"Do not get distracted," the Flash from Earth-2 instructs the Flash from Earth-1. But of course, getting distracted is precisely what The Flash wants us to do.
The FlashAirtime: Tuesdays, 8PM
Cast: Grant Gustin, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, Teddy Sears, Melissa Benoist, Jesse L. Martin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Robbie Arnell
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 13 - "Welcome to Earth-2"
Air date: 2016-02-09
Near the beginning of the latest episode of The Flash -- as Barry (Grant Gustin), Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Harry (Tom Cavanagh) are preparing to make the leap across the breach to Earth-2 -- Jay (Teddy Sears) gives them a bit of advice. "Do not get distracted by anything you see along the way," he tells them. He was also talking to the audience, at least those with knowledge of the rich comic book history from which this series draws its plot points and characters. He was talking to people like me.
In terms of the visuals themselves, the leap through the breach was pretty standard sci-fi fare: there's a quick flash of swirling lights and fast-moving images to illustrate that the characters are being transported to some strange new world, in this case an alternate Earth, known as Earth-2, that is populated by slightly skewed versions of the denizens of Earth-1. But Jay, in giving us a heads up and telling us not to get distracted, was really letting us know that we had better play the scene at slow speed and enjoy the ride between the doppelganger worlds.
Is that some alternate version of the Green Arrow that we see? Then an image of what might be the Flash costume worn by the hero back in the original 1990 series, a series that starred John Wesley Shipp (who now plays Barry's dad, Henry, in the current series) as the Scarlet Speedster. Then we see Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), from the CBS series, and that's exciting because we have just learned that the Flash is going to be guest starring on that show in the near future. There's Gorilla Grodd and, perhaps, DC Comics' old west hero Jonah Hex.
Then we are given a glimpse of what looks like one of the flight rings worn by members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, DC's 30th century super hero team. At that point I have to do more than slow down the video; I have to bring it to a complete stop.
"Do not get distracted by anything you see," Jay warned us. Too late.
This is pretty exciting stuff. This means, I think, that all of these people and things exist somewhere in the same multi-verse as the Flash, either on Earth-1 or some alternate version of our Earth. It's possible, probably likely, that Flash and company are going to come into contact with them in future episodes, that we might get to see Gustin's Flash running alongside Shipp's Flash and travelling to the old west or into the distant future.
"Do not get distracted," the Flash from Earth-2 instructs the Flash from Earth-1 and all of us. But of course, getting distracted is precisely what The Flash wants us to do. A simple plot device that allows the characters to quickly move to a new setting -- where they can mix it up with familiar faces each given a new twist -- is also used to whet the appetite of the audience, especially the most devoted fans.
It isn’t so much foreshadowing as it is teasing. "You think we're having fun now?" it seems to be saying. "Just wait until you see what we're going to do with that Legion flight ring!"
The Flash does this sort of thing better than anybody else. Nearly every episode drops hints of what's to come, introduces characters with names that are familiar to comic book fans if not to the general audience, suggests plot lines that are going to take us to places that comic readers are familiar with and can’t wait to see brought to life on the small screen. The Marvel Cinematic Universe mostly tacks these sorts of things onto the ends of itsmovies, after the credits have rolled. The Flash throws the hints right into the thick of things.
Then, almost without exception, whether in a week or in six weeks, The Flash delivers the pay-off, puts Gorilla Grodd in the center of the action or brings the classic Flash from Earth-2 to join the team.
"Welcome to Earth-2" is itself a pay-off episode. We've seen glimpses of this alternative world throughout the season and met its citizens who have crossed over through the breach to play the part of friend and foe. This week, our heroes go there. Earth-2 is where the action happens. We meet alternative versions of Barry and Joe (Jesse L. Martin) and Iris (Candice Patton) and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco and catch a glimpse of the cool retro-futuristic aesthetic of a world that is like ours, but slightly different. It's what the series has been setting us up for all season.
For practically the first time in the life of this series, I was disappointed. Upon arrival, Barry kidnaps his Earth-2 self and then gets sucked into the drama of the people who may look like his family but clearly aren't. With Harry's daughter's life -- and the fate of both Earths, including Barry's real family -- hanging in the balance, it's an incredibly irresponsible thing to do, both for Barry and for the storytellers who want us to rally behind him and his friends in their quest to stop Zoom.
I'll admit, it was a lot of fun to see Caitlin as the super-powered villain Killer Frost and to see Robbie Arnell back as Firestorm (actually his evil alternate, Deathstorm). Flash's battles with the evil super-powered versions of his friends was pretty generic stuff, however, and could have played out just as well against a regular old villain of the week back on Earth-2.
The best part of the episode, by far, was Cisco's encounter with his own doppelganger, one of Zoom's assistants who goes by the code name Reverb. Reverb has the same power set as Cisco's Vibe, but with some interesting and powerful enhancements. My earlier complaints that the character of Vibe would be wasted if he continued to possess only the psychic powers that he has shown thus far looks like they might soon be resolved.
Really this is what I wanted to see in a visit to Earth-2. I wanted so see superheroes meeting and battling with their superhero, or supervilllain, alternates. This is what made the Silver Age DC Comics multi-verse so compelling and fun. I wanted to see Vibe meet Reverb. But I also wanted to see Firestorm meet Deathstorm. And mostly, I now realize, I wanted to see Flash meet Flash.
Earth-2's Flash, after all, is the character that the comics version of Earth-2 was built around, He is its heart and soul.
Unfortunately, the Flash of Earth-2 is back on Earth-1 trying to manage this week's B-storyline and battle some generic villain of the week. The Earth-2 Flash has been wasted almost from the moment that he joined the cast. He's the original Flash from Earth-2 but without his powers. Plus, he's dying and is very sad. He finally put the suit back on in this episode only to see his powers sputter and fail.
Quick! Give this guy his powers back and send him over to Earth-2 so that he and Barry can work together, get in a misunderstanding that leads to a fight, and then come together at the end to defeat the bad guys! Trust me, that's a formula that always works.
Nine times out of ten, when The Flash teases it pays off big. So far, the biggest tease of this season, a journey to Earth-2, is not living up to my expectations.