I thought we’d all agreed that the “villain wanted to be captured” plot twist expired at midnight on December 31, 2014, but it looks like Alison Schapker and Brooke Elkmier, the writers of this episode, missed that meeting. We’ve seen it in The Dark Knight and Skyfall and Star Trek Into Darkness and countless other times in the past few years, and now we know Hartley Rathaway, a.k.a. Pied Piper, saw at least one of those movies. You’d think Cisco, a guy who shows up for his first day of work wearing a “Keep Calm and Han Shot First” t-shirt, would have seen all of them, but he falls for it just the same.
That plot device is only one reason “The Sound And The Fury” came as something of a letdown following last week’s Captain Cold/Heat Wave team-up. The premise is sound enough: Harrison Wells’ former STAR Labs protege returns seeking vengeance and threatening to expose the good doctor’s secret. That secret is not the one we’d first suspect: Rathaway isn’t there to reveal Wells as the Reverse-Flash (and if there was any lingering doubt that Wells is the man in yellow, it was cleared up within the first few minutes of tonight’s episode as Wells zipped out of the way of shattering glass in his well-appointed home). Instead, Rathaway plans to tell the world that he warned Wells the particle accelerator might explode, a warning that fell upon (appropriately enough, given Rathaway’s condition) deaf ears. Wells not only ignored the possibility, he fired Rathaway for good measure.
On the plus side, this turn of events serves as a welcome showcase for Tom Cavanagh, who continues to cycle through the many faces of Harrison Wells in convincing fashion. Wells is by turns menacing, shady, sarcastic, and seemingly contrite, and Cavanagh is able to make all these moods feel like facets of the same person. The nature of the ongoing story compels him to hold much in reserve, as there’s still much to be revealed about this character, but Cavanagh never lets Wells become a one-dimensional mad scientist. At the same time, we can always glimpse the calculation behind his actions, as in the press conference where Wells calls on Iris. When Barry shakes off his suspicions and comes around to seeing Wells as his hero again, it feels believable even as we wish we could reach through the screen and shake some sense into the Flash.
Joe’s suspicions remain, which is a good thing as his (and Eddie’s) secret plan to continue investigating Wells is one of the episode’s more promising developments. Things are also looking up on the Iris front, as her newspaper job should give her more to do and help establish an identity for her outside the Eddie-Iris-Barry love triangle. Unfortunately, that storyline doesn’t get off to great start in establishing Iris’ new mentor Mason Bridge, who goes from ”chicks, pfft” to grudging respect in under 10 lines of dialogue.
That’s a minor point, perhaps, but the minor points accumulated throughout the episode. There was some weird hyperactive editing, particularly in the pre-credits sequence. The opening roundup of the Royal Flush Gang was so confusing, I wasn’t sure what had happened until it was over. Iris was offered her new job in the three seconds she was off-screen taking a phone call. While I appreciated the Pied Piper as a villain who could match wits with Wells (although I could have done without all the chess metaphors), Rathaway came off a little too Frank Grimes in the flashback scenes with Cisco. It didn’t make much sense that he was being held in the metahuman prison, as it was just established last week that villains with gadgets and no superpowers go to Iron Heights. (And once you start asking questions about the metahuman prison, the whole thing falls apart. For starters, I don’t see a toilet in his cell.)
None of these are fatal flaws on their own, but the accumulation of sour notes and a tendency for over-earnestness at times left me lukewarm on this one. Part of the problem is that much of the episode felt like set-up for things to come. We’re about at the season’s halfway point now, and “The Sound And The Fury” spent a lot of time planting seeds for future developments, particularly regarding Firestorm and the Reverse-Flash. That’s fine and probably necessary, but not as much fun as it could be.
- Another minor point: I didn’t care for the Pied Piper’s costume. After seeing how he reacted to Cisco’s t-shirt, I don’t think he’d go for the oversized hoodie look.
- The Pied Piper was one of the first gay characters in superhero comics, coming out to the Flash back in 1991. The Flash reacted kind of awkwardly then (although it was Wally West, not Barry Allen), but in 2015, it’s no big deal except to Hartley Rathaway’s parents.
- “Hey, I assign the nicknames around here!”