THE FLASH Review 2.23 “The Race Of His Life”

Season 2 ends with a race but very little forward motion.

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"You're not going to kill her this time. You're not going to kill her ever again."

So here we are again. Another season ends with Barry going back in time to save his mom, but this time he actually does it. In spite of everything we've learned about the ramifications of altering the timeline. In spite of everything Barry himself learned about accepting the tragedy of his life as part of what makes him a hero in "The Runaway Dinosaur." That episode really should have been Season 2's finale, concluding the season with meaningful progress instead of what we have here: more of the same, backward character development for Barry and backward motion for the plot. 

Here we are again. AGAIN. When you think about it, what has actually progressed in Season 2? Not Barry, surely, who seems to know less now than he did in Season 1's terrific finale, "Fast Enough." Not his relationship with Iris, two people who are in the same position but now reversed. All of the STAR Labs folks are dog-paddling in place since last year: Harry's back in Earth-2, Joe is Joe, Caitlin is Caitlin, Cisco is Vibe but barely. The story has brought us back to the exact position we were in during the final moments of "Fast Enough," but with a resolution that will, at least temporarily until Barry undoes it, negate everything we've seen on The Flash, perhaps even negate Barry turning into The Flash. It's maddening! 

Season 2 has left us with a hero so stunted, so determined to make unwise, half-cocked decisions at every turn, that when his friends tranqued and imprisoned him, I actually cheered because this was so clearly the right thing to do. This season, Barry can't be trusted. This season, The Flash has used his powers unilaterally and with no foresight or discernment. The moment he is granted wisdom from the Speed Force, the death of his father robs him of it. Nothing was gained here. 

Caitlin's arc and Zoom's death are illustrative of this season's utter lack of forward momentum. She opens the season grieving her dead husband (of several minutes). She immediately moves onto a new romantic object, who also appears to die. She grieves him, only to learn that he's a villain, and still alive. Zoom abducts her and torments her for days, possibly weeks, while her friends do almost nothing to rescue her, and then she easily escapes when Zoom allows her to do so. She seems to be using this trauma to fuel her own courage and heroism, but then ends the season huddled in a safe house while her hologram confronts Zoom, an ineffective plan from any angle. Zoom and Barry then embark on a foot race with multiverse-ending stakes, but the race ends abruptly thanks to a couple of convenient time wraiths and the sacrifice of Barry's time remnant, which scarcely feels like a sacrifice at all. We certainly didn't need to see Barry or Caitlin kill Zoom - that's not heroic - but it feels like no one but the Speed Force won here. And thanks to Barry's complete eschewal of the lessons learned in the Speed Force, that means no one won at all. 

Of course there was plenty to like about "The Race of His Life": Harry's moving goodbyes to his new friends, Cisco's more satisfying use of his Vibe abilities, the reveal of John Wesley Shipp as the true Jay Garrick, returning both actor and character to the red and gold splendor they deserve. So The Flash had a sophomore slump. It happens. With a likely Flashpoint arc kicking off Season 3, there's no reason to assume we don't have a strong, exciting season ahead of us. But for that to happen, Barry needs to wise up in a big way.

Coolest moments this season: 

The races between speedsters get a lot of flak in the comments for their "cheesy CGI," but I always think they look wonderful. Not realistic, mind you, but thrilling, artistic and comic booky. The final race between Zoom and The Flash, though lacking in emotional depth, delivered visually. 

Every moment The Flash's talented performers were given a chance to act contrary to their usual characters: doppelgangers, characters pretending to be their doppelgangers, future and past versions of themselves, alternate timeline variants, Speed Force avatars. Tom Cavanagh is given the most credit for his ability to transform himself, but The Flash is rich in actors who suffuse nuance and authenticity into their every scene.

Similarly but separately: seeing Jesse L. Martin croon as Earth-2 Joe (before Barry got him killed, sigh).

Central City's Flash Day, something of a "Class Protector Award" for a hero that was, until then, largely unsung.

"Flash of Two Worlds." Every minute of it. 

"King Shark." Every minute of it.

Watching Zoom "catch a bolt of lightning with his demonic claws" in "Enter Zoom." 

Grodd's King Kong moment

The reveal of Barry and Oliver's suits in the new Arrow Cave in the entirely winning first half of this season's Flash/Arrow crossover. 

"My stocking won't be completely stuffed until it's filled to the brim with bloody Flash parts! So what do you say, speed freak? Want to roast chestnuts?" It was a Trickster Christmas, and Mark Hamill hammed it up. 

Cisco's EXPECTO PATRONUM!!! moment in "Rupture."

And "The Runaway Dinosaur." Every minute of it. 

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You know, seeing these triumphant beats listed one after another, Season 2 wasn't so bad, after all. Onward and upward! Most importantly, forward

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