The Flash – Recap: Time to Pay the Piper
Recap and review of The Flash – Episode 11 – The Sound and the Fury:
“Our heroes aren’t always who we’d like them to be,” Barry says to Iris early in the episode, and it condenses the theme of this week’s episode of The Flash. “The Sound and the Fury” explores personal culpability, and just what a crushing responsibility it is to live up to the trust others place in you.
One of the key strengths of the show, which comes out in this episode in a big way, is the moral ambiguity of Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh). Is he a good man who does bad things in service to a greater good? Or is he an inherently bad man who does good things as a means to a more sinister end? He’s the show’s most interesting character, especially since we can’t know for certain if he’s being sincere in his attempts to make amends publicly for the Particle Accelerator, as he does tonight, or if he’s being as phony and manipulative as Hartley Rathaway (Andy Mientus) says he’s being. On that latter note, the episode also gives us the most compelling Villain of the Week so far, as “prodigal son” Hartley Rathaway returns to torment Wells, his former mentor. Known to comic fans as the Pied Piper, Hartley was a genius whose attitude made him an absolute pain to work with, a fact to which Cisco and Caitlin can attest. Yet it’s partly understandable, in a way. He was shunned and virtually disowned by his wealthy family after coming out, making him somewhat sympathetic. That is, until he launches into his convoluted scheme to get back at Wells for the Particle Accelerator explosion.
As Wells attests, the Accelerator couldn’t have been created without Hartley’s genius, yet, by his own admission, Wells openly ignored Hartley’s warning that the Accelerator could explode. In essence, Wells weighed the potential scientific contributions above the safety of Central City. It’s enough to get Cisco (Carlos Valdes), Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and even Barry (Grant Gustin) cause to lose their trust in him. And while Wells tries to make amends by holding a public press conference admitting to his recklessness, the fact remains that Hartley is still right about Wells. He’s not who he appears to be. Of course, it’s not as if anyone on his team actually knows as much. Hell, we don’t even know as much. The episode doesn’t tell us anything more about Wells’s master plan than we already know beyond revealing that he’s using the tachyon device to slow time around him, as a means of keeping his “Speed Force” stable. But is he ever actually going to reveal to anyone that he’s the Reverse-Flash? What is his goal here? That lingering question is part of what makes Wells as interesting as he is. Until we know what his plans/goals are, he’s neither a hero nor a villain, really. But I love how effectively Cavanagh portrays that duality, coming across as both likable and eerily suspicious.
But Hartley is the villain of this episode, as he acquired the ability to perceive and manipulate sound waves as a result of the Particle Accelerator explosion. He’s perhaps the most formidable match Barry has had so far, less because of Hartley’s powers, and more because of his intelligence. He essentially defeats Barry by suckering him into falling for the same trick twice, and would have killed him if not for the quick thinking of Wells, who is able to turn Hartley’s own powers against him. Ultimately, I like the notion of a villain driven by intelligence over brute force, someone who might still be a formidable nuisance without the metahuman abilities. Really, I think Hartley is one of the best villains the show has had so far. A Smash alum, Andy Mientus does some really solid work here as the outsider genius. In fact, his snobbish villainy elevates the story around him, as we get to learn more about Cisco, who still feels he has something to prove. Carlos Valdez does a great job in portraying Cisco’s inner turmoil — he’s driven by the desire to do good, but also by a more personal impulse, the chance to have his work mean something. It’s a daunting thing to contribute to something larger than yourself, but that’s what Cisco is doing, and that responsibility has the potential to overwhelm him, especially since he’s succeeding a genius like Hartley. But, in one of the warmest moments of the season, Wells assures Cisco that the reason he was hired, and why he remains on the team, is because his humanity adds to the pleasure of working at S.T.A.R. Labs. It’s a beautiful moment, and it brings Cisco’s journey in this episode full-circle. But not to a close, as he just might find himself conned into letting Hartley go, since the villain reveals that not only does he know where Ronnie Raymond is, he knows how to help him. It’s a great twist, and it opens the possibility of a return for Mientus as Hartley. So sign me up.
The rest of the episode has a few things worth mentioning. Iris (Candice Patton) gets a job at the city paper, and finds it difficult to earn the respect of her two-time Pulitzer-winning colleague — who also happens to be Iris’s hero. Wells helps her out by giving her the opportunity to be the only reporter who asks him a question at the press conference, yet respect is still hard to come by when you’re on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. Meanwhile, Joe (Jesse L. Martin) plans to investigate Wells with the help of Eddie (Rick Cosnett), who isn’t so sure if that’s such a good idea. Still, Joe has just enough evidence to suspect Wells is hiding something, since he shows no signs of injury after Hartley’s attack early in the episode, despite being a man confined to a wheelchair. Of course, Joe is right in his assessment, since Harrison was using the tachyon device to zoom away from the falling glass of the skylight windows Hartley shattered. I love the notion of Barry potentially being torn between his two major father figures at the moment (well, besides his real father), as the divided loyalties could make for compelling television. I’m not sure how Joe plans to move forward with the investigation, but I like that Joe is getting an overarching storyline of his own, so that he’s doing something each week other than just investigating the Metahuman of the Week.
“The Sound and the Fury” is definitely worth checking out. There’s the possibility that this isn’t the end for the Pied Piper, and there’s also the likelihood that we’ll soon be returning to the mystery of Ronnie Raymond, while also delving deeper into the major secret behind Harrison Wells. That’s enough to make The Flash worth getting excited about in the coming weeks, even if “The Sound and the Fury” hadn’t been as satisfying as it ended up being.