They call it villain decay and it’s the constant enemy of any superhero writer. In general, villains exist for one overall purpose, and that is to be defeated by the hero. Of course, they don’t make it easy; they’ll get plenty of blows in themselves and probably cause a fair amount of collateral damage, but they still remain what wrestling would call, “a jobber”: someone there to lose. The problem is that the writers want their villains to be recurring and popular characters in their own right but every time a hero defeats them, they become less of a threat to their audience. Just like Bart Simpson not being afraid when Sideshow Bob shows up, having beaten him the previous 6 times. So you solve this by tweaking the circumstances, by weakening the hero and escalating the villain’s powers to keep providing a new formidable threat for your protagonist. This week The Flash brings back its biggest villain from season 1: Eobard Thawne, AKA The Reverse Flash. Yet the issue of decay following his prior defeat is very skilfully dodged resulting in one hell of an episode!
The Reverse Flash Returns – The man in the yellow suit, Eobard Thawne has accidentally time-jumped back into town but the team quickly learn this is an early timeline version to the one they encountered previously. The Wests say goodbye to Francine and Barry bids farewell to Patty but not before she makes an interesting discovery.
“This is his origin story and it’s going to happen” is the message and though it does get overly timey whimey in places, it is a fantastic affair as the team experiences the prequel chapter to the death of Nora Allen. This is how Eobard Thawne/Reverse Flash comes to learn of The Flash’s time of origin, the first breadcrumb in learning Barry’s identity and travelling back to kill him as a child. This gives a River Song style setup of the red & yellow suited rivals meeting in the wrong order, and in fact, due to now being the faster & stronger of the pair, it even sees Barry dipping his toe into being an antagonist. We see him venting all his anger and frustration into what he perceives is his mother’s killer but in fact, must be considered a (relatively) innocent party because those events have not yet taken place. In fact, as the events progress we even see Barry being forced to not only accept his mother’s death as a fixed point in time but ultimately contribute towards it when forced to repair the timeline. There’s also a very big secret weapon in this villain origin, and that is Matt Letscher as the original Eobard Thawne (before taking on the Harrison Wells appearance). It’s easy to forget just how little screen time he actually got last season, and as phenomenal a job Tom Cavanagh did, Letscher proves he is more than up to the job of delivering a deep and emotionally complex villain too. It’s almost ironic that in an episode showing the character’s past, the biggest takeaway is of much of a future they have. We need Matt Letscher to keep returning and preferably in a big way for a future season. His finest moment this episode comes as he delivers a relatively comics accurate version of his character back-story. The obsessive Flash fan of the future, who after finally replicating speed force powers, travelled back to the past and discovered he was destined to become not a hero but The Flash’s greatest villain, and thus the rivalry began.
It took her long enough but it finally happened! This week, Patty finally pieced together Barry’s identity as The Flash by herself. Admittedly, its effect (as suspected) is diluted from being overly drawn out but it’s still a good development. This is especially true when combined Patty’s imminent departure as she promises to stay if he’ll just admit the truth only to see Barry torn up even further by having to refuse. It’s a shame that episode’s conclusion confirms Patty’s departure form the show at least for the time being, but hopefully we will see her again because both Patty and Shantel Vansanten have just been too enjoyable to lose. It might even be a case of character shuffling by removing Patty to give the developing Wally West more time. Or a full on lady substitution as it’s been confirmed that we’ll be getting out first female speedster, Trajectory (played by Alison Paige), later in the season. Speaking of Wally, he and Iris get some good moments this week. Their sub-plot is small but meaningful as Iris forgives a fading Francine and convinces Wally to do the same in a way that starts building their bond as brother and sister just as we’ve seen Joe & Wally take their paternal baby steps. The idea of the Wests having to let a loved one go also syncs up nicely with Barry & Patty.
The odd couple friendship of Cisco and Earth 2 Wells continues to make great entertainment in its current love/hate format. As well as relating well to the main events, Wells suited up to scare Cisco vibing is brilliant to watch, complete with his rather feminine scream. This only gets pushed further as they start pimping his sleep tech shades (previously seen last season) with the added bonus of positioning his powers for more active use rather than device random visions that will lose their effect in the plot over time. One final small feature that must get a big mention is Jay Garrick as the episode expands a little more on his terminal sickness. Catlin brings Barry in on it, and we know now that it wasn’t an existing illness but merely the after effects on his body of Zoom ripping away his speed force. The remedy still looks like it will be Wells developing the Velocity 9 serum, although last time we checked it still at version 6 so that’ll be much later in the season. The real bombshell comes over the casual reveal of Jay’s Earth 1 doppelganger that comes with a different and very specific name from the comics. It could imply all manner of plans for both Jay Garrick as a character and Teddy Sears.
The Reverse Flash Returns is an absolutely outstanding episode. It may get a little crazy in its explanations of timeline regressions and will leave some viewers cross-eyed bit get all the basics across without detracting from the entertainment. It offers some excellent action set pieces from the opening “Flash does Speed” truck caper to the fights and running sequences of both speedsters together. This is the best episode of the season to date in the most unexpected ways. The speed force is definitely with this one!