A stranger sits in a reinforced glass cage, his face is obscured by a menacing mask in the Season 2 episode “Escape From Earth-2” of the CW’s The Flash. He’s a living trophy for the obsidian antagonist Zoom (posing as the Flash of Earth-2, Jay Garrick). Barry Allen, the Flash of Earth-1, promises the stranger he’ll get him out.
In the Season 2 finale “The Race of His Life,” Barry fulfills his promise and discovers the man’s identity: Jay Garrick. The real one. He’s the Flash of Earth-3 and doppelgänger of Henry Allen, Barry’s father. While it feels like a gut punch for the Scarlet Speedster whose father was killed by Zoom at the start of the episode, the big question for fans was answered and the legacy of comic book Jay Garrick untarnished. And TV just found a new way to play up a mystery: Don’t.
The masked man’s identity hung over The Flash for months with every possible name as plausible and simultaneously dubious as the next. Some fans did correctly predict he was the “real” Jay Garrick. To what extent, though? Earth-3? Pfft, the show wouldn’t go that far. The season-long plot speculation narrowed many viewers’ tunnel visions that the revelation seemed like a genuine, and satisfying, surprise. But its true genius of the mystery didn’t lie in a clever reveal packed with emotion. It was because it demonstrated one thing that’s somewhat rare in genre television today: Restraint.
Since his introduction into the Season 2 plot, the masked man had a minimum presence who made only two more appearances before the finale. While Barry promised he’d get him out, the masked man was all but forgotten as soon as he returned to Earth-1. So much kept Barry, and thusly The Flash, from dwelling on the masked man be it more meta-humans to fight to teaming up with Supergirl. Fans continued to speculate on Reddit, natch, but the mystery didn’t haunt The Flash. Zoom himself proved more of a source for questioning than a plot thread with only one trick — revealing who — in order to conclude.
In modern TV where questions like “Who is dead?” (Hi, The Walking Dead) or “Is he dead?” (Hi, Game of Thrones) tend to distract and even overshadow the real story, The Flash and how it handled its mystery thread is a refresher course other shows should take note. If you want a mystery fans should ponder over and not have it be an agonizing experience, then keep it locked away. Out of sight, out of mind.