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"You always want to be the person who sees the best in people...As fast as you are, that is your real power. Don't let Wells take that from you."
It seems that nearly every episode of The Flash is better than the last, leaving us with an astonishing upward momentum that surely has to level out at some point, but I don't see that happening before the end of this season. I feel like we're all going to look back on Season One of The Flash as one of the best seasons of genre television ever - I know I already am.
Mark Hamill arrives for an episode that's packed, ounce for ounce, with more entertainment than many shows manage in an entire season. Not only do we get to watch the man who originally played The Trickster in the 1990 series kidnap the man who originally played The Flash, not only do we get to watch Mark Hamill go Full Joker, but we also get to hear Mark Hamill say the words "I am your father." BEAT THAT, EVERY OTHER SHOW EVER.
Hamill is delicious in this role. Through the entirety of "Tricksters," we're aware that this Hannibal Lecter scenario, with Axel Walker's Buffalo Bill to James Jesse's Hannibal, must be a trick, but Hamill is so wholly convincing as the deranged maestro, enraged that an incompetent upstart - a rank amateur, a mere pretender - is stealing his legacy. Although the brilliance of his plot is undermined a bit once he's escaped from prison and we learn that his big plan - his masterpiece, his "Breaking Bad Season 5" - is to poison a bunch of richies and steal their money, nothing can undermine the utter joy of Hamill's performance. "Tricksters" is as full-blown comic book as The Flash has yet gotten, and though an entire season of episodes as bonkers as this one might tire us out, it was a fun diversion from the pathos of the rest of the episode.
Because there was pathos aplenty. Barry is reeling with the realization that Wells may be responsible for the death of his mother, and yet he's forced to play nice while clearly nearing his boiling point. Grant Gustin is terrific this episode, so betrayed and angry, and then so incredibly desperate when he realizes that his beloved father is in danger, as well - and he must rely on the man he believes killed his mother in order to save his father's life.
But we know better. Harrison Wells - in name, the original man, a kindly nerd who's madly in love with his gorgeous wife - did not kill Nora Allen. That was the work of Eobard Thawne, played by Scandal's Matt Letscher, who then killed Tess Morgan and drained the life out of Wells in order to take on his identity and rush the particle accelerator event in order to expedite the return to his own time. Wow, that's a lot to unpack! We learn that had Wells and Morgan launched the particle accelerator in 2020, as planned, it would have been successful - which means Eobard Thawne is even more directly responsible for all of the death and destruction caused by the accelerator explosion than we originally understood. We also understand, now, that Wells himself is Thawne's greatest victim.
But what of the humanity we've seen in Wells since the pilot, never better expressed than in last night's episode as Wells breaks through Barry's defenses and coaches him, with wisdom and kindness, through phasing his way out of Jesse's bomb? Is there any of Harrison Wells imprinted on Thawne in the fifteen years he's worn the good doctor's form? Can we have our Man in the Yellow Suit and our kindly mentor too?
In other father figure news, I think it's time that I eat my words. I spent the first few episodes of the series bemoaning The Flash's use of John Wesley Shipp as Henry Allen, but "Tricksters" shows that this show can make full use of all three of Barry's father figures to compelling effect. The scene where Barry saves Henry and then removes his mask (overtly acknowledging what Henry tacitly knew) is full of so much warmth and heart, and the following scene, as Caitlin and Cisco both happily welcome Henry into STAR Labs, is even more so. Ultimately, at least one of these father figures is going to have to go (NOT JOE), but for now, The Flash is doing a swell job of sustaining all three.
But one other complaint I've had since the beginning of the series seems to be exacerbated instead of resolved. Iris' search for Mason Bridge felt like progress for the character, a real plotline, but it was quickly shuttled to the side in favor of Barry's reveal of himself to Eddie. The reveal made for an exciting development, but now everyone knows Barry's secret except Iris, keeping her in a pointless time-out chair that separates her even further from the most engaging storylines of the show. What good is this? Iris and The Flash communicate on a monthly basis - knowing he's Barry certainly won't get her into any more danger than the reporter-superhero relationship already does. I'm fascinated to see where the show is headed in terms of Eddie's relationship to Barry and to Eobard Thawne, but at this point, it's going to take a miracle to reconcile Iris with the rest of the narrative.
In an episode as thrilling as "Tricksters," and one that makes such glorious use of this universe, it's something special that the most engaging journey is Barry's. In spite of the betrayal, death and heartbreak he has faced, his commitment to maintaining his belief in the best of people - and Joe's commitment to ensuring he does - is the most important part of this show. Though the tag at the end of the episode felt a little anti-climactic after all of the excitement (haven't we already been through the "Harrison Wells is the Reverse-Flash" thing?), the fact that Barry suspects the worst and still comes through the other side with his optimism intact is an enormous relief to the viewers who count on it.
Coolest moments this week:
That opening! The flashback to Nora's murder, with Eobard and The Flash racing down a leaf-scattered street and into the home of a young, terrified Barry, is one of the most stylish and thrilling sequences the show has offered yet. All of the flashback stuff was rich with detail and emotion this week, and Tom Cavanagh gave a stunning performance in his heartbreak at the loss of his beloved Tess.
"Whoa, somebody was rocking the unitard." Inspired choice to use pics from Hamill's original portrayal of the character.
The hand-hologram appearance of Gideon (Morena Baccarin) made for a nice touch.
"Ho, that felt weird!" Even in the midst of near-death and emotional tumult, Barry is adorable.
"That wasn't very sanitary!" I could list nearly every line delivery given by Mark Hamill in this episode as one of its coolest moments. But, again, nothing will ever beat the man telling Axel Walker, "I am your father."