All throughout last night's episode of The Flash I consistently got the feeling that the entire cast had decided to commit to the joke. All the schlock, all the ham-fisted emotional asides and all the nearly nonsensical plot points got cranked up to 11, including the now patented last-second reveal that closed the episode.
For all its over-the-top moments, the entire hour had a kind of lightness to it. It was the bounty that only a 12-foot tall metahuman man shark can bring.
Bless you, King Shark, for all the work you did this week. Here's hoping we meet again soon.
In the opening scene, the Flash family hits the fast-forward button. In what can best be described as one of the biggest hand-waves in DC television history, they moved the clock forward a few months with a grand montage. It gets them narratively clear of the untimely death of Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears), the rescue of Jesse Wells (Violett Beane) and the closure of the 52 portals plaguing Central City. Things begin to calm down at STAR Labs.
After this indeterminate period of time, the stage was set for our cartilaginous friend to rise from the deep. Cut to a remote ARGUS research facility where Arrow's John Diggle (David Ramsey) and Lyla Michaels (Audrey Marie Anderson) were keeping King Shark imprisoned underwater beneath a grid of powerful electrical beams.
How, precisely, did a metahuman man shark make it from Central City police custody to a remote weapons research facility? Clearly Lyla is keeping that on a need to know basis and, like so many other little holes in this episode, I didn't need to know. All I needed was another helping of King Shark, and The Flash delivered.
The electrical grid predictably fails, leading to the evisceration of half a dozen M4-toting paramilitary guards. King Shark is on the loose, and he's headed straight for Barry Allen (Grant Gustin).
Diggle and Lyla soon arrive at STAR Labs to break the bad news in the most corny way possible.
"His biological imperative," Lyla says, stone-faced, "is to do one thing: kill you, Barry."
Then, with the perfect comedic timing granted only by skillful editing in post production, Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) quips that "we're going to need a bigger Flash." It would not be his last Jaws joke of the episode, nor his worst. It was a night of peak Cisco.
The plan is to have Allen race along the Central City shoreline literally chumming the waters, and it works like a charm. Before long a pair of ARGUS operators are running down a contact report, only to be gobbled up simultaneously when King Shark rounds a corner. It was a gruesome double envelopment, and firmly put in mind the danger that Barry was up against.
In the episode's climax, the team sets a trap for King Shark — a Flash-shaped dummy, pumped full of tranquilizers, that emits an electrical signal that only King Shark can track. Tied to an over-sized yellow buoy, it's quite frankly the most ridiculous looking thing.
"Maybe he's not going to fall for this," Diggle worries out loud. "He's a shark," Allen says, with absolute confidence. "He'll come."
And he does. What followed was one of the best bits of special effects this season. Allen takes off at high speed, literally running on water. King Shark ungulates his massive frame — as sharks do — nearly matching Flash's speed underwater. But Allen, with the narrowest lead in this life or death race, turns a corner and begins to create a vortex. His static charge builds, and he's finally able to let loose a bolt of lightning that knocks King Shark out cold.
"Hell of a catch, Barry," says Diggle. "Just make sure it's not the one that got away," Flash says, perfectly deadpan. It's a wonder anyone on set could keep a straight face.
Meanwhile, the episode was sprinkled with just enough parallel plots to keep things interesting. Allen is asked to help Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) with his application to an engineering school. But Allen goes a too far, and after an all-nighter working together Wally feels like he's taking over.
But the root of the problem is laid bare as the two men scream at each other over the West family dinner table. Wally has had it with Allen being Detective Joe West's favorite son. Later, when King Shark rips the West family's roof off looking for The Flash, Allen disappears. Wally senses blood in the water and calls Allen a coward.
Of course, that's more or less how Allen feels.
When Wally leaves, The Flash breaks down. He tells Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and Iris (Candice Patton) about all the terrible things that happened on Earth 2, about how he feels responsible for the death of the other Joe West, the death of Jay Garrick and the death of Ronnie Raymond. Still. His self pity brings him to a low point in the season. If we're being honest, it was perhaps just a little too much.
As Polygon's entertainment editor Susana Polo so aptly put it while her and I were tweeting back and forth during the show ...
It's like Barry is explaining a 100k word real person fanfic he found about his family, to his family.— Susana Polo (@NerdGerhl) February 24, 2016
Thankfully, Allen got to end things on a high note with the capture of King Shark. We'll have to pretend that his little episode just didn't happen.
Also ending on a high note was Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), whom Cisco is convinced is slowly turning into Killer Frost. Before the end of the episode she turns the tables on Cisco, showing him to be projecting his fears about Earth 2 onto her.
"I may be sad about Jay's death," Snow says, "and I may want to be alone for a little while, but I promise that Killer Frost will never exist on this earth."
Panabaker does an admirable job, poking fun at Cisco and having fun reprising bits of her role as Killer Frost. But it's a scene that could cut one of two ways. Either the writers are finally giving Snow a chance to show her true strength, or they're foreshadowing her eventual turn towards evil. Time will tell.
Bless you, King Shark.
Finally, the already jam-packed episode ended with Zoom finally taking off his mask to reveal that he is ... Jay Garrick! Exactly which of the potentially 52 flavors of Garrick he is, and from which time period, has yet to be revealed.
In a way, this last-minute reveal was the completion of a miniature reboot for the season. Already cluttered with the Patty Spivot storyline, the Hawkgirl storyline and the Jesse Wells storyline, it took a gigantic shark man to pave the way for the real story underneath it all. I'm honestly looking forward to finding out how Garrick became Zoom.
I guess that's just another reason to heap praise on the majesty of King Shark.