The Flash: 119 “Who is Harrison Wells?” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Previously on The Flash: after discovering that Harrison Wells is almost certainly the Reverse Flash, the man who killed his mother, Barry spent a great deal of time agonizing over the possibility that Caitlin and Cisco were in on the conspiracy. After a couple of pep talks, Barry finally opened up – but while Cisco seemed to believe him, Caitlin appeared to be a tad more sceptical…
This week’s episode, Who is Harrison Wells?, packed in the definitive conclusion to the investigation of Harrison Wells alongside a surprisingly above-par metahuman of the week plot. The metahuman this time was Hannibal Bates (whoever came up with that name was clearly aiming for subtlety) aka Everyman, a shapeshifter. The standard lack of development for a villain was present and correct here – but surprisingly, the thin characterisation worked in The Flash’s favour this time around, with Bates coming across as a slippery, indefinable figure without a face or personality, constantly swapping identities yet never possessing a unique one of his own. It’s not a portrayal that would fit many other villains, yet it works very well indeed for a character that isn’t really played by anyone at all (not even the blind guy at the end is his ‘true form’).
Shapeshifters are a pretty common foe in science-fiction shows of The Flash’s ilk, meaning that the tropes associated with them have been mined for all their worth by dozens of other genre shows. Instead of attempting to avoid these tropes and create a unique take on the concept, Who is Harrison Wells? embraces almost every trope in the shapeshifter book; a fake-out kiss, the villain’s crimes leading to an innocent character being condemned and the villain via shifting into people in a crowd are classic, oft-used building blocks of a shapeshifter story, yet The Flash’s willingness to play all of these tropes straight is surprisingly successful given the slight lack of originality present.
The Everyman plot may lack some ambition, yet it’s (aside from a few plotting hiccups) a very well executed subplot that allows Grant Gustin to play with some different material as Everyman’s slimy impression of Barry, and includes an extremely enjoyable final fight that shows off some great effects and the slightly bizarre visuals of Barry fighting against pretty much every member of the main cast. In addition to the fun the show has with Everyman, the final scene with the villain packs a surprising punch. His revelation that his constant face swapping has led to him forgetting his own face is a clever, rather dark punch line to Everyman’s plot – a somewhat sombre note to end on that lends an element of tragedy to an otherwise indefinable foe. Everyman also worked well as a villain introduced at this late point in the season, after the revelations that Dr Wells has also been guilty of a little identity theft – like the Trickster a couple of weeks back, the villain neatly parallels the ongoing story involving Wells by providing a thematic similarity between the villain of the week and the show’s Big Bad in a subtle and unobtrusive manner.
Unfortunately, Everyman’s tale did require a few moments of contrivance and sloppy plotting to push characters into the places they needed to be. Characters were often required to be a little dim – Barry immediately accepting the idea of Eddie’s miraculous ‘release from jail’ and Iris and Caitlin deciding to drive Everyman to the police station in broad daylight in the back seat of Iris’ car were particularly jarring moments of character stupidity. Other plot developments were overly convenient and felt forced rather than natural – the subplot involving Eddie’s arrest for Everyman’s cop shooting was concluded in a slightly disappointing manner (with the police immediately releasing him due to some footage that could easily have been faked), and Barry conveniently staying unconscious for hours after Everyman’s attack, despite that making very little sense for a man with advanced healing.
Meanwhile, over in Starling City, the serialized plot continued to bubble away. Who is Harrison Wells? marked the second consecutive Arrow crossover, with the (surviving) Lance family popping up to assist Joe and Cisco with their investigation of Wells. The pairing of Joe and Captain Lance, unsurprisingly, given both characters are firm fan favourites for good reason (perhaps not Lance at this point in Arrow), worked very well indeed. The contrast between Lance and Joe’s conflicts with their daughters is only briefly touched upon – but it’s intriguing to see the similar ongoing themes of the consequences of lying on both The Flash and Arrow explored here, with the two detectives caught in similar, yet reversed situations (Joe lying to his daughter, Lance having been lied to by his daughter), allowing each detective to see the other’s side of the story. I’ve mentioned how the shared universe set up has been working very much in the favour of both shows lately – and it’s no different here, with Lance’s troubles with Laurel’s lying working well enough simply in the context of this episode as a contrast to Joe, but taking on an entirely new dimension for viewers of Arrow.
Laurel and Cisco’s scenes were a tad more lightweight, with Laurel tasking Cisco with creating a new ‘Canary Cry’ gadget for her (which, from the looks of it, will debut on this week’s Arrow). Despite this, the scenes didn’t at all feel extraneous – Cisco’s puppy-like enthusiasm at meeting the Black Canary was a fun crossover moment that felt entirely in character for the resident audience stand-in, and it was a surprising amount of fun to see Katie Cassidy as a far more chipper Laurel than her usual brooding state on Arrow (it’s notable that The Flash’s rendition of Starling City, Arrow’s usually dark and crime-ridden home turf, is almost as sunny and bright as Central City, with more daytime scenes than an average episode of Arrow). The final moment with Cisco’s convention-esque photo with Black Canary was the cherry on top of a strong crossover that not only did a great deal to advance the ongoing Flash plot, but also allowed Arrow characters to crack a smile and have fun – a refreshing antidote to the grittier, tortured drama and conflict between these characters on Arrow.
It’s been a while since Barry’s began to suspect Wells, but at long last the stinger ensures that almost all the heroes know Harrison Wells’ true identity, with some long-awaited definitive proof that Harrison Wells is the Reverse Flash. The Flash’s stingers are reliably exciting no matter how good or bad the rest of the episode is, and this week’s was no exception, with the discovery of the lair providing an important shift in the status quo to compensate for the general lack of revelations and twists regarding Wells this week (very much in the same vein as last week, which featured a similar lack of revelations, but had a slightly less exciting stinger to compensate).
Wells’ secret lair/man cave was the place where the viewers found out there was something shifty about Wells in the pilot, so it’s appropriate that it’s the secret lair/man cave that finally confirms the STAR Labs team’s suspicions. After serving as a tip off about Wells’ true motivations back in episode one, it’s also very intriguing indeed to see the 2024 newspaper noting the Flash’s future disappearance in a ‘Red Skies Crisis’ resurface – considering how the paper’s headline contains a fairly overt reference to a famous DC comics event involving the Flash, its reappearance promises some interesting discoveries about how the Flash is doing in 2024… Next week, it’s the confrontation that’s been quite literally centuries in the making, as the STAR Labs team set The Trap for Wells…
Who is Harrison Wells? isn’t a vintage episode of The Flash, with occasional plotting issues and a fairly slow pace regarding the Wells plot – yet it’s solidly and comfortably entertaining fare, setting up next week’s showdown with Wells whilst delivering a great crossover and an above-average villain of the week plot that achieves almost exactly what it set out to do.
Scene of the Episode: The Reverse Cave – Any lingering doubts about Wells are extinguished as Barry, Cisco and Caitlin discover both the Reverse Flash suit and a newspaper from 2024…