If a superhero lives long enough, guilt becomes a major part of the job. No matter the number of lives saved and allies earned, a hero cannot always avoid failure. And in hindsight, many of those failures seem all too preventable.
In "King Shark," Barry is reeling his experiences on Earth-2 and the probable death of Jay Garrick at the hands of Zoom. Arrow veteran John Diggle, who delightfully crosses over in this episode with his wife, A.R.G.U.S. director Lyle Michaels, says something that should inspire Barry to get his act together: He compares him to Oliver Queen. Diggle doesn't mean it as an insult; he's only observing how Barry has started to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, turning every tragedy into his own. But Oliver's penchant for masochistic brooding is something to be avoided. It's also unlike Barry, a hero whose major difference from Oliver isn't superpowers but his intrinsic hopefulness.
Barry isn't the only one in a funk. "This isn't happening again," Caitlin says, staring at the space where Jay was standing, mere seconds before Zoom shoved a hand through his chest and pulled him through the breach. I thought the same thing, but for different reasons. Caitlin's mourning over the loss of Jay figures heavily into the episode — and it highlights a lot of problems with her character. Her romance with Jay felt rushed and underdeveloped; I never saw any chemistry between the two. Furthermore, despite Ronnie being important to her, the show kind of glided over Caitlin's mourning process. Also, I'm just plain tired of the women on The Flash seeing the men they love as being so central to their characters. It's an uninteresting retread, and there are better uses for them (just look at how much more dynamic Caitlin and Iris were on Earth-2).
Cisco, who has never had an ounce of chill in his life, interprets Caitlin's mourning as a gateway toward her becoming evil like Killer Frost. Overreaction much? She's certainly more blunt and closed off, but given what happened, that isn't surprising. Of course, Cisco's concern leads him to break his promise to Harry about keeping what they learned on Earth-2 a secret. At the end of the episode — after pranking Cisco about becoming Killer Frost — Caitlin reassures him that she's not capable of going down a villainous path. The added detail that she doesn't have the metahuman gene was interesting, too. I guess fans can rule out Earth-1's Caitlin becoming Killer Frost in a future episode.
The main attraction, beyond grief and general unease over the Earth-2 experience, is King Shark. Under a now-deceased Amanda Waller's command, A.R.G.U.S. had King Shark in custody to potentially turn him into a weapon. His escape is what brings Lyla and Diggle to Central City. King Shark's appearance made me wonder who else from Earth-2 may be stuck on Earth-1. And, of course, he's the kind of villain who highlights The Flash's desire to embody a Silver Age zaniness. He's menacing, but also kind of ridiculous. I mean, he's a gargantuan, talking, pants-wearing shark.
Even after learning the breaches have been closed, King Shark is hell-bent on killing the Flash. He goes so far as ripping apart the roof of Joe's home, while inside, Barry and Wally are mid-argument. This brings us the best line of the night:
Wally, to a nonplussed Joe and Iris: Jaws bust through your house like the Kool-Aid man, the Flash shows up and you act like it's no big deal.
The team contacts the widowed wife of King Shark's Earth-1 counterpart, Dr. Lamden, who died after the particle-accelerator incident at S.T.A.R. Labs. She proves instrumental in taking down the metahuman. While Caitlin is the one who devises most of the plan, the rest of Team Flash is able to science the hell out of things to take down King Shark. (Side note: I know Jesse is supposed to be a genius, but speaking jargon doesn't make her seem smart. She just seems bratty, although apparently, she's only 17. Also, she may be brilliant, but she has the common sense of a chestnut if she thinks trying to find a way back to Earth-2 is a good idea.) So, to summarize: The plan involves heavily armed A.R.G.U.S. forces, a decoy of the Flash filled with tranquilizers on open water, and a recalibrated S.T.A.R. Labs satellite.
By the way, does anyone else wonder how S.T.A.R. Labs keeps the lights on? Who is funding all of these projects? How do Caitlin and Cisco pay their bills? Do they save money by never updating their security?
No surprise, the plan doesn't go well. Barry is nonetheless able to take King Shark down. He sprints circles around him, which electrifies the water, and throws a bolt of lightning at him.
Seeing King Shark is always a delight, but this episode is at its best when it covers emotional ground — particularly with the West family. Of course, Barry explains to Joe and Iris what happened on Earth-2. It's a touching scene, and Grant Gustin aces it. Barry discusses his fear of failure and how invested he became with everyone on Earth-2. That's what makes Barry a great hero; he cares so much. It's a trait he shouldn't give up, but he still needs to learn how to take things in stride. Also, Iris learning that their Earth-2 counterparts are married will hopefully lay down some groundwork to explore their romance again.
The interactions between Wally and Barry provide the brunt of the West family drama. We haven't really seen Wally and Barry interact before "King Shark," and their dynamic is unsurprisingly strained. Wally looks at Barry as having what he wanted. Barry has been raised by Joe since age 11. All Wally hears about is Barry's greatness, as if he can walk on water or something. (Which is a funny thing for Wally to say, because he can. We actually see him do it during the climactic fight with King Shark.) Iris and Joe try to get them to bond, but Barry ends up critiquing Wally's engineering application in a way that comes across as rude. They continue to struggle getting along — Barry even says that he doesn't think Wally likes him — but that's because they're both coming at their relationship the wrong way. Barry is too wrapped up in his guilt to understand why Wally is jealous of him. Wally needs to stop blaming Barry for things outside of his control and feeling threatened by him, although that's an understandable reaction. As Joe says to Wally, they're both his sons.
I felt that the friction between Wally and Barry was very realistic. I'm curious to see how things develop between them going forward. So far, Kenyan Lonsdale is pulling off the character very well. His Wally West is dramatically different from the one I grew up loving in the comics — but out of all the additions to this season, he is my favorite by far.
Now let's talk about Jay Garrick. The Flash may not be lavishly faithful to the comics, but it's good at embodying the spirit of characters even as it updates them. However, Jay doesn't make much sense on that level. The Jay of the comics is such a good, wholesome, wonderful, mentorlike figure. The Jay we've come to know on The Flash is a speed addict who disappears when people need him most and outright lied about how he lost his powers. He's also felt like a wasted opportunity. Why bring on the Golden Age Flash only for him to be powerless and disappear for long stretches? I've long figured that the Jay we've come to know may not really be Earth-2's Jay Garrick after all.
"King Shark" felt like an odd choice to end on before the show's monthlong hiatus … until the last scene, in which Zoom takes off his mask to reveal the face of Jay Garrick. Here's my guess: Earth-1 Hunter Zolomon is Zoom, while the Man in the Iron Mask is the real Earth-2 Jay/The Flash. The man we've seen as Jay this season, whose body Zoom carried into his lair, is either from another version of Earth or perhaps a shape-shifter of some sort.
We won't find out the truth for a while. But finally revealing Zoom's face goes a long way toward developing this season's big villain. He's already frightening — in no small part thanks to Tony Todd's voice work — but he has yet to bring the emotional heft that Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne had last season. Let's hope that changes soon.