Season 2, Episode 15 - "King Shark"
Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Jesse L. Martin, Carlos Valdes, Danielle Panabeker, Keiynan Lonsdale
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 8 pm
US: 23 Feb 2016
King Shark returned to CW’s The Flash in this week’s excellent installment. For those who don’t know, King Shark (voiced by David Hayter) is a giant shark/human hybrid that has only one idea in his prehistoric brain: killing the Flash (Grant Guston). His humanoid body is topped by a shark’s head, with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. He talks, a little, but mostly he jumps out of the water and chomps into whoever happens to be standing in his way. Plus—and this just might be the best part—he wears pants! For a comics fan, King Shark is a wonder to behold, a full-on TV embrace of the some of the campiest and craziest elements of comic book storytelling.
Hands down my favorite part of the episode was the final showdown between the Flash and the finned monstrosity. Barry runs so fast that he is able to race across the water while King Shark chases after him, leaping out of the water in a futile quest to catch the Fastest Man Alive. The 11-year-old kid who resides under the accumulated layers of anxiety, responsibility, and skepticism that make up my adult personality temporarily forced its way to the surface as I watched this scene, and I found myself saying aloud, and in front of other people: “that was the best thing that I have ever seen on television”. Of course it wasn’t. (Then again, it was.)
That being said, the King Shark storyline was really just a distraction from the important stuff that happens in this episode. Or, if I want to put my 11-year-old self back in his place, King Shark’s a metaphor for the personal struggles that confront the Flash team after their traumatic trip to Earth-2 over the last two episodes. King Shark’s the last of the Earth-2 villains sent through the breach to capture the Flash, and represents the submerged threat from that alternative reality that still confounds Barry and the others even after the last breach has been closed.
The alternate reality of Earth-2, and the different lives lived by the doppelgangers that reside there, raised a lot of questions for Barry and the others, questions that, I suppose, we all face from time to time. What if we had made different choices? What if things had turned out differently? What kind of life could I be living now? And would that life be better or worse than that life that I find myself in?
Barry’s doppelganger possesses things that he has always longed for: his mother is alive, he’s in a loving marriage with Iris (Candice Patton). Yet it’s a life in which his relationship with Joe (Jesse L. Martin) is antagonistic and broken. And it’s a life in which Barry himself lacks the courage, and the quiet resolve, that time after time have made him a hero. Watching the last couple of episodes, I had a hard time understanding Barry’s obsession with his Earth-2 family. This latest episode opened my eyes a little bit to his struggle.
Cisco (Carlos Valdes) also strains to come to terms with the different Caitlin (Danielle Panabeker) he encountered on that different Earth, a Caitlin with the cold heart of a killer, and the powers that gave her the name Killer Frost. As Cisco watches Caitlin struggle with the loss of Jay (Teddy Sears), he can’t help but wonder what it is that makes the difference between this Caitlin and that one; what makes the difference between good and evil? Will this latest loss be the thing that makes the difference?
In addition to facing the implications of the different lives lived by their different selves, Barry and the others also are made to wonder how different decisions and different circumstances might have given them different lives in this world. Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale), in his attempt to find a new home with his once-lost family, surely wonders what his life would have been life if he had been raised with a father and a sister, if he’d been there in addition to, or instead of, Barry.
As for Barry, he’s beginning to see all of the connections, beginning to see how his time travel attempt to save his mother, to rewrite history and make another life for himself, has resulted in all of the anguish and struggle that has faced his family and friends this season. How would all of their lives have been different if he had been able to accept his life as it was, if he’d not gone to such great lengths to try and rewrite history?
I’ve said it before: what makes The Flash such an excellent comic book drama is its ability to balance superhero camp adventure with human drama. “King Shark” is a fine example of that balance. A giant shark-man from an alternate Earth terrorizes the city while, at the same time, Barry and the others confront the very human question of what kinds of lives they have lived and what kinds of lives they will live.
Did I mention that the shark-man wears pants?