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I feel like I’ve said all I need to say about The Flash at this point. Just when I thought we were past one of the most frustrating storylines of Season 2, this week’s episode provided a completely unnecessary epilogue to Patty being left out of the loop, with dialogue that ignored how close Barry came to telling her his secret in “Potential Energy.” As if it wasn’t clear already, the show is really struggling to fill its 23-episode season with meaningful material, which is somewhat surprising given how much time was allocated for Legends of Tomorrow tie-ins.
In any case, let’s get down to it. There is no good reason why the show awkwardly avoided telling Patty Barry’s secret for so long, only for her to figure it out herself. The way the show treats the Flash’s identity with so many other characters already makes it hard to justify him taking a stand with someone he supposedly loves, but saving this realization so that Patty and Barry could share the smallest bittersweet moment was a huge letdown. The episode’s saving grace was that it was so busy with Francine dying, Jay dying, Cisco “dying,” and the Reverse-Flash returning that it didn’t emphasize the Patty-Barry drama too much, but the episode’s overcrowding meant that every storyline felt unimportant and trivial.
To expand on how busy the episode was, the Reverse-Flash’s return was almost a foot note – even to the characters. It would have been annoying for Team Flash to have the same reactions they did when Harry arrived on Earth-1 earlier in the season, but their muted responses to the actual Reverse-Flash served as a reminder that those scenes pushed drama at the expense of characterization (#JoeShootingHarry). Meanwhile, the idea of Team Flash giving Reverse-Flash his destiny was pretty cool, but I was disappointed that they didn’t go further with the concept. Instead of Barry planting the idea to kill his mother (ugh) or Cisco giving Eobard information on how he got his powers and who built the pipeline (ugh…), why didn’t the showrunners have a wet-behind-the-ears Eobard come to the present (one who eventually gains his hatred for the Flash)? Perhaps too much territory to cover in one episode (all they could afford because of Zoom being their focus this season), but their unwillingness to give Eobard time to have a lasting impact on the series took away from the threat he posed in Season 1.
However, that’s not to say that I think Barry should have had a hard time defeating his former foe. I was really pleased that Barry was able to dispatch the Reverse-Flash with ease, but I was disappointed they didn’t relate this victory to Zoom in some way. The Flash has been preoccupied with a very nebulous goal of making Barry faster for much of Season 2, but it’s done a poor job of demonstrating each time this happens. Either through a comment Cisco makes or through Eobard’s disbelief that he could be defeated so easily, the Reverse-Flash’s return would have been a great way of showing us (and Barry) just how far the Flash has come.
Barry was almost the dumbest person in this episode by literally giving Reverse-Flash the idea to kill his mom (I can’t with this show), but Cisco telling Reverse-Flash his name, in addition to revealing his face, was just so frustratingly stupid. It would have been a different situation if they realized they had to send him back to the future to save Cisco, forcing them to stifle their emotions and tell him all these details about his history. But having the characters ignore Harry’s warning about messing with the timeline continues the show’s problem with advancing plot ahead of character.
The fact that Cisco didn’t get a limitation on his ability to vibe speaks to another of the show’s issues: presenting convenient plot devices and then forgetting about their existence. The Flash has already failed to re-use the algorithm Harry pulled out of thin air to find Grodd, but Cisco’s power to locate a villain is something we wouldn’t so easily overlook. When he wiped his nose with a tissue as Harry looked on, I thought they were trying to say that using his goggles had side-effects. But it seems unlikely (and silly) for the show to say that him being erased from history wasn’t the only cause of his problems in “The Reverse-Flash Returns.” Also, I thought we already knew his vibes were visions of the future?
With its competing plotlines preventing much from going wrong, “The Reverse-Flash Returns” was a marginal improvement over last week’s abysmal episode. But the further we get in the season, the fewer excuses I have for the way the story continues to be mishandled. Hunter Zolomon’s introduction is the only thing the episode actually needed to achieve, and though I’m not quite as hopeful in the show’s ability to turn itself around as I was a few months ago, I really want them to use the character as a way of re-focusing us on Season 2’s real villain: Zoom.