Tuesday, January 26, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Flash' - Eobard Thawne Returns to Cause More Pain for Team Flash in 'The Reverse-Flash Returns'

The CW's The Flash - Episode 2.11 "The Reverse-Flash Returns"

When Cisco gets a vibe of Eobard Thawne, Barry and the team don't believe it. But, after an attack at Mercury Labs, Christina McGee confirms that the Reverse Flash is back. Iris and Francine share a nice moment that brings Iris closer to Wally.

There are many compelling plot threads happening in "The Reverse-Flash Returns." It's certainly a big episode of The Flash with many important and meaningful story developments - and the season's big bad Zoom doesn't even appear at all! However, it's a tad too overcrowded and feels rushed in many different areas and annoying in others. At the core of this episode is a very cool idea of bringing Eobard Thawne back as the villain-of-the-week. This version of the character is part of a time remnant from the future. He hasn't gone back in time to kill Barry's mother or take over Harrison Wells' identity yet. That makes this an episode that has to do a lot of explaining with time travel which basically boils down to this is the way to make the story most engaging and exciting to watch. On top of that though, this episode also includes Barry and Patty's official goodbye and breakup, Cisco learning how to control his Vibe powers, Caitlin researching a potential way to save Jay, and Iris saying goodbye to her mother as she's on her death bed. Again, it's a very busy episode that doesn't always handle all of these various pieces all that well.

In fact, the time travel mechanics in the main plot are a little too wonky to make sense. The show needed to offer up an explanation for how Eobard Thawne can still be alive and from Earth-1 causing more terror for the team. However, it's ultimately best not to think too much about it. Thinking too much will cause a headache and will be more trouble than it's worth. The return of the first season's big bad is a very compelling story for this episode. All of the main characters are still emotionally dealing with the ramifications of the Reverse Flash's actions from last season. And yet, the man who stands before them now has not done any of those things yet. In fact, the team probably gives him all the insight he needs to actually go back in time and kill Barry's mother, steal Harrison's identity and manipulate the events that lead to the particle accelerator's explosion and the creation of Barry and Cisco's powers. It's a lot to deal with largely because the team doesn't totally understand the mechanics of time travel. Wells-2 insists that the death of Barry's mom is a fixed point in time that can't be changed. That would have been good to know last season. But now, it creates a situation where Barry and the team have to send Eobard back to the future in order to preserve their current timeline.

That is an interesting plot thread that ultimately becomes too rushed during the second half of this episode. It's thrilling to watch Barry be able to defeat the Reverse Flash in battle. He still holds so much anger to the man who killed his mother. But his capture does more harm than good. It's great that the team is able to confront Eobard for all the horrible things that he did/will do to them. But they are also forced to send him back to where he came from just in order to save Cisco who is disappearing from the timeline. His quest to better understand his powers is an amusing plot thread throughout this hour. Enough time is actually spent on him that they are able to figure it all out. It doesn't even take that long either. He gets to spend his longest time yet in Vibe mode - which leads to the team knowing that the Reverse Flash is back and where to find him once he kidnaps Dr. McGee. But the timeline is also taking its toil on him by causing nosebleeds and seizures. It's a thrilling image to see the Flash and the Reverse Flash running side by side in order to send the Reverse Flash back to the future. But not enough time is actually spent analyzing just how meaningful this experience is for the whole team. Barry has to make an immediate decision in order to save Cisco's life. But even before that, Barry's search for answers as to why Eobard hates him so much doesn't provide a whole lot of nuance. Matt Letscher is capable of delivering such exposition with proper intensity but it's nowhere near as compelling or special as the work Tom Cavanagh did last season. That's made even more apparent by Cavanagh still being right there on the show as well for comparison.

But all of that is wonderful compared to the dreadful story of the destruction of Barry and Patty's relationship. That dynamic has really taken a violent and nasty turn over the past two weeks. The two of them were happy throughout the fall. And now, all of these problems have popped up that have really made Barry unflattering and unlikable. He is such a dick to Patty - especially when he says he's keeping these secrets in order to protect her and let her chase her dreams. That's such a horrible way of expressing himself. It's a great thing that Patty is finally able to figure out that Barry is the Flash. She is a detective after all - even though her heart is no longer in the profession. But he still refuses to tell her the truth. It's a story all about the sacrifice he is making in order to protect the people that he loves. But it's just so annoying to watch and really makes Barry seem like a dick for jerking Patty around like this. Plus, he's not even smart enough to realize the trap that she sets to expose him as the superhero in the end. It's great that she knows the truth. But the show really needs a break from this story. Shantel VanSanten was pretty great all season long. But this goodbye has been pretty dreadful. Still it leaves an opportunity for her to return sometime in the future too.

Barry and Patty reach a definitive ending in this episode. That's a good thing because it allows for better things to happen in the future. Meanwhile, the Caitlin-Jay story continues to just go around in circles. There was absolutely no reason why this story needed to occur in this episode. Caitlin does inform Barry that Jay is dying now that he no longer has his speed. She sets out on a quest to find his Earth-1 doppelganger. But that's a search that gets complicated by the fact that no one named Jay Garrick exists in this world. It turns out that Jay already explored this avenue - only for him to realize that his genetically modified DNA can't mix with regular DNA. The story does drop a pretty big comic book name in Hunter Zolomon - Jay's doppelganger on Earth-1. That can lead to a ton of speculation for comic books fans regarding the season long mystery. But it's really not that engaging at the moment for these two characters.

The best tangential storyline in this episode is probably Iris deciding to forgive her mother while Francine is on her death bed. Iris hasn't had a whole lot to do this season. She's been important when the plot requires her to be. But she's largely been saddled with this story about the surprising additions to her family. It makes for some very solid emotional material in this episode. Iris is willing to let go of all of the anger she holds towards Francine for leaving her family and denying them many great memories together. She is able to do so because of Eddie's death. That's what allows her to say all that she wants to say. It also allows Iris to bond with Wally. He is much angrier as a teenager. But she doesn't want him to regret not saying goodbye to his mother. This episode shows just how wise Iris is. She's already looking out for her little brother. This family will be fine without Francine. Tragedy had to force them together. But now, they are willing to be in each other's lives to help get through these difficult times. That's very rewarding as things are bound to only get crazier in the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Reverse-Flash Returns" was written by Aaron Helbing & Todd Helbing and directed by Michael Allowitz.
  • So, Eobard hates the Flash because he got the same powers but wasn't able to be as good as Barry was. That's a very lame explanation that really doesn't work at all. In fact, it's pretty terrible while leaving things very cryptic about the future.
  • Not only do Eobard and Wells-2 share a scene together but Wells-2 actually puts on the Reverse-Flash outfit again in this episode. As if the comparisons weren't already going to be painfully clear.
  • The big Joe-Barry scene where Joe says Barry will have to get used to making sacrifices given the incredible abilities he has both now and in the distant future didn't really work all that well. That's a shame because that dynamic is so crucial to the show.
  • Cisco's big "Bye Felicia!" moment was the comedic highlight of the hour but that was mostly from a lack of humor in the rest of the stories. It also strangely felt out of place.
  • How did Patty go all of this time not knowing that Barry and Joe also did secret work for STAR Labs? Also, how in the world can Joe be that bad of a liar? It was simply something the plot dictated them to be in this episode.