Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Flash 2x18 Review: "Versus Zoom" (Never Trust a Nemesis) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

"Versus Zoom"
Original Airdate: April 19, 2016

Wow, it’s been a long time since we visited Central City, eh? Since we left Team Flash weeks ago, they’ve been working on the tachyon device that should help Barry speed up enough to defeat Zoom. I suppose Harry still looked for his daughter, but with no luck. Um... Wally seems like he’s getting along with the whole West family now? And Iris has been asking herself if the universe has been trying to tell her that she’s meant to be with Barry, and since they’re married on other Earths and married in the future I guess I can see where she’s coming from there.

It actually doesn’t seem like a whole lot has happened since the last episode though, right? The whole Zoom thing has overshadowed pretty much anything else on The Flash, which I’m not terribly sure I like. Creating a good, season-long enemy to keep momentum going? Cool. But the Zoom business seems to have stalled just about every other type of story that The Flash could explore this season, barring a few quick mentions and one-off scenes. Plus, it’s making Barry increasingly more gloomy and I don’t like that. Give me back the Labrador Puppy version of Barry, show!


We open up with a Gloomy Barry narration over the scenes of his mother’s murder, with Barry telling us that being taken in by the Wests probably made all the difference in his life. Then we see some similar scenes, set on Earth-2 “many years ago” rather than the more specific “15 years ago” we got for Barry’s flashback (since, as we all know, Earth-2 takes place in a bizarre 1940s time warp). In the Earth-2 events, little Hunter “Why’d You Name Me This If You Didn’t Want Me to Be Evil” Zolomon witnesses his own mother’s murder, at the hands of his father. Unlike Barry, Zolomon Jr. didn’t get to stay with a nice family — he was sent to an old-timey gothic orphanage, where I’m sure the main diet was watery gruel and a side dish of sadness.

I do appreciate the parallel stories of Barry and Hunter Zolomon and The Flash’s emphasis on environment and how mishandling tragedy could lead to more of it. The idea isn’t strictly a nature vs. nurture thing — after all, Barry’s dad turned out to NOT be a murderer, while Zolomon’s definitely was, and if there’s an argument of violence being in the blood or DNA, these differences would factor — but there is a theme of kindness bringing about more kindness, here. The Wests were the perfect foster family for Barry: warm, inviting, with an understanding of how to deal with the aftermath of traumatic events, thanks to Joe West’s police training. Barry grew up with that love and understanding, and turned into a hero. Zolomon received no love, no understanding, and grew up to be a mass murderer.

And Zolomon — not Zoom — was indeed a mass murderer. Team Flash uncovers Zoom’s history, before he became a speedster obsessed with getting more speed (a goal I still do not understand. Why does it matter if you’re the fastest, Evil Speedsters?) and they find out that Hunter Zolomon killed two dozen people well before he ever became a supervillain. It was an electroshock therapy session — held in a spooky hospital for criminally insane and in the filthiest, dankest looking room, — coinciding with Earth-2’s particle accelerator explosion that gave Zolomon his powers and turned him into Zoom.

I actually really enjoyed Zoom’s backstory in this episode. I also enjoyed how utterly evil they made Zoom. He’s not a man with a plan to make a better world, who only kills because the people around him give him no choice, and he doesn’t carry any specific grudge against Barry or his friends. He doesn’t want power — not in the political sense, at least. He just wants to destroy, and take, and hurt. We could see Zoom’s tragic backstory as an attempt to induce sympathy in the audience, or we could look at the way Zolomon’s childhood paralleled Barry’s and see the difference in the choices they made, and how those choices led to one ending up the villain while the other became a hero.

The episode even plays with the idea of choices and power flipping the known nature of a person when Cisco wonders if tapping into his Vibe abilities might make him more like his evil Earth-2 doppelganger. Would good-hearted, funny Cisco be capable of great evil, if given the chance? If Barry’s life had turned out more like Hunter Zolomon’s, would Barry be capable of evil, too? How much of a person’s position along the line of heroism and villainy is up to a few simple choices and a touch of fate?


While Zoom’s backstory and character were handled nicely, there were a few problems with the... well, the choices the characters made in the episode. However, these other choices can be chalked up to faults in writing, rather than faults in character.

The first bit of questionable writing comes when Barry is testing the tachyon device and accidentally warps into another universe in the middle of running. It lasts a split second, then Barry Zips back into the lab, says, “I’m back?” and that’s the only reference we get to the crossover with Supergirl. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot with The Flash’s side of the crossover — a couple jokes from Cisco, maybe, and then the experience could be mostly dropped. But a key part of this episode’s plot is Team Flash trying to re-open the breaches to get to Earth-2, and Barry doesn’t mention that he accidentally ran so fast he ended up on another Earth? He doesn’t think that, just maybe, it’d be a good idea for the rest of the team to know that the tachyon whatsit allows him to run through the barriers between reality without having to create a Zoom-alerting breach to do so?

Hey, I don’t mind them hand-waving this newfound ability away, honestly. It doesn’t actually have to be critical. Make up some sci-fi nonsense about each method of travel being like a “doorway” (as in, the tachyon device can only go to Earth-3 while the breaches can only go to Earth-2) and dismiss it as an option. I really don’t care! But completely ignoring this thing that happened — and is canon in The Flash as much as it’s canon in Supergirl — is pretty ridiculous, especially when the subject of traveling to other Earths is so integral to the premise of this episode in which Barry accidentally, off-screen, TRAVELS TO ANOTHER EARTH.

I don’t ask a lot from my superhero shows. Mostly, I just want them to be fun and entertaining and not an emotional chore to get through. But addressing obvious plot points, using common sense and logic? I would like that to be the standard in all TV, regardless of whether or not they star costumed heroes fighting costumed villains for the fate of the multiverse. And not mentioning the tachyon-induced travel to Earth-3 was really just the first in a series of logical trip-ups in this episode.

Next up on the list of “Why would you do that?” is Barry gloating after Team Flash actually manages to capture Zoom. You’d think that Cisco, with all his pop culture savvy, would tell Barry that mocking the villain after capturing him usually directly precedes the villain escaping. Which Zoom does. With the new knowledge that Barry’s family is the best possible way to hurt him. So, yeah. Wally gets captured by Zoom, and Zoom gives Barry a choice to make: the safe return of Wally in exchange for Barry’s speed.

Committing yet another brazen act of ignorance, Barry actually assumes Zoom would honor this exchange and makes the deal. When Wally is safe and sound, instead of trying to re-capture Zoom (hint to heroes: you don’t actually have to keep your word when dealing with supervillains! It’s okay to lie for the greater good in these situations) Barry actually does give up his speed.

When Zoom attacks Barry — ooh, there’s a shocker! — after receiving all his speed, he gets talked down by Caitlin, who brings up their relationship from when he was Jay and they were dating or whatever. He lets Barry go, but then his kidnaps Caitlin. What’s up with you and the kidnapping, dude?



Other Things:
  • Bless that goofy thumbs-up Barry gives Iris when she goes off on her date.
  • "I can't believe I'm saying this about a man I shot at, and punched in the face, but I think you should listen to him.”
  • “The best plan we’ve come up with so far is to set off a nuclear warhead next to the city’s electrical grid.” "We're not gonna do that... uhm..." I love the delivery on that line.
  • Fingers crossed that Iris and Barry can just get together already by the end of this season.
  • Hey, we got to see Helmet Guy again! Hi, Helmet Guy!


  1. The entire negotiation with Zoom was stupid. Why give him the speed force? Once you give it to him, what is going to stop him from doing this to them again? It is a level of lazy writing and plot device that never makes any sense everytime it happens, and the only reason they do it, is to stretch out a plot that should have been wrapped up.

    I have liked the Zoom arc, but they have really strained reason with this, and they have made this "speed bump" of a middling plot moment for no other reason than to stretch it out to the end. Why not have more time with Cisco learning how to do his voodoo? That could have been a better episode...and more Cisco dancing.

    1. Completely agree. The Zoom plot could have been used as a looming threat while the team worked on other things, and the show could have made the confrontation a big finale. (Related note: I think they revealed Zoom's identity too quickly, and should not have shown the audience before the characters found out.) They put so much focus on Zoom that they ended up with a lot of irritating filler - like you said, some lazy writing elements that were only necessary because they needed the story to last longer.

      Alternative focuses for this season they could have used instead of spending their Zoom coin so carelessly: Cisco learning his powers, Iris and Barry working stuff out, Wally becoming part of the family and getting to know Barry... All these minor arcs that were reduced down to single-episode ultra-minor arcs just so More Zoom could happen.

      I appreciate the show trying for a larger scale story, rather than the simplistic metahuman of the week format every single time, but it seems like they didn't grow in complexity or scale, so much as they just stretched the simplicity out over the entire season instead of week-by-week.