The Flash: 111 “The Sound and the Fury” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
One of the most enigmatic and compelling figures of The Flash so far has been the mysterious Dr Harrison Wells – introduced as a crippled genius scientist whose particle accelerator hadn’t quite worked out, Wells has been proven to be quite the secret keeper. We know he has knowledge of the future, has a vested interest in improving Barry’s speed and is almost certainly Barry’s arch-nemesis, the Reverse Flash (saving the minor details till last) – but do we know everything about the ‘crippled’ genius?
This week’s episode, The Sound and the Fury, opened with an great scene confirming most fans’ suspicions about Wells, as the doctor used his speedster powers to escape from a mysterious attack on his house. The mid-season finale virtually confirmed Wells was a speedster, but seeing him using his speed out of costume was a thrilling image that was a fairly bold move for a pre-titles scene – The Flash has always been fairly no-nonsense with revelations, but to put a significant scene before the title card flashed up was a nicely punchy way to start an episode that would yield plenty more revelations.
The show also continued to further complicate Wells with even more misdirection about his true allegiances – the press conference showed a more repentant and sympathetic side of the character (one of the aspects of Wells that makes him so fascinating is that he often seems like an bona fide good guy), and the character’s speedster powers were revealed to be less than reliable… perhaps he does need that wheelchair after all.
The villain of the week was Hartley Rathaway aka the Pied Piper, an ex-protégé of Wells with fairly disgusting ear implants and supersonic gloves. Unlike most of the metahumans Barry has faced so far, Rathaway was linked to a good chunk of the supporting cast, having worked there before the explosion. Despite a sympathetic back-story (his parents disowned him for coming out to them) and the character actually having some reasonable motivations for going after Wells and Barry, Rathaway’s ‘arrogant scientist’ portrayal was often a little thin – the villain acting antagonistically towards Cisco and Caitlin for no other reason than petty jealousy. However, linking the character to the STAR Labs team provided some good emotional development for characters that wasn’t often present with the more anonymous bad guys.
Cisco has grown hugely as a character from his slightly annoying presence in the pilot – and smartly, The Sound and the Fury used Rathaway to flesh out Cisco a little more. Seeing Cisco as a more driven and determined individual was a welcome and fairly unusual sight – and his scenes with Hartley towards the end carried some strong emotional weight, thanks to the backstory provided by the admittedly slightly clunky flashbacks. Cisco has functioned nicely as a comic relief character, but seeing different facets of the character here was great to see – and somewhat compensated for Rathaway’s often clichéd portrayal.
However, Rathaway could perhaps have been more formidable – while his breakout of the pipeline prison showed him to be savvy enough to outsmart the STAR Labs team, the villain went down rather easily in the final showdown. While the final scene clearly hints that there’s more to come for the Pied Piper, the villain comes off as more of a plot device to push on the serialized storylines than a genuinely formidable foe.
In an interesting change from the usual ‘Barry defeated in the first clash’ formula, Rathaway was captured early on in the episode, infiltrating STAR Labs to gain knowledge of Barry’s suit’s frequency. The trope of a villain deliberately wanting to be caught in order to gain some information and then break out is almost a cliché by this point in superhero fiction (see The Dark Knight and The Avengers), and it wasn’t played differently to the norm – but like many tropes The Flash has tackled, it somewhat felt justified here. The metahuman prison has previously been a convenient place to pop foes of the week and then forget about them, so to see it falter was an interesting development that could hint towards an en masse villain breakout later on down the line. The pipeline might still seem morally iffy (small size, seeming lack of food), but to see it blown to pieces for once was an effective move by the writers. In order to stay fresh, The Flash has to keep switching up the formula and adding new ideas – and it seems to be doing a fine job at that.
Iris’ fairly slender plotline – hired by Central City Picture News and paired up with a disdainful veteran – was one of the less interesting parts of the episode, but, to the writers’ credit, the problematic character is starting to become less of a satellite that orbits around the men in her life and more of an individual. Iris has been tied up with other characters’ plotlines previously, so to see the character exhibit some agency and gumption (sigh) shows some promise for future developments with the character. Likewise, her partner’s pithy observation of Iris’ ‘spunk and gumption’ shows a good amount of self-awareness – The Flash might happily use clichés from all walks of fiction, but its self-awareness marks it out from the more standard pack.
The Sound and the Fury was an episode with its eye firmly on the future – and the two final scenes both pushed forward the two major ongoing plotlines in significant ways. Hartley’s revelation that he knows what happened to Ronnie was a little out of the blue, but any development on the Firestorm front is most welcome; as is the continued presence of Andy Mientus, who did some fine work with Hartley. While last week’s revelations were poorly integrated into the episode’s narrative, the Firestorm mystery remains a compelling plot – and it appears to be ramping up in a major way…
As for the stinger of the week, it was back to sinister Wells (which, strangely, only happens in odd-numbered episodes), as it was revealed that the stolen tachyon device was merely a quick fix and the ‘true endgame’ is coming. While we’re still under halfway through season one, introducing a supposed endgame does add some impetus and urgency to the arc plot, along with yet another mystery to unravel. And tucked away in a brief line of dialogue, viewers were introduced to one of the key features of the Flash mythos – the ultimate get out of jail free card, Speed Force! Next week, Barry meets a familiar face to comic fans in reporter Linda Park and tackles a teleporting metahuman in Crazy for You!
The Sound and the Fury was yet another solid entry for one of the best superhero shows on TV – while Hartley’s portrayal was imperfect, there was enough ongoing serialized intrigue and character work to keep the high standards up.
Scene of the Episode: The (Speed) Force Awakens – Harrison settles down for another round of supervillain monologues, revealing some interesting complications to his powers and introducing a very exciting concept to the show.