This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 2 Episode 11
When it was first revealed that Matt Letscher would be back in yellow for “The Reverse-Flash Returns” I was a little cautious. We didn’t get to spend much time with Letscher’s version of Eobard Thawne back in season one. Plus, there’s already another evil speedster to deal with this year, so perhaps using the Reverse-Flash as a villain of the week would muddy the waters too much.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, of course.
The Flash season 2 has been extraordinarily consistent. There haven’t been too many real lows, and it has delivered at least the same number of exceptional episodes that season one did around this time in its run last year. I’ll chalk up “The Reverse-Flash Returns” in the “exceptional” column. If anything, my only major problem with the season has been its occasional over-reliance on Earth-2 as a villain/metahuman engine, which isn’t really what the concept is best used for, and tends to make too much of a distinction between season one and season two, when most other elements of the show are still firmly developing (and improving upon) the stuff we got last year.
“The Reverse-Flash Returns” is absolutely a perfect example of the show not only continuing important story elements from the first season, but improving on them. Matt Letscher has very much brought us the “real” Eobard Thawne. This isn’t to diminish Tom Cavanagh’s wonderfully villainous turn last year in any way (and this week he was great…I’m starting to worry I’m taking him for granted). But season one was so concerned with the “mystery box” elements of the Reverse-Flash/Harrison Wells mystery, and wrapped it all up so well, that I was left feeling just a little disappointed that we were done with Thawne.
Not only did we get Eobard Thawne back this week, we got the most unapologetically comic book faithful version of his character they’ve yet attempted, right down to acknowledging the utter ridiculousness of his core motivation. It means that Matt Letscher can return as the Reverse-Flash as an occasional villain, for one thing, but more importantly, I am utterly convinced that if the showrunners decided to make him the big bad of a future season, Letscher as Thawne could carry it just as certainly as Tom Cavanagh did as Wells. I actually just mapped out the perfect thing for The Flash season 3 to build up to, for example, which would lead to a story they hinted at already as the logical season 4, but please don’t let me get too far ahead of myself.
You know what’s even cooler? There’s something kinda meta about the way they did the time-travel explanation this time. In a sense, this episode is a kind of “reboot” of the Reverse-Flash concept. Any time we see Eobard after this, it will either be (by his reckoning) after the events of this episode, but would still have to be before the events of season one, including the murder of Barry’s mother. But then we also have to remember that Eobard’s first fight with Flash came later in Flash’s career, but earlier in Eobard’s. So we’ll never know where in his timeline he’ll be popping in from. I may have just given myself a Cisco-esque nosebleed trying to type all that.
For an episode about two speedsters, “The Reverse-Flash Returns” is remarkably well paced. Considering how much got done (Thawne’s return, Barry’s inner turmoil, Cisco’s fine-tuned powers and near death, Patty’s actual departure, life and death with the West family, etc) things didn’t ever feel rushed. If anything, and it pains me to say this because of my love of the character and how much I’m enjoying Teddy Sears in the role, they’re gonna have to work a lot harder to make the Jay/Caitlin crisis/romance thing work, because as it stands, it’s not quite there.
I also have an issue with Patty’s “false alarm” at the end, there. She knows. Barry knows she knows. She knows he knows she knows. So what the hell was the point of that little exercise? Also, I refuse to believe that everyone on that train was completely cool with the Flash showing up to say “what’s up” to one lady and then sprinting off.
Was this to give us a “happy ending” moment with these two? I’ve been pretty well invested in their sudden break-up already, and this seemed unnecessary. I think Mr. Gustin and Ms. VanSanten have done terrific work with this whole angle. I thought the bit on the train undermined their otherwise powerful goodbye earlier in the episode.
By the way, I had to appreciate Joe’s “oh fuck” look when she calls him out about knowing what’s up. Quality. See also: Barry’s silent scream when Joe tells him that they’re busted.
If and when they decide to go back to the well with the Reverse-Flash as a major focus of the show, then we’ll all look back at this episode as one of the most important in the show’s history, along with “Out of Time” and “Fast Enough.” As an individual episode, I’m not quite sure “The Reverse-Flash Returns” quite approaches the velocities of those two bits of perfection, but it’s still awfully good.
– If I try to explain the history and weirdness of Eobard Thawne it would take an entire article. Luckily, I already wrote an entire article about exactly that.
For real, though, I can’t stress enough how much this is the Reverse-Flash from the classic Flash comics. His whole dopey MO, the obsession angle, the way he’ll now just drop in from the future like an annoying relative at unexpected times to screw Barry’s life up, it’s perfect. It’s even more perfect now because of the curveballs they threw us in season one.
– Jay’s nebulous cellular degeneration thing is faintly reminiscent of something that happened to Wally West for a period in the comics. He didn’t lose his speed, but his speed was killing him, which forced his retirement as Kid Flash. When he returned (cured) to take up the mantle of the Flash, his speed had been greatly reduced.
– I’m not really into the whole “Jay’s doppleganger is Hunter Zolomon” for a couple of reasons. For one thing, in the comics Hunter Zolomon is Zoom (more on this in a second, stick with me). So unless they’ve just revealed the identity of Zoom (either yet another alternate world Garrick or Zolomon himself) this felt like a piece of unnecessary misdirection. For another thing, they’ve already played the “series regular comes back as his own doppleganger” card after he’s dead. You don’t get to do that twice, show…and you had better not kill of Jay freakin’ Garrick this season, either!
Anyway, like Eobard Thawne, explaining Hunter Zolomon will just shorten my lifespan, so of course I wrote an entire article about that, too.
– Cisco’s new “Vibe” goggles sure do look like a piece of his comic book costume. I can’t wait to see how far they take this.
– I got a little bit of a nerd charge out of watching Amanda Pays as Tina McGee interacting with a genuine Reverse-Flash. She never got the chance on the original Flash series.
As the song goes, “I’m out of time.” Hit me up in the comments or on Twitter with thoughts, corrections, and other DC easter eggs you think I missed!