The second season of the CW’s, ‘The Flash’, finished over a week ago with another mind-bending, paradox-laden season finale cliffhanger. It was an episode that cemented a shift of a show from a fun, entertaining super-hero television show that was in contrast to the many dour versions of DC characters currently occupying screens both large (‘Batman V. Superman’) and small (‘Arrow’), to the very thing it wasn’t. This season, and especially its’ final few episodes, turned Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen/Flash from a likable hero who embraces his awesome powers to yet another brooding young man haunted by personal demons.
Just as Barry’s trip into the speed force (in a relatively quiet episode helmed by comic-book aficionado Kevin Smith) helped him finally come to grips in accepting his mother’s death, showrunners Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg opt to take away his birth father Henry Allen, although not the actor who plays him (John Wesley Shipp was revealed to be the man in the mask, the real Jay Garrick). This causes a grief-stricken Flash to run back in time to hit the reset button, saving his mother, a move that surely will have catastrophic repercussions for season 3 (not quite sure why he couldn’t just go back in more recent time to save his father if he was willing to take this kind of risk). This action echoes the comic DC Universe-wide event a few years ago, ‘Flashpoint’, which led to a reboot in the now infamous ‘New 52!’, an initiative with early market gains but ultimately failed to have the creative impact intended.
While it remains to be seen whether or not this move will have creative success on the television show, this second season had its’ ebbs and flows as it explored the ramifications of ‘Earth 2’, a parallel world mirroring our heroes’ earth one, with some subtle and some not so subtle differences. Initially the explorations of the culture of Earth 2 and its’ dopplegangers made for good entertainment. Watching good characters go bad and introducing new scary enemy Zoom (an inspired and frightening costume design) provided for a great balance of fun and drama. Barry got a convincing love interest in Patty Spivot (an overly earnest but energetic Shantel VanSanten), and things were running smoothly. The plotline really started to wear thin in the second half of the season, particularly when Patty unceremoniously left town and Zoom’s identity was revealed forcing the story to basically become a retread of last season’s Reverse Flash as mentor/enemy twist.
‘The Flash’ is really an ensemble show, the central character is surrounded by a team of support staff, a tactic utilized in most television shows these days, so luckily Gustin’s Barry is flanked by an able group of actors, if sometimes too many. The season saw another influx of characters including Wally West and Jesse Quick who pad an already full cast and don’t add much beyond filler, unengaging side plots, and comic book fan recognition. ‘The Flash’ would probably be better serviced by a paring down of the sprawling group and a refocus on the core characters, which may be a side effect of the events of the finale. Jesse L. Martin’s adoptive father Joe West, Tom Cavanagh’s returned Dr. Wells (from Earth 2), and best friend Cisqo (Carlos Valdes) remain stand-outs as both Barry’s foundation and source of comic relief.
Again the real draw are the scenes of the Flash running at ever-increasing high speeds, thrilling moments, often done in super slow-motion to reflect his perspective of the world at an elevated rate – these sequences are highly effective, on a true cinematic level. It is still mind-boggling trying to understand why DC/Warner is committed to re-introducing this character on film and making him ‘edgy’, when the character and this show are at its’ best when The Flash (and the actor who plays him) is earnest, relatable, and enjoying himself so that the audience does the same . . .
* * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- B