Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Rushed Villainy: The Flash Lacks “The Sound And The Fury!”

The Good: Decent backstory fill-in, Acting is fine
The Bad: Character moments that fail to resonate, Generic villain-of-the-week story, Unimpressive adversary
The Basics: Hartley Rathaway is introduced as one of the least compelling villains for The Flash in “The Sound And The Fury.”

Sometimes, the trick to having high standards is keeping up with the expectations and pace of producing a smart show. Unfortunately, The Flash - which has, admittedly, gotten off to a wonderful start – seems to have some serious issues with consistency and maintaining the quality of the show. Thus, with almost every peak, comes a valley that bottoms out the show and forces the viewer to lower expectations. At least, The Flash does not keep its fans waiting long. This is the long way around saying that the latest episode, “The Sound And The Fury” is far (very far) from the best episode.

Almost entirely unrelated to the prior episode, “Revenge Of The Rogues” (reviewed here) – except that it pays off the reference to “Hartley,” who was alluded to when his wealthy parents were seen in the previous episode - “The Sound And The Fury” introduces popular The Flash villain Hartley Rathaway. Hartley is one of the more interesting characters in the DC Comics pantheon (save that the prominently gay character seems to reference his gayness either directly or through comments from others around him in virtually every issue he is in) and he has a compelling, redemptive arc in the books. As such, it makes sense that he would be introduced as an adversary. Unfortunately, in “The Sound And The Fury” he takes the form of one of the least-impressive, poorest-defined, most-generic villains the series has yet produced.

For that, I blame the writing. The Flash is not a lowbrow superhero story, so its audience should be treated with some respect and intelligence. Alas, in “The Sound And The Fury” the viewers are treated with neither and for that, the writers are to blame. The lack of respect to the viewers comes from creating a villain who is supposed to be exceptionally smart, but is not. Ironically, for a production studio that shares a lot with The Big Bang Theory (season seven is reviewed here!) and references the comedy, The Flash does not make use of the same writing staff or technical resources. In other words, the comedy, which fills-in-the-[tech]-blanks with appropriate jargon from experts, pays more attention to creating smart people than The Flash does and that is troubling.

After The Flash helps trap members of a motorcycle gang, Barry Allen returns to S.T.A.R. Labs to celebrate with his friends. He was guided on the mission by Harrison Wells. Going home, Barry finds Iris around and a phone message informs her that she got a new job offer at the Central City Picture News. That night, Harrison Wells is attacked in his home and the Central City Police and his team from S.T.A.R. Labs are called in. Flashback to Cisco’s first day on the job at S.T.A.R. Labs, where Dr. Wells is playing chess with Hartley Rathaway. Rathaway, who calls himself the Chosen One of Dr. Wells, is jealous of Cisco’s hiring and back in the present, Dr. Wells suspects the attack on his house was perpetrated by Rathaway.

Rathaway exposes himself almost instantly, attacking the company his grandfather built. In the resulting showdown, he is easily taken down by The Flash, but when he is brought in to S.T.A.R. Labs, he starts to expose Wells. Wells tells Dr. Snow and Cisco that Hartley warned him about the potential failure of the supercollider and Rathaway uses equipment embedded in his ear to break out of his cell in the Pipeline. Stealing secrets from S.T.A.R. Labs, along with his sonic wave gloves, Hartley escapes. And while Wells comes forward as having risked Central City, it is not enough for Rathaway and he creates an endgame to try to destroy The Flash as a dam in Central City.

“The Sound And The Fury” is hampered by two serious character problems. On the continuing character arc front, the Iris West storyline completely fails to land. West enters the snarky world of reporting/photojournalism where she meets her own generic adversary in the form of Mason Bridge. Mason takes up a pretty arbitrary dislike of West and when Iris covers the Harrison Wells press conference late in the episode, she is given a line to deliver to Mason that fails to land. In fact, it stands out as a terrible line that sounds more like a line than anything resembling organic dialogue. While it is a callback to a line delivered by Mason, the throwback seems especially contrived.

The other big character problem comes in Hartley Rathaway as a villain. Rathaway is supposed to be incredibly intelligent and he is written without real intelligence. Smart people tend to have: 1. More than one iron in the fire at any given time and 2. Plans that are more sophisticated than they simple. Rathaway exhibits an intelligence initially in having a plan that is not immediately apparent: he clearly wanted to get captured by the Flash. But his endgame is remarkably one-dimensional. The Pied Piper has an endgame that is based on the Flash using his super-speed to remove his sonic gloves. But the problem with the character is his whole plan hinges on that. He does not have any sort of back-up plan and that makes no sense for a character who is supposed to be smart.

You know what a smart person would do? He would have a secondary attack designed to save himself or achieve another goal. In the case of the plan the Pied Piper utilizes in “The Sound And The Fury,” Rathaway buys time by banking on the idea that The Flash will save people over the vehicles the Pied Piper flings off the dam. Those falling cars create explosions that weaken the dam. Once the Pied Piper is ungloved, The Flash is incapacitated. A smart person would have a back-up plan and a good one would have been any sort of self-destruct system that utilized the weakened superstructure of the dam. So, if I was a guy who knew that Harrison Wells would either have to expose his true identity or destroy my gloves remotely, I would make sure that whatever way the gloves could be destroyed remotely would result in more destruction. And, hey, that would fit the character of Rathaway, too. If Harrison Wells, in remotely deactivating the gloves, destroyed the dam that helped power Central City, it would continue to discredit Wells. That idea took me, literally, three seconds to develop. I should not be smarter than the super-genius super-villain on the show.

Barring that, a good writer could have used the same technique to give Rathaway an escape plan; the falling, exploding, cars are focused on enough to seem significant. A secondary plan that was the result of clever writing would have involved the idea that The Flash going to super-speed on the weakened dam would result in the dam breaking and The Flash being forced to choose between saving the lives of the people on the dam or capturing Rathaway. No such luck in “The Sound And The Fury.”

The Flash is based on a comic book series that comes the closest to defying the idea that one of the big differences between heroes and villains is that villains do not work together. In the comic book series The Flash, there are the criminals who conspire together, The Rogues. The Rogues have already begun assembling on The Flash and that’s cool. But in keeping fidelity to the source material, “The Sound And The Fury” weakens itself. This is an episode that creates a villain who has the potential to be smart enough to create his own villainous enterprise where enemies of The Flash could work together for an extended period of time and common purpose. Hartley Rathaway has an agenda and in the final moments of the episode, he is given a new escape plan. That escape plan is based on him getting caught a second time. That escape plan, though, is unnecessary because his idea precludes the necessity of him getting captured again. To be explicit, if Hartley Rathaway knows where to find Ronnie and how to stabilize him, the sensible and smart approach for such a person would be to approach Ronnie and get him to work alongside him to discredit Wells. “Hey, Ronnie, want to get some revenge on the guy who made you into a human fireball and robbed you of the chance to actually be with the love of your life? Let me help you . . . “

Harrison Wells has an awesome house, but it is utterly impractical for the character. Wells is a man hiding a big secret – and “The Sound And The Fury” completely undoes any ambiguity left from “The Man In The Yellow Suit” (reviewed here!) – so a big, beautiful house that is almost entirely made of glass makes no sense for the character. People who live their lives under the guise of a persona would not make a safe house where they are so exposed. For a guy who acknowledges that people keep coming to attack his home, Wells having a glass house only works as a plot device for this episode.

Ultimately, “The Sound And The Fury” fails to capitalize on any of the doors it opens in the episode. While it is a well-performed hour of television and the mini-arc in which Wells loses and regains Barry’s trust is decent, the bulk of the episode is less-developed and far less-smart than it ought to be. This is an unfocused episode that tries to do a lot, without doing any of it very well.

For other works with Tom Butler, please visit my reviews of:
The A-Team
The Score
”Colony” - The X-Files

[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!


For other television and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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