Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Harrison Wells Returns In "The Darkness And The Light!"

The Good: Tom Cavanagh's performance, Patty Spivot!!!,
The Bad: Continuity issues, Character sensibilities
The Basics: Tom Cavanagh's active return to The Flash is marred by serious issues in "The Darkness And The Light."

Every now and then, spoilers emerge from The Flash well before the show airs and I have done a pretty good job of avoiding them when they do pop up. However, when the title of "The Darkness And The Light" was dropped, virtually every outlet started namedropping Doctor Light. Before "The Darkness And The Light" the only memorable experience I had with the DC Universe's Doctor Light was as the referenced villain in the outstanding book Identity Crisis (reviewed here!). Identity Crisis explored how memory and memory wipes affected many of the heroes and villains in the DC Universe and the initiating incident was that the villainous Doctor Light raped the wife of a superhero. So, the idea of bringing Doctor Light into the DC Television Universe was an interesting one to me for the darkness it represented.

In "The Darkness And The Light," Doctor Light is both recast and nowhere near as clearly a villain as in Identity Crisis and the difference makes all the difference. More than the metahuman of the week story, the real power behind "The Darkness And The Light" is the substantive return of Dr. Harrison Wells. Dr. Wells rescued The Flash at the climax of "The Fury Of Firestorm" (reviewed here!), which left viewers with a ton of anticipation for "The Darkness And The Light." The anticipation was rewarded with a slightly mixed episode: the character elements are cool, but the plot is pretty straightforward and formulaic and there are niggling details that begin to overpower the narrative.

Opening eight months ago on Earth-2, Dr. Harrison Wells holds a press conference at S.T.A.R. Labs where he announces the development of a metahuman detector! The press conference is interrupted by The Flash, who blames Wells for creating the metahumans and the fear Zoom has inspired. Back in the present on our Earth (Earth-1), Barry brings Dr. Wells to S.T.A.R. Labs where he commits his resources to helping Barry Allen stop Zoom. Joe arrives and shoots at Wells, but is stopped by Barry. Barry and Cisco go to Jitters where Cisco tries to ask the barista out, but gets shot down. After that, he experiences a vision where he sees Dr. Light robbing a bank.

The Flash goes to the bank to stop Dr. Light, but is stopped. Returning to S.T.A.R. Labs, Dr. Wells identifies Dr. Light before Jay Garrick arrives and fights Wells over the approach to dealing with Light. The next time Dr. Light appears, The Flash encounters her, discovers she is the Earth-2 Linda Park, and is blinded by her [come to think of it, how the hell did Barry get back from the bank to S.T.A.R. Labs if he was blind?!]. While Garrick and Snow go out to protect Park, Barry goes on his date with Patty Spivot. When Iris manages to protect Park and Barry's super-healing restores his sight, The Flash goes off to thwart Doctor Light.

First and foremost, "The Darkness And The Light" is saddled with a hugely irritating substantive detail. At the point that the Earth-2 Harrison Wells comes into play, the team at S.T.A.R. Labs should be both smart enough and detail-oriented enough to be calling people by their names. What does that mean? Earth-1's Harrison Wells was killed before any of the characters from The Flash ever had the chance to meet him. They interacted with Eobard Thawne. Writers Ben Sokolowski and Grainne Godfree absolutely dumb down the precise, smart cast of scientists in "The Darkness And The Light" by having extended dialogue pertaining to Harrison Wells's relationship with Eobard Thawne. Of course Earth-2's Harrison Wells is entirely different from the Harrison Wells the cast interacted with last year; they were interacting with Eobard Thawne! Dr. McGee even confirmed it in the prior season when she said that after Tess's death, Wells changed into an entirely new man (which, unbeknownst to her, he literally did!). So, all the confusion within "The Darkness And The Light" about which Wells characters are talking about is utterly moronic; the S.T.A.R. Labs team should have been calling the one they interacted with Eobard Thawne long before now and by this time they absolutely should be making the distinction.

The devil is in the details and "The Darkness And The Light" gets a lot of them wrong, especially for interactions with Harrison Wells. The supposedly smart people from S.T.A.R. Labs are not behaving in a smart way. First off, when last seen in "The Fury Of Firestorm," Harrison Wells was interacting with The Flash. At the outset of "The Darkness And The Light," Barry Allen stands with Wells before Dr. Snow and Cisco. Missing there is a pretty significant scene where The Flash reveals himself to be Barry Allen to Wells. Call me stupid, but if I didn't trust the man, I wouldn't reveal my secret identity (or my mundane identity, in this case) to him. But barring that, none of the scientists at S.T.A.R. Labs catch some disturbing slip-ups from Wells as a result of the missing transition from Barry's transition from The Flash into Barry Allen. Wells tells the S.T.A.R. Labs team that he came over from Earth-2 to help Barry. Not The Flash, but Barry. Who is Barry Allen on Earth-2? He's not The Flash . . . so why would Wells come looking for him? The smart money is on the idea that the villainous Zoom is the Earth-2 Barry Allen, which is the only real way Wells would know that the Earth-1 Barry Allen was a speedster before he came through the corridor.

The other questionable aspect of "The Darkness And The Light" on the detail front is its continuity with The Flash. In the first season of The Flash, Eobard Thawne tells Harrison Wells the year Wells brought the particle accelerator online and he insists that he needed to make it happen sooner. Thawne, then, set about to creating the particle accelerator and purposely engineering the dark matter release to create The Flash and other metahumans. The Earth-2 version of Harrison Wells was not motivated by the same things as Eobard Thawne, so there's no reason he would not have developed the particle accelerator at the same rate at the Earth-1 Harrison Wells . . . and, like the Earth-1 Harrison Wells in the timeline before Eobard Thawne altered it, succeeded. In short, Earth-2 shouldn't have a Harrison Wells-developed particle accelerator and if it did, it should have worked without a hitch.

Such details are easy to overlook given the performance by Tom Cavanagh and the charming date scene between Barry Allen and Patty Spivot. Cavanagh gets the chance to mix things up with a more physical version of Harrison Wells than we've seen before and between that and his amped up level of sarcasm, it is easy to see why the actor was thrilled to come back to the show. Cavanagh plays well exceptionally well. So well that one has to assume that it is director Steve Shill has him telegraph his character's ultimate, menacing moment in "The Darkness And The Light." Cavanagh plays Wells as smart, overconfident and delightfully sarcastic; the only reason for the angry stare at the end and the sneer when he first says "Dr. Snow" is that on Earth-2, Killer Frost killed his wife.

"The Darkness And The Light" gets the relationship between Barry Allen and Patty Spivot off the ground exceptionally well. Their first date is a delight of cuteness and overt charm that steals much of the episode. Grant Gustin and Shantel VanSanten have amazing on-screen chemistry and they play it up for their date in "The Darkness And The Light."

What director Steve Shill and the writers get very right in "The Darkness And The Light" is making clear, without it being explicit, that Cisco's power is activated by some very negative emotions. He is hurt by rejection when he has a vision in jitters and Dr. Wells shoves Dr. Light's helmet into his chest (evoking memories of Thawne killing him in a similar way) when he is able to "see" Dr. Light's current location. That helps make his indifference to using his abilities make real sense. As well, it makes the scene where his abilities are outed all the more powerful.

"The Darkness And The Light" is very much a "necessary evil" episode. The episode properly introduces Kendra Saunders to the DC Television Universe and has the important relationships between Patty and Barry and the introduction of Wells, but it's mired in detail problems and is a pretty mundane metahuman of the week story otherwise. The result is a very average episode both on its own and in the overall continuity of the season and the series.

For the other works with Tom Butler, check out my reviews of:
The A-Team
The Score
"Colony" - The X-Files


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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