Zoom: Or the genius of accidental good writing
It is no secret to anyone following me on Twitter that I haven’t been a very big fan of Flash Season 3. It has nothing to do with the intrigue really; I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy a show revolving around a superhero whose entire power is siphoning an extradimensional force and using auxiliary physics-related powers to fill Iron Heights with -sometimes- world-class human, or more recently, alien threats.
But Season 3 feels rushed. It feels as though the Flashpoint storyline was merely there to retcon a few notes that Arrow has been missing (although ironically, not the most crucially important in my humble opinion) and also, if you were the least bit knowledgeable in comic book history, you’d know that’s the epic event that kickstarted the New 52. Although, stripped from all the sheen of the wonderful movie and the source material and its incredible Batman tie-ins, whose content is inaccessible to WBTV due to DC’s heinous strategy of hoarding their most important characters to the movies, despite them being confined to a separate universe. But that’s a conversation for another entry, this one is all about Arrowverse Hunter Zolomon, aka Zoom, within the context of DCTV.
Now, it is entirely unclear to me why people were already crying about non-speedster villains when the show had literally just passed its origin story culminating in the form of Flash defeating Eobard Thawne and resisting the urge to save his mom. Give the show some time to breathe, then it would be appropriate to nag on the overabundance of speedster villains.
What I never understood despite my best attempts, is: Why is Zoom hated amongst the DC CW demographic? I’ll break this down to the best of my ability, and try to provide some context for why I think Zoom is actually an excellent villain, probably one of the best in the history of TV.
So, the DC TV watching demographic is very split, or at the very least, it doesn’t quite overlap audiences as much as Netflix/ABC Marvel shows (it’s unfair to include FX’s Legion in the conversation so soon until we have concrete numbers) do. There’s the superhero demographic, with a huge emphasis on the*super* part; they are all about superhuman abilities that poorly pad out the runtime of the episode, but give a greater sense of gratification compared to a traditional fight scene (that of which, you can find in any other TV show). It’s not an inherently bad way to enjoy a show, just very shallow from a writing stand-point; it’s as if I’m watching any buddy-cop show just because there are cops, the only difference being that those are very common, but the superhero genre is very scarce, so self-awareness of theme redundancy doesn’t quite kick as hard.
Then there’s the supernatural demographic. It constitutes mostly of ‘Constantine’ ex-fans and potentially still ‘Supernatural’ fans, to these people, magic is the centerpoint of focus to a series. Having things go against the natural order is their solace.
In this case, there’s a small overlap, but since Flash and Legends of Tomorrow often resort to pseudo-scientific explanations in order to justify their ever-evolving writing changes, it doesn’t always jive well with supernatural addicts to see rules apply to which that is supposed to serve the story, not set the course for the story. One is loose, the other keeps the whole plot from falling apart.
Another one which still escapes the capacity of my understanding is the FOX (essentially, network-loyal) demographic. They swear by He who created all that Gotham and Lucifer are better written just because the visuals look better, and look… I’m not shitting on Gotham and Lucifer fans, Lucifer was my favorite TV DC property amidst the CW pile of garbage that was last season, Gotham Season 2 was incredibly well-done for an under-budgeted show. A show about villains, telling the story of their rise and demise. But network loyalties are merely symptoms of superficial outlook on filmmaking.
Just because Gotham happens to use a very Snyder-y blueish look, or that Lucifer is shot under the beautiful sun of LA (and Vancouver at times) doesn’t *inherently* make them better than their CW counterparts. Do they cost more? Yes. Is the production better? Yes. But if that’s all it took to enjoy a piece of film, it would imply that many terrible movies, and TV shows made with huge budgets would instantaneously and on basic principle be better. It’s no less irrational than “They sold more, therefore they are better”. And on top of that, the fact that Gotham, or Lucifer landed on FOX is a mere contractual/strategical consideration from DC in an increasingly expanding roadmap. Gotham could have very well been made by NBC or AMC, but both WBTV and the distributing network have to look at their audiences and see if the theme of the mythos matches their core viewers’ preferences. It isn’t a question of “FOX invests more, so they’re better” it’s more like “FOX of course will invest more since they’re the ones who asked for this IP and are slotting it where it would profit them the most, for the amount they’re spending to make it”. Like we’ve seen with ‘Constantine’, sometimes passion for the project doesn’t mean showrunners can carry on with their dreams without a gun put to their head by networks to match desired ratings. Something that Lucifer and Gotham accommodate for the simple reason that their existence are calculated risks, not deliberate will from DC/WBTV to shove ‘em there.
Now the most in-touch with the characters and story subsection of the fandom, the DC fans. They do expect past storylines from comic books, and most importantly characters to be treated with respect. To my naked eye and through long stretches of observation, it is an audience that doesn’t restrict itself to DC properties, but rather engages itself with the brand because it deems there is something salvageable from superhero stories, a transcending storytelling feature that can be found in many other great shows. All my friends who I know for a fact watch DC animated movies, or are interested in checking out comic book movies, are always ones with broad tastes in film and TV. It just happens so that their beloved characters from childhood that they’ve seen on a cartoon or read from a comic book are finally enacted by a real person, in live-action form. Something no one would’ve foresaw even a decade ago, and that includes the uncanny popularity of the Flash and Smallville, which were NOT superhero shows strictly per-se.
With some context, let’s dive into what makes Zoom very distinct from traditional ‘bad guys’ in TV history.
Motive: Teddy Sears, the actor playing Hunter Zolomon does a great job of conveying the emotions of the character even when spandex and rubber are covering most of the screen. The premise here is that he created a time-remnant, convinced him to be the Flash of Earth 2, then took out his speed… Within the happenings of the show, none of it makes sense. As do most time travel shenanigans of the Flash, but the most important variable here is “Why”. Couldn’t he have robbed a bank, or been the most basic speedster there is in the proximate multiverse? No. Because his speed combines with his psychopathic urge for revenge and self-loathing. He likes control, he likes power, but most importantly, he gave the people of Earth-2 hope… that he later stripped away by supposedly enacting a fake fight between him and the ‘Zoom’ persona, then stripping the faux Flash speed away in a whole ploy to lure him into Earth Prime. Point is, you rarely get a villain who is as self-aware as Zolomon was. He knew what people wanted, yet he stripped it away because there’s nothing that hurts more than -what you thought is- your savior being destroyed by his nemesis. He utilized his speed for good, and undid that good by essentially shutting off the only beacon of hope people of that Earth had against Zoom. He gave them a false sense of safety, and took it.
Procedure: While it may not be entirely understandable ‘how’ Hunter did all of this in the first place, the succession of events leading up to the Velocity 9 shot, Flash Prime losing his speed, Hunter stripping his own past self that he convinced to do good only to take his speed away then let him run… It’s a plot that doesn’t make sense, yet, if we ignore its shortcomings, it becomes evident that Zoom had a plan where many variables could’ve totally shit the bed as the events unfolded. Most villains have in their mind one goal, and only one: “Read narcissistic monologues about how they’re great and how the hero is actually screwing up the world” but Zolomon was NOT fucking around. He had his goals set. “Destroy the multiverse” and it’s something that he set out to do from the start. And he followed through.
Means to justify an end: Zoom had no end beyond destroying the multiverse. That’s it. It was simple, but effective.
Usually villains lock themselves into the mode of “Oh well, this is my way of making things better, so fuck you for complicating things further”. Zolomon is fully cognizant of the damage he’s making, and the potential ramifications it could have on him and the rest of existence, yet he proceeds. There isn’t a grey area within his evil ploy, it is a clear and cut plan to destroy all of existence *except* for the universe he’s on. In the realm of cosmic threats, it doesn’t get much scarier than that. Even compared to literal fictional gods like Darkseid.
Character: Zoom knows how to be good, it is through such measures that he fooled the Flash team into trusting him. There’s something to be said for a villain that knows how to escape his element in deceiving everyone of his good intentions. Sure, it may be acting. But if that ‘was’ indeed acting, it’s some Oscar-winning level shit. (relative to how stupid Team Flash were)
A villain who fully is aware of the boons and banes of being a villain, and a good guy is a good villain. It gives depth to his character, and further deepens the viewer’s hatred of him, something bad guys forgot to do a long ass time ago.
Lack of remorse: It is without a doubt Teddy Sears’ acting ability that lead the role to such a high status, being able to read into the emotions of an actor through facial expressions, body language, and the director’s capacity to highlight that, are all contributing factors to this particular point. What stands out though, is that Zoom has absolutely no regrets over what he’s doing. It isn’t a case of rooting for the good guy to win, then realizing that him and the villain aren’t so different after all. It is a clear cut and dry opposition, where the forces of good and evil are clearly defined. There isn’t a plain of existence where Zoom’s actions are justified, simply because there wouldn’t be any other by his ultimate wrongdoing. He realizes he’s killing an infinite number of sentient lives, yet, he proceeds with it unfazed. That’s the character of a good and threatening villain.
It all comes around full circle when we consider who CW’s core audience is: Fans of the abstract. When two particles of opposite properties collide, it is a boring new birth for them to witness. Yet, if you've watched TV for as long as I have, it was a breath of fresh air to see someone who isn’t even the slightest bit doubtful about conducting his evil plans. The only constraint being the season runtime and the writer’s willingness to drag this on for twenty something episodes. Otherwise, he’s so far the second on my DC ranking right behind Prometheus.
As simple as it might look, it is the very result of Zoom’s chaotic, yet fruitful writing. He isn’t a good villain because of his looks, monologues, and badly executed plans. His only concern is executing his master plan without interference, and that ladies and gentlemen, is a borderline tale from the Bible about someone with no sliver of good in his heart. It is for no reason that belief is often cemented on such binary, yet very effective “good vs evil” rivalry.