“I make the names around here…though that one’s not bad.”
Welcome back Flash Fans! This week’s episode of The Flash, “The Sound and The Fury” gave us the debut of the Pied Piper and was a bit of a mixed bag for me. There were some really great moments but also a lot of nitpicks that seemed to detract from, what would have been, an otherwise stellar installment.
The Rathaway name has been dropped a few times this year on the Flash; a powerful, rich family with ties to the technology and art world. This week we were introduced to Hartley Rathaway, aka: The Pied Piper. The Piper has always been an important figure as he was one of the first openly gay men in DC comics as well as a character who had a checkered past that put him on both sides of the law. Eventually befriending the Flash, the Piper is a rich and diverse character that I was seriously looking forward to meeting in this new incarnation. I am sad to report though, his debut was less than stellar.
First, a note on the positives. Gone is the silly patchwork spandex outfit and silly flute with motherboards glued on it. Instead this version of Piper wears his trademarked oversized hood in combination with a pair of glowing oversized power gloves. This is a welcome change to what could have been a silly costume choice. Hartley’s technical aptitude was also on full display, showcased in his knowledge of various technologies, languages and creation of cool new gimmicks. One thing I really enjoyed was how they depicted his genius which. to me, showed as a type of Aspergers, which is a bold (and understandable) direction. Wether this was a conscious choice or not, Andy Mientus delivered a solid performance as a person who just didn’t “get” cultural norms and spoke out about how unusual they are. The reason I love this choice (and I certainly hope it was on purpose) is that it gives us another dimension to a character who could easily be lumped into the “misunderstood genius” category and also allows us to see the development of a character who truly can’t 100% grasp the world around him. This could easily lead to a fantastic redemption story and show people suffering from similar disorders a character they can relate to (even though he makes some very poor choices).
Now, to the parts about Piper that didn’t quite land. Earlier I spoke about how the Pied Piper is a genius, which was shown in a number of really fantastic ways such as speaking various languages as well as inventing a whole host of cool technologies. What really felt hollow though was the worn out cliche of the “villain intending to get caught because he’s so much smarter than everyone else” storyline. We’ve seen it. We’ve heard it. It’s always ridiculous. When you watch movies like Skyfall or The Dark Knight (two of the best examples of this troupe) you have to take a lot on faith such as timing and the ability to predict random events. In these instances, the plan becomes so ridiculous and complex you get wrapped up in it and go along for the ride. Unfortunately, the execution of Piper’s “supposed genius” did not land as intended. Instead of seeming like a methodical, calculating villain ala Captain Cold, Piper came across as a petulant child who threw is a hissy fit in order to get caught. While this isn’t a horrible choice, I felt that it made Piper’s overall threat level seem minuscule in comparison to some of the other Rogues we’ve had on the show to this point.
To add salt to the wound, The Flash fell for some really silly tricks on more than one occasion where he could easily have outmaneuvered our hooded soundsmith. To see Barry taken down by, what is essentially a bullet, feels like lazy writing. The Piper is not a physical equal. No, he is a mental foe, using his sonic powers to outwit the Flash. I would have loved to seen more material like this than a few explosions, sonic blasts, and disabling headphones. It made for a boring confrontation and took away from what could have been a great conflict.
Now this is really a nitpicky moment, but one that should be pointed out. During the episode, it was clearly established that Piper was a Master of Sound, tuning into to Police bands as well as hacking wifi signals and even eavesdropping on Team Flash’s conversation. So…why the hell didn’t he figure out Barry Allen’s secret identity? Joe, his foster father, is seen walking into STAR Labs frequently as well as Team Flash using Barry’s first name every moment they can. If Hartley was also scanning Police bandwidth’s I’m sure he would have figured out Barry’s secret. This would have been a huge moment where a Rogue would have used reasoning and his power set to completely blindside our hero and seem like a real threat. Instead, he just seems incompetent.
Alright. Rant mode off.
So Pied Piper was a bit of a jumble but this week’s episode was only about him so far as it moved forward the plot of our real villain: Harrison Wells. At this point it’s well documented that Tom Cavanagh has confirmed he is the Reverse Flash and this week’s episode all but confirms it. The basic plot has to do with Wells’ past being used against him. Hartley Rathaway used to be Wells’ number one, but had a falling out because of the collider and how it could hurt people. Wells felt it was a risk worth taking while Rathaway disagreed. In the end, Wells dismissed our future Piper and the plan to turn on the collider continued on course. Which brings us to the big reveal, Wells has super speed. Obviously this was hinted to a few times with Wells’ ability to walk as well as his possession the speed suit and “Flash-ring” but in this episode we actually see him become a red streak of lightning. There is no doubt, Harrison Wells is a speedster. How this all ties with Eddie and The Reverse Flash’s appearance in episode 9 is still up for debate, but it is clear, Wells is more dangerous than ever before.
While all of this is unfolding we get some great moments of laughter from Cisco, Caitlin and Joe. As always, Team Flash goes above and beyond to bring a smile to the audiences face through jokes, clever Flash tricks, or just pure charisma as things get dark around them. The reveal that Cisco had an instant rilvary with Hathaway and an instant bond with Caitlin was a great moment that showed why these people need one another. We also had a pitch perfect moment with Joe geeking out with Barry over Flash-science as they broke a pane of glass with sound. Seeing Jesse Martin’s smile and hear that infectious laugh never gets old.
Speaking of Joe, the writers have been very clever to show his growing suspicion of Dr. Wells over the last few episodes. Ever since he started digging into Harrison’s background, Joe has produced more and more questions that can’t be answered. The mystery has become so deep that he has even pulled Eddie into the mix to try and figure out just what Dr. Wells is hiding, which is fantastic. For every moment that Wells brings Team Flash closer, such as a heartfelt confession or humble moment, it causes Joe to become more and more suspicious. It’s a delicate balancing act, creating a Detective who is trusting but also has then keen sense to sniff out when something is “off”. The end result is a gradual mistrust in Wells and what will obviously be a phenomenal payoff.
I think this is why, despite the flaws in the story with the Pied Piper, I still enjoyed this episode. This is definitely one of the weakest episodes to date, but it still brought a lot to the table. The growing dread of Harrison Wells and his inevitable betrayal overshadowed every other story point this week and it’s a welcome evolution. Where will we end up by the end of this story arc is a mystery to us all, but man it’s a great ride. So until next week Flash Fans, stay speedy!