This week’s episode shattered all expectations. Put on some music and relax, because it’s time to take a look at CW’s The Flash.
Before we get really rolling, I wanna let y’all know that this is the last episode that I have previously seen. Starting next week, we will be getting into episodes that I have not seen at all, which I’m excited about.
This episode, however, I’m having trouble getting excited about. Spoilers to follow after the cut.
Okay, so, here’s a basic plot outline of this episode. Former S.T.A.R. Labs employee, jerkwad, and prodigal son Hartley Rathaway returns with supersonic gloves to attack Harrison Wells and attempts to kill the Flash after allowing himself to be imprisoned (for, like, a minute) so he could snatch booty (info) from S.T.A.R. Labs, but is defeated in the end. Iris West gets a job in journalism and it’s not all she hoped it would be. Joe and Eddie have a suspicion about Wells, and Wells is having trouble maintaining his Reverse-Flash powers because of Reasons.
So, considering we’ve had a lot of plot-heavy episodes lately, this one is less dense than they have been. It tries to make up for that by filling in with emotional intensity, but (for me) it falls flat, a lot. Rathaway reveals that Wells knew there was a chance the accelerator could blow up, and everyone feels angry and betrayed. A lot of the emotional meat seems to come from Wells trying to earn back the trust of his team.
The thing is, they’ve been twirling Harrison’s (non-existent) mustache too hard for this to work at this point in the series. It feels like the wrong emotional note. This episode really should have come a little earlier, when it was still more ambiguous as to whether or not the man we know as Harrison Wells murdered Nora Allen.
In all honesty, the first time I watched this episode, when Harrison was running around while glass was exploding everywhere, I really thought that this episode was gonna be about someone going “uh, hey, someone with a size 10 sneaker was running around in this glass shit and I don’t see any wheelchair tracks through the glass”. Not that it would all come out, but that part of the thrust of the episode would be about Wells inserting some kind of narrative to keep his secret from being learned. That could have been a lot of fun to watch.
The emotional content of the episode was a little jarring, is my point, and I don’t feel like it was necessarily intended that way. Barry’s takeaway was about having people to trust, who believe in you and who you believe in. (Barry had a wonderful little moment with Iris where he helps buck her up about her shitty first day at work, and I just wanna point out that it happened because this is more of the “Iris and Barry are friends” stuff I wanted to see; good job, show.) I find the “we trust Harrison again because he helped save Barry” note is a little discordant to me. Not only because we know that keeping Barry alive as the Flash is part of whatever long con Wells is working, but also because…I don’t know, the whole “Caitlin and Cisco (and also Barry) feel betrayed” just seemed like…the stakes aren’t very high and the resolution didn’t really…seem to be an actual resolution for the trust/betrayal thing.
But it’s not just about Wells and his interaction with his staff, I’m also thinking about the city. Over the season, S.T.A.R. Labs has been slowly working at earning back the trust of both the city and the police department. The press conference Harrison gives, confessing that he knew the accelerator might go boom and that he went ahead anyway, seems like it belongs earlier in the season. It’s several large steps back from Cisco’s awesome heat shields he gave to the police, and the trust and respect that engendered.
Even in the Flash’s battle with Rathaway, at the end, it seems like Barry is fighting like he did earlier in the season, and that he’s lost some of the progress he had made.
I wanna be clear: I’m not saying it’s a bad episode. And I am definitely curious as to why Reverse-Flash can get it up but can’t keep it up, if you know what I mean. (I mean his speed.) I wanna find out why Rathaway knows so much about Ronnie, and where that little plot thread leads. I’m just saying a lot of the emotional motifs in this episode seem to come at the wrong time in the overall seasonal symphony, as it were, and I find that frustrating.
Things of note:
- Iris was hired for her journalism job because she is presumed to have an in with the Flash, and she’s assigned to work his stories.
- During this episode, Barry blasts out of the coffee shop, leaving papers spinning in the air blah blah blah.
- Iris has met the Flash, this should, at the very least, set off some kind of mental “huh, that’s weird, make a note of it” thing
- What I’m saying is this seems like the ideal setup which leads to Iris figuring out her best friend is the Flash.
- It’s probably not gonna, but it should
- The sound effect when Hartley pulls out his evil hearing aids to indicate that he has awful, constant, drilling, painful ringing in his ears is only about half a pitch above the awful, constant, drilling, occasionally painful ringing in my right ear.
- If Hartley had dedicated himself to manufacturing anti-tinnitus hearing aids he would have been a goddamn hero and been able to call out Harrison Wells.
- Like, are you kidding me? Tinnitus has no cure and there’re no good treatments, your ears just ring until you die.
- Often, getting increasingly worse over time.
- (I’m honestly mad that these hearing aids aren’t a real thing I can get in this world for myself.)
- But seriously, Hartley, you could have cured the incurable and, given the city’s ambivalence towards Wells, you could have stomped him in the press and he’d have been able to do precisely dick.
- I’m using a lot of bullet points today but don’t worry, there will be plenty left for Kevin to use.
- The cells (and I noticed this because we had an above shot of Hartley) are tiny and appear to have no toilets, or even enough space for a man of average height to lay down flat.
- That is, uh, super inhumane.
- Did the police just…let the Flash take a suspect away? Is it at that point? They were there and then he has Hartley in custody? Does nobody have anything to say about that?
- Their little prison thing is just getting increasingly sketchy, is my point.
- There do not appear to even be buckets to pee in.
- At least Joe and Eddie both went “all this glass exploded around a wheelchair bound guy and he seems completely unharmed, this is kinda fishy” so at least someone was paying attention.
Bethany touched on the awkward points already, so aside from my normal grumbling of IT’S NOT A TWIST IF YOU SHOW US THAT HE’S EVIL FROM WORD ONE, I’ll move onto focusing on the great parts of this episode.
My Flash guru loves loves loves Pied Piper in the comics, and had the best time with Hartley being in this series, even though he was too much of a gloomy jerk here. She vastly prefers the lovable geeky dork in the polka-dotted longjohns who loves to tease Wally and basically Tuxedo Mask his way into wherever the action is. Hartley’s season 2 appearance, while brief, was far more in line with that Piper, and she really enjoyed that. And she had many thoughts about his interactions with Wells in this episode.
Additionally, I’m not really in any position to comment on the queer representation in this show and how well-done it is, so take what I say here with a grain of salt and let someone else give a more definitive judgment here, but even by today’s standards, the Berlanti universe is fairly progressive. Over on Arrow, you’ve got Sarah and arguably Laurel Lance, bisexual in all but name (and that’s mostly because TV networks really, really want to shy away from actually saying “bisexual” on network broadcasts), and here in Central City there’s been both Captain Singh and now Hartley, two very openly gay characters.
Captain Singh sort of normalizes the mention, doesn’t make it a plot point or anything, just casually mentioning his boyfriend in a way that shows that his subordinates are already well aware of their relationship. We even see them together in a later episode.
Hartley, though, makes it very much a plot point. From the off-handed mention in last week’s episode – Len and Mick stole the painting from his parents specifically, and they lay in the groundwork for his estrangement early – we know that his parents disowned him specifically because of it. His appearance in this episode turns it into a show of depravity, trying to make Barry and Cisco uncomfortable by hitting on both of them in turn, which is a trope that is overused in media…but also works here, since he’s intentionally trying to manipulate them from word one. This is something Hartley’s experienced first-hand – again, his parents – and his attitude is absolutely not “gay as in happy but queer as in fuck you”, a sentiment that is all too understandable and shared in the real world.
And as well as it works here, I have to stress that without Sara and Captain Singh for additional representation – as well as Nyssa al Ghul, who always deserves better – Hartley’s characterization here would have been worse.
(Once again, I am an outsider looking in on this so please, do not take my interpretation of representation as anything concrete here.)
Let’s move on, shall we?
I know I said I was going to focus on the positives here, and I’m going to try not to ruin it for Bethany, but I am so frustrated looking back on these episodes, knowing how the season ends as it does. Because there are so many missed opportunities with regards to Evil Science Dad.
Let’s break it down. We know Wells is a bad guy. We know he’s from the future. We know, therefore, that he really doesn’t care about anything that happens in this time period aside from the Flash existing, for reasons currently unknown.
And yet, we keep seeing that he actually has come to care about Cisco and Caitlin, and to a minor extent, Barry. He’s actually enjoying doing the hero thing, as we see at the beginning of the episode when he helps coordinate the fantastic takedown of the Royal Flush Gang. (Sidenote: we first see the Royal Flush Gang in Arrow, season 1, so they must have broken out of prison and/or gotten some new members since then.)
We even see a minor amount of turmoil in his face when Barry tells him how much he appreciates him, and how important he is to him.
It gets touched on a couple more times this season, but it never gets addressed beyond that. They just drop it entirely after a certain point.
There’s so much they could have done with this. It’s a bit frustrating.
Anyway, back to things I liked.
- Joe really loves the fun and messy science, even though he claims not to understand most of it. I have absolutely no doubt that he was the kind of dad that bought all the messy volcano stuff for Barry’s science fairs. Even though Barry didn’t want to do a volcano. But Barry, being Barry, was like “hey let’s make this in the backyard and you can pour in the vinegar and the food coloring” and Joe was so happy.
- (Joe and Barry totally always watch Mythbusters together. Barry tries to explain the science parts but Joe really just likes watching them smash and explode things.)
- The quick cut to Barry saying “man, I wish I’d taken a language in high school” is perfect comedic timing.
- Even five years ago, the plot point of Iris getting a newspaper job because of her Flash blog would have been unrealistic, but modern internet media has evolved in such a way for that to actually be a thing that happens for some people.
- But not everyone. And Iris is at a disadvantage because of her editor being a gold-digging creep.
Bethany the Martian is an abuser of parentheses and works in the Pizza Mines. She can be found on Twitter (@martianbethany – the account is locked for safety, not privacy, most follow requests will be accepted) and on Tumblr (bethanythemartian).
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