Barry and Zoom race for the fate of the multiverse, and the title of “Fastest Man Alive.”
Barry’s tragedies pile up fast, don’t they? Over the course of the series he’s experienced loss, betrayal, and heartbreak; but there’s always been respite in between. One of the most striking aspects of “The Race of His Life” is how utterly relentless it is in its barrage of misfortune. After Henry is killed, we’re given a front row seat to the ugly reality of how that death affected Barry’s mental state. That’s the takeoff, and Gustin absolutely soared in his projection of that feeling of sadness and loss. It’s reflected by the acting, direction, and even the fighting, which is intense and full of emotion. This performance is key to everything that comes after it, and it’s the reason that the framework of “The Race of His Life” stands so steadily.
It’s odd though, because a lot of the episode really struggles under the weight of the wrap-up. The pressure is on to deliver a fully realized and definitive end to season two, but it’s clear by the reveal of Zoom’s “big plan” that there hasn’t been a lot of time or energy put in to unveiling that goal. This is the downside of all of the character development; it was at the expense of plot. Zoom wants to destroy the multiverse, but leave Earth one where it is. Why? Because he wants to rule it. And how is he going to achieve that goal? By using the energy from both Flash and his’ race to power Device X (Device X is any device in sci-fi that is created for the sole purpose of being utilized by the plot.) Fine, whatever the reasons are, they’re racing. There’s a sidetrack that changes the landscape of the race halfway through the episode that speaks to Zoom and Barry’s parallels that doesn’t get nearly enough exploration despite being much more interesting, but the race still happens.
If there’s one thing that I would say that “The Race of His Life” really has going for it, it’s the effects. Zoom and Barry’s fight at the beginning, the race, the aftermath of the race it all just looks fantastic. Best of all, it pays homage to the comics with two enormous references possibly leading to further plotlines. Everything up until the race and the race itself is satisfactory (diminished somewhat by Harry’s running commentary/exposition.) What I really want to talk about that the episode did masterfully was projected Barry’s mental state. The entire episode, even when he’s passionate, Barry seems distracted. I don’t know if this is what was meant to happen or if it was an accident, but this small quirk makes the shocking ending all the more significant. At first I could swear that it was in a desire to push Barry’s motivations and fanaticism closer to Zoom’s, but by the reveal of the man in the iron mask, I could tell it was all about breaking Barry’s psyche. The destruction of Barry emotionally, more than any other factor, makes the ending make perfect sense.
Final Word: “The Race of His Life” left me with very complicated feelings, because I initially left the episode unsatisfied. It’s obvious where that feeling came from, Jay’s master plan disappoints, the episode suffers from tremendous amounts of over-explanation, Zoom’s motivation to make Flash more like him makes no sense in context, and naked fan service (with the exception of those two references) is clumsy and unnatural. In fact, sometimes what should just be a simple allusion comes off as patronizing and hollow (Like Jay’s hat). Barry’s emotional state throughout the episode saves it in my eyes though, and that ending reveals boundless possibilities for the next season.
“The Race of His Life” gets a 7.0/10. A lot about the episode either doesn’t make sense or is just plain stupid. Barry’s breakdown makes the entire thing worth it.