When Zoom parades the Flash's fallen body around Central City in the latest episode of The Flash, I know that the hero is going to rise again; it's still a gut punch.
The FlashAirtime: Tuesdays, 8 pm
Cast: Grant Gustin, Shantel VanSanten, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, Malese Jow
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 5 - "Enter Zoom"
Air date: 2015-11-10
The Flash began this season on a mostly happy note. The hero's hometown of Central City threw a big party in the hero's honor in recognition for all he had done to save the city from the threats of Reverse Flash. Even though Barry (Grant Gustin) felt that he should be sharing the honor with others -- particularly Ronnie Raymond (Cedric Yarbrough) who gave his life in defense of the city -- and the ceremonies were interrupted by the rampaging threat of Atom Smasher (Adam Copeland), it was nice to see Barry onstage receiving the accolades and credit that he deserved. As icing on the cake, the episode ended with a party to celebrate the release of Barry's dad (John Wesley Shipp) from prison.
This week's episode couldn’t have been more different. In what was arguably the darkest and most effective episode of The Flash to date, "Enter Zoom" offered up stark images of a beaten and broken Flash that were made even more shocking by the fact that the memories of the first episode's mostly upbeat story are still fresh in mind. "Enter Zoom" seemed more like a season ending cliffhanger, or at least the last episode before a mid-season break, than like the fifth installment of the still-young second season. But The Flash has never been a series that liked to hold things back. The creators seem to realize that with 50 years of comic book stories as their inspiration, there’s no reason to move slowly. If the Flash is the fastest man alive, then The Flash is the fastest moving show on television.
"Enter Zoom" hits all the right story beats. Barry's relationship with Patty (Shantel VanSanten) continues to heat up. Cisco (Carlos Valdes) employs his new superpowers in order to shed light on the motivations of Earth 2's Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh). Team Flash recruits Linda Park (Malese Jow) to don the costume, and take on some of the powers, of her look-alike, Dr. Light, in an attempt to lure the evil Zoom into our world. Linda's training and apparent failure at setting the trap for Zoom was typically fun and entertaining, just the kind of light-hearted take on superheroics that make this show such a pleasure week after week.
The finale, however, was devastating.
The Flash's conflict with Zoom (Tony Todd) was beautifully staged, a comic book battle brought to life. It was clear from the very beginning that this was a battle that Barry was going to have a hard time winning, but the special effects and choreography sure made it seem like he was trying his hardest. The Flash fought hard and intelligently, but after this battle there is no doubt that he is no longer "The Fastest Man Alive".
The battle was the most brutal that we have seen in this series, a harsh and lightning-fast conflict between the Scarlet Speedster and a man in black. In a particularly terrifying moment, we see Barry's broken body. Then Zoom parades the crumpled hero around Central City, his defeat in sharp contrast to the heroic pose he struck on the dais just a few weeks before.
This was clearly the Flash's darkest hour so far. He suffered a devastating and humiliating defeat.
The Flash is a mostly sunny series, and I don't expect that to change. So I feel pretty confident that Barry is going to bounce back from this even stronger than before. But, with that in mind, the makers of The Flash deserve a world of credit for being able to pull off such a remarkably dark episode in a series that is noted for its optimism.
Of course, for this old comic book fan, images of a fallen Flash are always going to offer an emotional punch in the gut. There have been a lot of superhero deaths through the years. Captain Marvel led the way in 1982 in Jim Starlin's classic The Death of Captain Marvel. Heroes like Wolverine, Captain America, Robin, Supergirl, and Jean Grey followed. Superman was famously killed by the villain Doomsday back in 1992. But none of those deaths ever had as much impact on this reader as the death of Barry Allen.
The reinvention of the Flash as Barry Allen, replacing the earlier Golden Age Jay Garrick, marked the beginning of the Silver Age of comic storytelling and set the stage for the reinvigoration of DC and the birth of Marvel. In 1985, when DC was resetting their fictional universe in the pages of Marv Wolfman's and George Perez's Crisis on Infinite Earths, the death of the Flash was, therefore, an appropriate, if shocking, way to mark the transformation that DC was looking for.
In Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry literally ran himself to death in order to save all of existence. His death allowed the old DC multi-verse to be reborn as the new DC universe. Running as he did, through time, meant that the dying Flash appeared as a ghostly vision to other heroes, serving as a warning of what was to come.
I will never forget seeing him die right before my eyes in that comic book. I will never forget the sense of innocence lost when I realized that the Flash, one of the biggest characters in the DC canon, a member of the Justice League, a regular on Saturday morning television when I was a kid, had died.
"There's hope. There's always hope," Barry says at the end. "We must save the world."
When Zoom parades the Flash's fallen body around Central City in the latest episode of The Flash, I know that the hero is going to rise again. But in my gut, in my gut it still hurts.
With "Enter Zoom," The Flash has proven that this show can not only transform the bright four-color pages of light-hearted superheroics into good television, but that it can also bring the serious side of superhero drama to the small screen.