This week’s Flash takes a trip to Earth-2, for a highly anticipated exploration of the multiverse.
Right from the get-go this promises to be an eventful Flash. As Barry, Cisco, and Wells prepare to leave, we’re able to get a real sense of the gravity of the undertaking by the way the tone is presented with dramatic direction and music. The Earth-2 intro itself is a cavalcade of Easter eggs, some of which are so obscure that I had to ask some veterans what they meant. There’s plenty to be said about how Cisco and Barry react to the incredible scientific advances on Earth-2, which is very clearly and impressively presented by amazing CGI that brings the golden utopia to life, with a multitude of science-fiction advanced city tropes, including the ever-favorite monorail in the sky. Most of these reactions are played off as a gag: meeting a friendly doppelganger of an Earth-1 enemy (they do this one a couple of times, and it never gets old), the materialization of science theory in to practice, and the slight variations on Earth-1 Central City staples (“A Just Society…” nice one Flash writers).
The whole thing gets blown wide open once Earth-2 Barry is revealed. The transformation by Grant Gustin in to his other Barry character is something amazing to see. What’s incredible is the significant amount of charisma that Gustin has as Barry-1 seems the evaporate as soon as he begins acting as Barry-2. This is the same actor, but Earth-2 Barry is awkward (real awkward not Amazing Spider-Man awkward), meek, and codependent: not at all like the heroic Barry of Earth-1. It balances out well with the much more assertive Iris on Earth-2; which Candice Patton completely chews to bits, as well as her bringing emotion to her character, which we already know she excels at.
Danielle Panabaker proves that she’s good at being bad. The character of Killer Frost as a villain is an easy one to portray, I would think. This is mostly because her relatively cliche backstory and lack of notable plotlines (with the exception of her brainwashing in Crisis on Infinite Earths! Killer Frost/Firestorm!) in the comics. Having said all that, Danielle Panabaker does a complete one-eighty from her character of Caitlin and makes Killer Frost a surprisingly threatening presence. There’s an emotional angle there as well, which betrays much more complex motivations than just bad for badness’ sake; but it doesn’t work nearly as well as her villainous deeds and dialogue. Robbie Amell as Deathstorm doesn’t quite hit that same level, but his chemistry with Danielle Panabaker (with the reversed alignment) creates a juxtaposition of their relationship in previous episodes; albeit far more twisted in this case. Carlos Valdez wows as his Earth-2 doppelganger, but that reveal is far too good to spoil. Suffice it to say that he transforms physically, he adjusts his mannerisms accordingly, and even uses a different voice. Though just a short part of the episode, he’s an incredibly memorable character in an episode bursting with memorable characters
There’s unfortunately a lot of moral questions that go in to Barry’s actions throughout the episode that go completely unanswered. His blatant ignoring of Wells’ pleas are just total violations of every single one of his promises, but it’s the way that the episode tries to make the audience believe he’s the one that’s right that bugs me. Barry’s dilemma itself makes for an opportunity to explore some complex themes relating to Barry’s decision to play as the Earth-2 version of himself, especially when you consider all the tragedy and hardship he’s been through. But if we’re being honest, Barry’s continued charade is just sleazy. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself why we’re being deprived of seeing how the real Earth-2 Barry is reacting to Barry-1 MAKING OUT WITH HIS WIFE! I mean, it’s clear that Barry won’t do anything remotely spousal with Iris from Earth-2, but does it not bother anyone else that we don’t see Earth-2 Barry again?
Final Word: The vast majority of “Welcome to Earth-2” is outstanding. Jay has been an underutilized character since his introduction in the series. Of course Teddy Sears has been great in the role, but his character’s personality isn’t complex enough to succeed in the supporting position he’s been stuck with. He finally takes a field position, and we see the hidden potential of the character. Since he’s essentially what could be considered a “good guy” in the same vein as Captain America or Superman, it’s obvious that he would excel in a straightforward situation, but it doesn’t make his heroic stand (though brief) any less exciting. If it wasn’t for Gustin’s emotional performance, it would have been easy for rest of the episode to become stale. The main schtick of the episode ends up being the switched motivations between the characters and as such threatens to get old very very quickly. However, Gustin’s reactions make us empathetic to what he appears to be experiencing, and it makes every situation, and surprise, fresh. Joe’s Doppleganger, while still a well acted character courtesy of Jesse Martin, ends in such a bizarrely abrupt way that it fails to incite any significant response either for or against. Jesse Martin does his best, and on the whole the character works, it’s just everything after the Deathstorm and Killer Frost run in that is sort of cringe-worthy in its obviousness.
“Welcome to Earth-2 gets a 8.7/10. Funny at times, emotional at times, and bad versions of good character played well gets this one going and keeps it aloft, even amid Barry’s odd and morally reprehensible choices.