Season 2, Episode 23 - "The Race of His Life"
Teddy Sears, Grant Gustin, John Wesley Shipp, Danielle Panabaker, Candice Patton
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 8 pm
US: 24 May 2016
When Marvel Comics was born from the ashes of the publisher’s earlier Timely and Atlas incarnations, it felt like something new. The Fantastic Four was fresh and different. The Human Torch, based on an android character from the Golden Age, was completely recast as a hot-headed teenager. In time, the other two important characters from the ‘40s—Submariner and Captain America—joined the new Marvel universe, but Marvel spent very little time looking back. The Marvel Age, as Stan Lee liked to call it, was all about today, all about the future.
Although Marvel’s rebirth gets most of the attention, DC Comics had actually started the revival of comic book superheroes a few years earlier with a new version of the Flash. The new Flash had the same powers as his Golden Age counterpart and had the same name, but his costume and his alter ego were brand new. The old Flash, Jay Garrick, was gone and a new Flash, Barry Allen, was in his place.
Unlike Marvel’s constant focus on the new, DC, particularly in the pages of The Flash and The Justice League of America, embraced its rich history. Soon, the older Jay Garrick was teaming up with his young counterpart and crossing dimensions in order to do so. Throughout the decades, DC has tended to emphasize its connection to its past. Tales of the Flash, in particular, have often focused on legacy, history, and multi-generational family connections. Although DC has sometimes tried hard to shake that history, most recently in the less-than-stellar New 52 reboot, it’s a central part of the DC universe. Things work best when the company embraces that rich history of writers, artists, stories, and characters, something that, surprisingly perhaps, Marvel has itself managed to do with great success in recent years.
The season finale of The Flash manages to get that sense of legacy and tradition just right. I was thrilled when Teddy Sears joined the cast this year to play the character of Jay Garrick, the Flash from Earth-2. I have to admit, however, that I was a little disappointed that the character lacked the age and gravitas of the comic book version, whose gray-templed hair represents years of experience as a superhero, experience that he could share with the much younger Barry Allen (Grant Gustin). Then, it was revealed that Teddy Sears’ character isn’t really Jay Garrick at all, but rather Hunter Zolomon, the black-garbed villain known as Zoom.
Then, the series gave us a mystery, a man in an iron mask. Speculation has been running wild for weeks about the identity of Zoom’s prisoner, and “The Race of His Life” manages to play it just right. It may not have been entirely unexpected—Internet rumors had it pegged—but it was satisfying nonetheless. The man in the mask is the real Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-3. He’s also an alternate Earth doppelganger for Barry’s father, Henry (John Wesley Shipp) who was dramatically murdered by Zoom at the end of the penultimate episode.
It all works just like it should. Jay’s now a legacy character, an experienced mentor who can guide Barry along the way. The fact that Shipp played the Barry Allen version of the Flash in the 1990 series makes it even more perfect. It feels like DC claiming its heritage, celebrating its history.
That’s a welcome change from what we’ve seen from DC comics and DC films over the last few years.
There are a lot of other things that happen in this episode of course. Barry gets locked up by his friends for fear that his hatred of Zoom will be his undoing. Zoom and Barry race to see who is the fastest man alive (and to determine the fate of the multiverse). Both Zoom and the Flash use a nifty “time remnant” trick, Barry to great effect in a scene that is right out of the classic comic book series Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) uses a hologram to pull a fast one on Zoom. (By my count this is the third use this year of a hologram in the season finale of a superhero television show: Coulson does it in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Clark Gregg), and Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) does it in Legends of Tomorrow; I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed one.)
Then, at the end of “The Race of His Life”, Barry does something really stupid. First, he breaks up with Iris (Candice Patton). Then, he races back in time to the night his mother was murdered and does what he didn’t do the last time he made that trip: he stops the killing.
This, of course, is a very bad thing. We’ve already seen that the wicked-looking Time Wraiths don’t take kindly to such changes to the time stream, so I imagine that Barry’s going to be in a lot of trouble. Most importantly, Barry’s tampering with history will undoubtedly result in a world of changes, maybe not many as in the Flashpoint comic story that inspired this turn of events, but a lot of changes nevertheless.
Will Barry still have his powers? What will his relationship with Iris and Joe be like if they don’t have to take him in as a young boy? Does this mean that Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh)—the real Earth-1 Harrison Wells – will be alive? Will there be a Team Flash, or will Barry be on his own? Will Barry be like his wimpy Earth-2 doppelganger?
To be honest, though, all of that’s just icing on the cake.
They had me when John Wesley Shipp was revealed as the man in the mask, when the man in the mask was revealed to be Jay Garrick, and when Jay Garrick put on his red and blue costume and his winged helmet. Yeah, they had me with that.