It’s appropriate that this week’s episode of The Flash is the first to mention the term “speed force” — both for its pace (which is even faster than usual, but thankfully still comprehensible) and the sheer forcefulness of its story. That’s in addition to the return and the introduction of one of the Flash’s greatest foes…
Mark Hamill’s Trickster was far and away the most popular and entertaining villain to appear on the original 1990 Flash series. But, like so much of that series, he was tasked with doing perhaps too much. The actor’s James Jesse was required to be both campy (in the vein of the ’60s Batman series) and menacing (like the 1989 Batman movie, from which the first Flash TV show wrongly took its inspiration). Nevertheless, he was the only one of the Flash’s foes to appear in more than one episode during the one-season wonder’s run. In “Tricksters”, however, Hamill benefits immensely from the natural world-weariness that comes with age, using it as a kind of glue to weld the conflicting tones of his role.
His character’s voice is reminiscent of that which he uses for the Joker (for which his Trickster served as a prototype) in the various DC Animated Universe projects in which he’s appeared. But there’s a gravelly undertow to it, a gravitas that suits the 2015 Flash to a tee. When he first appears, sitting in the shadows of Iron Heights Prison where he’s been kept for the last twenty years, he underplays it marvelously; with Barry and Joe forced to play Clarice Starling to his Hannibal Lecter, buying his insight into a series of crimes committed by a copycat with red licorice. But Hamill goes from menacing in his first scene to almost heartbreaking in his second, collapsing to the floor after seeing his successor’s face, crying “Take off my mask!”
Of course we soon learn it’s all a ruse to break out of prison with the help of his son, the new Trickster, who learns of his parentage when Hamill gets to deliver that most famous of all nerd line readings in the most ironic way imaginable — “I am your father!” It’s ironic that after decades of Harrison Ford all but abandoning the charisma that saw him climb to far greater screen acting success than his Star Wars castmate, Hamill pours his entire heart and soul into a character that could be played for nothing but cheap laughs. In that, he’s the very definition of a fan-favorite actor. And he gives us the most enjoyable portrait of on-screen villainy we’ve seen so far this season. With one big exception…
There’s another pair of tricksters lurking in the shadows of this week’s episode. We finally learn what led benevolent scientist Harrison Wells to become the Reverse-Flash. In scenes set fifteen years ago, we see Wells happily sharing his plans for STAR Labs with his wife Tessa. Until she’s killed by the “original” Reverse-Flash, Eobard Thawne — a refugee from the future, stranded in the past when his time-traveling technology is destroyed while battling the Flash the very night he killed Barry’s mother. Thawne then takes on Wells appearance and consciousness as he drains the life from his body, using his intellect to create the particle accelerator explosion that produces the Flash. Tom Cavanagh’s performance throughout this cracking debut year has alternated between charming and chilling, but here, as Hamill did, he makes us feel for him as he witnesses his wife’s death.
“Tricksters” isn’t perfect in its storytelling. It’s not clear, for example, why Barry reveals his identity to Eddie at episode’s end. We’re told he needs him to convince Iris not to probe any further into the disappearance of her colleague Mason Bridge (killed, unbeknowst to her, at the hands of the Reverse-Flash). But there’s no good reason why Joe West can’t make up the story Eddie tells her about Bridge’s running off to Brazil. It’s clear the show just really wants to make Eddie a greater part of its central story. For what purpose, we’ll have to wait to find out. And I’m still not sure why the Flash doesn’t just run immediately to Iron Heights when STAR Labs learns that Trickster Jr. has busted out his dad (which is, ironically, the very thing Barry’s been tempted to do all season with his own father). But I like that the show uses this incident to illustrate how Barry’s distrust of Wells can have serious consequences for innocent people, including his Henry Allen. It’s great to see John Wesley Shipp get more to do usual when he reunites with his old Flash co-star, as well as when Barry reveals his identity to Henry and introduces him to his friends at STAR.
Barring the occasional scripting problem that arises when your protagonist is a god-like speedster (with the introduction of Barry’s ability to phase through walls, he’s more Mercury than ever), The Flash is now at full throttle. Hot damn, I’m excited for these next two months.
- Jesse Martin deserves an honorable mention for his speech in which he assures Barry that he wasn’t a total idiot to trust Wells. (“You’re saying I wanted to be tricked?” asks Barry.) Martin remains the calm cool center of a show that moves like lightning.
- Joe West’s insistence that Barry be as patient as Wells is an ironic touch. For all their speed, the two men must move slowly in order to succeed. Kudos to the writers’ room for resisting the urge to have their characters speak this subtext aloud.
- We get to see Wells’ artificial intelligence Gideon in a three-dimensional form for the first time here. Since she’s voiced by Morena Baccarin, it’s fitting that the actress’ face serves as a model for the hologram.
- “I know what you’re thinking.” “Do you?” Grant Gustin’s acting improves with every episode. Now he’s gets to play a coldblooded game of cat and mouse with Tom Cavanagh.
- Does anyone else think the new Trickster’s mask looks a little too much like that of Watchmen‘s Comedian?
- “I’ve had twenty years to come up with the perfect trick. It’s going to be my masterpiece, my Mona Lisa, my Breaking Bad Season 5… They gave me cable in prison so I’d stop killing the guards.”
Next week: The Flash gets another well deserved week off but races back the following week for an “All Star Team Up” with the DC TV Universe’s other costumed champions!
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).