Dr. Wells’ former protégée, Hartley Rathaway/Pied Piper, returns to seek revenge on his mentor after being affected by the particle accelerator explosion. In the past, Hartley discovered that the particle accelerator would explode, but Wells fired and silenced him, and turned on the accelerator anyway. Now able to manipulate sound waves, the brilliant Rathaway is a dangerous threat to both Wells and The Flash. Meanwhile, Iris is thrilled when she’s hired by the Central City Picture News as their newest cub reporter. Unfortunately, her editor pairs her with a veteran reporter, Mason Bridge, who wants nothing to do with her. Iris realizes the editor only hired her because they think she still has a connection with The Flash, and decides she’ll need to have some gumption to prove herself. The Flash captures Hartley, but that turns out to be his plan all along — get into STAR Labs to steal their information on The Flash, and force Wells to reveal his secret about the accelerator. Wells holds a press conference revealing the information — giving the quote to Iris — but Hartley says that’s not enough. He threatens civilians, and when The Flash intervenes, Hartley uses the information obtained from STAR Labs to incapacitate him, using the radio frequency against him. Wells is able to turn satellite radio against Hartley, however, causing his sonic gloves to backfire. Hartley returns to the STAR Labs prison, and Caitlin and Cisco forgive Wells for lying. However, Wells is revealed to have superspeed, and needs the Tachyon device to recharge it by absorbing energy from the Speed Force, only a temporary fix. Joe, having grown steadily more suspicious of Wells, asks Eddie to investigate him in secret.
Early on in “The Sound and the Fury,” the STAR Labs team — Barry, Caitlin, Cisco, and Dr. Wells — celebrate their latest victory in apprehending the Royal Flush gang (who may or may not be related to the version of the gang that appeared on Arrow) by taking a photo. When we see it at the end, alongside Barry’s voiceover talking about the important people in his life, it’s an obvious representation of the STAR Labs team as a family. I’m not trying to posit that as me reading between the lines — the episode (and the show has a whole) unabashadly hammers in the importance of family from all angles, with the thesis that it takes a village to raise a young superhero like The Flash.
Where that photo becomes muddy is what it will inevitably represent by season’s end. Like Dr. Wells’ newspaper from the future, the reveal of his dark secret(s) is a forgone conclusion. What began as an intriguing-but-grating series of teases early on has progressed into something much more daring, especially since the Reverse-Flash reveal. Wells, and his position at the center of the STAR Labs family and Barry’s second father figure, has ingrained him so deeply at the very core of the show that it’s nearly impossible to picture it without him. And yet, how long can he keep up the charade? When the mystery behind Wells is revealed, so much of the entire structure will be uprooted. Everything we’ve seen up until now can and probably will take on a new meaning once his motives are laid out. So much of this season has pre-emptively invited a second rewatch after the season ends, because everything Wells says and does is soaked with potential ulterior motives or double meanings.
It’s a careful line to tread before the show gets too weighed down by the anvils, which it has on a couple of occasions. But for the most part, the Wells mystery has been adeptly spaced out, offering enough tidbits and clues with every episode and smartly underplaying many of the reveals. Tonight is a perfect example, with the confirmation that Wells has superspeed, it’s limited, and he uses the stolen Tachyon device to draw from the Speed Force to recharge. This is all huge, and the implications are even bigger. There was always the question of whether or not Wells really was in the yellow suit, or if he was was working with him, etc. But we know for sure that Wells has superspeed, which not only means he’s keeping a big secret from his friends and collegues, but there are points when he could have helped Flash or saved people with his speed but chose not to. Whatever his intentions are, it’s going to take an extreme amount of time and work to achieve forgiveness if he asks for it, especially given how hard he fell with Hartley’s secret this week.
And yet, the reveal just kind of…happens. It’s not terribly surprising, but there’s been enough air of mystery that even the confirmation at the end of “The Man in the Yellow Suit” wasn’t much of a confirmation. So the reveal this week reflects that, with Wells doing it instinctively without much fanfare, some exposition about it at the end, and that’s about it. We’re smart enough to know what’s going on, and most people had already figured it out. So, it’s refreshing that it wasn’t played with big swelling music and slow-mo. The way this will eventually affect virtually everyone in the show is much more important than the statement of the facts.
The same can be said for the dark secret that is revealed: that Wells knew the particle accelerator had a high risk of exploding, and turned it on anyway. There aren’t really any repercussions to Wells coming out and saying the truth to the world, considering, as Hartley says, everyone already hates him anyway. It matters where his STAR Labs family stands, though, as it permanently and retroactively damages their relationship. Everyone is forgiven by the end, because The Flash is an optimistic show, but this is very much a preview of the more devastating reveals that lie ahead.
Wells’ ambiguous place lets Hartley Rathaway/Pied Piper sit firmly in the anti-villain seat, with very legitimate reasons behind his hatred of STAR Labs. Well, he scooches a bit closer to full-on villain because of his ruthleness dealing with Caitlin and Cisco; there’s a very clear dark side to Hartley, evidenced by his pompous and generally mean attitude in the flashbacks anyway, so the escalation to not caring about collateral damage as he goes a bit more off the deep end makes some sense. Even then, if the episode makes any mistake, it’s perhaps having Hartley attack civilians in the final battle to get Flash’s attention. Maybe he was being careful to not totally throw them off the bridge and merely scare them, but he was still effective as a scary villain for the heroes, personally, without ever doing much damage to anyone else.
Regardless of any of that, though, Hartley is a perfect villain to pit against Wells. In any other context, Hartley would have been the heroic wunderkind pit against a duplicitous mad scientist — and Tom Cavanaugh really does up the deviousness in the flashback. Hell, there is definitely enough subtext in that opening “You’re my guy” flashback to indicate an even more intimate betrayal between the two, if the show wanted to go in that direction. As straightforward as Hartley’s backstory is, there’s plenty still to be explored. That’s good, because Andy Mientus is on par with most of The Flash‘s bigger villains, in that he’s vibrantly played and very over-the-top, but purposefully so. Mientus is tasked with playing a villain that revels in being vengeful, but isn’t outright evil; he isn’t that sympathetic in his actions, but the more we learn, the more it infers his actions to make him sympathetic. Mientus seems to work with this by playing up Hartley’s theatricallity and letting that be part of his broken personality, which lets the lack of nuance slide. This type of villain wouldn’t work in a big screen superhero film or as a Big Bad, but he works wonders in this position, both as a foil for the current STAR Labs team and a cipher for Wells’ backstory.
Also, while it ended up being mostly irrelevant to the episode, everyone else is talking about: Pied Piper is noteworthy in being an openly gay live-action anti-villain. Surely not the first ever, but probably the first to be totally upfront about it (and not in a sensationalized and unspoken kind of way, a la Tina Greer.) Like a lot of The Flash, this episode strikes a careful balance between making it an important part of the character and not making a big deal about it. The all-too-common story of being estranged after coming out to his parents surely attributed to Hartley’s issues, but that’s really all that’s said or done about it (other than a spectacular amount of chemistry, intentional or not, between Mientus and Cavanaugh.) The one joke that does slip in — “Being scooped up by a guy clad head to toe in leather is a long time fantasy of mine, so thanks” — is delightfully funny and totally worth it.
With all the Wells and Hartley talk, it’s easy to forget that plenty of others get some solid moments. We see Cisco’s first day at STAR Labs and the beginning of his parade of geeky t-shirts, the first of which is so on-the-nose (it’s both an obnoxious meme and a Star Wars reference!) that it’s perfect as the trend-setter. And Iris starts down a new path as a journalist, getting the job in the most laughably easy way possible: the editor of a major newspaper “likes her blog!” What works about Iris’s story, though, is that it purposefully subverts and even parodies some typical TV journalist stuff. For one, Mason Bridge hilariously lays out all the meaningless journalism buzzwords like “spunk” and “gumption” in full Lou Grant fashion to Iris. And while Iris got the job way too easily for a 20something with only blogging experience, it has less to do with her ability (“my mom has a blog,” as Mason says) and more with her presumed connections to The Flash. And unlike the Superman/Lois Lane relationship, Iris only has that to go on, and it’s a connection she’s already severed. It puts her in a far more precarious and interesting situation, and means she’ll still have to work her way up from the bottom, in a way. The “cub reporter getting the respect of fellow reporters” trope pretty much fits into what the episode starts off subverting — not to mention Iris throwing out “gumption” as a big one-liner, even though in context that word didn’t really make much sense — but hey, it gives Iris something to do.
The Flash hasn’t sank at any point in its run thus far, and even then, “The Sound and the Fury” is another step up. Like we’ve all said many times here, this show is profoundly fun no matter what story it’s telling, and the characters have been so well set-up that it can ride on the dynamics even when the stakes aren’t the utmost dire. Pied Piper is a good villain for the show, but he’s hardly the most formidable. What makes him work is the drama he brings, forcing out secrets and shifting around relationships. The more we see of Wells’ true nature, the more it engages. That’s exactly the right direction in which it should be moving.
Odds & Ends
- So, Wells’ apartment? Yeah. Let’s see more of that gorgeous piece of architecture.
- Wells utters “I failed this city,” and a chill goes up the spine of season 1 Arrow fans. It’s a cute reference, though.
- Joe officially investigating Wells has been expected for a while, but thankfully he’ll have Eddie involved, which means every character now has a significant storyline to follow.
- “Does that count as a selfie?”
- “He was mostly a jerk. But every once in a while, he could be a dick.”
- “God, I wish I’d taken a language in high school.”
- “Hey Chief! Is that what people call you?”
“No, not really.”