Tuesday, April 21, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Flash' - Barry Deals with a Shapeshifter While Joe and Cisco Travel to Starling City in 'Who Is Harrison Wells?'

The CW's The Flash - Episode 1.19 "Who Is Harrison Wells?"

Joe and Cisco head to Starling City to continue their investigation of Dr. Wells, with some help from Captain Lance and the Black Canary. Barry races to catch a meta-human who can transform himself into every person he touches - which includes Eddie, Iris, Caitlin and even The Flash.

"Who Is Harrison Wells?" is a weird episode of The Flash. So much of it focuses on stalling the larger narrative of the season. Sure, in the end some big moments happen. Joe and Cisco find Harrison Wells' real body buried in Starling City which proves that they have a right to suspect Wells of being the Reverse Flash. And in the final scene, Barry, Cisco and Caitlin stumble upon Wells' secret room at STAR Labs which has his Reverse Flash suit and the machine that shows the future. Those are big plot developments that should bring up a ton of excitement as the momentum of the season starts building into the final stretch. It doesn't because the episode around those reveals just feels off.

The main story is centering around the latest meta-human case-of-the-week featuring a shapeshifter named Hannibal Bates committing crimes while framing the innocent people whose identities he has stolen. It's a character who should be a big threat to the core cast of characters. The protagonists have no idea what the scope of his powers actually are. Does he just take over their physical appearances? Or does he also retrieve their memories and abilities? The former is true while the latter is not. Hannibal Bates is simply a crafty criminal with a unique ability. He doesn't pose a threat to the team's secrets getting out. He can morph into Barry, Iris, Caitlin and Eddie and cause damage for them, but they don't have to worry about him being some grand master manipulator of emotions or revealing the truth. That is a decision that the show made that took a lot of drama out of the main plot.

Additionally, with a shapeshifter on the loose, you would think that the main characters would be smarter or more cautious. They are not. They fall for his tricks of deception because the episodic narrative needs them to in order to drag things out. While it is a ton of fun seeing Evil Eddie and Evil Barry, that's a device that can only go so far. It's a trick played seriously for a moment - as Eddie is framed for critically injuring two fellow police officers. And then, it's played comedically in the next - with Evil Barry kissing Caitlin and her not knowing how to react. A Barry-Caitlin pairing wouldn't be the worst possible thing on the show. Because they know the big secret and trust each other, they have much easier chemistry than Barry does with Iris. And yet, the arc of this season is so fundamentally positioned as Barry and Iris being the one true pairing that the only way this kiss can be played is for comedic effect. It's a plot beat that is awkwardly executed and largely just leaves Caitlin flustered for the rest of the episode because her character needs to be stable for a moment.

And then there is the show's continuation of its biggest problem - keeping the truth from Iris. It's a story that simply doesn't hold much value. Because she doesn't know that Barry is the Flash and battles meta-humans on a weekly basis, she doesn't know anything about how the show and the characters operate on a weekly basis. This episode proves that she is not dumb. She is the one who notices it's not the real Eddie on the police vehicle footage. She's the one who thinks to look up the list of people arrested for crimes they swear they didn't do. She has the possibility of being a vital part of the show. And yet, the show is reluctant to pull her into the loop because it's having too much fun with her being oblivious. The scene after she tells Caitlin about the information she has discovered, Hannibal Bates is able to escape from her car because she insists on bringing him into the police station. First, she never would have been in that position in the first place if she knew the truth. And second, that plot beat was just so the action could stretch out for another act. It all happened just so the Flash could battle multiple characters in the climatic scene before knocking Hannibal out. But that's not enough to keep justifying Iris being in the dark about the Flash's identity.

As the episode's crossover story points out, it is a ton of fun when two characters are able to talk about the truth. Joe and Cisco head to Starling City to investigate the crash that killed Tess Morgan and while there they interact with Captain Lance and Laurel. Sure, it's still very serious when it comes to Captain Lance. But Joe does get some great moments of fatherly bonding about the two of them needing to protect their daughters no matter what secrets are being kept. That was a genuinely earned moment that may mean the Captain will soon stop being angry all the time over on Arrow. More importantly though, Laurel asks Cisco to help modify her sister's sonic wave machine - essentially creating Arrow's version of the Canary's Cry. It's the most fun Laurel has been in, well, ever! Cisco gets to geek out and Laurel gets a piece of technology that she really wanted. It's fun for both characters as well as the audience. It's a genuine moment that is only possible because they have a willingness to share the truth with each other. A quality that desperately needs to be extended into other parts of The Flash

Some more thoughts:
  • "Who Is Harrison Wells?" was written by Ray Utarnachitt & Cortney Norris and directed by Wendey Stanzler.
  • Eddie telling Barry that he needed to find a way to get him released the right way was his best moment of the season so far. It almost makes up for him not telling Iris the full truth in the end. Yes, it's true that he's working with the Flash but there's still so much more that he's keeping from her and that's still not okay.
  • Caitlin going to Dr. Wells' house was such a stupid and naive move to make. Thank goodness, Barry was able to save her in the nick of time.
  • What are the odds that Caitlin showing up at his door was what tipped Wells off that the team may be on to his hidden identity and agenda? That final scene between him and Joe definitely seemed like he knew more than he was letting on.
  • The idea of Hannibal Bates - seriously who named this guy after two of the most iconic villains in cinematic history? - not remembering who his true self is anymore was a disturbing moment. Also one that would have carried more weight if he was also able to steal other people's memories and abilities - thus further removing his own identity.