We’re having a bit of a laugh with how everything’s working out. Grab your lightsaber and brace for exploding dreidels, ’cause we’re taking a look at CBS’s The Flash.
Kidding! Tricked ya! Bet you didn’t see that coming, Flash fans!
Let’s try this again.
Kevin and Bethany have been waiting for this episode all season. Grab a glass of champagne and hold your dads close, ’cause we’re taking a look at CW’s The Flash.
This is a great, fun episode! It also exposes a lot of flaws about the overall plot!
It slices! It dices! It juliennes! It continues under the cut!
(See what I did there? Cut?? Eh???)
Okie-dokey. Let’s start with the weaknesses, because I feel like I was kind of a bummer last week. I mean, I like this show, I really do. I just was really disappointed by that episode, is all.
Anyway, I want to end on a good note and there is SO MUCH DELIGHTFUL GOOD in this episode, so.
First things first: Barry and Joe take Eddie aside (near the end of the episode) and reveal to him that Barry is the Flash. They do this so they can get Eddie to lie to Iris, because apparently her father and her oldest friend weren’t enough fucking liars to have in her life.
Like, this secret isn’t sustainable forever. What’s more, Barry knows it. Barry has lived a timeline where he did end up having to reveal his secret identity to Iris. It is bound to happen at some point, and the longer they go without telling her, the more they lie to her, the more angry she is likely to be when she does find out. Like, she’d have every right to leave town and never speak to them.
(Iris West can have her own show called Nobody Lies To Iris West and it can be about her being an amazing and badass investigative reporter. I would watch it religiously. Eddie can come with her; he’s still in the “forgivable” zone.)
The second issue I have with this episode is less with this episode in particular and more about the overall story arc. We’ve been leading up, this whole season, to the final showdown with the man who killed Barry’s mother. And the series has made no secret about Harrison Wells (we’ve discussed his moustache-twirling ways in the past).
This episode shows what happened to Eobard Thawne in the past, and why he became Harrison Wells (or at least, showing that he needed to become Wells), how that happened and why he didn’t simply return to his time.
I feel like this should have come a lot earlier. We know that Wells can walk, we know he’s killed people, and if they’d made this reveal earlier, I think his “I’m starting to care about these people I thought I was just using” thing would have carried more weight.
When he gave up the tachyon prototype to help Ronnie, we’d have known what the stakes were for him. We’re told that it upsets his timeline, but the impact of how much it could be screwing his shit up is not clear at that point, because we don’t know why he’s there and what his motivations are. You know what I mean?
Also, it would give this episode a little more room for other stuff.
Anyway, on to the fun stuff.
MARK FRIGGIN’ HAMILL
I think it’s very clear that Hamill was having the time of his life in this role. Not a single second of him on-screen was wasted. It was all great.
Hamill plays the Trickster, and his role in the show seemed to be, like, if you smooshed The Joker and Hannibal Lecter together. (Which, if you know me, you know that this sort of thing is exactly my jam.) We’re introduced to him sideways, via an imitator, who parachutes exploding gift boxes onto a playground.
Joe and Barry go and talk to the original Trickster, whose actual name is James Jesse. (I always, kind of guiltily, feel like people with first-name last names should give their kids last-name first names to make up for it, because otherwise you’ve just got Two First Names. I think bringing alliteration into it is just cruel and unusual.)
(I bet his middle name is Jeremy.)
The whole scene where Joe and Barry meet the Trickster gave off very strong Silence Of the Lambs vibes. I mean. Just…just look.
It’s such an unsubtle reference that I kinda wonder if the Central City jumpsuits weren’t deliberately made blue (a decision made much earlier on) just so they could make this visual reference. I’m kinda disappointed they’re not told to remove any paperclips or bits of metal from anything they put in the pass. I mean, Jesse could smell whether or not they had his preferred candy (unnamed red licorice type candy, presumably Twizzlers but possibly Red Vines)- and Lecter could tell what type of perfume Clarice normally wore even though she wasn’t wearing it at the time. Seriously, A+ reference.
The original Trickster is enraged that someone is riffing on his work, and gives Joe and Barry the address to his old hidey-hole (like the self-storage unit Lecter leads Clarice to…)
It’s been cleared out by the young Trickster, and Jesse reveals that there was a bomb in it. A really BIG bomb.
When the young Trickster threatens the city, he gives them a few square blocks to search, but it turns out – tricked ya!- he’s bustin’ Jesse outta jail. They take Henry Allen as a sort of insurance – Barry had stopped to chat with his dad earlier, and Jesse must have heard the conversation.
The young Trickster is named Axel, and he is Jesse’s apprentice. He was picked out for a very special reason.
I actually had to pause and pull myself together the first time I watched this, I was laughing so hard I was wheezing. I couldn’t breathe. The delivery is fan-fucking-tastic.
Anyway, the Tricksters (episode name drop) try to poison Central City’s richest for money and Barry’s gotta stop them. His first attempt, Jesse clamps a bomb to his arm and is like “Hey, remember that movie Speed? Yeah, like that.” Except it’s 600 mph.
(880 feet per second. A strong, fast runner with long legs – and Grant Gustin is nearly 6’2″ – might have a stride length of 6-7 feet, though estimates vary, and speed does play a factor in stride length. Barry doesn’t seem to get a lot of air time between steps, but he is going fast, so for that and math ease we’ll give him a stride length of 10 feet. That’s still 88 steps per second.)
(If you were wondering.)
Now, one of the plot lines weaving throughout this episode was that Barry now has solid suspicions about Harrison Wells. He doesn’t trust him, is having trouble talking to the man, and believes that Wells has something to do with his mother’s death (he’s not wrong). When he was looking for the really BIG bomb, Wells told him that the bomb wasn’t there, and Barry decided to keep looking for it – deliberately ignoring Wells.
Now that Barry’s back in trouble, though, he has to listen to Wells to get through it.
Literally. Because Wells wants him to run through something.
Wells takes his glasses off and calmly, carefully, tells Barry how to do it. He talks about how it will feel, how it does feel. He tells Barry to concentrate on it. Barry actually runs through a semi, leaving the bomb behind. He (very quickly) administers the antidote to everybody and takes both Tricksters in, rescues his dad, and now his suspicion is not just that Wells Is Up To Something, but that Wells is the Man in Yellow.
Wells walking Barry through it was almost hypnotic, and it was very clear that Wells was speaking from experience. It was a great moment in the episode, and I think even if Barry hadn’t been suspicious of Wells before, he’d have picked up something from this. This was one speedster to another kind of talk, you know?
Stray thoughts I found in a drawer:
- Cisco says that he can’t trace the young Trickster’s IP because he’s got some crazy “Felicity-caliber” scrambler.
- She is so good that she is the epitome.
- Felicity Smoak, y’all.
- This shows Eobard stealing the face off Harrison Wells.
- I wrote “that ain’t right”.
- It ain’t.
- After Barry runs through a semi-truck he goes “Oh, that felt weird”.
- The delivery is great. He sounds like he’s not sure if he’s gonna vomit, pass out, or do a victory dance.
- Why does Henry not get turned in right away? He clearly hangs out with Barry for a while, long enough for it to be the next day, to meet his team and get a hug from Caitlin.
- (Caitlin = the best.)
- But you can get more time on your sentence for this kind of shit!
- …Eh, the police know he’s kidnapped, maybe they just haven’t “found” him yet.
- Plus he does turn himself in. Just, you know, not immediately.
- Still, I was like BUT YOU COULD GET IN TROUBLE, HENRY!
- I have a very nervous disposition.
- Henry seeing his son in full uniform was great.
- The Tricksters actually had a really great father/son moment, and I wish that relationship had been focused on just a little more.
- Jesse says that he groomed Axel to be the best he could be. Which is actually really sweet?
- (Well, the groomed part isn’t, and the fact that Axel was probably barely a teenager – at most – when James Jesse started talking to him is a little creepy, but it was clearly him being proud and supportive, and they were having a blast poisoning people together…like, I just wish we got a little more of that, I guess.)
- Look, there was a great opportunity to do a parallel of proud fathers/triumphant sons on opposite sides of the legality spectrum (BOTH DADS WERE JAIL DADS EVEN C’MON) and I feel like they dropped the ball on that, is all.
- Like, if you were going to only ever watch one episode of this show, this would be the episode I would point to (I’m still not all the way caught up, though).
- It’s great.
No, just kidding. I just really like that screencap. Don’t you judge me.
If you hadn’t guessed already, this Flash series is a love letter to the ’90s Flash series. Some of the same actors, some hidden – and not so hidden – references, and just a lot of the same sense of fun that the old show had.
The two shows aren’t in full continuity, but that doesn’t stop them from pulling all the best bits of it whenever they want.
This week’s episode is the culmination of that. We’ve already had Tina McGee on, and John Wesley Shipp once played Barry himself. This week, not only does Mark Hamill reprise his role as the Trickster (which he did well before playing the Joker on Batman: The Animated Series), but they also pull screencaps and promo pictures from the two episodes he was in to use as his mugshots for this series. It’s the same thing they did with Tina McGee; her Mercury Labs ID was a picture of her from the ’90s show.
What else did they pull from the old show? Mayor Tony Bellows was Chief Tony Bellows with the Central City Police Department. The Trickster’s lair was a picture-perfect recreation of the old sets, costumes and all. And, more importantly, the music.
Blake Neely outdid himself here. He took the Trickster’s leitmotif from the ’90s and adapted it. It’s the same tune, the same jingle, but remixed in all the best ways. You’ll notice, where Bethany took the screencaps above, when James Jesse tells Axel that he is his father? The theme goes from sinister bells and synths to full-on Imperial March Brass Horns.
(We’ll hear this leitmotif remixed again in Season 2, put together both with sleigh bells and Captain Cold’s theme.)
The plot of this episode is even a partial homage to the Trickster’s first episode:
James Jesse, a serial killer with multiple personalities, becomes obsessed with Megan Lockhart, who had been investigating his activities, and attempts to kidnap her, but she is rescued by the Flash. Believing them to be romantically involved, Jesse adopts the identity of the Trickster and begins tormenting the Flash, who ultimately lures Jesse into a fight at the police’s costume ball, where he is arrested. Despite Barry and Megan becoming involved, she decides to leave Central City and ends their relationship.
I’ve said that I used to watch this show with my mom, way back when. Getting to see John Wesley Shipp and Mark Hamill face off again was a real treat.
The only other thing I have to discuss this week, before we get to my scattered thoughts, is what Bethany brought up with Eobard Thawne.
I do agree that the timing of this is weird, and that some things would have had a bit more impact if this had been revealed earlier. I’ve said before that the Big Reveal that Evil Science Dad is actually Eobard Thawne from the future was hamstrung a bit by the fact that he’s clearly been the bad guy almost since the first episode, that it would have hit us harder had he not been Doing Evil Things All This Time.
That said, while I think it could have been handled a bit better, I do understand why they put it here instead of earlier.
My theory: we’ve been getting too attached to Harribard. We’ve seen him sympathetic, and we’ve been shown many examples of him growing attached to Cisco, Caitlin, and even his future nemesis Barry. When he killed Cisco in that alternate timeline, it was almost out of character, even for the Evil Science Dad that we’ve come to know, even knowing that he’s a murdering lying murderer liar.
(I said almost.)
But here’s the thing: we’ve got what, five episodes before the final showdown? Thawne is the Big Bad of the season, and we need him to be evil to justify this. Showing him murdering Harrison Wells and Tess Morgan puts that back in our minds, puts it back into context. We need to start rooting for Barry to catch and defeat him, and we can’t do that if he’s the sympathetic character that we’re starting to see him as.
Remember way back when I said I wished they’d have developed this further before dropping it all at once? They’re dropping it all at once now. Harribard is the Bad Guy. He’s not Evil Science Dad anymore. He’s the one who doesn’t care who he kills, because to him, they’ve been dead for centuries. He’s the guy who stares wistfully into the setting sun, plotting his plots and scheming his schemes.
Could they have paced this better? Could they have developed the dichotomy between Eobard Thawne and Evil Science Dad a bit more? Absolutely, and it shows. But I still understand why they did it the way they did.
Dayna said a little while ago that she didn’t like Matt Letscher’s Thawne as much as Tom Cavanagh, and I have to disagree. They’re almost different characters.
Tom Cavanagh is the mysterious, creepy, enigmatic villain. What are his motives? What is he doing? Is he telling the truth or is he lying? He plays it close to the chest, both his truths and his lies, and his feelings are subtle and hard to discern. Tom Cavanagh is Evil Science Dad.
Matt Letscher, though, he’s the Comic Book Villain. He’s the ham, he’s the smug prick who gleefully does what he does. He doesn’t lie, why should he? The truth is so much more damaging to his enemies. He’s inevitability, he’s a force of nature.
“I win again, Flash.”
Harribard is the enemy you keep close. Thawne is the terror in the light of day.
One last thing. Like Bethany said a couple episodes ago, pay attention to the glasses. When Wells takes them off, he’s taking off his mask. He’s dropping his act. It’s his tell – when the glasses come off, so does the Harrison Wells persona. Eobard is now talking directly as himself. Go back through the season, and you’ll see it.
- “It’s like the Cubs winning the Pennant. It never happens!” Okay pal I got two things to say to you.
- A: Screw you, buddy.
- B: Yeah, about that…
- Mark Hamill was such a delight that everyone on the show brought their A-game. Even the ones who didn’t have a scene with him.
- Hamill’s Trickster, as I’ve said, returns in one episode of Season 2. I really want him to come back for Season 3, as well. Come on, guys.
- There’s a difference between Henry figuring out that Barry is the Flash, and seeing him in the suit in person. I just love the interactions there.
- I’m glad that Eddie got to see who the Flash was. He deserves a break there.
- Like Bethany, I’m pissed that they’re making him lie to Iris.
- Bonus points to Eddie; he’s pissed about that too.
- COUNTDOWN TO CATHARSIS: 4
- Unrelated to anything else, I rewatched this episode on my phone. When the screen was the phone video from Axel, with the status bar and record button, it was all in the right place and it felt weird, but a really nice touch.
- Mark Hamill, y’all. For someone who plays a lot of homicidal maniacs – The Trickster, The Joker, Fire-Lord Ozai – he really knows how to find variations on a theme. Similar voices, but such distinct characters. What a guy.
Kevin O’Shea is a writer and part-time community organizer. You can find him on Twitter (@osheamobile), Tumblr (osheamobile), or sending every bottle of champagne he opens to be tested for poison for the rest of his life.
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