‘The Flash’ Review: ‘Who Is Harrison Wells?’
The Flash can do many things well. “Moody” is not one of those things. So when “Who Is Harrison Wells?” slips into a melodrama about Caitlin’s disbelief over her mentor, which is a lot of tonight’s hour, the show gets bogged down in all the weight that burdened the show during its brief Firestorm arc. This week’s episode wasn’t bad, but it was certainly a letdown after the highs of the past two weeks. It was an installment running in place and only offering the illusion of actual progress.
Really, this was a placeholder episode, one in which the show moved the season-long plot forward approximately an inch while deploying a fairly cool villain in fairly rote ways. Shapeshifting is a fun trick in the genre bag, since it lets familiar faces act in unusual ways. (The Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode “Who Are You” is a great example of this subgenre.) I could have used a lot more EvilEddie, but the amount of EvilBarry we got tonight was fun. The villain Everyman is more a concept than a human being (creepy last shot aside), but it’s really a delivery mechanism to let the show’s core cast break bad within the confines of a single episode’s conceit. And that’s just fine.
But while Hannibal Bates’ sleight-of-hand techniques were fun and well shot, The Flash really didn’t take a true opportunity to use his mimicry to the best emotional effect. Bates doesn’t absorb any of the memories of those he impersonates, so he’s never able to use existing information against the core characters. We already had one type of Trickster a few weeks ago, but here was the chance to really have Bates play mindgames with those in S.T.A.R. Labs and beyond. And sure, maybe that limitation is accurate to the comics, but who cares? Hearing Grant Gustin as EvilBarry say, “Heeey…you!” was amusing. And sure, seeing The Flash throat-punch “Iris” was something I didn’t expect to see on television in 2015. But the show only really tried to make the mimicry have teeth with the cartoonish seduction of Caitlin. To be sure, I’m not against the show pairing them up. But The Flash posits Barry/Iris as this show’s OTP, abandoned any remote chance of Barry/Caitlin after “Crazy For You.” Thus, Caitlin’s shock at the seduction felt like cheap comic relief rather than a roundabout way of delivering fan service.
As with last week, we got some Arrow crossover this week, this time in the form of Quentin and Laurel Lance. Joe and Cisco go to Starling City to investigate the scene of Wells’ accident, and while Quentin sure as heck seems calmer than he does over in the other CW show, he’s still able to deliver a message about the negative power of secrets amongst family members to Joe. (I’ve resigned myself to the fact that Iris won’t find out until the season finale at this point, and maybe then she’ll do some throatpunching of her own.) Cisco, meanwhile, essentially goes to Comic-Con, builds Laurel this universe’s version of The Canary Cry, and even snaps a picture with her. It’s honestly the most likeable Katie Cassidy has been in…well, forever, which is just the latest example of how Carlos Valdes is a damn national treasure.
Again, the show only highlights how bad the Iris storyline is every time it drops a scene like Cisco/Laurel on us. It’s FUN to have these people share secrets. Sure, it puts them in danger, but these are people who are OK with that! It’s a choice they’ve made! And they tend to respect those that make a similar choice. I honestly had hope for 10 seconds tonight when Iris deduced Bates committed multiple robberies and also recognized that he was left-handed. Here’s the show not simply saying Iris is a good journalist, but actually showing it. Yay! That joy was instantly sapped as soon as Iris’ Uber Service Of Stupidity took Bates across town and instantly lost him. Here’s the thing: Iris isn’t stupid! If she knew what was really going on, the threat would have been eliminated. She never would have suggested taking Bates to the police, because she would know Caitlin had developed a serum to stop Bates from shifting. Instead, Iris chooses the only option available to her under the circumstances, and this episode gets another act.
That makes “Who Is Harrison Wells” extremely representative of this first season of The Flash as a whole. Much like a sports team that has difficult maintaining a winning streak, so too does this show have a difficult time stringing together a solid run of episodes. Very few, if any, are totally devoid of merit. But for a show about a guy who can run faster than anyone, there’s not a lot of long-term momentum. Joy and anguish tend to be constrained to a single week.
At the very end of tonight’s episode, Barry, Caitlin, and Cisco find Wells’ secret lair. By all rights, that should put the pedal to the narrative metal. Will The Flash finally achieve maximum speed, or will it run in place before the season finale? We’ll just have to wait and watch.
A few odds and ends…
“Barry Allen’s Pizza Delivery” is as good a business idea as “Iris’ Criminal Uber” is a bad one.
“Run like a normal person!” After Wells said this, I half-expected Barry to run twenty yards and instantly get out of breath.
The most heroic moment of the episode goes to Eddie, who insists that Barry clear him the right way. “You are gonna find Bates, and you are gonna clear me. So go do it.” This made his decision to keep Barry’s secret at the end of the hour that much more disappointing.
Quentin Lance was super chill about his coffee suddenly floating into the air. Wait until he learns about the Lazarus pits.