This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 6 Episode 18
“Pay the Piper” is one of those episodes of The Flash that may have looked a little better on paper than it did in actual practice. It certainly isn’t a bad hour of TV, and it does a number of really cool and somewhat promising things in the course of its run, but it sometimes felt like it was checking off a to-do list rather than telling a compelling self-contained hour of TV or advancing the overall story of the second half of the season all that well.
In fact, it’s in that latter regard that it really seems to fall short. As a piece of the larger Mirror Master arc, “Pay the Piper” doesn’t do anything. It’s one of those typical “late season Arrowverse” hours that really just allows everyone to regroup and steel themselves for the bigger/final battle ahead. And as good as The Flash Season 6 has been with its “two graphic novel” approach to its halves, we’ve already had episodes that kind of did this earlier this year, both pre-Bloodwork final battle and before Crisis on Infinite Earths. I just feel like we’ve revisited the same kind of doubt/motivation one too many times in too short a span this time around, and this time it felt a little forced. Not terribly so, but just enough to make it feel unnecessary.
So while it doesn’t really do much for me in the “season 6B” department, “Pay the Piper” did lay some interesting groundwork for The Flash season 7, and functioned pretty well as a kind of “villain of the week” episode in disguise. Making this episode about Hartley Rathaway and his continued career as the Pied Piper was a good call, especially since it’s been a while since we’ve seen Andy Mientus on the show. It’s a welcome return for a character that always seemed destined for more, and I once thought that they might be grooming him for a role on Team Flash. This episode, with its explicit redemption overtones, really makes me think they’ve got plans for him next year.
Although that raises a question or two. If Hartley and Chester P. Runk both end up hanging around STAR Labs next year, wouldn’t that mean someone has to go? Much of this season seems to be about getting Caitlin/Frost to reconcile into one “whole” person, and once that’s complete, is there much left to explore with that character? And then there’s the matter of Cisco always seeming to be on the verge of departing for one reason or another. This is some idle speculation, and I’m not looking for an excuse to say goodbye to any core members of the team, but things could get crowded here in the future. I’m not gonna spend any more time thinking about this until/unless I have to, but it sure did feel like they put a lot of work in to make Hartley feel like someone who could feel at home in STAR Labs, didn’t it?
Of course, in order to get back to where Hartley needed redemption in the first place, there had to be some continuity shenanigans worthy of the comics. In this case, Crisis on Infinite Earths meant that the outcome of Barry’s big season 1 battle with Pied Piper ended differently, which meant that the pair never exactly warmed to each other. It’s…convenient, although I feel like we could have told a similar story with these characters without having to go through the weirdness of everyone remembering things the way they used to be. I guess it makes sense for Barry to still remember the “old ways” since he was at the battle at the dawn of time during Crisis, but letting everyone else spit exposition at each other doesn’t really feel sit right. If nothing else, shouldn’t Barry ALSO have memories of the post-Crisis version of events by now? This is no way to go through life, Barry! That being said, it was kind of a neat way to revisit a season one episode and it was cool seeing Barry’s old threads (still, the current costume is the absolute best).
Godspeed is basically the villain of the week/engine that makes these events happen, and once again, he’s something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, he is perhaps the single most striking visual in the history of this show. It’s impossible to take your eyes off Godspeed any time he’s on screen, and that chase battle between him and Flash was an almost season finale worthy work of special effects art and staging (of particular note was Barry running out of speed halfway up the building). On the other hand, I still have absolutely no idea what’s going on with this version of the character. We’re talking about perhaps the greatest new Flash villain of recent years in the comics, and he’s been saddled with mysterious “cybernetic drones” who sound like “a broken modem” and spouting dialogue like “death will rain down on your city unless you give me what I want” is kind of beneath a character this cool.
It’s almost like Godspeed has wandered in from a future season of the show. The thing is, we were teased with him last season, he popped up again in the season premiere (well…his drones did), and now he’s back for reasons unknown to tease…future adventures (?) with lines like “the one who sent me desires infinite velocity.” I’m all for more Godspeed, but the version of the character in the comics (created by Joshua Williamson and Carmine Di Giandomenico) had a lot more going on, and I’d like to see something more than “mysterious evil speedster in a full face mask” which we’ve already done twice. Also…why were the other Godspeeds still wearing their costumes in prison?
This all makes for a fun and mostly interesting (let’s not discuss the absurd amount of “scientific” nonsense and “crossing the streams” stuff we had to endure or the questionable stuff with Ralph and Frost) but not terribly heavyweight hour of TV, right? Well…that would be the case if it wasn’t for some really excellent work (even by their standards) by Grant Gustin and Carlos Valdes (who had better NEVER leave, damn it!), who really let loose in several scenes. I hate to say it, but I enjoy seeing Barry genuinely lose his temper like this. And while Iris has virtually nothing to do this week, Candice Patton continues her hot streak from last week’s episode, and it’s amazing just how much “I’m leaving this here for you in case you find it and don’t find me” managed to contain.
Despite what I said earlier about how this is a very particular kind of late season episode, it kept its tone on point. It never felt like a radical departure from what we know is really going on, and it certainly wasn’t the kind of shocking dip in quality we usually get for a couple of episodes right around this time each year. Even though next week is the “season finale” we know it wasn’t intended to be, and only has to serve as one because of a coronavirus-prompted production shutdown. And yet, “Pay the Piper” almost managed to feel like a true penultimate episode. I think that speaks to how well this season has worked as whole. With very few exceptions this season, even when The Flash misses the mark, it doesn’t seem to miss it by very much.
- During one of the battles, Flash gets tossed into a van. That van is for a comic shop called Crossover Comics and Collectibles. The name under the phone number is for a “Bernard Sands.” Barney Sands was Barry Allen’s kid neighbor in a handful of Flash comics in the late ’70s. It’s been a while since we’ve had this kind of deep cut Easter egg on the show, and it’s a nice touch. He was a superhero admirer and aspiring comic book artist, who eventually became the penciller of the in-universe Justice League of America comic book. Presumably, he opened Crossover Comics and Collectibles shortly thereafter.
- Your eyes do not deceive you: Frost is reading a Rebecca Silver (Mick Rory) novel. Was it Uncaged Desire? God, Legends of Tomorrow is just the absolute best.
- “Stop trying to smell a mystery or whatever.” In the comics, Elongated Man’s nose actually twitches (well, he probably makes it twitch) when he “smells a mystery.”
- Not an Easter egg, but Godspeed’s “charged sound” blood looked really, really cool.
- Cisco is headed off to Atlantis again! For…reasons? Hopefully he comes back with a cool trident or something.