Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Flash Recovers Its Footing When It Asks "Who Is Harrison Wells?" (My 7000th Review!!!!!)

The Good: Decent plot, Good character development, Special effects
The Bad: A few obvious technical gaffes, Problematic final scene, Arrow fans are robbed of an important moment.
The Basics: "Who Is Harrison Wells?" makes The Flash exciting and watchable once again!

It's been a Marvel intensive week for me, whatwith the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 trading cards (reviewed here!) and Daredevil Season 1 (reviewed here!) being released. But given the mediocre quality of the prior few episodes of The Flash, I was not exactly eager to jump back into the DC "Cinematic" Universe. Fortunately, "Who Is Harrison Wells?" seems determined to put the mediocrity and awfulness of the prior pair of episodes. A more subtle crossover than "All Star Team Up" (reviewed here!), "Who Is Harrison Wells?" progresses the mysteries surrounding the elusive scientist Harrison Wells.

"Who Is Harrison Wells?" works a strong serialized plot focusing on the investigation into Harrison Wells with the pretty standard "Metahuman Of The Week" storyline that defines the episodic portions of The Flash. The nature of the metahuman - a shapeshifter going by Everyman - makes for some unfortunately predictable scenes and reversals that the episode's writers fail to innovate with. But, outside a few fairly minor gaffes on the directing side and a lack of real innovation on the writing front, "Who Is Harrison Wells?" makes The Flash exciting and worth watching again.

Cisco and Joe prepare to go to Starling City to find whatever they can about the time Harrison Wells spent there, when Dr. Caitlin Snow rejects helping the small group that is investigating him. A bank robbery in Central City leads Eddie Thawne to suspect that the perpetrator of the robbery is able to influence minds or take on other shapes when the robber's alibi seems incredible strong (and the crime is entirely uncharacteristic of her). Barry and Eddie trace the history of wrongly convicted people in Central City back to Hannibal Bates, which leads to a chase in which it appears Thawne shot two police officers. Bates is the shapeshifter and he is able to appear as anyone he touches, which makes Barry fearful of being touched by him (because it might reveal to Bates that he is the Flash). Barry is able to find some evidence to exonerate Eddie, but then (rather stupidly) falls victim to the shapeshifter.

In Starling City, Joe and Cisco work with Detective Lance to investigate the scene of Wells' accident decades prior. Cisco discovers tachyons at the site and there, they dig up a corpse with Cisco quickly identifying the body as that of the actual Harrison Wells. Back at S.T.A.R. Labs, the shapeshifter learns from Dr. Snow about a serum that will stop him. Iris arrives, recognizing an inconsistency with the video footage of Eddie and Harrison Wells is actually able to stop the shapeshifter. While the S.T.A.R. Labs team and Iris work to exonerate Eddie, Cisco comes up with the evidence that proves that Wells is not who he says he is.

"Who Is Harrison Wells?" has an interesting balance of amusing moments that work incredibly well and eye-rolling moments that genre fans are likely to loathe. Hannibal Bates as Barry Allen hits on Dr. Snow and the incredibly awkward moment Snow experiences is hilarious to watch. "Who Is Harrison Wells?" has one of Danielle Panabaker's better performances on The Flash has she has body language that perfectly embodies discomfort and eye movements that are hilarious.

Director Wendy Stanzler presents a rather unremarkable take on a shapeshifter suspense episode, though she gives the bulk of the cast a chance to do fight scenes with Grant Gustin (The Flash). That's fun to watch. But Stanzler has poor attention to detail; seconds after Barry takes Dr. Snow from Wells's house, Snow and Wells are assisting the Flash from S.T.A.R. Labs. Stanzler cannot take all the blame for the episode's shortcomings. Fans of Arrow (which, to date, I am not) are likely to feel cheated by "Who Is Harrison Wells?" as Black Canary gets an essential piece of her costume/tech in this episode, as opposed to on Arrow. As well, it seems like the big moment of reconciliation for whatever problems Quentin and Laurel Lance have comes in an episode of The Flash.

Moreover, the episode's final sequence is somewhat ridiculous. Cisco's ability to find the secret room at S.T.A.R. Labs makes perfect sense and it is pretty easy to buy his explanation for why he did not find it before, but how Barry, Cisco and Dr. Snow get access to it is utterly ridiculous. How could a man as smart as "Harrison Wells" not have the secret, hidden room that requires a handprint to access have it biometrically sealed to only his DNA or handprint is utterly ridiculous.

Ironically, in one of the episodes that does the most travel and uses the whole cast fairly well, the high point might well be an intimate scene between Joe and Harrison near the climax of the episode. Tom Cavanagh and Jesse L. Martin play a conversational scene with such timing and subtlety that the rising tension between their characters is palpable. So little is said and so much is done in undertones that the genius of the moment is that it manages to create such tension! The scene is so strong and sets up such excitement for the next episode that it is almost enough to forget the obvious reversal with the shapeshifter when Barry and Eddie visit Hannibal Bates's grandmother.

The performances in "Who Is Harrison Wells?" are good, with Panabaker standing out for being the best. This is not a high-emotion episode of The Flash, but actresses like Panabaker and Candice Patton are given the chance to do more physical acting than usual. And they rise to the challenge quite well.

The result is an episode that makes The Flash well worth watching again. Viewers may already know who Harrison Wells is, but "Who Is Harrison Wells?" makes the process of the characters learning the truth exciting.

For other works with shapeshifters, check out my reviews of:
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"I Will Face My Enemy" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

[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 episode and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page!

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