Look, when you produce 22 episodes a year, there are going to be some terrible episodes. Heck, it happens on 10- and 13-episode seasons as well. It happens all the time, even on the best of shows. Even ‘Lost’ produced “Stranger In A Strange Land,” an episode devoted to Jack Shephard’s tattoos, kites, and Bai Ling. ‘Lost’ is one of my favorite shows of all time, and that’s one of the worst episodes of television that I intentionally watched. So saying “The Sound And The Fury” was awful doesn’t mean ‘The Flash’ is suddenly awful. It just means the show had a bad week, the equivalent of Barry Allen tripping over something at supersonic speed and then tumbling into a brick wall. Everything’s fine, except for this episode.

Part of what made it so dull was that it was so clearly marking time in the overall season. Marking time is fine, even valuable, when trying to spend an hour either deepening or complicating existing characters. In theory, bringing back Harrison Wells’ protégé in order to expose him in front of both Caitlin/Cisco/Barry as well as Central City at large is a fine way to spend an episode at the midpoint of this season. The problem? Harrison Wells is inherently an enigma, a person constantly eluding understanding. To use the show’s own metaphor: he’s playing four-dimensional chess while the rest of us are playing Connect-Four.

As such, we didn’t learn anything new about Wells tonight in the slightest. Sure, “The Sound And The Fury” revealed that he knew about potential problems with the particle accelerator, but we all assumed that anyways. If you were in the “his ego was too large to admit failure” camp, you were validated. If you were in the “he’s doing it in order to make the future he knows about become reality” camp, you were also validated. If you were in the “maybe he just didn’t know” camp, you probably don’t watch this show, in which case it’s super weird that you’re reading this review.

ANYWAYS, knowledge comes in the form of Hartley Rathaway, a former employee who played chess with Wells long before Barry ever attempted it. He’s now The Pied Piper, able to manipulate sound frequencies thanks to his superior mind and his retrofitted Nintendo Power Gloves. He’s got a score to settle with Wells, but ‘The Flash’ can’t decide if Rathaway is a socially awkward but well-meaning guy, a jerk who happens to have a legitimate grudge, or somebody who just likes to laugh like Dr. Evil. Rathaway is a means to a end rather than a character unto himself, a way for the show to go back in time before the explosion as well as start teasing out the true nature of Firestorm. He doesn’t speak dialogue. He shouts plot points at the correct moment.

On top of that, his presence doesn’t fundamentally disrupt any relationship for more than five minutes. Barry goes back to trusting Wells by the end of the episode, as do Caitlin and Cisco. The show can’t drop a truth bomb on these characters that large and then have it barely make a ripple. It just makes everyone look dumb. Only Joe West still doesn’t trust Wells, having sent Eddie off on an offscreen mission to dig up dirt on him. Then again, everything Joe does is awesome, so it’s not surprising that his eyes are wide open when it comes to Wells. (He cooks! He laughs at Cisco’s jokes! He thinks it’s pretty damn odd Iris got a professional writing job based on a blog!

Were there positives? A few. Barry saving people from cars being flung over the bridget was pretty nifty, as was his dismay at realizing he should have learned a foreign language in high school. Harrison Wells’ pad made me long for “DC Comics House Hunters” to start airing on HGTV. And even if I can’t trust a darn thing Wells does in the present, I can’t deny that I’m anxious to find out what in the heck he’s up to right now. Could he actually run faster than Barry before obtaining the tachyon suit? Was that someone else in the suit, or him in the future, or what? I know I ask this question every week, but the fact that I still want to know has to say something good about the show’s technique of doling out big-picture info at the speed of continental drift.

But in the meantime, instead of getting answers, we get another “villain gets caught on purpose and no one’s smart enough to realize it until things explode” plotline, which is a narrative trope I hope dies with this episode. If next week’s episode was stellar, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. I bet it is. Tonight was just one of those unfortunate things that happens to all shows. You can’t get too high about the great ones or too low about the bad ones. There’s another one just around the corner. That’s not just ‘The Flash’: that’s TV as a whole. Taking the bad with the good is part of being both a producer and consumer of the medium.

Other stray thoughts:

  • “Which she means he was mostly a jerk, but every once in a while, he could be a dick.” OK, that was hilarious. You got me there.
  • Wells asking Iris to ask him a question at the press conference means she’s the one that wrote the future headline about The Flash’s disappearance, right? That has to be why the show had Wells do that.
  • Soap fans might have recognized Roger Howarth as Iris’ editor, because we’re getting a storyline about Iris as a cub reporter whether we want it or not.
  • It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Hartley as an ally by season’s end. I liked the version of the character that stood up to Wells in the particle accelerator. That version of the character would be a welcome addition, and ties into the character’s ultimate path in the comics.