The Good: Decent performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Scientifically bogus, Slow plot, Crams a lot of characters in (poorly).
The Basics: While viewers might be exccited about "The Reverse-Flash Returns," the result is less-than-stellar.
This year, I've had a lower tolerance for devoting my time to things that do not grab me. For example, my devotion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and reviewing all of its contents) ended abruptly when I realized I missed the first two episodes of the new season of Agent Carter. Faced with the decision of whether or not to play catch-up or let it go, I decided not to waste my time on the program I was already biased against. Fortunately, The Flash still grabs me and it is not about to lose me even for a less-impressive episode. "The Reverse-Flash Returns" is an unimpressive episode, though it works to resolve several lingering plot threads.
"The Reverse-Flash Returns" picks up right after "Potential Energy" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without some references to the prior one and first season episodes. The episode follows up on the capture of the Turtle and his murder and works to progress Jay Garrick's story while wrapping up loose ends with Francine West and Patty Spivot. The episode has a lot of work to do and it neglects any sort of direct conflict with Zoom with a divergent story involving Cisco's vibing and the return of the first-season nemesis, Eobard Thawne.
Opening with Barry Allen running away from his problems with Patty (literally) by running around as The Flash to solve crimes around Central City, Barry suddenly finds himself trying to rescue the city from a truck filled with explosive chemicals. The runaway truck is a trap from Thawne who has arrived in 2016 and is now nailing down an origin time for The Flash. When the Turtle is found dead and Cisco hits a wall with trying to seal the ruptures in time and space around Central City, Wells dresses up as the Reverse-Flash to scare Cisco into using his vibe powers. When that happens, Cisco realizes that the Reverse-Flash is alive and the team's priorities change.
When Eobard Thawne abducts Dr. McGee, Cisco and Wells work together to find him. While Iris visits her dying mother, which leads her to contact Wally and get him to visit her, Wells develops Cisco's dream vision glasses to make it possible for him to vibe more reliably. Using them, Team Flash discovers that Thawne will kill McGee in his attempt to return home. But thwarting his plan has an unintended consequence; Cisco's body becomes unstable and he begins phasing in and out of reality. Barry must learn to let go of Thawne to save Cisco.
"The Reverse-Flash Returns" is a mess of loose-ends being tied up and established and it plays much more like a soap opera than prior episodes of The Flash. Because there is so much going on on the plot front - there are at least four distinct plotlines, not all of which converge - none of the plotlines allow the characters to breathe and truly develop. Instead, "The Reverse-Flash Returns" feels like the story was put together by a shotgun approach, attempting to service so many disparate parts.
The relationships in "The Reverse-Flash Returns" are all pulled at with the idea of letting go, save the relationship between Wells and Ramon and Iris and Wally West. But Barry belabors letting go of Thawne and Spivot, Iris must let go of her mother and even Dr. Snow is compelled to surrender her hope for saving Jay Garrick's life. There is an agonizing quality to watching Barry lie to Spivot, especially as she is proven to be exactly as smart as viewers hoped. Given the new information that Barry works with S.T.A.R. Labs from time to time, Spivot is able to quickly piece together that Barry is The Flash and when she confronts him directly, it is a frustratingly-bad scene.
Moreover, while the introduction of Wally West is being handled with a surprising amount of realism, it is making for incredibly dull television. For an entire season, viewers lived with the idea that Iris's mother was dead and that was fine; belaboring the death of Francine West plays as melodrama, as opposed to anything compelling.
Also frustrating is the actual execution of the return of the Reverse-Flash. The death of Eddie Thawne made perfect sense; killing himself erased Thawne from the timeline because there was no lineage to create Eobard Thawne. The Eobard Thawne who appeared in Barry Allen's past and killed his mother WAS the temporal remnant, an anomaly. "The Reverse-Flash Returns" includes an incredibly dimwitted attempt to retcon Thawne in order to make his return seem even partially plausible. The ridiculous aspect of the attempt to explain the Reverse-Flash continuing to exist is that the show has a built-in opportunity to explain him; the portals to other Earths provide a simple explanation that makes sense. On some other Earth, Eddie Thawne did not kill himself and Eobard Thawne in that universe comes into existence, becomes the Reverse-Flash and goes back in time to try to find The Flash's origin, in the process traveling between universes as well as time. Instead, the lame attempt to re-generate Thawne is poorly explained and the idea of him is retconned to include all of the smart characters at S.T.A.R. Labs feeding him the ideas that would make him go back and kill Barry's mother!
Perhaps the best acting in "The Reverse-Flash Returns" comes from Tom Cavanagh. His portrayal of Wells explaining the technobabble surrounding Thawne sounds credible, even though it is ridiculous. But it is Cavanagh's deliveries at the episode's climax that come across as engaging and informed. For sure, the episode still makes no genuine sense - Thawne's return to the 24th Century would still not genetically create Thawne or stabilize Cisco. The power of the Eobard Thawne anomaly created the Central City singularity and the breaches; the collapse of the singularity would not have allowed Reverse-Flash to return or re-exist.
The result is a lackluster episode that is packed with "stuff," but not containing enough substance to keep the engaged viewers impressed with The Flash.
For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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