I can’t help but feel a bit let down by the second season finale of The CW’s The Flash. Just two weeks ago, we had the most effective and successful episode of The Flash we’ve ever had in the Kevin Smith directed “The Runaway Dinosaur”. I’ve consistently claimed that The Flash is the superhero show to watch, the one that’s found the best balance between super-humanity and accessibility. And yet “The Race of His Life” left me feeling like I’d just lost a year-long race.
Apparently, Barry feels the same by the end of the episode. So perhaps my feelings are intentional? Let’s break it down.
The episode opened with the death of Barry’s father at the vibrating hand of Zoom/Jay Garrick/Hunter Zolomon. It was something devastating that needed to happen to give the finale the level of gravitas it deserved. Grant Gustin offers up a solid performance this week as Barry is emotionally devastated by this loss. It justifies his actions, his rash decisions and, eventually, the choices his friends and family make. Not only that, but it does lead in to the destructive final scene.
Wally has quickly become an extremely interesting character, particularly as he learned that Barry was The Flash last week. It doesn’t manifest itself much this week, beyond a need to set Barry free from his cell, but hopefully we’ll see something exciting and fresh for the character next season. It’d be a shame to squander such a promising dynamic.
Zoom is all over this episode. He says he wants to race Barry and power up a pulsar, which will destroy the multiverse. There are a number of problems here. 1) Zoom’s motivations are…weird. They feel forced, rushed by the writers and, frankly, out of place. In a way, the reveal of Zoom’s true plan undid some of the work the show had put in place over the entire season. 2) WAY too many things needed to be explained and justified with talking this week. It feels as though Zoom’s plan should’ve been introduced fully a week or two ago.
Issue 3 stems from the highlight of the episode — when Barry’s friends lock him in the pipe to save him from himself. Claiming he is too angry to face Zoom, they lock him up and attempt to take out Zoom themselves..by pushing him through a portal to Earth 2. Even though they know he can just create portals back. Like…seriously. What sort of logic are they working with?! They take a perfectly good dynamic shift (locking Barry up) and waste precious finale time circling the drain.
So then Joe gets sucked through the portal and captured by Zoom, just to be told Zoom’s plan and history, then brought back for the final battle. That’s the biggest problem with the last two episodes of The Flash’s second season: Everything is just running in place. Nothing has real weight until it’s over, and viewers might be better off just watching the first five minutes and the last five of each episode. Things still need to matter in the middle, or this might as well be a 30-minute show.
So Barry, just like in the beginning of the episode, goes to race Zoom around his giant loop to power the pulsar and destroy the multiverse. The battle is short. In the beginning of the episode, we see Zoom create a time remnant of himself before killing him and telling Barry that he is “almost ready.” Here, in the final race, Barry does the same, utilizing a time remnant to race Zoom, free Joe, and reverse the power of the pulsar. But…shouldn’t Zoom have seen that coming?
And the Man in the Iron Mask is Jay Garrick/The Flash from Earth 3, who looks exactly like Barry’s passed father. It was a fun moment to see John Wesley Shipp don the Flash helmet again, but it definitely didn’t save the episode from its previous struggles. Then, Wells, Jessie, and Earth 3 Flash return to Earth 2 through the portals that Cisco (who remains a comedic highlight) has now suddenly mastered.
But Barry is so emotionally devastated that he not only tells Iris he can’t be with her, but goes back in time, saves his mother from dying, and completely messes up the timeline. It’s painful to watch, but not in a good way. It seems as though it comes out of nowhere, and it completely obliterates the growth Barry experiences in “The Runaway Dinosaur”.
So where does that leave us? “The Race of His Life” is an absolute mess of an episode. There were some nice moments, including the shift when Barry is locked in the pipe and some of the effects but, overall, this episode seemed to rush storylines for the sake of closing Season 2 and opening Season 3, without truly honoring the season and stories that were still active. The episode honestly felt like a slap in the face for viewers who have committed to the show and the season.
The ONLY way that I can see this being resolved is if the beginning of Season 3 answers A LOT of questions, and resolves some of the massive holes in this episode. So here’s my promise to you, dear reader: If the beginning of next season goes a LONG way in fixing the issues at play here (which I believe is possible), I will come back to this review and edit the score to reflect the changes. Until then, “The Race of His Life” gets a 7/10 from me. Even on The Flash’s worst day, it’s still better than some of its contemporaries.
Until next Fall, dear reader!
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW