So before all the television talking, I’m just going to take a minute to say my grandmother turned 90 years old this weekend. It’s truly an incredible thing that she is not only still with us, but still going strong. We were able to fly all her children and grandchildren in to celebrate the milestone with her, and I think she had a wonderful time. So I just wanted to take the time to say I love you, Granny, and I hope we can all get together again for the Big 100 when it rolls around.
So. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
I don’t know about you, but I kind of love the idea of doppelgangers. Especially the Earth 2 kind of alternate-universe-started-with-the-same-beginnings-but-ended-up-somewhere-else doppelgangers. There’s something fascinating about seeing a character we know and love be made up of all the same pieces but come out a totally different product. What were the important people and moments and trials that made the character exactly who it is we know? And what changes when one or two little pieces are missing or warped?
This also explains my love of any and all It’s a Wonderful Life inspired episodes. It’s the same kind of thing.
With Earth 2, on one hand, their was a lot of the silly, delightful, just fun of exploring these bizarro versions of our characters. Super Nerd Barry, Bad-Ass Iris, Evil Caitlin and Cisco, etc. There’s just a simple element of joy seeing these characters step outside of themselves into something else. It’s almost impossible to keep the episodes free from campy-ness. But what was really brought home in these Earth 2 episodes (and I have to say, I’m truly bummed that we were just given a two episode glimpse into this other world) was that each character’s doppelganger was not simply an alternate version. They weren’t simply Barry Allens dressed up in different clothes. These doppelgangers were true opposites of their original counter parts.
Now when I say opposites, I don’t mean in every single aspect of themselves. There were lots of traits that stayed the same from one Earth to another, or traits that magnified. But for each character there seemed to be one fundamental aspect of their person that was not just missing from Earth 2, but twisted completely in on itself.
Some of those opposites were quick and easy (and sometimes silly), like those of the more minor recurring characters. We don’t know these characters very well. So since their sense of person can be more easily summed up, they’re also more neatly twisted. Deadshot the sniper hitman becomes a cop who can’t shoot straight. Captain Singh becomes a crook. Nora Allen, who has basically no character presence other than being dead, is alive.
The others, however, were more nuanced. More complex. And it really gave us a deep look at what it is that defines these characters in their core.
Caitlin and Cisco were people whose lives were shaken in the Particle Accelerator explosion. It redefined their worlds. Caitlin lost a fiance. Cisco, for his part in Ronnie’s death, lost some of his innocence. And more than that, they truly lost a bit of themselves. They were floundering for something to hold onto, something to ground them and repurpose them. And for both of them, they found themselves again in Barry Allen. They are not Barry’s side-kicks, they are integral parts of the Flash team – heroes in their own right. Killer Frost and Reverb, on the other hand, have been reduced to Zoom’s cronies. And in him they’ve lost themselves. Lost their humanity, lost their compassion, lost their lives. With Barry, Caitlin and Cisco have flourished and risen, but with Zoom, Killer Frost and Reverb can do nothing but shrivel and die.
We didn’t get to see too much of Earth 2’s Barry Allen since we had to let our own hero take center stage, but we got a glimpse of him. While he seemed perfectly nice (a pretty bland compliment, if you can even consider it one), he lacked our Barry’s strength of character. Something I’ve always appreciated about Barry Allen is, while he has tragedy in his family and in his past just like other superheroes (looking at you Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen), he has never let it consume him. He has never become his tragedy. Barry instead has always moved forward, using his past to guide him. His tragedy does not torment him, it propels him forward, towards something better and brighter. That is his strength of character. Earth 2’s Barry didn’t have that. He didn’t have some internal strength pushing him forward, compelling him to do better, be better. He doesn’t have a need to shoulder the weight of Central City. He’s not heroic. None of that is a bad thing, but it separates him from our Barry Allen.
While it might be your first thought that Joe’s big opposite was his career: the laid back lounge singer as opposed to the on point police office, but I think the more important difference was clearly Joe’s relationships with his children. Joe’s Earth 2 relationship with Iris was very different – still loving, but lacking in much of his overt, parental overtones (more on that when we discuss Iris). And when it comes to Barry Allen – the boy he took in and raised as his own on our Earth – well, the two can’t even stand each other. So much of Joe’s very personhood on Earth 1 is tied up in his identity as a father. Now, feel free to say what you will about the quality of Joe’s parenting (he’s certainly done some things I haven’t approved of), but him actually being a parent – feeling the responsibility and the privilege of being a parent, feeling the constant, overwhelming need to protect (and yes, sometimes overprotect) his children – is just such an innate, intrinsic part of who Joe is. But Earth 2’s Joe is missing that part.
And then there’s Iris. Iris was the one that really stood out to me, because at first she seemed like an anomaly. I didn’t think her doppelganger fit the pattern. I couldn’t see the fundamental difference between our Central City Reporter Iris and Earth 2’s Central City Detective Iris. Like Joe, she needed something more than a career change. Even more than a marriage to Barry Allen. In the end, I think I got it.
Our Iris West – with her father a seasoned police detective, her late boyfriend also a police officer, and her best friend The Flash – is protected. Whether that’s good or not, whether she appreciates it or not, Iris West’s safety and protection is basically never only in her hands. She always has someone else looking out for her, someone else with her well being at the forefront of their mind. Like I said when talking about Joe, these friends and family can often be overprotective and Iris chafes against their coddling, but it’s there. Earth 2’s Iris, on the other hand, is the protection. Those men (at least Barry and Joe) are still in her life and they still love her and want what’s best for her, but they’re not in nearly the same positions they are on Earth 1. It’s Iris who makes the decisions for herself, it’s Iris putting herself in danger to protect those she loves, it’s Iris taking on the meta-humans and going after Zoom. And it’s Barry who falls in line behind her. Joe may love Iris on Earth 2, and he may be her father, but he has no parental authority that this Iris is going to give in to. If she wants to be a cop, she’s going to be a cop. If she wants to marry Barry, she’s going to marry Barry. Joe be damned. None of this is to say our Iris is a pushover or someone who folds over for others. She’s not. But she is someone who didn’t become a cop like her father because he wouldn’t let her. She’s someone who all the men in her life felt they should lie to when it came to Barry’s identity. She’s someone who is constantly being begged by the people in her life to sit down and let someone else take care of it when she feels a need to make a stand. Earth 2’s Iris takes care of everyone else, our Iris is still fighting for people to see she can take care of herself.
Harrison made it clear during last week’s episode that it was of vital importance for Barry and Cisco to keep the lives they stumbled on during their visit to Earth 2 a secret. That people who know too much about their doppelgangers can become obsessed or overwhelmed with the lives they might have had. But by the end of the hour, they ended up caving. Barry unburdened himself of the guilt he felt over Earth 2 Joe’s death and Cisco was able to confide in Caitlin his fear for her mental state after the apparent death of Jay. And honestly, I think Wells may be over reacting a touch. No, we don’t want anyone on our team molding themselves into a carbon copy of their doppelganger, but would it be so bad for our Iris to hold onto the confidence of her counterpart the next time she feels the need to stand up and do something, even though it’s dangerous? Is it so terrible that Earth 2’s Barry was inspired by the heroics of The Flash to stay by his wife’s side and try to stand as a hero in his own right? What’s the harm in Caitlin learning of the darkness that she could sink into and knowing that she will instead choose the light? Our team can learn a lot from the people they didn’t become.