‘The Flash’ Review: It’s Flash vs. Flash in the Thrilling ‘Who Is Harrison Wells?’
Recap and review of The Flash – Episode 19 – Who Is Harrison Wells?:
The Flash frequently explores the inherent difficulties of achieving justice the right way. “Who Is Harrison Wells?” is an exciting episode thanks to its case of the week, but beyond that, the overall theme of truth and justice is embodied in the ongoing investigation into one Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh). It’s an episode that is as thematically rich as it is as fun.
But first, let’s look into that the villain of the week. “Everyman” is a shapeshifter named Hannibal Bates, who can transform into anyone he touches. This makes for an interesting challenge, since Barry needs to stop the bad guy, but without actually touching him. The fear is multifaceted here: for one, if Bates touches Barry as The Flash, he’d be able to take off the mask and learn Barry’s true identity by doing nothing more than looking in the mirror. Secondly, and most importantly, he might be able to mimic Barry’s abilities as well. Part of why I love The Flash is that it finds new ways to keep the end result from being a foregone conclusion. Barry’s powers should mean he’s rarely imperiled, yet each episode finds a new wrinkle to keep each villain from being as straightforward to defeat as many should be. Here, Bates is able to remain a step ahead of everyone else by shapeshifting at opportune moments. He transforms into Eddie (Rick Cosnett) and then allows himself to be seen on-camera shooting two of Eddie’s police colleagues, getting Eddie arrested for homicide in the process. He then shapeshifts into Barry in order to gain access to STAR Labs, learning all about the serum Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) has synthesized to stop Everyman. He even kisses her in the process, making things awkward enough, but once Iris (Candice Patton) intervenes, it gets a whole lot weirder, since it’s fairly clear that he has no idea who the loving hell Iris is. But neither notice the discrepancies. Instead, it’s Wells (Tom Cavanagh) who figures out Bates’s identity, noting that their Barry is right-handed, whereas Bates is left-handed. Yet no sooner is Bates captured than he escapes again, shapeshifting into a little girl while handcuffed in the back of the car, and tricking construction workers into thinking Iris and Caitlin are abducting her. So yeah, you could see how this would be frustrating for the heroes.
Ultimately, it all builds to my favorite Villain of the Week climax this season. Caitlin finishes the serum and gives it to Barry, who then tracks Bates to the airport, where they have an awesome throwdown in which Barry has to fight through facsimiles of all of his friends. I never knew Barry vs. Caitlin, Barry vs. Iris, Barry vs. Eddie and The Flash vs. The Flash were fights I wanted to see until they actually happened here. Seeing Panabker and Patton kick ass is kind of cool, even if it strains credulity that Barry would hold back. I mean, dude KNOWS those aren’t really Caitlin and Iris, and yet that adds tension to the fight: as we learn, Bates can’t actually mimic the abilities or talents of the people he shapeshifts into. He’s not as smart as Caitlin, not as resourceful as Iris, he’s not as tough as Eddie, and he’s not as fast as Barry. So the only way Bates would even have a chance against The Flash is by psyching him out with tricks. This type of end battle feels like an organic conclusion to this conflict. Granted, the conclusion is never in doubt, as Barry is able to inject Bates and put him away for good. But the journey in getting there is downright thrilling, in my opinion. The conclusion even explores the tenuous nature of identity for metahumans, as Bates has shapeshifted so much that he doesn’t even remember who he really is anymore. It’s a parallel to Barry and Eobard Thawne, both of whom are becoming so consumed by their alter egos (The Flash and Harrison Wells, respectively) that the line is blurring. Naturally, this is far less of an issue for Barry, who is doing a pretty good job preventing The Flash from becoming his entire life. But Thawne? He commits to fully embodying Harrison Wells out of a deeper necessity. And he protects the secret like a dog protects his dish.
This sinister vibe is what helps the investigation into Wells carry so much tension. Joe (Jesse L. Martin) goes searching for evidence in Starling City with Cisco (Carlos Valdes) — that is, when Cisco isn’t preoccupied making gadgets for Black Canary. In the process of looking into the case, Joe discovers a dead body buried six feet deep, and forensics reveal that it’s the real Harrison Wells. This is the linchpin they need to prove that Wells isn’t who he says he is — but it’s not the only evidence they discover this week. While looking at an overview of STAR Labs, Cisco discovers a room that isn’t supposed to be there. It’s Wells’s private chamber, and it’s there that Barry, Caitlin and Cisco find the Reverse Flash costume…as well as the newspaper from the future revealing The Flash’s disappearance. In short, the jig is up, the truth is out, and a confrontation is coming. Considering this show does an amazing job developing confrontations for one-off villains, my mind is racing at the possibilities for what they’ll do when it’s finally time for Thawne to face off with The Flash.
“Who Is Harrison Wells?” is a fun episode that is immensely compelling, owing not just to the thrilling nature of the climax, but also the thematic parallels between the Case of the Week and the overarching story of Wells/Thawne. The show suggests that truth is a difficult thing to pin down, and achieving justice is arguably harder. For instance, Eddie reveals to Iris that he’s been working with The Flash, but he doesn’t reveal that he knows The Flash’s identity, because truth has to be kept separate from necessity. It’s hard to tell the people you love the whole story when the whole story can put them in danger. Sure, they were able to get Eddie (and a whole lot of other innocently framed citizens) out of prison “the right way” (as Eddie puts it), but justice might not be so cut-and-dry for Wells. I can’t wait to see how the show handles this confrontation. Until then, The Flash is doing a damn fine job building tension and letting the pieces unravel, one week at a time.
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