The Flash, Ep. 2.15: “King Shark” lingers thoughtfully on recent trauma

The Flash, Season 2 Episode 15: “King Shark”
Written by Benjamin Raab & Deric A. Hughes
Directed by Hanelle Culpepper
Airs Tuesdays at 8pm (ET) on The CW

Just as a 23-episode order can hurt a season of television by stretching it out too thinly, the room given to broadcast network series can also allow for episodes like The Flash’s “King Shark” to linger on trauma in believable, realistic ways. This week’s episode recalls Young Justice’s “Disordered” (S01E17), which also devoted much of its time to allowing characters to deal with grief instead of just quickly moving on to the next big thing. The next big thing (King Shark, in this case), though, is something that Barry points out as being a distraction rather than the next challenge in a progression of conflicts. He needs this to take his mind off Earth-2 and all that experience entails, so even if it might seem like “King Shark” is a metahuman-of-the-week episode, it serves a much greater purpose: healing.

We definitively find out that Jay Garrick of Earth-2 is dead (that clarity is kind of necessary given the Arrowverse’s history of subverting death). And although that resolution doesn’t occur until the end of “King Shark,” Caitlin’s grieving throughout the episode still feels genuine. Cisco is right, in one sense, to worry about his partner going down the path of Killer Frost, but only to the extent that it’s possible to let the events in one’s life send someone into total emotional isolation, essentially making her cold towards everyone else. Cisco mistakes normal grieving patterns for that process, but it’s more out of love for Caitlin than ignorance. Much of the “King Shark” script that deals with Caitlin is, thankfully, self-aware, basically pointing out that yes, her story has been pretty bland this season because of how cyclical it is—and it’s time to move on by controlling her self-imposed distance. The question mark of the prisoner in Earth-2 trying to communicate something about Jay Garrick made it seem like Earth-2’s Jay Garrick wasn’t what he seemed, but the other success of all the intricate plotting is that Earth-2’s Jay Garrick (our Jay Garrick, if you will) was actually a really good guy in the end. He deserves the commemoration that Barry gives him, and nothing about Jay’s character complicates the way Caitlin is trying to pick up the pieces.

Barry is the other character who gets a lot of screen time trying to get past the events of Earth-2—more directly, of course. Despite Harry’s warning to not talk about doppelgangers, both Cisco and Barry cave under pressure. Barry telling Joe and Iris about their Earth-2 counterparts, however, has less to do with whatever consequences it might have for Joe and Iris and more to do with how guest star John Diggle says Barry is following Oliver Queen’s footsteps in putting the weight of the world (two worlds, really) on his shoulders. This has been a back-and-forth thing all season, following the death of Ronnie, but “King Shark” manages to make the material more meaningful by showing Barry deal with that weight better and more quickly than Oliver ever did. Barry spends some time in mental purgatory, but “King Shark” is as good a showcase as any for the leadership qualities that he has. Barry tackles King Shark head-on not because he’s letting his emotions get the better of him, but because he’s ready to learn from his mistakes and be more proactive about being the superhero the Flash is meant to be. That also means rallying the troops at the end of the day, delivering a motivational speech in the face of doubt and uncertainty. How will Zoom be stopped? How will the breaches be re-opened? How will Jay be avenged? Barry doesn’t have those answers, but he knows Team Flash will get them—he knows it deep in the pit of his stomach, and that’s enough.

The Flash S02E15 B

All of this happens parallel to the King Shark material itself, which is probably the stuff that most people will gravitate to, since it’s a ton of fun action (even if it doesn’t really amount to much of anything important in the end). And that is also where “King Shark” succeeds: in its details. As easy as it is to ask “Why contrive a reason for Diggle and Lyla to show up?” there should also be an impulse to ask “Why not?” The Flash is, after all, a part of the Arrowverse, and guest appearances from Arrow characters really don’t need justification in a shared universe. It’s great if layered narrative comes out of it (and I would argue that Diggle’s speech to Barry about his Afghanistan experience falls under that category), but The Flash can also be simple fun when it’s doing other emotional things on the side. It’s easy to take some of that for granted, like how the King Shark effects—and especially the Flash effects, which people absolutely do take for granted at this point—are ridiculously good for a network series. King Shark isn’t interesting philosophically in the slightest, but who cares? Sometimes, it’s enough to see a superhero take down a giant friggin’ shark-man by creating an electric whirlpool and throwing a lightning bolt at him.

That realization of critical pressure for a show to do something beyond what it’s trying to do is what strikes me strongest while watching “King Shark” (helped, probably, by taking a couple weeks off to review Arrow). This is comic book adaptation hitting its stride through and through. There’s sharp dialog, strong character moments and plenty of action. This is why we watch The Flash.

Static Shocks:

  • Many thanks to Randy for stepping in and covering the Earth-2-parter. More review crossovers may take place in the future!
  • Another couple of characters having to deal with post-Earth-2ness: Harry and Jesse. The reminder last week that Jesse is even smarter than Harry is put to good use in how they work together on their formula.
  • Barry and Wally getting to know each other better is as fun to watch as it is awkward. The writing team has done a solid job of not letting that happen too easily. But how long until Wally finds out about the secret identity?
  • Cisco is wearing a Godzilla-style Mario shirt that every fan of the show is going to want, which means it’s time for…
  • The Case for Cisco Being the Best Character of TV, Part VI: “We’re gonna need a bigger Flash” and “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the suburbs…”
  • We don’t get to see the tweaks to Spartan’s helmet!?
  • Good to see that the people of Central City are still bitter about the whole particle accelerator thing.
  • There was definitely a…*ahem*…spark…between Cisco and Jesse. Will this be the long-term love interest?
  • Annnd Zoom is actually another version of Jay Garrick. I’m okay with this, because Teddy Sears is awesome on this series. But this is going to be awful when Caitlin finds out.
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