Brooding superheroes are nothing new. Batman and The Green Arrow are so miserable with their why-always-me outlook that suffering the weight of life’s problems suits them. However, it doesn’t suit the optimistic charm of Barry Allen/The Flash (Grant Gustin). ‘King Shark’, the 15th episode of The Flash season two, deals with themes about the idea of a superhero as Barry is having a moment of crisis.
The plot of this week’s episode is pretty simple: a monster escapes from prison and the Flash has to stop him. It just happens that this monster is a 10-foot “talking shark who wears pants”. As Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) says, this stuff is strange and, in a nice little bit of meta-commentary, Joe (Jesse L. Martin) and Iris (Candice Patton) reveal to him that it is not the strangest thing to have happened on a show that features a telepathic psycho gorilla, time travel and parallel universe hopping. King Shark is very much in the same mould as Gorilla Grodd but where as Grodd’s episodes normally have the tone of a Golden-Age comic book, for some bizarre reason the writers have decided to situate King Shark’s story amongst some portentous brooding.Whilst some fun sight gags and ample amounts of Jaws references stop the episode brewing to a Zack Snyder level of brood (sorry to kick you while you’re down Zack, but you’ve made it too easy) it is disheartening to see Barry be mopey and as always it is down to the writing. Generally, the writing is of a witty standard that juggles time-travel logistics and hard sci-fi ideas, but the writers just can’t do introspective drama because they always make Barry a condescending jerk. Gustin tries his best to give broody Barry some zip and there is a great, emotional scene involving Gustin, Patton and Martin where the writers get it right, but most of the time the writers come up with excoriating scenes like Barry and Wally trying to bond over engine dynamics.
So far this series, Wally has been a bit damp. His character is uninteresting and his jealousy of Barry rings false because the show hasn’t given Barry time to connect with Wally. It hasn’t earned the right to create an unnecessary sibling rivalry between the pairing.
Earning the right to place characters in certain storylines has been the flaw of this series. The new characters have been under-developed unless they featured in Barry’s immediate story. So Patty (Shantel VanSanten) was well developed, but Wally and Jay (Teddy Sears) are surprisingly tangential to Barry’s story, meaning the writers have ignored them. After last week’s cliffhanger where Jay was Temple-of-Doomed by Zoom, Caitlyn (Danielle Panabaker) is devastated. But, like Wally, the Caitlyn-Jay relationship was hardly developed, meaning caring for Caitlyn’s arc is not something that is particularly interesting. Beyond those quibbles, the show delivered this week. The scenes between Harry (Tom Cavanagh) and Jesse were touching and funny while Cisco’s (Carlos Valdes) concern for Caitlyn was touching and it was nice to see a more caring side to the resident quipster. The guest appearance by David Ramsey as Diggle also provided some humourous scenes and it was great to see him tell Barry to stop “carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders”.
The Flash has been so concerned with running between alternate dimensions that the show hasn’t had a chance to catch up with its secondary characters and whilst these flaws glare in King Shark, there are enough great scenes to outweigh all the brooding.