‘The Flash’ Review: Father-Son Relationships Anchor ‘Tricksters’
Recap and review of The Flash – Episode 17 – Tricksters:
Few things on TV are as dramatically potent as a story about fathers and sons, and The Flash has plenty of them. Whether it’s Barry and Henry, Barry and Joe, Barry and Wells, or even two murderous psychopaths like the Trickster and son. “Tricksters” explores how fathers shape sons, for good or ill, and it results in a thrilling, emotional hour of television.
Of course, the episode is good even without the underlying father-son subtext, considering just how much is revealed this week. For example, Henry (John Wesley Shipp) is taken hostage, and in being rescued by The Flash, discovers that the speedster is actually Barry (Grant Gustin). And he’s not the only one who learns the truth either! Eddie (Rick Cosnett) is let in on the secret too, as they need his help to sell Iris (Candice Patton) on the story that her boss has up and moved to Brazil over a girl. The intention is to keep her from digging deeper into Mason’s disappearance, since it could very well get her killed if she isn’t careful. Granted, Iris is a bit skeptical about the explanation, and I’m not entirely convinced that she’s going to drop the Mason Bridge investigation, but I like that the end result of this investigation is two-fold: Barry begins to distrust Wells (Tom Cavanagh), and Eddie learns The Flash’s true identity. That might not seem like a lot, but this episode shows how crucial the Mason Bridge discovery was for Barry. Without making that crucial connection, Barry might not ever have started to doubt Wells, and he might not have ever gotten on the right track towards discovering that Harrison Wells isn’t Harrison Wells at all — he’s Eobard Thawne.
With everything that happened this week, it’s telling that one of the big reveals of the episode actually has to do with Thawne, as we learn that he didn’t always look like Harrison Wells. After an awesome opening sequence depicting the climactic fight between Barry and the Reverse Flash fifteen years ago, we learn that Thawne wound up stuck in the past. However, he knew enough about the course of history to track down Harrison Wells, knowing that the man would eventually create a working Particle Accelerator with his wife, Tess Morgan, in the year 2020. Naturally, Thawne needs that breakthrough to happen a little sooner than that, so he causes a car accident that appears to kill Tess, then he takes over Wells’s body, killing the original and assuming his form. I suppose it’s a bit anticlimactic to learn that this entire crusade on Thawne’s part, from becoming Harrison Wells to turning Barry into The Flash, is motivated by one man’s desire to simply go back home. But that’s also kind of an elegant motivation, since it’s so damn universal. Even though his methods are undeniably twisted, and have resulted in the creation of a slew of super-powered criminals, his motivation is understandable. This era may not be so bad, but it’s not the era Thawne is used to, and so while he could grow to regard our time as home, it will never truly be his home, any more than we could come to think of 17th century France as home. Why wouldn’t we do anything within our power to get back home to the place and the people we love? I mean, Thawne doesn’t imply that anyone is waiting for him back in the future, but even if there’s no one awaiting his return, the motivation to simply go home is a strong one.
And that’s why Thawne’s relationship with the rest of the STAR Labs team is so fraught with complication. It doesn’t seem like he hates any of them. He views Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) as a trusted colleague. He views Cisco as a surrogate son. Hell, he even has a kinship with Barry, advising him on how to phase through solid objects in a moment that reveals to Barry that Wells knows more than he’s leading on about what it’s like to be a speedster. Sure, he may only be using them to get back home, but that doesn’t mean he feel fondness for the team. Of course, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t secretly loathe them either, but that’s what makes Thawne/Wells such a fascinating character. He’s hard to read, and his father-son type relationship with Barry is far more complicated than the connection he shares with Joe (Jesse L. Martin) or even his own father, Henry. Barry wants to believe that Wells is a good man because, as Joe explains to him, his real super power isn’t speed, it’s his desire to see the best in everybody. Barry is conflicted because he can see the good in Wells, and it conflicts with what he suspects about him. And so we get a scenario that will pit “father” against “son” in the very near future, as Barry attempts to save his real father by capturing his mother’s killer. So…yeah…super complicated.
But the show cuts through that uneasiness by offering a story that’s far more straightforward. James Jesse (Mark Hamill) is a crook who’s been imprisoned for two decades due to his terrorist attacks performed under the moniker The Trickster. He’s like a delirious cross between The Mad Hatter and The Joker, which is fitting since Hamill is famous for his portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime in everything from Batman: The Animated Series to the Arkham games that are insanely popular at the moment. The Trickster is back to terrorize Central City through his protege, a young man named Axel, and before long, the truth comes out about the nature of their relationship. Hamill is pretty much the best thing about the episode, offering hints of his Joker throughout, while also luxuriating in his “I am your father” revelation to Axel, which is a nod to the Empire Strikes Back scene that is arguably the most iconic of Hamill’s career. I was actually disappointed this wasn’t a two-parter, since I’d love to have Hamill back.
On the one hand, The Trickster’s schemes are fairly ridiculous, from poisoning everyone at a Mayoral fundraiser to reenacting the movie Speed by placing a bomb on Barry that will detonate if he drops below a certain speed. On the other hand, the absurdity of The Trickster’s plots are what made this so much fun. It helped that Hamill added a sinister element to his performance, because I felt it was important for the show to illustrate that this man isn’t just some clown. He’s a hardened killer who views any day without casualties as a day wasted. And yet, if I had any complaint about the story, it’s that Barry’s loved ones are once again placed in harm’s way. At least in the case of Henry, it makes sense that the Trickster would take him hostage, since they rationalize that having a cop’s father gives them leverage. But Iris once again being in danger is another ludicrous case of wrong place/wrong time, as she finds herself at the fundraiser The Trickster plans to hit. With that said, the plot is wrapped up fairly quickly, too quickly for the craziness of it all to really set in. In fact, I’d say this was wrapped up a little too quickly, which is why I wish this had been a two-parter. Then again, the show did seem to leave the door open for Hamill to return.
Ultimately, The Flash finds its poignancy in that father-son dynamic. Henry sees the good in Barry, in much the same way Joe does, and although he’d rather Barry didn’t get involved with tracking down whomever it was that killed Nora, he understands that this is something Barry simply has to do. He needs Barry just as Barry needs him. This is warped somewhat in the relationship between Barry and Wells, as both men seem to recognize that, at some level, they’re opposing forces. But, much like Barry and Henry, they need one another, since neither can do what they mean to accomplish alone. Thawne/Wells can’t return to the future without Barry, and Barry can’t travel back in time to save his mother without Thawne’s assistance. It’s a strange symbiosis, but unmistakably compelling, just the same. “Tricksters” is a solid episode, as we look ahead to the all-star team-up that could blow this season’s overarching story wide open.