The Flash: 117 “Tricksters” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Previously on The Flash: Eobard Thawne, using the apparent pseudonym of Harrison Wells, built a particle accelerator that exploded, leading to the creation of The Flash himself. Assuming the identity of a friendly, wise scientist, Wells helped Barry to push his abilities further whilst gallivanting around in his Reverse Flash suit. We knew previously that Harrison Wells is the man who killed Barry’s mother – but was that really the case?
This week’s episode, Tricksters, opened with a terrific action scene showing the fateful events fifteen years before, as a future Barry (sporting a more comic-faithful white logo in a great Easter Egg) and the Reverse Flash battled inside the Allen household. The Flash continues to push its TV-sized budget to the max, with a kinetic, effects-laden fight scene that provided some satisfying callbacks to the first time we saw these events unfold in the pilot. Taking into account all we’ve learned since then, the night Barry’s mother died now takes on significance only hinted at in the pilot – and with Barry’s trip to that night presumably coming up very soon indeed, it’s hardly going to be the last time we see these events…
The cast and crew of The Flash had promised a shocking twist in the Reverse Flash tale – and Tricksters delivered, with a simple yet extremely effective shock as we saw the Reverse Flash unmask to reveal an unfamiliar figure: the real Eobard Thawne. This clever and genuinely surprising twist (which also neatly explains away the lack of Wells blood at the Allen house) was the bedrock of a set of flashbacks explaining the origins of Thawne’s evil plans. The revelation that there was indeed a real Harrison Wells was another great surprise – but in a very different way to the pure surprise of the Eobard reveal.
Tom Cavanagh has done sterling work as the collected yet secretly psychopathic Wells so far, and his portrayal of the real Wells exhibited Cavanagh’s versatility as an actor – able to switch from the villainous disguised Thawne in the present day to the idealistic ‘real’ Wells in the past with ease, Tricksters was a strong display for the actor’s talents. The story of the real Wells was a surprisingly tragic one – brimming with ideas with a loving wife by his side, Tricksters displayed within a set of compactly plotted flashbacks that the real Wells was a good man, who had his identity and wife ripped away from him just because one time traveller fancied a quick ride home.
And speaking of the time traveller, the sight of Thawne stealing Wells’ DNA and leaving the real Wells as a bloodied husk was an unusually macabre and dark twist for such a light-hearted show – but thankfully, this only added to the clear message of Tricksters’ flashbacks; unlike the real Wells, and despite his friendly and accommodating façade, Eobard Thawne is most definitely not a good man. While the elements of mystery and docility that Thawne possessed previously were a key part of the villain’s early success, Tricksters smartly stopped the obfuscating of his true nature by showing the evil acts Thawne has committed to achieve his goal, peeling back the layers of deceit to reveal the bad guy Barry’s really up against.
Meanwhile, in the present day, things were a tad more standalone. The villains of the week were the eponymous Tricksters – the incarcerated original bearer of the name, James Jesse, and copycat wannabe Axel Walker. It was Jesse who received the lion’s share of screen-time here – and every moment the character spent on screen was a joy to watch. Mark Hamill is no stranger to comic book villains, having played the Trickster back in the short-lived 90s Flash series and the Joker in several animated shows and games, and it was clear here how comfortable Hamill is in the role.
The Flash has excelled at including larger-than-life villains that could never show up on sister show Arrow (take the Rogues) – and Hamill’s Trickster was perhaps the nuttiest villain the show has served up yet. It’s easy to see Hamill’s portrayals of the Joker in the clinically insane, perpetually cackling Trickster, but the veteran actor managed to keep his portrayal of Jesse feeling original enough as to not feel like a knock-off version of the Joker, with a brilliantly bonkers performance here. Credit must also be given to The Flash’s writers for getting Luke Skywalker himself to say ‘I am your father’ – that line alone probably warranted Hamill’s casting. Tricksters managed to craft Hamill’s Trickster into a very different type of threat to Barry, too, with a set of crafty traps and tricks, such as a speed bomb tied to Barry’s wrist, that felt like a breath of fresh air after the usual physical confrontations with the villains of the week.
The aforementioned speed bomb also led to Barry learning another speed ability – the ability to ‘phase’ through objects, essentially allowing Barry to run through walls. Barry’s ever evolving repertoire of skills has always been an enjoyable part of this extended origin story, and the moment alone as Barry phases through a truck was a fun piece of comic-book spectacle that packed in even more elements of the comics mythos into the show (including another nod to that perennial get-out-of-jail-free-card, Speed Force), along with a monologue from Wells that deepened Barry’s growing suspicions…
It was with the investigation into Wells (or Thawne – it’s all getting a little confusing) where Tricksters stumbled just a little bit. It was undoubtedly interesting to see the status quo subtly shift as Barry and Wells adopted a tense, secretive new dynamic where neither trusts the other (portrayed reliably well by Gustin and Cavanagh) yet both maintain a friendly façade, but the plotting around these scenes between Barry and Wells wasn’t quite up to scratch. While it’s refreshing to see Wells’ secrets start to be uncovered after over a half a season of a secrecy, Barry’s rapidly growing mistrust of Wells was an example of overly accelerated plotting. There’s very little reason to believe that Barry would turn on Wells so quickly and to such a magnitude after trusting him for most of the season, so Barry’s suspicion doesn’t quite feel earned yet, and comes across as The Flash trying to take shortcuts in the arc plot that skip some much-needed setup.
Likewise, Barry’s revelation of his identity to Eddie in order to bring him into the Flash Police Club (population: three) felt too out-of-the-blue to pack a punch – with very little setup towards this revelation, Eddie’s discovery comes across as less of a shock and more of a ‘huh’ moment; mild surprise and little more. It also highlights the growing issue with Iris, as she stays firmly planted in the ever-shrinking club of people unaware of the Flash’s identity. Eddie’s objection to Barry and Joe’s secrecy was encouraging, but the show’s insistence that Iris stay oblivious about Barry’s superheroics is beginning to frustrate.
However, it’s undoubtedly exciting to see the season arc begin to enter the endgame – with Barry, Joe and Eddie on Wells’ trail, time is ticking for both the heroes and the villains, with both sides weaving ever-intricate webs of secrecy and deceit. It’s just a matter of who gets found out first… Another week’s break is coming up (joy!) in the UK, but The Flash returns in two weeks as Ray Palmer and Felicity Smoak come to town for an All-Star Team Up!
Blending shocking revelations with an entertaining villain of the week plot, Tricksters is prevented from reaching true greatness by some disappointingly rushed plotting.
Scene of the Episode: It’s Just A Phase – Barry learns a new trick, sprinting head-on into a truck and phasing through it.