The Flash: 205 “The Darkness and the Light” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Season two of The Flash has gotten off to a solid start, but it’s perhaps lacked the intriguing malevolence that Harrison Wells always brought to the show, even in its early days. The issue: Harrison Wells is dead, and erased from existence. Thankfully, The Flash has a spare…
If this week’s episode, The Darkness and the Light, proved anything about The Flash, it’s that it’s a stronger show with Harrison Wells in it. After a couple of weeks of skulking about with very little dialogue, Tom Cavanagh made his grand return here as the Earth-2 version of Harrison Wells, giving this episode the spark parts of season two have lacked. Cavanagh’s more than proved himself as one of The Flash’s biggest assets, and he’s predictably excellent here, relishing the chance to tackle an entirely different Wells – one who’s more gruff and acerbic rather than actually evil. He crafts an entirely distinctive persona already out of this new Wells, and his versatility is further proved by his great comedic skills. This Wells doesn’t exactly have great people skills, and Cavanagh nails every snarky, flippant jab he makes at the characters. Alongside Cavanagh’s performance, there’s also some strong scripting here that really digs into the psychological scars Earth-1 Wells made, and just how much trauma is associated with Harrison Wells. I was intrigued previously about the emotional potential of Wells’ return, and The Flash really seems to be taking advantage of this really intriguing and wholly unique concept – Wells’ return, rightly so, isn’t glossed over, with a great deal of this episode given over to the characters coping with a guy coming along with the same face of the man who caused them so much pain.
Equally, it’s not neatly tied off at the end, so there’s plenty of potential for ongoing tension between characters – The Flash can often be a little too speedy in its plotting, so it’s great to see it slow down just a little here to explore the intriguing emotional consequences of Wells’ return in depth, over multiple episodes. However, there’s one slight slip-up here, and that’s Barry’s strangely blasé reaction to it all. The script doesn’t give too much substance to the idea that Barry’s equally furious about Wells returning, and while this issue could be alleviated in forthcoming episodes, it seems like a slightly missed opportunity considering Wells has probably done the most damage to Barry out of everyone.
Wells’ return actually brings out the best in Teddy Sears, who’s been solid if unremarkable as Jay Garrick so far. Sears’ performance won’t win any awards, but he conveys the animosity and distrust Jay feels towards Wells pretty, ahem, well, and there’s an tangibly spiky, hostile dynamic between the two that culminates in a surprising physical fight between them. Jay, on his own, is a slightly less entertaining character (his burgeoning romance with Caitlin no longer feels rushed, simply boring), but it’s seemingly struck gold at least with the Jay/Wells rivalry. The flashback right at the start, in particular, is an example of how The Flash is smartly using characters we know to build up the world of Earth-2, and it’s certainly starting to feel like a place with its own history and rivalries rather than just as a place for bad guys to pop out of.
The Darkness and the Light also delivered a notable improvement in the villain stakes by utilising the conceit of alternate universe doppelgangers in more depth than before with the female Dr Light. The reveal that Dr Light is an alternate version of Linda is a fun twist that’s exactly the sort of thing The Flash should be doing now it’s introduced Earth-2 – and it also brings regular Linda back into proceedings, which is a nice reuse of a character who was mishandled in a rushed and ultimately unnecessary romantic subplot last year. Dr Light also feels a lot more sympathetic as a character; her motivation is far from noble, but The Flash tackled the emotional consequences of the villains being essentially enslaved by Zoom a little better by having Dr Light simply be a conscripted woman who’s desperate to flee and start her own life, whatever the cost. She’s swept aside a little too cleanly and easily at the end of the episode, but, this being the first part of a two-parter, that’ll likely be dealt with in more depth next week; it’s hard to judge her exit at this point when she will likely be returning in the next episode.
Outside of the main plots, The Flash dipped back into more overtly comedic territory in a really fun sequence with a blinded Barry receiving directions from Cisco on his date with Patty. Grant Gustin excels at portraying Barry’s cluelessness while blind, and he displays a clear knack for physical comedy that makes Barry’s blind scenes a welcome bit of comic relief from the slightly heavier Dr Light material. Barry and Patty also continue to be a consistently enjoyable pairing – it probably won’t last for that long, but it’s great to see The Flash deliver an interesting and well-matched romantic pairing whose scenes focus more on enjoyable comedy rather than overwrought melodrama.
And then there’s Cisco, whose own storyline jumps forward an awful lot here. Cisco’s worried secrecy was an interesting inversion of expectations, but it also felt awfully unlike The Flash to manufacture drama from secrecy. Thankfully, that’s swiftly dealt with in The Darkness and the Light, with Cisco’s powers revealed to all thanks to good ol’ Harrison Wells. It’s a development that’s handled with nothing but warmth – the supportiveness of Cisco’s friends and the happiness of Cisco to finally get his own superhero name punctures the angst that felt just a little bit frustrating in past weeks and replaces it with something that’s far more consistent with The Flash’s warmer and brighter tone; in this show, being a superhero is a great thing, and that’s awesome to see. The Darkness and the Light even packs in a little bit of set-up into Cisco’s plotline for good measure, with Cisco getting the number of none other than Kendra Saunders, the future Hawkgirl. It’s a small example of how to do set-up right – crucially, the moment would still have worked well if it was just a random new character of little future significance; the fact that it’s Hawkgirl is merely a fun bonus for those who are in the loop rather than the entire crux of the scene.
The Darkness and the Light gives season two a major jump-start, ditching the Legends of Tomorrow set-up for a propulsive episode that focuses entirely on the consistently interesting Earth-2 plotlines, packing in the return of Harrison Wells and a generous helping of fun comedy to boot. It’s not the show’s finest hour, but it’s certainly season two’s strongest instalment so far, and represents a major turn from slightly fragmented standalone episodes to something far more serialized. After last week’s middling episode, The Flash is firmly back on track.