On Earth-2 eight months ago, Harrison Wells unveils a new metahuman detection app. Jay arrives, accusing Wells of causing the explosion that created Zoom and the metahumans and is profiting off of it. In the present on Earth-2, Barry brings Earth-2 Wells — who Cisco deems “Harry” — and he says he’s come to help them stop Zoom. They all, of course, have trouble trusting him — including Jay, who thinks Harry is just as manipulative and secretive as his Thawne counterpart. Meanwhile, Cisco prompts Barry to ask Patty out on a date and stop putting it off. Cisco, on the other hand, asks out the new barista at Jitters, and is shot down. Afterwards, he gets a vision of Doctor Light from Earth-2 robbing the bank. Jay and Caitlin share a moment and almost kiss, but Doctor Light interrupts on her way to fight The Flash. After Jay tells Barry that Light isn’t a killer and that he can reason with her, Barry tries to — only to discover that she’s the Earth-2 version of Linda Park. She blinds Barry in a flash of light, so badly that he won’t be able to see until the next day. He still wants to go on his date with Patty, though, so Cisco fashions him some video glasses and helps walk him through the proceedings. Patty figures out that Barry was blind — he claims his pupils were just dilated but he didn’t want to cancel — and she finds it charming.
Meanwhile, Doctor Light goes after Earth-1 Linda, realizing she had a counterpart when Barry let slip that he recognized her. She plans to kill Earth-1 Linda and take her place so Zoom can’t come after her. Iris fends her off with a gun gifted by Joe, but the editor is accidentally killed when he tries to jump Light, who then escapes. Barry and Patty are called to the scene, and Barry takes Doctor Light’s helmet back to the lab. Harry criticizes Jay’s plan for not working and says they need to figure out a way to use Light to lure Zoom over. He reveals that Cisco is a metahuman, thanks to his app, and forces Cisco to disclose his secret. Though his powers don’t immediately work, Harry forces Cisco to have a vision via Light’s helmet to track her down. With Harry’s help, Barry is able to use his speed to create after-images, confusing Light enough to take her out without her blinding him again. They take her back to the pipeline prison, and Barry says he plans to go with Harry’s plan to lure Zoom over. Jay doesn’t abide, still untrustworthy of Harry, and storms back to Earth-2. Back at Jitters, Cisco talks to the Barista, Kendra, again, and she says she was just overwhelmed because she was new to Central City and agrees to go on a date with him. Barry and Caitlin openly accept Cisco and his new powers, and help him come up with the name Vibe. Harry watches on. In the tag, we see that Zoom has Harry’s daughter captive.
Much like last year’s “Tricksters,” we have an episode of The Flash that crams in a slew of seemingly unrelated plots that could carry entire episodes, but manages to do so without feeling cluttered. “The Darkness And The Light” is another strong episode in a strong season, in this case because it has massive pay-offs — or at least substantial movement — on numerous ongoing threads.
For the first time, the effects of having a parallel universe are heavily felt right at the show’s core, and it’s about time. Yes, we’ve had the looming threat of Zoom and Earth-2’s villains, and some occasional glimpses into the parallel Earth. But the villains have more-or-less been standard Flash villain fare, and even the parallel Flash conveniently isn’t a direct double of Barry. Earth-2 is no longer just orbiting The Flash now, though, it’s making a landing right in the hearts, minds, and fears of the characters. And it’s awesome.
I’ll have to admit some bias here, because parallel universes are my #1 favorite sci-fi concept, so any time it’s handled even reasonably well yields extra points in my book. A major selling point of the concept is based in literal world-building, as having an offshoot of an Earth we’d be familiar with opens so many possibilities for social and political commentary and genuine human insights. That’s mostly what Star Trek or a big chunk of Sliders was preoccupied with, and it’s definitely the most attractive part of the concept for writers. The scarce little we’ve seen of Earth-2 has been extremely creative, but it’s hardly been the centerpiece of these stories.
What separates the parallel universe conceit from many other sci-fi concepts, though, is the possibilit for pointed character insights. What kind of effect would it have on your psyche if you met a version of yourself who, just because of slightly different circumstances and tweaks to history, is genuinely evil? What about seeing versions of your friends and family in a universe where you were never born? Or meeting another Earth’s living version of a dead family member? The questions are so meaty, and each and every one of us might react differently to the infinite situations the existence of infinite worlds would create. That’s the part TV shows don’t often capture as heavily — the best Sliders episodes were usually character-based in this sense, but were far and few between in favor of bigger sci-fi stories, even in a show about parallel universes. Fringe might have done it best in recent years, particularly when it featured Seth Gabel’s character trying (and failing) to figure out where his double’s timeline differed to make them so different. But even Fringe was often more preoccupied with building all the doubles as individuals, rather than reflections (though that certainly worked to that show’s benefit.)
All that’s to put The Flash‘s episode in context — like time travel, it’s taking on a classic sci-fi staple in the context of a superhero universe. “The Darkness And The Light” is a solid showcase for philosophical and character-specific quandaries prompted by parallel doubles, even if fleetingly. But much like how the time travel storyline in the first season worked because of its roots in emotional storytelling, this episode is most effective in how the doubles dig up and repurpose so much of the show’s history, and how it affects the characters presently because of it.
The obvious example is that of Harrison Wells — Wells the Sequel, Wells-2, Harry — whose very presence stirs contention and pretty much the entire first part of the episode’s title. Harry is almost literally in the shadow of Eobard Thawne’s Wells, to the point that he expects any character he meets to automatically have a vendetta against him. It’s darkly funny seeing every character spell out the specific wrongs Wells did to them, and makes a case for why he was such a fabulous villain in the first season. But Harry’s reaction is far from expected. He’s pragmatic and literal, carrying no guilt or responsibility for a man that isn’t him. He’s right, technically, as he shouldn’t be held responsible just because he shares a face and name of someone else. But that’s the tricky thing about parallel Earths — what, exactly, separates these people? If you believe in souls, do they share one? Or are they no more alike than fraternal twins raised in completely separate environments? While Linda complicates the question (which we’ll get to), Harry makes the question a little easier since the Wells our characters knew wasn’t even technically his real double — the convoluted history is hilariously recapped by Caitlin and Cisco to a dumbfounded and annoyed Harry in a very funny gag. But the questions are still there, regardless.
What works best about Harry is just how organically different he is from Harrison Wells. Tom Cavanaugh immediately grasps the nuances of this more arrogant and self-interested version of the character, enough that he can still play the dark side that made so fun without repeating the same beats. Eobard-Wells was a maniacal master manipulator, while Harry is — as Cisco puts it — just a dick. That makes sense, since this version of Harry still had the disastrous particle accelerator explosion, but without the nefarious intention of his Earth-1 counterpart. He probably had a big ego — which is why he activated it earlier than Earth-1 pre-Eobard Wells apparently did (remember that Eobard became Wells to make it happen earlier…because the timeline is convoluted like that.) Jay’s entire reasoning for not liking Harry is because he profited from the subsequent explosion rather than taking responsibility for it, which is exactly what an egocentric corporate type would do.
And, while the team doesn’t know this, we know the stakes are higher for him to get Zoom out of the way early, given his daughter is being held captive. Whether he’s working against Zoom to free her, or if his actions here are at Zoom’s behest to keep his daughter safe, remains to be seen. That all complicates this mess for the team — they know Harry isn’t the Wells they hate, but he’s also not a saint or even particularly likeable, and Jay warns them of his capacity for betrayal, too. Even if they get past the face to work with him, he’s still a really mean and potentially untrustworthy guy, and that’s such a frustrating conundrum that you wouldn’t blame the crew for throwing up their hands and sending him away.
Or if you’re like Joe, you can shoot him point blank on-sight. Again, this episode does a really nice job addressing just how much damage the original Wells did while presenting diverse reactions to the situation. Barry is cautious and reluctant, but still smart and logical. Joe just unloads a clip because, man, last year was rough for them and he’s done with this bullsh*t. He’s absolutely careless and not in the right, but you can’t exactly blame him for that reaction. Cisco has an interesting arc here, too, as he’s shown to have practically been traumatized by Wells — not just the vibrating-hand-in-chest thing, but how his powers have been tainted. It didn’t make a ton of sense that he’d be so adamant about keeping this relatively passive power a secret, he’d be keeping it a secret, so it’s good that it’s finally out. How it’s all revealed cleverly ties in Harry’s meta-detector app — which will surely come in handy later — while providing some funny anti-hints at Caitlin’s Killer Frost future. (She registers as not metahuman, and she even says “I don’t think any of us would become evil if we got powers,” which is on-the-nose but still lands.)
Meanwhile, Harry’s arrival reveals Jay to be a profoundly flawed hero, rather than the perfect serial hero he was initially presented as. Barry spent much of his first year overcoming his fear of Reverse-Flash, a point which he brings up, and that’s what Zoom has apparently been to Jay. The difference is that Jay has yet to overcome that fear, and in fact has only been more hindered by it now that he’s lost his speed. As much as Harry is a dick, he’s completely in the right about Jay — he really hasn’t been good enough at his job, and his methods haven’t worked. It’s intriguing that Barry is openly acknowledged as being more powerful than Jay, completely nixing any possibility of Jay being a primary father figure/mentor-type anymore. This is a frustrating hour for Jay — he doesn’t even get to have a moment with Caitlin without having the car flipped over — and it’s hard not to feel for him when he dips out for home. But the episode also makes a convincing argument for why Harry’s the one with the better ideas, even if he’s significantly more of — you guessed it — a dick.
Also to this point is Linda Park and her counterpart, the latter of whom is stunningly revealed as the episode’s villain, Doctor Light. It’s a wild decision for the show, considering Linda has only scarcely been seen since the middle of last season. But it’s important in that it keeps the world feeling big — these characters go on with their lives even while the spotlight isn’t on them — and it’s good that Linda doesn’t just disappear because she’s not dating Barry anymore. It also gives Malese Jow a step up in material, and she delivers. Her Doctor Light isn’t exactly sinister, but she’s serviceable as a standard baddie. Except she’s not, and she’s the first of these Earth-2 hostage-villains that truly feels desperate. Her displacement and the threat of Zoom drives her to become a murderer against her own will — though it seems a little silly that she’d be so terrified of Zoom, but think that simply killing her double and presumably taking over her life would keep her hidden from him. Either way, it leads to a surreal confrontation for Linda — which traumatizes her, as seeing yourself trying to murder you with starlight probably would — and a great showcase for the show’s supporting characters. Iris shows some badassery in shooting off Light’s helmet, and even a minor editor character gets to make a heroic sacrifice.
And that leads to a hidden triumph of the episode — all three of Barry’s primary love interests are in the same room, and no one is side-eyeing each other or catfighting over Barry! In all seriousness, that Iris, Linda, and Patty all end up together because of a plot point centered on Linda (technically Light was there because of The Flash, but indirectly) and it’s not purposefully awkward or about them being competing romances is a nice accomplishment for a CW show. In fact, this is an episode that has Iris and Linda complementing each other’s abilities, Iris saving Linda, and Iris practically forcing Barry to go out on a date with Patty. Props to the episode for giving the women who all started out as love interests for Barry a slew of unique things to do.
And about that date — as much as the set-up and overflowing meet-cutes pushing Barry and Patty together has been inconsistent, their literal blind date really does sell the two as the couple. Shantel VanSanten is a winner here again, encapsulating the geeky charm of Felicity Smoak, but with a street smart and confident edge. She even acknowledges loving the wacky metahuman stuff, which is such a relatable reaction for we nerds who would love more fantastical surroundings. The blind Barry storyline, which could have easily been the entire premise of an episode, is boiled down to a charming extended gag, and a way to let Patty be a decent detective. And frankly, it works wonders — Grant Gustin, Carlos Valdes, and VanSanten all have spot-on timing, and while the sequence is cheesy in a teen comedy sort of way, it’s an earnest lightheartedness that the episode needs. Regardless of where the show goes from here, this is a very good, fun first date, and it’s an interesting choice for the show to not try to ruin it for the sake of drama. Barry and Patty look very compatible for the first time, and all it took was letting them just hang out and laugh with each other rather than trying to force it.
That’s but one of many changes this episode makes, and they’re all for the better. As per usual, things are moving at a brisk pace, but with ample left to explore. We still haven’t seen the Earth-2 counterparts of any main characters — another reason the choice to have Linda as sort of an “introductory double” storyline is smart — and the more we see of Earth-2 and its effects on the characters, the better.
Odds & Ends
- A subplot here has Cisco asking Kendra Saunders, aka Hawkgirl, out on a date. We all know she’s going to be doing some great things eventually, but right now it’s hard to get a read on her. Cisco getting turned down and then being allowed to ask her out again is mostly filler in the episode, but it’s nice that Cisco gets a happy ending.
- Still undecided on what to call Earth-2 Harrison Wells, but considering Cisco basically okayed this use of “Harry” this week, I’ll go with it until that changes.
- It seems that in the Art Deco style of Earth-2, people are wearing hi-tech wristwatch devices in lieu of smartphones. I quite like the idea that Earth-2 is basically how people in the 50s predicted the future would be. These details are wonderful, and a full-episode detour into Earth-2 would be welcome.
- Harry calling Cisco “Crisco” is the funniest joke in the episode.
- Cisco is a master inventor of so many wonderful gadgets, but his camera glasses are in black and white?
- Barry learns the after-image/speed-mirage thing Wells did a few times last season, and uses it in a way you might expect to see in a hologram-based villain, like Mirror Master and even Doctor Light has been portrayed at times.
- Cisco is officially going by Vibe, now! This is a big deal!
- “I’ll go fill in Iris” is never something you’d have heard Joe say in the first season.
- “Science stuff…science…to stuff out.”