The Race of His Life
Grant Gustin as Barry Allen.
If you could go back in time to save someone you love, would you do it?
When Geoff Johns introduced the “Flashpoint” story line in 2011, it dramatically changed the DC Comics universe. For those who didn’t read the comics, here’s a quick primer: Barry Allen goes back in time to save his mother, changing not just his own life, but the course of history. The Flash, Superman, and the Justice League no longer exist. Thomas Wayne wears the cowl of Batman because Bruce was gunned down as a child. Aquaman and Wonder Woman wage war against one another, killing millions.
All of this happens because Barry Allen couldn’t process his grief. At the end of this episode, Barry makes the same decision. It essentially erases everything that has happened since his childhood. It casts the first season’s finale in a new light. It strongly suggests that Henry’s death has totally messed up Barry’s development. After all, the speed force gave Barry an elaborate pep talk so he could process his mother’s death just a few episodes ago. And now, disaster looms.
Let’s be clear: This story line won’t be as big as “Flashpoint” was. There are a host of reasons, beginning with TV budgets. Yes, Supergirl is coming to the CW, although she exists on a different Earth. Yes, Barry shares a universe with Legends of Tomorrow and the Walmart version of Batman — oops, I mean Green Arrow. But will Barry’s decision affect those shows? How will Joe, Wally, Iris, and the rest of the team be reconfigured? Half the fun of “Flashpoint” was seeing how heroes were changed (or straight-up erased) because of Barry’s very personal, short-sighted choice. I don’t expect to see the consequences throw every CW superhero show into disarray.
I complained a lot this season about how The Flash mired itself in Legends of Tomorrow setup, rather than pushing narrative growth. But the end of this finale opens up for a whole new opportunity to do something radical. While every other superhero adaptation gets stuck repeating the same beats and formulas, The Flash can do something so bonkers, it might just work. The writers’ insistence to barrel forth into the weirder aspects of DC Comics mythos deserves admiration, if only for their sheer gusto. On the downside, “The Race of His Life” mostly feels interesting because of what it suggests for the show’s future. As a standalone episode, it leaves something to be desired.
We begin just a few moments after the previous episode. Barry’s guttural scream breaking the silence in his childhood home. Henry lying dead on the floor. And Zolomon smirking, as he spouts drivel about how this tragedy will make Barry just like him. “I told you family was a weakness,” he says.
Although there’s a lot to love in this finale, there’s also quite a bit working against it, including Zolomon. Teddy Sears obviously had a lot more fun with this role once he was able to ditch the Jay Garrick persona. As Zoom, his look and voice (thanks to the great Tony Todd) is menacing — but menacing can only go so far. It took this villain far too long to come into his own. Likewise, it takes the finale far too long to reveal Zolomon’s master plan. Despite its last-minute revelations, it’s tripped up by poor pacing.
After Henry’s funeral, Zolomon challenges Barry to a race to truly determine the fastest man alive. Zolomon may have an ego complex, but the stakes are far too low for it to be that simple. It isn’t, of course. The team discovers that Zolomon plans to harness energy from the race to destroy the entire multiverse, as Cisco foresaw in his apocalyptic vision.
Given that every Earth lies in the balance, along with the lives of those he loves, Barry feels he must agree to the race. But Joe can see justice isn’t guiding him; he’s out for revenge. When Joe can’t talk Barry down, Harry tranquilizes him. He wakes to see he’s in a cell in the Pipeline. Everyone (minus Wally) has decided that Barry’s anger is clouding his vision. They’ll take down Zoom on their own. Sure, that won’t go wrong.
It starts off well enough, and technically the plan to forcefully send Zolomon back to Earth-2 is successful. Unfortunately, he doesn’t go alone. He drags Joe West with him, scoffing, “Barry has an ample number of fathers to kill.”
As I watched this finale, I was curious to see which female character would get the spotlight. The Flash is good at a lot of things, but it simply fails to develop more than one female character at a time. Thankfully, each woman gets a standout moment. Jesse has a heartwarming conversation with Harry, suggesting he stay in Earth-2 since he’s happy there. (They ultimately end up returning to Earth-2, wrapping up a major arc.) Caitlin plays an instrumental role in the Zolomon plan, since she’s a weak point for him. Unfortunately, Danielle Panabaker’s performance is unconvincing and lackluster. The scene in which Caitlin acts as bait is great on the page, but the acting chemistry just isn’t there.
Wonderfully, Iris West is interwoven throughout the whole episode. She’s the one who sees through Barry. She’s supportive, kind, and a crucial member of the team. The chemistry between Candice Patton and Grant Gustin is electric. And they finally get to kiss! The moment is given so much weight and importance; there’s no question the Barry-Iris relationship is endgame. But (you knew there would be a but, right?), Barry doesn’t want to start dating until he can work out his emotional issues. On the one hand, that’s a healthy decision. On the other, how long will fans have to wait until these two finally start dating? All of this may not matter, of course. Barry resets the timeline by saving his mom, so who knows where Iris will end up.
Thanks to a pissed-off Wally, Barry gets out of his cell. He vowed to avenge Henry, so he’ll race Zolomon with or without the team’s help. Of course, they’ll help. They may think Barry is in a bad place, but these people love each other. With a little help from Cisco’s vibe, Barry sends a message to Zolomon. He’ll race him, but only if Joe returns to Earth-1 unharmed. It’s a deal.
As any regular viewer knows, The Flash injects heartwarming pep talks whenever possible. Just before Barry races Zolomon, we get a few cute moments. Like Harry telling Barry, “We believe in you.” Or Wally reminding him that Joe is a father figure for both of them. My favorite moment is when Iris seems like she’s about to say something insightful, but then just says, “Barry, kick his ass.”
As Barry races Zolomon he’s aided by an unlikely figure: himself. Barry takes a page out of his enemy’s book (which was foreshadowed earlier in the episode) by getting a time remnant of himself. Even though Zoom manages to power up the tech from Mercury Labs to destroy the multiverse, Past-Barry creates his own pulse to destroy it, sacrificing himself to save multiple Earths. The death of Past-Barry would have been more impactful if we got to see the two Barrys interact. It’s obviously an important detail, underscoring that Barry would die for the ones he loves, but it doesn’t totally work.
Cue a knockdown, drag-out fight. Once again, Barry gets the upper hand and refuses to kill Zolomon. He doesn’t have to. The Time Wraiths, sent by the speed force, finish the job for him. The Time Wraiths are an increasingly odd device, it’s cool to see that they’re obviously speedsters who disobeyed the speed force. What does that say for Barry? It can’t bode well, considering how he alters the timeline.
The finale’s other major development involves the Man in the Iron Mask. Yes, we finally find out who he is. Back at S.T.A.R. Labs, the team takes off his mask to reveal … he’s Henry’s doppelgänger. I had a feeling about this when Henry mentioned that his mother’s maiden name was Garrick. Apparently, Zolomon tried to steal his powers, which were dampened by a device in the mask. He ended up stealing Jay Garrick’s name and style. Although The Flash hasn’t really captured the character’s iconic status, it’s still thrilling to see the real Jay Garrick wear his costume and reclaim his heroic role on his homeworld, Earth-3. He even decides to adopt the helmet Zolomon wore, in order to define what it really represents: hope.
Barry may win the fight, but until the last moments, the finale feels vaguely underwhelming. There’s a lot to love, of course. Cisco getting a better handle on his powers. The moving score in the final scenes. The way the camera frames the emotive, beautiful faces of Grant Gustin and Candice Patton. I love the dynamic between Harry and Cisco, which will be sorely missed in season three. Although, who knows? Maybe Tom Cavanagh will play a different version of Harrison Wells in every season.
We won’t know how much The Flash will change for quite some time. But by making such a bold move, the show has planted its flag. This is no ordinary superhero story. And that’s what makes it so wondrous: its Silver Age energy, its humor, and most important, its heart.