Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Not All Is Revealed By "The Man In The Yellow Suit!"

The Good: Great character moments, Most of the acting, Moments of theme
The Bad: Some of the performances
The Basics: “The Man In The Yellow Suit” propels The Flash forward quite a bit, while leaving enough reasons to return after the show goes on hiatus for a few weeks!

Since The Flash began, no question has preoccupied fans as much as which character would develop into the Reverse Flash, arguably the most powerful and intriguing villain in the Flash pantheon. While those who read the books have thought the answer was obvious with Eddie Thawne sharing the last name of the original Reverse Flash, theories have flown around fandom as to who might be revealed as the Reverse Flash. The most popular theory seems to have been that Dr. Wells, the mentor for Barry Allen would be the Reverse Flash, whatwith his already-established time-travel abilities (Wells comes from the future) and his mentoring the Flash (the second Reverse Flash idolized the Flash and wanted to make Wally West into a better hero, believing that tragedy was the key to doing that). Those who are considering longer arcs have supported the idea that Thawne would turn into the Reverse Flash, given that he is being built up to lose almost everything by The Flash/Barry Allen. And there has always been the potential that the Reverse Flash would be a new, random element. “The Man In The Yellow Suit” begins the process of answering the question of who the Reverse Flash is. I write “begins the process” because more skeptical viewers will note that only one aspect of the identity was conclusively proven: the identity of the man who made the yellow suit.

That is not me, as a reviewer and fan, either living in denial or being particularly dense: the big reveal at the end of the episode was hardly conclusive, except for revealing who created the Reverse Flash’s suit. On a series where the dead do not stay dead (Ronnie Raymond, thought dead since the first episode, but teased in “Arrow Vs. Flash, reviewed here, plays a prominent role in “The Man In The Yellow Suit”), it is very much not out of line to believe that there is more than meets the eye at the climax of this episode (even though there is more than the yellow suit and its apparent occupant standing before it, speaking in a voice that is altered). Regardless, I shall not spoil the reveal in this review!

A day before the Flash finds himself in a race against the Reverse Flash, Barry gives Iris a very special gift; a replica of her dead mother’s ring, which was lost on a school trip years before. There is a break-in at Mercury Technologies, one of S.T.A.R. Labs’s competitors, perpetrated by a speedster in a yellow suit. While Joe West starts to investigate with Barry, Caitlin Snow comes face to face with her lost fiancé, Ronnie Raymond. When Ronnie bursts into flame in front of her, she turns to Cisco to help her find him. Dr. Wells theorizes that the Reverse Flash was looking for one of Mercury Labs’s prototypes that involved the use of tachyons. Appealing to Dr. McGee for use of the prototype to lay a trap for the Reverse Flash, the Central City Police Department finds McGee reticent to help. After Eddie gives Iris a key to his house and clues Iris into the idea that Barry might have a romantic attraction to him, Iris confronts Barry and Barry denies his true feelings for her.

But a race against the Reverse Flash and a trip to Iron Heights change everything for Barry. Leveraging his scientific knowledge against McGee, Barry gets her to release the prototype to S.T.A.R. Labs. When Caitlin and Cisco encounter Ronnie, Dr. Snow is shaken and confesses that his return was not all she hoped it would be.

“The Man In The Yellow Suit” features a lot of character work and it has a decent amount of moments where actors are given a chance to present a lot of emotion. This is an episode filled with tears. Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, and Jesse L. Martin each have moments that require their characters to cry. The only one, sadly, who does not nail it, is Panabaker. While it might seem like I take a number of digs at Danielle Panabaker’s acting, the sad truth is that while she is an expert at getting through the show’s technobabble, the presentation of human emotions is not her forte. Sure, she manages to cry on cue in “The Man In The Yellow Suit,” but the rest of her face remains unaltered; she shows no emotion other than the tears and in her lines. My point is that Panabaker (whose character seems ridiculously attired in high heels, despite working in a lab, through no fault of Panabaker’s) consistently plays Snow with little emotional range, even when the script calls for it. “The Man In The Yellow Suit” certainly calls for it.

Fortunately, Panabaker’s performance does not work to the serious detriment of “The Man In The Yellow Suit.” The character interactions in the episode are almost universally wonderful. Outside a slightly soap opera-esque between Joe and Eddie and the fact that when Snow and Cisco confront Ronnie he insists he is not Ronnie and neither think to ask “Who are you?,” “The Man In The Yellow Suit” pays off some big emotional moments. The big moment, of course, is Barry confessing his feelings to Iris. Instead of belaboring the point for years and years and beginning a long “will they or won’t they” series of events, “The Man In The Yellow Suit” has Barry being emotionally honest with Iris and it is one of the most impressive and deeply human moments of the entire series to date.

Fortunately, the confession is not the only big moment for Barry Allen. The scene where Allen and his father talk about the past and Henry’s incarceration leads to both character growth and a larger theme for the episode. “The Man In The Yellow Suit” is all about confronting and conquering fear. That scene motivates Barry to be honest about his feelings to Iris and it plays out beautifully. It also serves as a nice foil to the Snow/Ronnie plotline.

Perhaps the most subtle bit of character development in “The Man In The Yellow Suit” comes for Cisco. Cisco Ramon is arguably the coolest character in The Flash and he is well-played by Carlos Valdes. In “The Man In The Yellow Suit,” Cisco becomes the first one to explicitly cross the mental finish line and make the leap just short of saying explicitly “time travel was involved in the death of Nora Allen.” That is pretty cool and illustrates that Cisco is smart and imaginative.

While it becomes clear upon rewatching that S.T.A.R. Labs could not just claim that they had the tachyon generator without actually possessing it, there are still a few problematic aspects to “The Man In The Yellow Suit.” Chief among them is Dr. Snow. Snow is a medical doctor and I’ve been lobbying for the idea that she is in on the ruse that Dr. Wells is playing (he appears in a wheelchair, despite being able to walk). That supposition becomes hard to support after “The Man In The Yellow Suit;” she operates on the wounded Wells and there is no scene where she asks him anything about why he did not blow his cover to defend himself against the Reverse Flash. This, however, undermines her character; if she is not in on Wells’s deception, she seems to be a pretty lousy doctor. Here, Snow operates on Wells, clearly something she would not do without the aid of the sophisticated medical equipment S.T.A.R. Labs possesses. That being the case, the choices are now down to: she is a lousy doctor (in that she completely fails to notice that there is no medical reason for him to be in a wheelchair and/or that his leg muscles have not atrophied over the year he has supposedly been paralyzed) or she is in on Dr. Wells’s ruse. Similarly, tachyons – a faster-than-light theoretical particle – are introduced to The Flash, without their potential ability to move backwards in time being brought up.

Despite the potential reveal of the identity of “The Man In The Yellow Suit” hinging mostly on a voice modulation (it’s hard to deny that the mundane form of the man sounds a LOT like the Reverse Flash), the motivation of the “villain” makes a lot of sense, at least to those who read The Flash. The second incarnation of the Reverse Flash, as written by Geoff Johns (who is an executive producer on the show) is motivated by the desire to make the Flash into a better hero by bringing him tragedy and eliminating distractions. That explanation explains why the Reverse Flash lets Eddie live (so his relationship with Iris might progress and keep Barry and Iris apart), why the Reverse Flash tries to kill Joe West, and why the Reverse Flash lets Barry live. Unfortunately, the supposed identity of the Reverse Flash makes no sense for those who see where the series is going. The first episode made it clear that The Flash is moving toward the story Crisis On Infinite Earths (reviewed here!). Unfortunately, the Flash’s part in that storyline was the heroic redemption of Barry Allen after his tragic fall . . . after Barry Allen killed the Reverse Flash and was put on trial in The Trial Of The Flash (reviewed here!). The unfortunate aspect of twisting the story of The Flash in this way is that it becomes psychologically unsatisfying; the Reverse Flash is characterized as a villain who is grooming the Flash to save our universe from the collapse of the multiverse . . . that’s hardly villainous.

It’s also the best argument in favor of the idea that the reveal at the end of “The Man In The Yellow Suit” is just a red herring. Either the Reverse Flash is not a villain whose murder will leave Barry Allen feeling like he has nothing left to lose (he can’t both be murdered and return to the past to mentor Barry Allen) or the creation of the yellow suit is one person’s work, but that work is co-opted by another. In other words, “The Man In The Yellow Suit” does what wonderful television ought to do; it answers significant questions and moves the characters forward without giving everything away. There is certainly enough in “The Man In The Yellow Suit” to insinuate that what follows will be compelling and worth waiting for!

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into The Flash - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!


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© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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