I’ll do my best to speak in generalities about Season 2, but expect a few spoiler-ish moments. It’s difficult to talk about the show without doing so as it’s often a blossoming flower of reveals as each layer sheds to expose some further level of “OMGWTF?!?”.
To date, I think The Flash has been the most successful translation of superhero comics to the television screen. It’s fun in a way that eschews the overly grim darkness of Arrow, is much smarter than Smallville, is mercifully less boring than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and just generally improves upon the genre as a whole. It’s a bit more reigned in than recent entries Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl, which seem to have taken license to be less restrained directly from The Flash. And sure, Daredevil and Jessica Jones (and oh man, Luke Cage coming soon) are killing it, but they have a Netflix budget and are taking a very calculated approach that sidesteps the more outlandish nature of costumed superheroes. Simply put, The Flash embraces the four-color fun of its comic book source material without overdoing it.
This isn’t to say that things don’t get heavy or emotional at times. The ongoing story arc of Season 1 is as brutal a betrayal as we’ve seen in comics and The Flash also isn’t afraid to tell a love story full of earnest pining. But it’s all managed with a deft hand, and a lot of credit is due to the outstanding cast. It’s not easy to keep something like this fun, light, engaging and serious all at the same time but Grant Gustin as the titular hero is up to the challenge. He’s so goddamn likeable that I often wonder if he isn’t the product of some kind of genetic experiment to create the perfectly affable handsome twenty-something.
All Grant-gushing aside, there’s just a lot to love about this show and I was eagerly looking forward to diving into Season 2. We left the first season on a rather grim note and that mood is by necessity sustained into Season 2. It’s also indicative of a sea change in the show in general, a slight shift away from the goofy “freak of the week” scenarios and more engagement in the ongoing story arc. These are some of the many ways the show has grown up in the interim between seasons. The romantic subplots have also evolved from teen crush status to grappling with some legit relationship struggles.
It may seem weird for me to have begun this review by praising the lighter tone of the first season and then to transition directly into embracing the darker tone of Season 2, but it’s a natural transition and it never takes away from everything that’s fun and awesome about The Flash.
This shift is predicated largely upon the presence of this season’s main antagonist, the surprisingly terrifying Zoom. I know, I know. How can any character with a name as ridiculous as “Zoom” be even the least bit frightening? It’s managed at first by the look of the character: a pitch black version of Flash’s costume and a mask that looks like something straight out of a horror movie. His voice is a distorted demonic growl (provided by Candyman himself, Tony Todd!) and his speed is conveyed in cold blue violent bursts, a sharp contrast to The Flash’s warm oranges and reds.
As we learn more about Zoom, we discover him to not only look like a monster but to very much live up to the moniker. He is a homicidal maniac, a dark specter that can appear anytime and anywhere to steal away or outright murder anyone, against which our heroes are entirely helpless. There is incredible tension generated here and much of the season hums with anxiety at what he might do next. It’s so bleak that it damn near forces an existential crisis for our protagonists, as Zoom is a constant reminder that any of them may be snatched away from the mortal coil, or at least the relative comforts of home, at any moment.
Zoom is a vein of dark lightning running through this season, so dark and so present in fact that it anchors the story in a way that allows for a few more ostentatious characters to be showcased. Against the looming threat of Zoom, characters like Atom Smasher, King Shark and Killer Frost that might not have otherwise held any sort of gravitas manage to feel just grounded enough to work as agents in Zoom’s thrall.
Time travel was the primary MacGuffin in Season 1 and here in Season 2 we find the story hinging upon the concept of multiple dimensions and dimensional travel. In this case, we encounter a mirror dimension of our own, dubbed Earth 2, from which Zoom and his cadre of hitmen, enforcers and assassins derive. It allows for some of the wacky Star Trek “Mirror, Mirror” doppelganger shenanigans you might expect as we see versions of several of the main characters through a fractured lens, how they might have been had circumstance been slightly tweaked. There is humor here but a surprising amount of depth as well.
Other shows that have introduced the concept typically spend a single episode or two exploring this, but as a theme for most of the season The Flash scratches well below the surface. If you’re a fan of Fringe you may draw some comparisons and rest assured that the writers of The Flash are also aware of this, (Cisco is too, and he’s got jokes.) They manage to do some truly unique and interesting things with the concept, resulting in twists and turns and an added complexity to the proceedings. In addition, the Earth 1 characters we know and love are often thrown into troubled introspection when confronted by the thought of who they might have become or what may be lurking a bit deeper in their own psychological makeup.
These mirror versions are often darker, sexier, more badass versions of their counterparts, and on Earth 2 superpowers flow like wine at the Bacchanalia. Again, because of how grim things are thanks to Zoom’s reign of terror none of this comes off as wholly unbalanced. A little over the top, maybe, but it’s all very much in the spirit of the comic books that inspire it. It’s also incredibly smart, introducing the concept of multiple dimensions.
Not only does it make for plenty of knowing winks and nods to DC comic’s rather infamous convoluted continuity, it also allows the writers of the show a comfortable safety net for trying new things and introducing concepts that might not otherwise feel at home in Earth 1. As an audience, we aren’t put off by the sudden appearance of a 13-foot-tall man/shark hybrid because we have already accepted that he’s from another dimension where shit like that just happens. More than this, the time-travelling and dimension-hopping address something that fans of The Flash know well: Flash is secretly the most powerful character in the DC Universe.
Once he gets moving fast enough, he sheds all rules of the natural world and quite literally anything is possible. It’s one of the things that has kept the character fresh and so much fun over the years but it’s also at the heart of the tremendous level of responsibility and pressure that comes in being given the ability to alter, well, anything. We often talk about Superman being the ultimate Boy Scout because he doesn’t allow his incredible powers to overcome his sense of morality and ethics, but he really can’t hold much of a candle to what The Flash struggles with. On The Flash, Barry has faced temptations unimaginable yet has always done the right thing, even when anyone else might have been a bit more selfish.
And that’s the other thing about this show, it’s got a hell of a lot of heart. Whereas Superman gets credit for not lobotomizing every lawbreaker with his laser vision or lording it up over humanity as a god, The Flash is struggling with that and more. One of the best things about Zoom and Reverse Flash before him is that they give a ready glimpse into what Barry could become if his dedication to doing the right thing wavered. He also frequently faces a much more tangible dilemma: not altering the timeline to save the people he loves and cares about from death. It’s odd for a show that is so generally lighthearted to pull into focus how important every single decision and moment of inaction can be, but we see through Barry how his personal sense of responsibility for those around him amounts to an incredible burden.
Thankfully he’s got family. I might argue that this is the thing the show really does best, in creating relationships between the main characters that have real presence and depth. The theme of family is constantly present, as Barry has lost his mother and lived with his father in prison since he was a young boy. The show asserts that family is where you find it, and the trust and kinship that exist between Barry and his adopted family and his partners on “Team Flash” is palpable. It reflects what many of us have encountered in our own lives, that you often find your greatest allies among the people you share your life with, whether they happen to be related to you or not. These relationships are what allow us to get through the day, and these characters are no different.
Season 2 ends with a monumental cliffhanger, one that adds a new layer to an already impossibly complex scenario at the heart of who Barry is. It’s the kind of thing that has impact because we are so invested in these characters and their relationships. We care about them, a byproduct of strong writing and great performances. I’m looking forward to going deeper in.
You may say to yourself: “But Adam, I’ve seen all the episodes, why do I need to own it on Blu-Ray/DVD?” A valid question, dear inquisitive reader! Hopefully I’ve made the case for this being not just a worthwhile example of comics translated to TV, but one of the best examples, the kind of thing you’d be happy to own and watch multiple times. I’m already considering a second go-round. Warner Brothers has sweetened the deal with a massive glut of extras sure to be of interest to any fan. They also include an Ultraviolet digital copy, which I have a whole new level of appreciation for after having recently had my entire home video collection stolen.
I’m not overselling it when I say that there’s a ton of extra content on each disk. There are features on the backstory and special effects used to bring to life almost every new villain and hero introduced this season. You get multiple features on Earth 2, several featurettes that detail specific visual effects, story arcs or episodes and two extended pieces from panel discussions (including last year’s ComiCon). I’d list them all out, but it would be spoiler-heavy from the titles alone. We also get a longer mini-documentary covering Kevin Smith’s involvement with directing an episode from Season 2. Fans of Smith will revel in the personal discussion he brings to the table and the extensive interactions and interviews with the cast and crew featured here.
You also get to see him crying.
Kind of a lot.
He’s an emotional guy.
“Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-Ray I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.”