Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find my all of my reviews of The Flash here.
A lot of jaw-dropping events took place in “The Race of His Life”.
Barry and Zoom had a fantastic race, in which the fate of the multiverse hung in the balance in a sort of miniature Crisis on Infinite Earths. Barry finally defeated Zoom, who was whisked away by the Time Wraiths and most likely became Black Flash, setting up a potential future villain. True to fan speculation, the man in the mask was revealed to be the “real” Jay Garrick, who was Henry Allen’s doppelgänger. And finally, in an incredibly exciting cliffhanger, Barry ran back in time and saved his mother, thus setting up a Flashpoint storyline for next season.
Taken on their own, those events were all amazing, and they made this fan very happy. The things that happened in “The Race of His Life” were worthy of a season finale, and a 5-star one at that.
Unfortunately, “The Race of His Life” was also a very messy episode. And it was the execution of the events, rather than the events themselves, that brought the episode down.
For instance, the big centrepiece of “The Race of His Life”, the titular race that ended in Zoom’s defeat, was epic and full of amazing visuals, and yet it was far too brief and lacking in emotional impact and catharsis for a final and personal showdown with this season-long villain. It was good to see elements that had been scattered throughout the season—time remnants and Time Wraiths—brought back to play key roles in the final conflict. Barry doing what Zoom had been taunting him to do all along and creating a time remnant to sacrifice was also a great idea.
It would have been perfect if it weren’t all so hurried. Nothing exemplified that more than Barry’s time remnant. The time remnant wasn’t just a copy of Barry; it was essentially Barry himself. So even though he technically survived, in a way Barry actually did give his life to save the world. It was a huge moment for his character, and we should have been able to feel the true impact of this sacrifice, but it happened far too fast for us to absorb what should have been an emotional punch. And it wasn’t followed up on in any meaningful way afterwards, aside from a quick explanation of Barry’s clever but wobbly plan (those Time Wraiths sure pick very convenient times to pop up).
On the other hand, “The Race of His Life” spent far too much time on things that should have been much more condensed—or perhaps should not have been included at all.
The entire subplot with Barry being locked up by his friends and Joe getting kidnapped occupied a third of the episode, but it was entirely unnecessary. Barry was ready and willing to face Zoom from the start—he didn’t need the extra incentive of Joe’s kidnapping. Barry’s rage at Zoom for killing his father needed to be addressed, sure, but a few of The Flash‘s usual pep talks with Joe, Iris, and the others would have covered that just fine, and provided a better build up to the race. Team Flash locking Barry up and taking matters into their own hands was a waste of time that made Zoom look weak and made our heroes look selfish for wanting to lock him away on another Earth (a point that was already covered earlier this season). In the end, it went in a circle.
The only purpose that whole subplot served was the scene between Zoom and Joe in which Zoom essentially gave a recap of what his plan was throughout the season. Admittedly, the recap was useful for me as a viewer, and yet the fact that it needed to be spelled out with such blatant exposition in order to appear coherent speaks to how Zoom, despite being a fearsome and effective villain on his own, was not handled very well from a storytelling perspective. That being said, Zoom’s recap also led him to finally reveal the identity of the man in the mask: the real Jay Garrick.
I really liked the reveal of Jay Garrick. It did justice to the original comic book character (who, just like in the show, was much older than Barry) and restored his heroic status after Zolomon had stolen his identity. And having him be Henry Allen’s doppelgänger and thus portrayed by John Wesley Shipp, the Flash from the 90s TV show, was perfect in a very meta way. The fact that fans were hoping for it for weeks made it all the more satisfying.
My only issue with the Jay reveal was that it didn’t really factor into the plot of “The Race of His Life”. The answer to a mystery that had been there ever since “Welcome to Earth-2” ended up being an Easter egg that didn’t affect the story. This could be rectified if Jay Garrick were to return in future seasons of The Flash and have a bigger role, but it would have lent this particular season more cohesion if he’d contributed more to the finale.
“The Race of His Life” ended in a huge cliffhanger. Despite his victory over Zoom, Barry felt hollow, the loss of his father coming just when he thought he had gotten over his mother’s death. So he ran back in time and did what he could not do in the last season finale: he saved his mother.
In terms of Barry’s characterization, I don’t know yet if this was a good choice or not. Does it nullify the progress Barry made in “The Runaway Dinosaur”, or is Barry regressing a strong continuation of that theme? Time will tell.
From a story perspective, though, this game-changer is incredibly exciting. The first thing it calls to mind is the Flashpoint comic book storyline, in which Barry saved his mother and returned to a bleak, near-apocalyptic present. One has to imagine that the show is heading in a similar direction, probably leading to Barry going back in time yet again in order to stop himself from saving his mother. I imagine we’ll revisit the decisive moment of the Season 1 finale, this time from the perspective of the future Barry who stopped his past self from saving his mother. I’m giddy just thinking about it.
In the end, much like the entirety of Season 2, “The Race of His Life” was a collection of superb high points and exciting developments packaged in an uneven and messy structure that was nonetheless very enjoyable.
Rating: 4/5 (Great)
The cliffhanger that “The Race of His Life” ended on raised a lot of questions. Such a drastic action will obviously be undone, but how long will it take to get there? How many episodes will we spend in the “Flashpoint” timeline? From a writing perspective, this bleak alternate universe in which Barry has no powers will be great to explore, but given the show’s format, it might not be sustainable for long. In a perfect world, I would have it last most of Season 3, or at least until the midseason finale. The Flashpoint comic lasted 5 issues, so a similar number of episodes would be appropriate. I just hope we’re given time to soak it in, and that it doesn’t all get resolved in just one episode. And when it does get undone, I hope that it has lasting effects.
Another question raised by the ending is logistic: will this reset affect the other shows, like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow? The simplest answer would be “not at all”. Since we know Barry will go back and restore the timeline, Arrow could simply behave like nothing happened, with the assumption that its events are taking place in the aforementioned restored timeline. That’s a perfectly reasonable way to go about it, but it’s not the most enticing one.
Another, more fun option would be to set Arrow and the other shows in this new Flashpoint timeline for several episodes until Barry fixes his mistake. This would confuse audiences who don’t watch all of the shows, but it would be great to see all of the series tied together. Plus, we already know that there will be a major 4-show crossover next year; it would be the perfect opportunity to close out the Flashpoint story arc in an epic, 4-hour conclusion. Devoting the first 8 weeks of each show’s season to this universe-wide event before branching off into separate stories would also be a great way of working around the 23-episode format that led The Flash and Arrow to meander a bit this year.