be transferred back, but for the immediate future it looks like we have a slow Flash on our hands. As for Zoom, his backstory is satisfying enough in a reverse-Flash sort of way (in fact, they probably should have saved that moniker for him), although I don’t think Teddy Sears is quite up for the big-bad performance this character calls for. Zoom is certainly much less terrifying now that he’s unmasked, especially when he’s stripped of Tony Todd’s voice, and I’m guessing there are some comic book purists unhappy to see the Jay Garrick story play out this way. (Where did that name come from, anyway? Did Zolomon make it up, or was there a real Jay Garrick at some point?) In any case, “Versus Zoom” narrows the season’s focus in a generally satisfying way as we head toward next month’s finale.
- OK, so there is still one big Zoom-related mystery: the identity of the man in the iron mask. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Jay says. Another Zolomon? Another Wally? Yet another Wells?
- The writers throw a bone to the West/Allen contingent by revealing that Iris decided not to go on a date with her boss, not because it’s a terrible idea to go on a date with your boss, but because she’s having feelings for Barry. Or is she? I’m not sure that “it’s pointing in that direction because we’re a couple on Earth-2 and in the future” is really the basis of a lasting relationship, especially when the show has been stressing the brother-sister nature of said relationship for most of the season. But maybe!
- Harry dropping by unexpectedly to see Joe may not have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but I’ll always be in favor of scenes that give Tom Cavanagh and Jesse L. Martin a chance to play off each other.
- Cisco and Caitlin suggest one way of reopening the breaches would be to set off a nuclear bomb near the power grid. “Yeah, we’re not gonna do that,” says Barry, although as recently as last episode he probably would have considered it.
- The other Jay killed by Zoom was a time remnant. Probably best not to think too deeply on that one.
- “The Flash is brought to you by Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War.” Isn’t there some kind of nerd law against this sort of thing?