TV series that incorporate time travel tend to have a very malleable mythology, since at any point, the timeline can change drastically due to a multitude (dare I say Multiverse?) of reasons. That was certainly true for “The Race of His Life,” the season two finale of The Flash, though the major shift in the series’ status quo didn’t come until the end of the episode. What preceded that shift was a surprisingly enjoyable and satisfying conclusion to the many story threads that this season of The Flash focused on.
I’ve been looking forward to The Flash ever since Barry Allen popped up on season two of Arrow in 2013. But since the show started, I’ve been a bit skeptical that the writers might be biting off more than they can chew. Any fan who knows the Flash from his origins in DC Comics knows that the character has a complex mythology, with his bond to the Speed Force and his ability to visit other Earths in the Multiverse. Translating all of that complex techno-lore into a TV show can be difficult, and sometimes The Flash has faltered. Yet, “The Race of His Life” was able to effectively balance the complicated techno-lore with good old-fashioned character development and emotion.
(There’s an implicit spoiler warning in all “Recap and Reactions” here on Fandom, so if you haven’t watched “The Race of His Life” yet, come back to this article after you do!)
Zoom’s Big Endgame is… a Race?
Throughout this entire season, Barry has been facing off with Zoom, a.k.a. Earth Two‘s Hunter Zolomon, but the stakes were undoubtedly raised as we entered “The Race of His Life.” The previous episode, “Invincible,” put an abrupt halt to Barry’s confidence in himself (which bordered on overconfidence) when Zoom murdered Barry’s father, Henry Allen, in the Allens’ old family home — the site of Nora Allen‘s death sixteen years ago. Only in recent episodes has Zoom revealed his master plan: to make Barry like him. In other words, a psychopathic serial killer masquerading as a hero.
The Flash‘s season one finale, “Fast Enough,” was heavily rooted in Barry’s emotional conflict about whether to travel back in time and save his mother, in order to help the Reverse-Flash return to the future. Barry spent much of that episode consulting with his two father figures — Henry Allen and Joe West — about whether to go through with the Reverse-Flash’s plan. “The Race of His Life” similarly tapped into Barry’s emotional turmoil as he tried to cope with Henry’s murder. It might be a bit macabre for me to say this, but it wouldn’t be The Flash (or Arrow, for that matter) without a funeral.
Still, it seemed a bit of a let-down once Zoom revealed that his big plan was to race with Barry to see which one of them was faster. It sounded silly, and neither Joe nor Jesse bought into it. Hence, it made sense when Harrison Wells realized that there was more to Zoom’s plan than a simple race. Zoom’s theft of Mercury Labs‘ magnetar meant that the entire Multiverse was at stake, with Barry and Zoom’s race serving as the catalyst for the Multiverse-shattering device. In Cisco‘s words: “One pulse to destroy them all.” (Does that mean that Zoom is Sauron? Or maybe just Gollum.)
Zoom vs. Everyone
Two seasons in, The Flash has crafted a distinctive tone for itself. The villains are more personal than, say, those of Arrow, at least since each season’s Big Bad has an endgame that doesn’t involve destroying an entire city. (More on that soon, when I take a look at Arrow‘s fourth season finale, “Schism.”) As a result, Barry is confronting a single person instead of an entire organization, like the way that Oliver Queen went up against Deathstroke‘s forces, the League of Assassins, and now H.I.V.E. Initially, it seemed like The Flash would be going that route due to Zoom’s army of Earth Two metahumans, but “Invincible” took them off the board before that could happen.
At the same time, because The Flash‘s villains are so personal, it usually means that Barry’s big showdown with them in the season finale is self-contained, leaving the rest of the cast without much to do besides supporting Barry. It makes sense, since Barry is rightfully the protagonist of his own show, but it can still be a let-down for the show’s secondary characters. That’s why it was so satisfying to see Joe, Harry, Caitlin, Cisco, Iris, and Jesse lock up Barry and take matters into their own hands, by baiting out Zoom and booting him back to Earth Two. Unlike the plot of “Fast Enough,” it wasn’t only Barry’s decision this time. It was up to everyone to stop Zoom.
The decision to leave Barry in the dark made for some understandable tension between him and his friends. Because it was such a controversial decision, I appreciated that Joe looked to Iris and asked, “Did we make the right call here?” Barry was in ten kinds of pain after losing his father to Zoom, and emotionally, he just wasn’t ready to face Zoom. He even admitted to Joe that he was willing to avenge Henry by killing Zoom. Still, the intent to murder and actually committing it are two separate matters.
If Joe and the others had initially let Barry race Zoom, would Zoom have won? By “won,” I don’t mean winning the race, but instead winning by manipulating Barry into taking revenge. After Joe’s plan went south and Zoom took Joe prisoner, we finally got our answer to whether Barry was truly willing to kill Zoom.
A Callback to Young Justice
This is a massive spoiler for anyone who hasn’t seen the stellar animated series Young Justice, so I apologize if that’s the case. The series was cancelled after only two seasons, but its premature end was due to funding problems instead of any issues with quality — the show was superb. In the second season finale, Wally West (Kid Flash in the show’s universe) sacrificed himself by using his speed trail to help avert the Reach‘s doomsday device known as the Magnetic Field Disruptors. He ran continuously around the MFD, eventually fading into nonexistence, and became the show’s first major death. (Or “loss,” for the fans out there who refuse to believe he’s dead.)
I have no idea whether The Flash‘s writing team is familiar with Young Justice, but Barry’s method of stopping Zoom’s magnetar device certainly felt like a callback to Young Justice. Barry mimics Zoom’s trick with creating a time remnant, allowing Barry to essentially clone himself. While the real Barry distracts Zoom, Barry the Time Remnant disables the magnetar by running around it continuously, disrupting the pulse that would destroy all other Earths in the Multiverse. In doing so, the time remnant sacrifices himself, dissolving into nothingness. Sound familiar?
In any case, with the magnetar counteracted, the only thing left for Barry to deal with was Zoom. Instead of killing him, Barry let a pair of Time Wraiths carry the defeated Zoom off into the Speed Force. Did Barry make the right choice? As the traditional hero, he did. Still, even though it was the right moral decision on Barry’s part, it felt underwhelming as a conclusion to the season-spanning conflict with Zoom. It definitely didn’t measure up to the emotional impact of “Fast Enough,” with Eddie Thawne killing himself in order to wipe the Reverse-Flash, his descendant, from existence. Regardless, with Zoom gone, the show can move onto bigger and better things.
Goodbye Wells(es), Hello Jay
Before I get to the huge curveball that the end of “The Race of His Life” threw, I want to make sure to talk about the other two post-Zoom developments. First, the Wells family’s return to Earth Two. This entire season was a showcase of Tom Cavanagh‘s talents, as he brought fans a convincingly new version of Harrison Wells (following season one’s Wells, who was Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash in disguise). It made sense for Harry and Jesse to return home to Earth Two, and their goodbyes to Barry, Caitlin, Cisco, and the rest of Team Flash were particularly touching, since they showed just how much Harry and Jesse had bonded with their Earth One allies.
There’s no word yet on whether Cavanagh will be staying with the main cast of The Flash for season three, but we definitely haven’t seen the last of Earth Two’s Harry or Jesse. As Cisco said, Earth Two is just a Vibe away, and it isn’t difficult to imagine some story line incorporating the Wells family to some degree. I hope that the show also takes some time to address Jesse’s potential speedster abilities, and the same goes for Wally. Plus, if we ever see Jesse again, we might get some development on the growing romantic vibe between her and Wally. (Ha ha, vibe. See what I did there?)
And speaking of Wally, he definitely had his moments throughout the finale. There wasn’t a huge amount of time to address Wally’s inevitable discovery that Barry is the Flash, especially with Henry’s death and everything else that was going on. Still, Wally did get his moment with Barry, which was fittingly simple. The Flash seems to be making a rather heavy-handed comparison between Wally and Arrow‘s Roy Harper, who was also saved by the Arrow, thus motivating him to become a hero in his own right. It’ll be interesting to see if Wally takes a similar path in season three.
Let’s talk about the reveal that Zoom’s masked prisoner is, in fact, the real Jay Garrick (whose name Zoom stole) — who is none other than Henry Allen’s doppelgänger from Earth Three! It was great to see John Wesley Shipp don a Flash costume for the first time since the 1990 series in which he starred. It also proved to be a pivotal moment for Barry, who found it understandably difficult to see a man who was the spitting image of his late father. Barry got into a similar situation back in “Welcome to Earth-2,” when he couldn’t prevent himself from trying to help Joe‘s and Iris‘s doppelgängers.
Like Harry and Jesse, it’s clear that we’ll be seeing more of Jay Garrick next season. Shipp has confirmed that he’ll be back to provide more of Jay. Yet, it was also evident that the fact that Jay was Henry’s doppelgänger left Barry more shaken than he was willing to admit. Which brings us to that curveball at the end of the episode…
Time for a Change
Is it boasting to say that I saw that curveball coming? I didn’t know exactly what it would be, but I knew that there would be some kind of shocking, cliffhanger-type ending for a Flash season finale. That trend began in season one’s “Fast Enough,” when Barry’s trip to the past opened up the singularity, as well as the portals to Earth Two. I have to admit that “Fast Enough” left me really frustrated, since I frowned on the writers’ decision to end the season on such an unresolved moment.
Toward the end of “The Race of His Life,” when Barry kissed Iris while at the same time putting the breaks on their growing intimacy, I initially thought that Barry was gearing up for an inter-season sabbatical, much like the kinds that Oliver Queen has taken more than once between seasons of Arrow. Barry’s true intentions packed more of a punch. Even though I was shocked by Barry’s decision to finally save his mother, I didn’t have a negative reaction to it because, psychologically, it made sense.
Barry spent most of the episode not truly admitting how much his father’s death had broken him. Back in “The Runaway Dinosaur,” when Barry was trapped in the Speed Force, he admitted that he hadn’t allowed himself to move on from his mother’s death. He still hasn’t. The loss of a parent can be traumatic, and now that Barry has lost both of his parents, he was in more pain than ever before. Iris effectively summed it up: When Barry asks her, “Why does it feel like I just lost?,” Iris replies, “Because you’ve lost a lot in your life, Barry. More than most.”
The parallels to — or rather, the divergences from — “Fast Enough” were stunning. In that single moment, racing back in time at the end of “The Race of His Life,” Barry showed that his arc throughout season two, or at least the loss of his father in the finale, was enough to entirely reverse his decision not to save his mother back in “Fast Enough.” Back in “Fast Enough,” it was heartbreaking to see Barry let his mother die in order to preserve the timeline, but it felt like the right decision. Now, however, Barry wasn’t willing to lose either of his parents, and that meant changing the past.
Has Barry become the villain of his own show? I don’t want to oversimplify his psychology, but it felt like a selfish choice for Barry to travel back in time to save his mother, particularly since this time, he didn’t consult anyone before he left. He completely took matters into his own hands, without acknowledging that he would be changing everyone’s lives, including those of his friends and family — Caitlin, Cisco, Earth Two’s Wells, and especially the Wests. So much of season one’s “Fast Enough” had Barry grappling with the problem that saving his mother would mean bringing about an uncertain future, but this time around, Barry seemed to ignore all of that.
Season two ended on an ominous note, as Barry’s “other” future self faded out of existence. Will the series be tackling a dystopian story line like Flashpoint from the comics? In Flashpoint, Barry saves his mother but brings about a terrible future, namely with Aquaman‘s Atlanteans and Wonder Woman‘s Amazons tearing apart the world with war, the nonexistence of the Justice League, billions of civilian casualties — in other words, Armageddon. Like the impact of the singularity, we won’t know exactly what The Flash‘s new status quo will be until season three arrives.
It’ll also be interesting to see how The Flash‘s sibling shows handle the reverberations of Barry’s trip to the past, since this incident will be almost impossible to ignore. How Legends of Tomorrow will address the timeline changes is anyone’s guess, since the show already deals with time travel. A four-part crossover between Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl, the newest addition to The CW, is coming this fall, so perhaps that’s where we’ll see the true impact of Barry’s fateful decision.