‘The Flash’ Review: ‘The Reverse-Flash Returns’ Goes Back to the Future
Recap and review of The Flash – Season 2 Episode 11 – The Reverse Flash Returns:
The Flash is a series that focuses on the weight and responsibility of being a superhero. Sometimes it makes sense for the show to explore this, whereas other episodes go a bit overboard with Barry’s messiah complex. “The Reverse-Flash Returns” suggests that Barry (Grant Gustin) is always going to face the risk of loved ones getting caught in the crossfire. However, the outcome also suggests that it might be worth it for Barry to actually consider a different truth: that lies and truth can often have similarly abrasive consequences.
Of course, what I’m talking about is Barry’s decision to continue lying to Patty (Shantel VanSanten), even after she deduces from Joe (Jesse L. Martin) that Barry is The Flash. In lying to Patty about who he is out of some idealistic desire to protect her, he doesn’t exactly prevent her from being in danger. If anything, by driving her away, it limits his ability to keep her safe, presuming he’d want to keep tabs on her the way he does with every other member of his team. Granted, pushing Patty away is as much about allowing her to have the freedom to pursue her own dreams, since she made it clear that she’d stay in Central City if Barry just admitted to being The Flash. But it feels like Barry refusing to come clean is his way of maintaining control at a time when he feels he has less control than ever, particularly when it comes to those he loves. I mean, I get that he doesn’t want to add everyone he knows to the STAR Labs team, but Patty really could be an asset to the group with her skill set. If anything, last week’s episode illustrates that remaining in the dark doesn’t inherently protect someone from being targeted by an enemy of The Flash. By bringing Patty into the fold, I think she could work with Barry in a way that strengthens the team rather than adds another worry. But these are just opinions, really. Honestly, I don’t have much of a problem with the story they told. In fact, I kind of loved how they ended it, with Patty calling in a false alarm to Barry, just to see if he’d show up as The Flash. The warm moment they share together on that train is genuinely touching, as Patty comes to peace with Barry’s tremendous responsibility as The Flash, while Barry finds peace in Patty’s understanding. I still hope this isn’t the end for Patty Spivot, but if it is, it’s a fitting cap to what’s been a really strong arc for these two characters. It also has the side effect of making us root for Barry to finally allow himself to find happiness. He’s had to let go too many times already, and it’s half past time he recognize that pushing people away isn’t any healthier for his emotional well-being than what he’s doing now.
But that’s hardly the big story of the week. As the title for the episode explains, The Reverse-Flash is back! Eobard Thawne (Matt Letscher) has returned, and yes, it’s the same Eobard Thawne they killed in the finale of last season — but with a twist. This is Eobard from a different point of his personal timeline. He hasn’t gone back to kill Barry’s mother yet, nor has he discovered Barry’s identity. He’s just a guy who wanted to become The Flash, failed, and decided to become his opposite instead. It’s a pretty compelling case of the week, since it takes us back to the overarching threat of the first season, but in a way that illustrates how Barry has grown since then. He has countless moments where he could snap and kill Thawne, but he’s able to stop himself from going too far. To be fair, it’s not as if killing Thawne would be able to change anything anyway, since the death of Barry’s mother is described by Wells (Tom Cavanagh) as a “fixed point” that cannot be changed. But capturing and defeating Thawne in this timeline is paramount to saving Dr. Christina McGee (Amanda Pays), whom Thawne has abducted and forced to build a tachyon machine that will allow him to get back to his own time. It’s a twisty, sci-fi heavy storyline, but one of the big things I liked about it was how interconnected it all was. For instance, the B-story this week centers on Cisco (Carlos Valdes) learning to control his “vibe” powers thanks to a pair of sunglasses Wells invented that will amplify Cisco’s fear receptors, which is the key to accessing his powers. This ends up dovetailing into the search for Dr. McGee, as Cisco is the one who makes the discovery that the Reverse-Flash has returned, and that he successfully kills McGee once she completes the tachyon machine — that is, unless Barry is able to stop him in time. The plot moves pretty quickly, from the explanation of how Thawne is still alive, to the rescue of McGee, right down to the climax, in which it’s discovered that by capturing Thawne, Cisco is suffering a seizure due to the interference with the natural flow of the timeline. It results in a cool ending, as Barry uses his speed to help Thawne get back to his own time, saving Cisco’s life but also creating Thawne’s (and, as a result, his own) origin story: this is where Thawne learns who Barry is, and where he presumably gets the idea to become Harrison Wells; but this is also the beginning of Barry’s journey, in that the creation of the Reverse-Flash results in the creation of The Flash himself. It’s a cool bit of dramatic symmetry, and I think it really adds to the show’s overall mythos.
It’s a shame that the rest of the episode isn’t nearly as strong. We get Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) trying to find the Earth 1 counterpart for Jay (Teddy Sears), believing she can cure his condition if she uses cells from the Earth 1 Jay to replace the dying cells in Earth 2 Jay. But Jay reveals he’s already tracked down his Earth 1 counterpart (named Hunter Zolomon, which could be a big setup for something down the line; or it’s a red-herring), and that the cellular transfer won’t work, since the Earth 1 Jay hasn’t had his cells mutated. The only way is for him capture Zoom and regain his speedster powers. It’s a relatively short subplot that feels meant to keep Jay’s predicament in our thoughts, although it has the added benefit of giving Panabaker a touching little monologue about her M.S.-stricken father, and the struggles of watching the disease slowly rob him of his vitality. By the same token, Candice Patton gets a great moment in her storyline, as she forgives Francine for abandoning her, and then tearfully embraces Joe, wondering why she’s so affected by the possibility of losing a woman she hardly knows. Granted, I wish we’d get more plot advancement on Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale), but I think they’re taking a slow burn approach with Wally’s character. He’s resentful about the secrets his mother kept, and he’s also raging against the fact of her imminent death. He’s a trouble, complicated, but good kid. And that’s an interesting character, particularly knowing what the future holds for him, provided they stick to the comics. All in all, I thought “The Reverse-Flash” returns succeeded largely in doing right by its characters, in ways both big and small. But then, among genre shows on television today, that’s always been a hallmark of The Flash.
But what did you think of The Flash, “The Reverse-Flash Returns”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on The Flash, read our review of last week’s thrilling episode, “Potential Energy”!