A week after delivering its sleepiest episode, The Flash returned to form last night with its 19th hour of the season, “Who Is Harrison Wells?” Despite the title, the episode still served primarily as filler focusing on a new metahuman rather than the long-gestating Harrison/Reverse-Flash storyline. Though my impatience grows each week resolution is delayed, last night’s story stymied my frustration far better than “All Star Team Up” for one simple reason: interest.
My main gripe with last week’s episode was its dull villain, Bug-Eyed Bandit, who offered little in the way of interesting backstory or obstacle for our hero. That changed this week as Team Flash faced off against Hannibal Bates, a shape-shifter codenamed Everyman created in 2006 by Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns and others. Shape-shifting is not a terribly creative power to introduce, it being a commonality shared by many science fiction and comic book properties, but it is one that inherently brings intriguing hurdles, particularly for a character who obscures his face with a mask.
Despite the fact that Barry has been slinging around his secret identity like a Frisbee on a college lawn of late, it is still an important plot-point that our favorite forensic scientist/speedster remains simply a forensic scientist to the public eye. That premise makes a villain like Bates compelling right off the bat, particularly when coupled with a writing team that has proven itself willing of just about anything save for a major character death (so far) in this first season. A person with the ability to take any physical form also brings the easy thrills of seeing characters outside their normal realm, such as Eddie shooting fellow cops, Iris fighting The Flash and The Flash fighting himself. Though Bates was certainly lacking in any sort of buildup or backstory, the episode worked on a whole because the concept has a built in allure that made the on-screen hijinks and the plot enjoyable to watch. It could be written off as a gimmick, surely, but The Flash, as it has for much of the season, was able to toe that line skillfully enough to employ the shape-shifting villain in all its gimmicky glory without making the episode a chore to watch. It also helped that the Scarlet Speedster was able to show off his abilities more so this week in the final showdown with Bates, though the fight was ultimately lacking in satisfaction due to Everyman’s powers. Everyman can take the physical form of anyone he makes contact with but cannot replicate powers, thus, once Flash singled him out, and Bates could no longer confuse Barry by constantly shifting forms, it was easy pickin’ for the man in red. Still, it was a needed step up in excitement from last week, leading to a much more entertaining hour of television.
Though most of the episode focused on Bates, the continuing investigation into Harrison Wells (note: though we know that Harrison is, in reality, Eobard Thawne, I will continue to refer to him as Harrison to avoid confusing myself and you) was not left out. Cisco and Joe headed to Starling City, marking the second time in as many weeks that CW’s top properties have interacted with each other, to visit the location of the car accident that killed Tess Morgan. Once again, the crossover didn’t serve much purpose, though it was less clumsy than last week. Helping to that end was the fact that the characters from Arrow included in the episode made sense, Captain Lance and Laurel, and they weren’t asked to do too much. Joe and Cisco found what they needed, the body of the real Harrison Wells and as implausible as it was (would someone like Eobard Thawne, maniacally intelligent with the ability to traverse great distances in mere seconds really bury Harrison’s body twenty feet from the accident site?) it was the final piece the team needed to be certain the Harrison they know is not who he says he is. It also served as a convincing bargaining chip for Caitlin who, for good reason, remained skeptical of the idea that Harrison is the Reverse-Flash throughout most of the hour. Now, with the irrefutable evidence that has been unveiled, Caitlin has no choice but to join in, and the all-out assault on Harrison can begin in earnest.
Next week’s episode will see Team Flash set a trap for Harrison, which means that the wait is finally over. The pieces are all in place now, and the show can finally dive into the story it’s been building since the very first episode. The writers have done an admirable job of keeping life in the Harrison storyline throughout the season, and given the generally high quality of the season as a whole, the payoff should be worth the wait. We know that Harrison will do anything it takes, and in the coming weeks we will see the true depth of his depravity. He will release Grodd on the city, and that is just the start. At this point, anything seems within the realm of possibility and, save for a select few characters, there’s a great chance that no one is safe.
Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.