There’s so much going on in the Return of the Reverse-Flash it’s honestly surprising that it doesn’t collapse. However, thanks to intelligent management of both plot points and themes, the episode carefully navigates any story pitfalls without losing quality or sacrificing the gravitas of the turmoil that the episode has to offer.
“This is his origin story, and it’s going to happen no matter what you do.”
The Return of the Reverse Flash brings back Eobard Thawne as the villain, but in a twist returns Matt Letscher to the role. The reasoning is incredibly simple, but the uncanny situation adds a unique conflict that takes full advantage of the incredible sci-fi world of the Flash. There’s a scene in which Tom Cavanaugh’s Harrison Wells lays out the hard truth behind the Reverse-Flash’s purpose that captures the sheer frustration that Barry experiences as he comes face to face with his greatest enemy once again. The biggest surprise is Matt Letscher as a proper Eobard Thawne. We’ve seen very little of his interpretation of the character in the first season, but when faced with the monster of the week duty, he delivers in spades. His calm and polite demeanor only serves to provide a dark mirror to his angry outbursts in his conversations with Barry, making them the perfect way to channel his true feelings about the Flash. In many ways, The Return of the Reverse-Flash could be considered the true end of season one. There’s closure, but like real closure it’s devestatingly anticlimactic and bittersweet.
“It would have been nice to stay.”
Despite Barry’s own turmoil with the return of his mother’s killer, he also attempts in vain to juggle his feelings about Patty’s news. The absence between the two characters in this episode speaks volumes to the struggling end of their relationship. Gustin delivers a cold performance that plays tragically off of VanSanten’s own tearful farewell. It’s one thing to be the good guy, but it’s quite another to be able to handle disappointment with grace. Barry doesn’t deal with the breakup well, and it creates a relatable atmosphere as he teeters between bitterness, anger, and sadness. Meanwhile, Patty is unable to just shut off her inquisitive mind when she gets a giant puzzle piece to Barry’s secret that she’s unable to resist chasing down. This ties in to the tragedy of the separation, because it’s so easy to speak from the outside against Barry’s reasons, but Gustin sells them with sincerity and as each passing moment pushes Patty farther and farther away, it only adds to the tragic course their relationship has to take.
The Adventures of Harry and Cisco
The Return of the Reverse-Flash starts out as the team tries to come up with yet another plan to combat the terror of Zoom, but thanks to a fateful vibe by Cisco, a more immediate threat comes to light in the Reverse-Flash’s return to Central City. Now sometimes I would say Cisco’s ability acts as a Deux ex Machina to keep the plot moving forward and clue characters to specific goings on behind the scenes that they couldn’t have figured out otherwise. Instead, there’s enough focus put on Cisco refining his abilites (with Harry’s help) that it doesn’t feel like a cop-out as the exploration of the extent of his abilities is expounded upon in an interesting way that pays homage to his comic book counterpart by bringing back his distinctive glasses. With all the positive things that Cisco’s vibing ability does, it’s easy to see the negative reprecussions as the glimpses are simply pictures or dioramas with a disjointed location that must be uncovered through good old fashioned detective work (kind of like the Pre-Cogs in Minority Report). There’s even an actual physical downside to his using his abilities so recklessly that we finally see when the question of time-travel becomes so prevalent. This acts as a catalyst for Harry’s ambition to be filtered through, creating a visual metaphor to the lengths his character would go to just to stop Zoom.
Iris and Wally say goodbye.
As someone who has experienced personal loss recently, I’ve been educated on just how quickly a bad situation can turn worse. So anyone who thinks that Francine’s sudden hospitalization is too abrupt after her very recently being introduced. Yes, it really is like that. One week things will seem okay, and the next you’re being encouraged to start saying goodbye. That’s the greatest struggle of Wally and Iris attempting to deal with their grief, and the different ways in which they express all the complex emotions they have toward Francine. I related to Wally’s predisposition to throw himself in to his work, in order to maintain a sense of control. Despite not having the action of any of the other storylines on display in this episode, this one carried its fair share of emotional weight, enough to bring Iris and Wally together for future episodes. Wally’s character is starting to improve from a lackluster introduction, with storylines and themes that fit his rebellion with a more nuanced motivation than the cookie-cutter rebellious teen that we saw in the last episode. It also opens up a new dynamic for Candice Patton as she slips comfortably in to the big sister role, a much more commanding and uncompromising but ultimately rewarding part for her character to fill.
There’s closure here, but it’s not everything it’s cracked up to be. The understated way that everything ends fits the story, themes, and emotional turmoil that’s so prevalent during the episode. Each character receives a worthwhile emotional arc and Reverse-Flash really wows as a villain. All of this is vague, but as a fan of the series, I was easily able to keep up with why this episode was so chocked full of emotional milestones. To get the full effect, The Return of the Reverse-Flash needs to be watched and experienced first-hand.
The Return of the Reverse Flash gets a 9.2/10. It’s density that almost breaks this one, but intelligent structuring ends up saving it. The emotional journey is an extension of The Return of the Reverse-Flash’s brilliant planning, great acting, and characterization.