Barry finds himself face-to-face with his nemesis, the man in the yellow suit — the Reverse-Flash — who killed his mother. Reverse-Flash taunts Barry by telling him they’ve done this before. Barry is frustrated when the Reverse-Flash escapes, but Dr. Wells and Cisco come up with a plan to trap him in a forcefield. All they need is bait, so they turn to Dr. Tina McGee from Mercury Labs, who Barry convinces (and essentially blackmails) to reluctantly give up her tachyon device prototype. Meanwhile, it’s Christmas at the West household and Iris is in full holiday cheer. Eddie asks her to move in with him, and she says yes. After meeting with his father and frustrated that he let Reverse-Flash go, Barry realizes that he’s been in fear of the man in yellow for his entire life, and based too many of his decisions on it. He decides to admit to one that’s still ongoing — he tells Iris he’s in love with her. Meanwhile, Caitlin finds Ronnie, and realizes he has become a metahuman, but is unable to take him home. Joe is present when Reverse-Flash is captured, as is Eddie, who twists Joe’s arm into letting the Flash Task Force tag along. Reverse-Flash proves to be more powerful than they thought, breaking out of the forcefield, nearly killing Dr. Wells, and taking down the entire task force. Flash stops him before he kills Joe, but Reverse-Flash proves to still be too powerful for him. Ronnie, going by Firestorm now, returns briefly and saves Flash, before flying away. Reverse-Flash escapes, too, leaving everyone without solid answers. Barry doesn’t mention anything else to Iris, and Joe tells Barry that he needs Barry Allen more than The Flash, his light in the dark. Cisco posits that there may have been two speedsters during Barry’s mother’s murder. In his secret room, Wells reveals that he has the Reverse-Flash suit, the tachyon prototype, and can modulate his voice.
A thing we’ve discussed time and time again about The Flash is its ability to excel so well without being bombarded with too much dramatic weight. Traumatic origin stories are abound with these characters, to be sure. But this is hardly a mopey, dark, or heavy show, and like I went in-depth about in “The Flash is Born,” it’s not one that pretends to be overly important either. Its self-awareness and embrace of what the show is remains its greatest strength: it knows it needs to be fun above all else, and can tell its story best when it’s not trying to be more artful than it’s capable of.
“The Man in the Yellow Suit” is tricky, then, because it’s tasked with reeling in all the dangling threads that could break that tone. This is an episode about fear and rage, confronting the worst parts of your life head-on and only getting more pain out of it. There’s a careful line to tread here, because going too light risks making the dramatic weight it does have fall flat, but packing too much Peter Parker-esque misery on Barry and his friends would undermine why the show works.
The way the episode gets around this is by going the old fashioned mystery route: answer some questions, but supplement all those answers with bigger questions. What results is an episode that isn’t reliant on huge revelations or dramatic turns, but rather a handful of confrontations that will move the show along to its next stage. There are no massive deaths or huge shifts in the status quo, necessarily, but there are quite a few relationships that have evolved, enough that the show will be different coming back from hiatus.
The best example, perhaps, is the “reveal” that Harrison Wells has been Reverse-Flash all along. Except, it’s not all that certain, is it? We’ve gotten the utmost of anvilicious teases, clues, and hints to Wells being the Big Bad, so a scene confirming it is so easy that it may be hard to believe. And yet, it’s not easy at the same time; the episode is carefully orchestrated to make sure both Wells and Eddie Thawne, the two candidates for Reverse-Flash, are directly confronted by the mystery villain. Smartly tying in the ongoing Flash Task Force subplot, Eddie not only gets to be face-to-face with Reverse-Flash, but he also becomes privvy the existence of metahumans in Central City. This, of course, pushes him closer to the mythology of the series…which could push him to becoming a Reverse-Flash-type character like his comic book inspiration. There’s time travel involved, remember; there’s no reason to think Reverse-Flash isn’t Wells or Eddie from the past or future, or one of their descendants or ancestors depending on who traveled to or from where. So in setting up that climactic confrontation at the forcefield, the episode provides evidence supporting and negating the true identity of Reverse-Flash.
The entire episode paints Reverse-Flash as a chilling menace, the nightmarish red eyes and his constant appearances in the shadows totally overcoming the bright yellow and blurry CGI. Reverse-Flash is meant to represent pure fear, and there’s clearly effort putting into overcoming a potentially goofy appearance. The added effect of lights always flickering or going out whenever he’s around certainly helps, and he’s at his most scary when he’s in the brilliantly rendered forcefield. It’s a safe bet that Tom Cavanaugh is voicing Reverse-Flash, as their speech patterns do line up fairly well on second viewing. But Wells is also the subject of Reverse-Flash’s most brutal violence, and only serves to make him even more scary than he already is. So, that even a seemingly straightforward reveal calls so much into question is a testament to how well these mysteries have been set-up. If these types of mysteries get strung along too long, the ambiguous non-answers will certainly be frustrating. But at episode nine, things have been paced out about as perfectly as possible, sometimes-grating Wells tags notwithstanding. The rich potential of this mystery is a bit mind-boggling, but damn if that doesn’t bring it above and beyond a typical whodunnit. Even when it seems as though we have a definite answer, there’s enough doubt that it’s hardly a confirmation.
Obviously, none of the other episode’s big developments are so heady, but they’re imperative nevertheless. Every narrative thread is a continuation of one started in the pilot, and each reaches a turning point. The second most exciting, behind the Reverse-Flash stuff, is Ronnie’s official return as Firestorm. For one, Iris’s blog finally comes into play in a direct, plot-driven way, as her records of the burning man lead Caitlin to finding Ronnie. This is mostly an introduction to that thread, but what works is how it ropes Caitlin and Cisco into the plot, nicely tying all of this season’s major threads into one neat handful of scenes. I’d have never expected to type “Firestorm blasts Reverse-Flash with his flames” so early in the show, but it certainly works. The effectiveness comes solely from how it affects Caitlin, and Cisco by proxy, and does so in a brilliantly subdued way. The Flash is hardly angsty, and with a character like Caitlin who’s far more emotionally stable than a typical CW character, her reactions are rooted in maturity and logic. Danielle Panabaker gets some of her best material in her tragic monologue about getting her one more minute with Ronnie, and it’s downright devastating.
The other subplot is the obligatory romantic one. But while it’s always hard to stack the romance against a larger superhero narrative, the reasons behind Barry’s actions with Iris are nicely intertwined with Reverse-Flash’s return. The root of Barry’s fear, Reverse-Flash dredges up pretty much every bad feeling Barry’s had since childhood, so much so that every decision in his life is connected back to that one bad day. It paints Reverse-Flash as one of the most important villains ever in Barry’s rogues gallery immediately, but also allows smaller character beats — Barry’s unrequited love for Iris — to suddenly take shape as a grander piece of the Barry Allen story. It’s too late for Barry to alter most of his life decisions, but he can get it off his chest to Iris, fruitless as it may be. It’s a dick move to be sure, considering Iris is in a committed relationship. But Barry is careful to admit this, and in no way forces himself on Iris or tries to convince her to leave Eddie, even as antagonistic as he’s been in his presence in the past. It still puts her in an awkward position, though, and surely this will affect Iris’s path from here on out. But, interestingly, there’s now some clarity in why the show risked the nigh-incestuous implications of their sibling relationship: Barry can feel more comfortable dropping these bombshells on Iris because of their familial connection. They know each other better than anyone else, and as such, their feelings are able to be exposed much more easily. It’s a rather strange relationship, and will probably never not be a little awkward, but it sets up a way to play out this kind of love triangle without Barry coming off as a jerk.
And of, course, there’s the other revelation that Barry may have seen two streaks instead of one — two speedsters present at his mother’s death. Time travel is the elephant in the room for these mysteries, but this is a particularly surprising wrinkle (even if it still finds itself somewhat rooted in the comics.) It’s another example of “The Man in the Yellow Suit” adeptly juggling its mysteries, allowing genuine movement without necessarily showing its hand too early. There’s a still over half a season to go, but we have a clear turning point for the larger story. With so much to digest until the show returns in January — and so much still left to explore — we’re at exactly the place this show needs to be.
Odds & Ends
- Amanda Pays makes her first appearance as Tina McGee, the same character she played on the 1990s iteration of The Flash, which I’m just about done reviewing for KSiteTV’s TV Flashback series. She’s essentially playing a colder version of her original character, perhaps what that version of Tina would have become had she never met that version of Barry. Either way, Pays immediately brings a different type of energy to the show, so it will be exciting to see what she’ll be doing further. Love that there’s an old promotional photo of Pays in the background of the Tina McGee profile Wells pulls up, too.
- I’m not a huge fan of teasers that flashforward to a climactic point later in the episode, and while this this particular case doesn’t spoil anything we weren’t already expecting, it’s still a little too easy.
- The opening Christmas scene does a nice job showcasing the familial warmth of Barry and the Wests. Barry’s “No promises” reaction to Joe telling them to leave him some of that “light on the bourbon” eggnog is great, as is Iris’s childlike giddiness at opening gifts.
- When Wells mentions tachyons, Joe hilariously reacts with an, “Of course.”
- Why is Caitlin using a cell phone light instead of a real flashlight while looking for Ronnie?
- Not sure if it will be constant, but there’s a nice musical motif for Firestorm whenever he appears that I hope will stick.
- Joe’s little speech about Barry being his “light” is very sweet. Jesse L. Martin is really good at those loving, emotional monologues.
- Wells has a Flash ring, which is just fantastic.
- Barry’s parents apparently told him “You’re never really alone in the dark,” which…I’m sorry, but those are terrifying words of comfort.
- “Then we need to get cracking and stop this speed psycho. …That…I wasn’t trying to give him a name.”
- “Yes and no.”
“That’s usually how things are with you, Harrison.”