In Wells’s Time Vault, Barry, Caitlin, and Cisco discover the future newspaper, which reveals a new costume for Barry, that Reverse-Flash and Flash both disappear during a red-skied crisis, and that Iris and Barry are married in the future. Further, they discover that Gideon was/will be built by Barry, and therefore will listen to any of his commands. The three plus Joe and Eddie set a trap for Wells, planning to restage Cisco’s death in the alternate timeline to get Wells to confess to Nora Allen’s murder. They use a lucid dreaming machine to get every detail from Cisco’s dreams of the alternate timeline. Meanwhile, Eddie asks Joe for his permission to marry Iris, which Joe rejects. Eddie asks Barry to find out Joe’s reasoning; Joe tells him that he knows Eddie wrong for her, but Iris will say yet on impulse and be to loyal to eventually leave Eddie when she realizes she’s married the wrong man. The trap is set for Wells, as Caitlin monitors and records Wells via video, Eddie stays with Iris to protect her, and Cisco imitates the events of the alternate timeline while Joe and Barry watch. Cisco steps behind a forcefield as Wells attempts to kill him, but before he makes a valid confession, Wells steps through the forcefield and forces Joe to shoot him. However, they realize that this was not Wells, but the shapeshifting Everyman; Barry discovers that Wells had video cameras everywhere, and has been monitoring everyone involved. Wells tells Barry and the crew via intercom that he is Eobard Thawne, and that it was a trap for them, not a trap for him. With everyone distracted at STAR Labs, Wells speeds over and attacks Eddie and Iris as Reverse-Flash, just as Eddie tries to propose to Iris. Flash intervenes, but not before Reverse-Flash speeds away with Eddie. Flash touches Iris and accidentally creates a static spark as he speeds off, reminding Iris of a shock she received when touching Barry while he was in a coma. Because of this, she determines that Barry is The Flash. Wells unmasks himself to Eddie and reveals they two are related, and that he plans to use Eddie for insurance.
The back half of The Flash‘s first season has been a bit of a bumpy road at times, with a great episode usually followed by a disappointing misfire. There have been more hits than misses, sure, but we also followed up an episode with Mark Hamill that accelerated every ongoing plot with a dead stop where the Atom flies away from some robot bees. This has been a remarkably consistent run for the first season of a show, but they aren’t always winners, and we’ve seen certainty seen a share of problems.
So it’s even more remarkable that we can get an episode like “The Trap,” which plays like a justification (or apology) for some of the show’s previous missteps. Well, okay, it doesn’t justify the robot bees, but it certainly propels the show’s narrative forward beyond expectations. This has been a fast-moving show from the get-go, but “The Trap” is the most acceleration we’ve gotten, and that’s saying something. It helps that there is only one singular plot in this episode; no more metahuman to face while the Wells material slowly unfolds in the background. This is all one story, with every character involved and every scene ultimately playing a role in the endgame. It’s never easy for a show to break its procedural structure when it leans so heavily on it, but “The Trap” is perfectly focused because of it.
The biggest reason, of course, is that it blows the Wells storyline wide open. There are a couple of ways this episode shatters the status quo, but exposing everyone’s true motivations is unsurprisingly the biggest one. The ballsiest move is dumping a load of future information on Barry, Caitlin, and Cisco before we even get to the title sequence. It’s one thing to determine that Wells is from the future via his Time Vault; it’s another thing entirely to also throw in a new costume, a Crisis (maybe), Iris West-Allen, namedropping other heroes, that Barry is “a founding member of the…”, and revealing that the computer Gideon was built by Barry. It was already a lot of take in, but this level of exposition is nigh-overwhelming, and that’s even with us in the audience already knowing some of it. The scene doesn’t feel overly mechanical or heavy thanks to the characters’ reactions (“This is trippy, like Marty and the Polaroid trippy”) and the impending arrival of Wells. It’s all very dense, but it gets by because the slew of information is thrown out chaotically, and with an extremely tense, edge-of-your-seat backdrop. It’s about the best way to do an info dump, and all the revelations are exciting. Gideon seems like a fun addition if we see more of it (her? him?) in the future, a typical Mass Effect-esque AI that could make exposition fun in Dr. Wells’s absence.
It’s all smartly set-up, given how we’ve established that time travel can change things (we aren’t in a Terminator 1 scenario where it’s all one unchangeable paradox), meaning none of the stuff predicted in the 2024 paper actually has to come to fruition. But the paper itself has been a cipher, its own major and minor changes explored in “Power Outage.” The most curious, oddly enough, is that Iris and Barry will marry given how the timeline is currently progressing. That surely adds to the pressure and anxiety Barry feels when he discovers that Eddie will ask Iris to marry him. A normally cheap relationship plot device is given a whole lot more mythological relevance thanks to that paper, and it’s a nice way to tie the more frustrating relationship stuff into the overarching story. Nothing in this episode is a waste of time, and there seems to be a conscious effort to justify many of the plot developments that have fallen flat earlier in the season.
Another example of that is Iris, who has really struggled as a character more than any other. In an hour full of surprises, perhaps the biggest surprise is that Iris so abruptly discovers The Flash’s secret identity. This reveal is more imperative for her than anyone else, because the obvious problem with the character is how laughably out of the loop she’s been. It’s not impossible to hold off learning the secret identity for characters and still having it work, of course. Arrow’s late season 2 and 3 reveals for Laurel and Thea, respectively, did wonders for those characters because it held off the secret until it could appropriately play into their character arcs. Granted, they aren’t perfect examples, as they both had profound problems with their character arcs before learning the secret, but those problems had more to do with missteps totally unrelated to whether or not they knew the Arrow’s identity. They still had other things to do in the story and related to the main plot, and even at their most superfluous, they felt part of the larger arc in one way or another. Iris, as pleasant as the character is, has rarely had much to do on her own, outside of being a trophy or device between Joe, Barry, and Eddie to either win, feel the need to protect, or feel angst over.
The early episodes of the show had Iris play a semi-active role with her blog, and it worked because it appeared to be leading up to something. Instead, that’s where it stuck throughout the show — Iris is a passive blogger-type waiting for stories to come to her, a Lois Lane without ambition. It’s unfair, because that’s the opposite of how she was set up initially as the spunky, energetic curious type. But getting the job at Picture News has ironically seen her become even more passive, with her given hints that Wells is evil and her partner murdered, then doing nothing with either. This week suggests that she’s been doing big research in the background, but even that research is weak — despite clear clues that things are off a STAR Labs, she doesn’t get beyond “metahumans appeared after the Particle Accelerator explosion,” which is not only a correlation/causation problem as a journalist, but also just kind of seemed like common knowledge for anyone aware of metahumans.
All this is to say: Iris not being involved in The Flash’s exploits is a problem because Iris hasn’t been given (or done) anything else. So, at that, while throwing in a weird little static shock touch that has her suddenly figure out Barry’s identity is a cheesy, kind of forced moment to be sure, it’s also a pleasingly cute and even cathartic one. It’s in line with (and may be a direct homage to) Lois/Superman moments of TV past, replacing a kiss or touch with something more platonic but still intimate. It’s totally there for the Tumblr shippers to GIF — it makes a perfect GIF, let’s be honest — but it feels like something you could only do with a comic book superhero romance. It’s much better than the “Out of Time” reveal because of its abruptness, and that it paints Iris as a more intuitive character. As much as Iris’s “big news” falls kind of flat, her late-connection of the metahuman dots surely plays into how she figures out Barry’s identity at the end, implying that she’s been subconsciously piecing together the details for a while. This sudden revelation is built on a whole bunch of little clues that she’d picked up on but never processed, which speaks to the character’s awareness and intelligence. Now, hopefully, she’ll be able to use that newfound intuition to do more with the story.
That, again, is solid evidence of the show’s self-awareness of its past mistakes. With the Iris reveal at play, this episode is something of a delayed sequel to “Out of Time,” which justifies nearly all the complaints of that episode and the following one. The biggest problem with Barry’s time travel exploits was how little impact it ultimately had on everything…until now, where it’s become both a cipher for current parallel events and plays the absolute biggest part of this season’s titular trap. It doesn’t look like we’ll ever get a definitive explanation for how Cisco retains memories from the alternate timeline, but it plays so well into this episode’s narrative that it’s not hard to overlook. The replay of the scene in Cisco’s dream is beautifully horrifying, with the colder, lens flare-heavy lighting and disorienting off-focus turning an already stellar scene into a literal nightmare. It’s a real credit to Carlos Valdes and the writers that a character so often grating and superfluous as Cisco in the early days has grown into one of the most pivotal players in the show. Cisco is essentially the key to unlocking the entire Wells mystery at this point, but he’s never lost his penchant for comic relief, a perfect example for how to keep a funny character relevant without losing his charm.
And, of course, there’s Tom Cavanaugh, who’s been this show’s not-so-secret weapon. Wells doesn’t directly play much in the story until closer to the end, but even still, Cavanaugh makes his presence known throughout it all. As Craig said in his advance review, Cavanaugh is really good at playing Wells as believably unaware, but with just a hint of underlying nefariousness to everything — less than you’d notice on first viewing, but plenty you can see on multiple viewings. Wells’s (or Thawne’s) motivations are pretty straightfoward: he hates Barry and wants to get home. But Cavanaugh never plays him like anything less than a layered man. This is the villain who has come to care deeply for the STAR Labs crew, which is why his efforts to protect them have never come across as fictitious. But his ultimate goals are far too important to ever be overshadowed by the people he calls his family — to him, they’ve been dead for centuries — and after all, being at STAR Labs and helping Barry put out fires has simultaneously played into his ultimate goals. Exactly what those goals are is unclear, but it’s made explicit that he needs Barry to be a good Flash in order to get Wells/Thawne back home. As convoluted as the time travel shenanigans may be, it doesn’t really feel that way, because it’s all rooted in motivations that make sense and actions that are justifiable in the context of the season.
The same can be said for the ultimate trap Wells sets for the team — it seems kind of convoluted if you think about it, that he’d use Everyman to fake his death for a few moments to get extra time to kidnap Eddie (and maybe kill Iris if Flash hadn’t intervened.) But this is also a character that very clearly loves to taunt; he enters the hangar by leaning on the elevator with crossed legs in about the coolest “I’m going to murder you” pose possible, for example. All of his motivations are rooted in selfishness, and I think we can attribute his own ego to the joy he gets in tormenting his “friends.” It’s not unlike his infamously petty comic book iteration. We even get a reference to Reverse-Flash being around for Barry’s entire life, as Wells mentions watching him grow up as an unremarkable boy for years. Reverse-Flash is a total creeper, basically, and Cavanaugh is wonderful at playing that.
Grant Gustin as Barry is also extremely engaging in this hour. At times Barry’s traumatic past and determination conflicts with the optimism that’s made us fall in love with him, but much like “The Man in the Yellow Suit,” “The Trap” also strikes a delicate balance in tone for both the character and the episode. Barry is angry and obsessive, but he’s also incredibly smart about it all. This is Barry Allen at his best — someone who can play a little dirty to get what he needs, but whose goal is still rooted in getting his dad out of prison rather than getting revenge on Wells. Joe potentially killing Wells isn’t just dramatic because of the lack of confession, but because we know how much Barry needs that confession, because he has so much hope that it could work. It feels extra terrible when bad things happen to Barry, because bad things just shouldn’t happen to such a nice, hopeful guy.
“The Trap” is built on nearly everything we’ve seen on The Flash up to this point, with potential to collapse as much as it would be to succeed. But things have been built extraordinarily well throughout this season, so that even the worst aspects of the show can coalesce into something great. This isn’t just one of the season’s best (if not the best) because it utilizes the plot so well. It’s also an immensely thrilling hour of television in general, with surprising twists that are obscured enough to remain hidden, but make perfect sense in hindsight. It’s tense, fast-paced, and everyone brings their A-game. The show is no longer amping up towards the season’s endgame, we’re seeing it unfold before our eyes, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
Odds & Ends
- The lighting is very, very good throughout the episode, with strong use of shadows and close-ups, particularly in the flashback.
- Jesse L. Martin gets some good scenes in the flashback, but I really don’t like how his recent characterization recategorizes his overprotectiveness as a bothersome controlling attitude. That’s mostly because that plays him as old-fashioned in the worst way, when it comes to Iris. Eddie and Barry both thankfully call him out for it this week, sort of, but it’s definitely been a big hindrance on letting Iris work as a character.
- There’s a split second in the beginning of Eddie and Joe’s scene in Jitters where we see Eddie rehearsing what he’s going to tell to Joe. It’s really cute.
- Hey, look, Vibe sunglasses! But is the second layer Cisco wears over them supposed to be a reference to Captain Cold’s comic-style visors?
- Maybe I’m wrong here, but if Flash sucked all the air out the room to stop the fire…wouldn’t everyone lose consciousness because there’s no oxygen in the room?
- Let’s a get a Captain Singh wedding episode next season, please?
- “If we’re wrong about this and he is paralyzed, I’m going to hell for that one.”