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The Flash should have had a number of big moments this season. Zoom finally confronting Barry should have been a bigger deal. Vandal Savage should have actually presented a threat to the future Legends. And Team Flash’s journey to Earth-2 shouldn’t have been plagued by misguided drama. But more than any other moment this season, the one I was most interested in seeing play out was the reveal of Zoom’s identity. “Just who is the demonic speedster?” was a question that demanded a huge payoff, but when Zoom returned to his dungeon, holding Jay Garrick, and took of his mask to reveal…Jay Garrick, I was a little like, “alright.” Not exactly the reaction I was hoping for. I’ve criticized The Flash before for its atrocious characterization and forced tension, but these issues could be less significant if the series was able to execute on its moments of intensity and excitement. Clearly the revelation that Zoom was Jay Garrick/Hunter Zolomon wasn’t an example of this, and I wanted to discuss why I thought it fell flat.
In Naruto: Shippuden, the masked Tobi is very quickly introduced as a clumsy and incompetent character. Despite him wanting to join Akatsuki (at the time, an organization of some of the strongest ninja in the world), he is left fumbling for a ring he dropped through a crack in the ground, establishing him as a punchline for the series. However, this is a big misdirect. I won’t get into the details, but Tobi is revealed to be one of most powerful antagonists in the series. Because the anime makes sure to characterize him strongly from the outset (and slowly make it obvious that all is not what it seems with the character), there’s a big payoff when we’re finally told who he is. Such was not the case with Jay Garrick. For most of the season, Jay has had very little to do, and even when he gets into the action there’s only ever a tiny attempt to give him a personality. I’m not saying The Flash could have achieved the grand machinery of the Tobi reveal, but if the Jay we know has been in cahoots with Zoom the whole time (which seems to be the situation), they could have delved further into the idea of Jay playing at being a hero. He could have been more focused on taking out a villain than saving bystanders in one episode, with someone from the team later questioning him about it (but keeping their discussion private). The only interesting moments we got on this front were Hunter sitting on a bench and Harry, the one none of them trusted, being the one telling them not to trust Jay, but there wasn’t enough to make Zoom’s storyline seem intentional or deserving of the prolonged mystery.
There’s obviously a lot we don’t know about Jay’s history, his motivation, and how there are multiple Jays, so my suggestion might be completely off base, but that doesn’t change the fact that there should have been a real payoff for this reveal. Andrew Kreisberg told EW that “[Team Flash is] going to feel like they should’ve been inoculated against [betrayal after their experience with Professor Wells],” but the only substantial groundwork laid in Season 2 for this was Jay’s relationship with Caitlin. Kreisberg cited Jay acting as Barry’s mentor in the absence of Wells (implying that the reveal should hit him particularly hard), but Jay hasn’t really guided Barry since his first appearance thirteen episodes ago. As it was, it felt like the show was trying so hard not to give anything away that it allowed Jay to become invisible. And while this theory bodes well for the character’s development in future episodes, it made the “who” significantly less interesting than the “how.”
Due to its many Legends of Tomorrow tie-ins, villain of the week format, and the introduction of multiple important characters to the series, The Flash: Season 2 has lacked a consistent focus on Zoom. This has undercut the character by making several of his appearances seem like reminders that he’s still around, but the show’s many balls in the air also took away from the reveal of his identity. Instead of thinking about the implications of two Jays and the significance of Zoom’s choice of words, my mind immediately went to the other mystery character, the Man in the Iron Mask. Iron Mask’s execution has been one of the brighter points of the season, but his presence on the show made me feel the same way I felt about Reverse-Flash’s appearance: it made Zoom less special. Even though Eobard’s out of the picture now, his return meant that Zoom wasn’t the only villainous speedster of Season 2, and after “Welcome to Earth-2,” Zoom wasn’t the only mystery character, either. This might not have been a problem if Jay had been given more characterization, but “King Shark” made it especially clear that the series was stepping on its own toes; not giving a pivotal moment time to breathe.
Not only that, but the Zoom reveal makes me worried about Iron Mask’s identity. When I expressed excitement at the idea of him being a greying Jay Garrick (I saw the blond hair under his mask; it’s sad), I was under the impression that Zoom was going to be someone else. Now, however, I’d be less interested if that was the case. Again, I don’t know how everything ties together, but if Iron Mask is the real Jay or past Jay, I would rather they had packed this reveal in with Zoom taking his mask off. Kreisberg telling EW that “the identity of the man in the [iron] mask is, in some ways, probably an even bigger surprise than [the Zoom reveal]” means there’s still hope, but I don’t trust the series to not think of another Jay as a separate surprise.
Though the EW article explains that the parallel between the betrayals of Jay and Harrison Wells was intentional, I’m not convinced that makes for compelling television. We recently saw Barry deal with being disappointed with himself in a very drawn out manner following his fight with Zoom, and it looks like we’re going to get that on the scale of the team. Making matters worse, from the excessive way everyone responded to Harry’s appearance on Earth-1, The Flash has already demonstrated how its characters deal with someone who has betrayed them, which doesn’t give me confidence that the show can craft something less frustrating – let alone interesting – when the stakes are higher.
I really hope the upcoming episodes of The Flash: Season 2 don’t have any redeeming qualities. Not because I don’t want to like the show again, but because I don’t want people coming off of the season thinking it wasn’t that bad, misconstruing some game-changing final stretch for a decent season of television. Zoom’s identity reveal speaks to issues the show has been contending with all season, and if the show is going to pull me in again when fall comes around, I want it to be seen as a benchmark for what not to do. Otherwise…
*Featured image via arrow.wikia.com.