Thursday, 28 January 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E11 - 'The Reverse-Flash Returns'

It is a well-known, and well-documented, trope of comic-book plot-lines that no one is ever truly dead. No matter how certain it seems that a character has met their final end, long-time readers will always have that lingering suspicion that they will return, one day - even if it does not actually happen until many years later. With the previous episode's final moments revealing that Eobard Thawne (who had, of course, served as the primary villain throughout the first season of The Flash) had reappeared, it had seemed as though The Flash was set to follow along in that proud tradition.

Naturally, Barry is understandably disturbed by the idea that Eobard Thawne could have, somehow, survived - but, of course, this isn't actually the same Reverse-Flash that he remembers. Now played by Matt Letscher, who had barely a few minutes of screen-time in the role throughout the first season, this version of Eobard Thawne is one who has not yet stolen the identity of Earth-1's Harrison Wells, and who has not yet travelled back in time to murder Barry's mother. He has not even discovered the true identity of the Flash, yet - and, seems genuinely surprised to have to have stumbled across the moment in history in which the Flash first emerged.

Why he is actually here, and what he was originally planning, are obviously irrelevant as, much like in his previous incarnation, Eobard Thawne finds himself momentarily trapped - requiring help to generate the energy he needs to travel back to the future (a phrase which certain members of the cast seemed to find quite a bit of joy in saying throughout the episode). For this reason, Thawne kidnaps Dr Tina McGee (Amanda Pays) - forcing her to help build a device that will generate the energy he needs.

One of the more entertaining aspects of this episode, for me, is that the Reverse-Flash clearly had no real intention of taking on his nemesis, at this point. It seemed as though his arrival was entirely accidental - and, he seemed genuinely interested in leaving as soon as possible. Unfortunately, Eobard Thawne's arrival happened to coincide with Cisco and Harrison Well's testing of Cisco's 'vibe' abilities. This allowed Cisco to catch a glimpse of the Reverse-Flash only moments after his arrival - and, it also allowed him to uncover important information which would allow Barry to capture him and save Dr McGee. Without this, it was quite possible that the Reverse-Flash could have come and gone without anyone knowing about it. So, the central conflict of this episode was based entirely on accidents and coincidences. I'm not sure why - but, that just amuses me.

Of course, Cisco's use of his newly discovered ability to 'vibe' images of possible futures has some rather disturbing consequences, when it places Cisco at the centre of classic time-travel paradox that threatens his life. It's a development which leaves the rest of the team with a tough decision to make regarding what to do with the captured Reverse-Flash.

It was definitely fascinating to see the various ways in which different character's effectively 'sealed their own fates', when it comes to their past encounter with Eobard Thawne. Cisco took the opportunity to gloat about the part he had played in catching the Reverse-Flash, seemingly without fully considering the long-term consequences of what he was doing. Also, Earth-2's Harrison Wells has his own confrontation with the man who killed his Earth-1 double, and stole his identity. Worst of all, though, both men let Eobard Thawne see their faces as they confronted him - openly revealing themselves as people who are close to the Reverse-Flash's most hated rival.

The events of the previous season all took place in their own recent past, obviously - so, it's easy to understand why they might make this mistake. But, for Eobard Thawne, everything that happened in the previous season is still to come in his own future. It was interesting, and a little disturbing, to see his mind working as he tried to piece together all of the little bits of information he had been given - and, how he had started to piece them together into a new plan.

It's probably due to the fact that he has has such a small amount of time in the role, comparatively - but, Matt Letscher's performance as Eobard Thawne doesn't quite measure up to that given by Tom Cavanagh, last season. But, then, that would have to be a though act to follow. Here, Eobard Thawne comes across as smug and arrogant, and he has some great scenes with various members of the cast - but, he simply can't manage to come across as naturally as intimidating as he was when he was posing as Harrison Wells.

My main issue with this entire plot-line, though, is that I'm just not sure I can fully accept the writer's reasoning for bringing back Eobard Thawne. If this were just a single moment where Eobard Thawne was able to reappear, due to being outside of the established time-line and protected by the 'Speed Force' (as Harrison Wells attempted to explain), then the same should also be true of every other time that the Reverse-Flash travelled through time. If the fact that Eobard Thawne is a time traveller somehow protected him from being entirely removed from the time-line, then that raises the question of why Eddie Thawne's attempt to sacrifice himself to stop his descendant actually seemed to work in the first place.

Time travel is a tricky issue, though - so, it's possible that I just don't fully understand what the writer's had in mind. But, the more I think about it, the more confusing it seems - so, I should probably just stop, and remind myself that we're talking about a fun series based on comic-books, and not hard science-fiction.

It does seem to have become a recurring trend, with The Flash, for a single episode to try to juggle too many plot-lines - and, unfortunately, that is also the case, here. The return of Eobard Thawne should have been the episode's sole focus - but, instead, the decision was made to try to find room for a variety of other sub-plots. The gradual break-down of the relationship between Barry and Patty received some attention, with Patty recently announcing that she was leaving the city to study elsewhere and Barry deciding to let her go (something which became a big issue since, apparently, neither was willing or able to commit to any sort of long-distance relationship while Patty studied). It was a disappointingly anti-climactic way to end things between them. Although, having Patty finally be able to put the pieces together and realise that Barry was the Flash was an interesting way to end things - even if Barry was not quite able to admit it to her.

Also, there was time spent with the West family, with Francine West (Vanessa Williams) reappearing, as her condition worsens. Joe and Iris visit her in hospital and, it seems, finally make peace with the tragic events of their past - but, Wally (understandably upset about the situation he has found himself in) seems reluctant to do the same. As tragic as the circumstances are for all involved, it also provides the audience with some great moments of character drama - particular with Iris and Wally, who are moved to reach out to each other as they begin to establish their own relationship as siblings. While I wasn't all that impressed with this sub-plot, at first, I will admit that it managed to reach an emotionally satisfying conclusion, here. I just wish it had received a bit more focus, rather than being just another sub-plot in an over-crowded episode.

Similarly, Jay Garrick's role on the show still remains a frustrating disappointment for me. The previous episode's revelation that he was sick, and that the only possible cure was to somehow get his own super-speed powers back from Zoom, was a welcome addition, sure - it did, after all, finally give the character a clear focus that he had been lacking up until this point. But, the continuation of that plot-thread, here, amounted to little more than an unnecessary diversion.

Here, we had Caitlin setting out to track down Jay's Earth-1 double, in the hope that doing so might allow her to help treat Jay's condition. It made sense - with Caitlin's insistence on helping Jay clearly being driven by her desperation to not lose someone else she had come to care for. But, then we find out that Jay had already thought of that - he had already tracked down his double, and already discovered that there was no hope for a cure, there. The entire purpose of this sub-plot, it seems, was simply to reiterate the point that Jay's only hope of a cure is to defeat Zoom and have his powers restored. Honestly, it was a point that was made perfectly well in the previous episode - and, with so much else going on here, it just ended up feeling like a frustrating waste of screen-time to go over it again.

The revelation that, thanks to an adoption at a young age, Jay's Earth-1 double actually goes by the name 'Hunter Zolomon' does seem to hint at more interesting developments coming in the future, at least - since, that's another name which should be familiar to fans of DC's comics. But, the vague and unfocused way in which the show has used a character as important as Jay Garrick throughout the season remains one of the show's most disappointing elements.

Each of these sub-plots deserves screen-time, sure - but, when measured up against someone as important as the return of Eobard Thawne, they all just started to feel a bit out of place. It feels as though each would have been better served by being left for a later episode, where there would have been more room for them to develop. As it was, the combination of one major plot-line with three separate sub-plots resulted in an episode that felt messy as a whole, regardless of the quality of each individual part.

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