Ever since Earth-2 was first teased, I've been curious to see how The Flash would delve into it. Would the show go for heartbreak? Would we see a bevy of references to other parts of the DC Universe? Would it wonderfully embrace the Silver Age zaniness of Barry Allen?
The answer is all of the above.
"Welcome to Earth-2" marries incredible action sequences, amazing direction by Millicent Shelton, some of the cast's best acting (particularly from Candice Patton and Grant Gustin), lots of heart, and just the right number of nods to the comics. It is undoubtedly the best episode of the season, and just may be the best episode of The Flash yet.
This installment opens with Barry closing all of the breaches that lead to the alternate reality, except for the one at S.T.A.R. Labs. Harry is emboldened by fierce determination to save his daughter, Jesse. And Cisco is just along for the ride, wondering about how his Earth-2 doppelgänger will be. Harry, Cisco, and Barry will only have 48 hours until their friends back home will close the breach — a security measure in case Zoom gets ahold of them. Unfortunately, there's an unseen consequence of Barry closing the other breaches: The "speed cannon" that sends them to Earth-2 overloads, leaving Caitlin and Jay scrambling to fix it in time for them to come back. Otherwise, the trio will be trapped.
Everything happening on Earth-1 is minor compared to the madness of Earth-2, which comprises the most exciting parts of the episode. But, it's worth dwelling on some interesting insights into Jay Garrick, one of the show's newer characters who has been repeatedly sidelined.
When a metahuman starts wreaking havoc on Central City, Joe, Caitlin, and Jay have to figure out how to handle him without Barry's help. Joe suggests that Jay use Velocity 6, that handy serum that temporarily gave him speedster powers so he could pull a bullet out of Harry's chest. Jay is adamantly opposed, and it's clear he's hiding something. Moments later, in one of the only moments of this episode that feels off, he reveals to Caitlin why he reacted that way.
Jay wasn't satisfied with his speed when he originally gained his powers, so he used his scientific knowledge to create ways of increasing it. That's what led him to use Velocity 6 — and he got addicted to it. Velocity 6 is what's killing him. And to make matters worse, he reveals Zoom never stole his powers. What else might Jay be hiding?
It's interesting to consider that, on the far more advanced and almost utopian world of Earth-2, the Flash is pretty much a speed addict. This adds some much-needed texture to Jay's character; he has felt like a cardboard cutout since his introduction. All of this also makes me wonder about Jay's Earth-1 counterpart, Hunter Zolomon, who shares the name of Zoom's alter ego from the comics. Doppelgängers are rarely exact mirror images. The joy (or unease, depending on how you look at it) of doppelgänger stories is recognizing the minute and grand differences between people who share the same face. Still, the Earth-1 and Earth-2 counterparts have some similar traits. I'm left with a big question: Does Zolomon share Jay's addiction to speed? I think Jay's addiction is further evidence that Zolomon is actually Zoom.
Back in the lab, Caitlin creates the new and improved Velocity 7 for Jay. He's able to face off with the metahuman, Geomancer, triumphantly wearing his Flash suit once more. Though he starts off well, the drug fades pretty quickly and he has to be saved by Joe.
Of course, what Jay and the rest of Team Flash deals with on Earth-1 pales in comparison to what's happening on Earth-2.
When the trio first crosses over, Jay warns them to not get distracted by what they see along the way. As they hurtle toward Earth-2, we see glimpses of characters on other Earths, including the 1990s Flash (John Wesley Shipp, who plays Barry's father on the show), Jonah Hex (who will appear on Legends of Tomorrow), an alternate Green Arrow, and, most interesting, Melissa Benoist's Supergirl (whom Barry will meet again in an upcoming crossover episode).
Cisco and Barry are in awe. The technology on Earth-2 is far greater than ours. This Central City is a gleaming, sepia-toned metropolis, stuffed with a sort of 1950s retro-futurism. The new identities of Earth-1 heroes and villains quickly reveal themselves: Leonard Snart isn't the scenery-chewing Captain Cold, but instead, the city's mayor; Deadshot, a.k.a. Floyd Lawton, is a good guy (and is terrible with a gun); Captain Singh is a criminal.
Since Cisco's goggles need to be reworked — because Earth-2 vibrates on a different frequency — Barry comes up with a different plan, which involves knocking out his doppelgänger in S.T.A.R. Labs and impersonating him. Earth-2 Barry seems less sure of himself than the Barry we know. He's even dorkier, and very clumsy. (He's also a CSI, for what it's worth.) More important, though, Earth-2 Barry has the dream life that Barry wants: His mother is alive, his parents are together, and he's married to Iris.
One of the episode's best scenes involves Barry calling "his" mother when Iris mentions she tried to reach him. Grant Gustin utterly sells the mix of longing, joy, and sadness that her voice triggers during their brief, casual conversation. The best Easter eggs happen here, too. We see names listed on the home phone, including Eddie (Eddie Thawne, suggesting that he's alive and in their life), Bruce (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Hal (Hal Jordan/Green Lantern), and the best, Diana (Diana Prince/Wonder Woman). How in the hell do Earth-2 Barry and Earth-2 Iris know them? I know we won't see these characters on The Flash, but even seeing their names made me giddy with excitement.
The different world also has negative repercussions. Earth-2 Joe is a jazz singer, not a cop — giving Jesse L. Martin a chance to demonstrate his chops — and he can't stand Barry because Iris supported him as he got his Ph.D. Apparently, this version of Barry is incredibly selfish.
Caitlin as the villainous Killer Frost and Ronnie as her boyfriend, Deathstorm, are the flashiest differences among the doppelgängers. I was worried Danielle Panabaker wouldn't pull off the role; she's usually so stiff. But she seems to have a lot of fun here, even if she doesn't always nail the character's mix of violence, sexiness, and villainy. (If anything, Killer Frost and Deathstorm recall another great evil couple — vampire Willow and Xander, from an alternate timeline explored in Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Doppelgangland.") They're tasked by Zoom to track down the people who traveled through the breach, and Killer Frost's delight over killing breachers suggests that this isn't the first time people have crossed over. This leads them to the jazz club where Joe sings. Barry tries to appeal to Killer Frost as Caitlin. Surprise, surprise: It doesn't work. Barry hasn't been listening to what Jay and Harry said about not getting emotionally invested or confused by Earth-2.
Things get ugly really fast when Iris tries to face them down, gun in hand, only for Joe to be hit by one of Deathstorm's fiery blasts. Barry takes the fight outside, revealing himself to be the Flash. It's heart-racing to watch him dart and run from Killer Frost and Deathstorm. (I love how Killer Frost says, "God, this makes me so hot." I guess violence is a turn-on for her. Go figure.) After the fight, it's only a matter of time before Zoom learns that Barry, Cisco, and Harry have crossed over.
The most pronounced, fascinating difference to me isn't Caitlin or Ronnie, though. It's Iris West-Allen. On Earth-2, Iris gets to do everything I want to see her Earth-1 counterpart do.
Earth-2 Iris is a badass police detective with an enviable wardrobe. (Check those wide-legged, cream-colored pants!) She's brazen, smart, and witty. She has the sort of charm and vibe that reminds me of the great 1930s screwball heroines, like Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday — except she's no man's girl Friday. She's obviously the dominant force in her marriage. I love the way she makes out with a shocked Earth-1 Barry in a secluded corridor, and how she casually undresses when they get home. The chemistry between Patton and Gustin is pretty amazing here; they're definitely the highlight of the episode.
Considering how the show has wrongfully sidelined Iris and Barry's love for her — to the point that it doesn't even make sense — I'm curious to see how their dynamic will change going forward. Toward the end of the episode, there's a moment when Detective Iris West (damn, doesn't that sound nice?) goes off to catch Killer Frost and Deathstorm. Before she heads out, she says, "I love you" to Earth-1 Barry. (He's still pretending to be his doppelgänger.) When Barry says, "I love you, too," it seems to catch in his throat. Maybe this will help him remember his love for her.
Things spiral after Barry's first confrontation with Killer Frost and Deathstorm. After a sentimental conversation in the hospital, Joe dies. This only makes Iris even more determined to take down Killer Frost and Deathstorm. Iris won't let Barry come with, of course, since she still thinks this is her husband. Nevertheless, Barry is able to get Cisco to join her and her partner, Floyd Lawton, since he created something that can harm Killer Frost. Iris's tip ends up being correct, and it leads them to a warehouse where the villains are hiding out. (Side note: It was very disturbing to learn that Professor Martin Stein is Deathstorm's other half, but he's been buried deep and doesn't talk all that much.) Things get real when we learn that Killer Frost and Deathstorm don't work directly for Zoom. They work for another villainous metahuman, Reverb, who happens to be Cisco's doppelgänger.
And Earth-2 Cisco is kind of a jerk. Reverb is single-minded and power hungry, and even Killer Frost is afraid of him. "You don't even know how powerful you are," he says to Cisco. Reverb is far more in-tune with his abilities, and he's been watching Cisco from afar. But Reverb overestimates his influence; he offers Cisco the chance to take over, and he turns him down. Cisco then calls out for Barry, leading to the most action-packed fight scene of the night. All of the major players are involved. I love that Iris isn't one to take orders, but smartly stays down — it's dangerous to be out there while fireballs, icicles, and such are being thrown all over the place. At least she swipes Cisco's anti–Killer Frost gun and gets in a few good hits.
After they overpower Barry, Reverb makes another mistake: He thinks he can outmaneuver Zoom, who arrives to discover that Barry was harmed against his orders. So, Zoom unceremoniously kills Reverb and Deathstorm. (Is there any universe where Ronnie lives?) Killer Frost lives to see another day, though, because she wisely knew what would happen if she hurt Barry.
Now that Zoom is finally in the spotlight, we can see how truly terrifying he is. Shout-out to the Tony Todd's great voice work, which adds just the right amount of menace, intelligence, and doom to the character. With nothing left in his way, Zoom captures Barry and speeds off. When Barry comes to, he's trapped in a glass prison. He lets a tearful Jesse know that he knows her father, and promises he'll somehow save her.
Curiously, someone else is imprisoned nearby. We haven't seen this character before, and he's wearing a metal mask. I'm not sure who that is, but he must be important. "Look around," Zoom says, staring Barry down. "This is the last place you'll ever see." There's certainly no way that threat is true. We know Barry will survive. But what this trip to Earth-2 cost him?