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The Flash S1.19 "Who Is Harrison Wells? Review

We’re treated to a mini-tour of the DC universe’s alternate North America this week with the action taking place in Central City, Starling City and (briefly) Coast City. There’s even a raid on a “Gold City Bank” but Gold City isn’t the home of Booster Gold, sadly (just the home of lots of money, presumably).

It’s typical of the fun this show has exploring its comic book roots and also paves the way for another crossover episode that doesn’t feel like a crossover episode. The guests spots from Black Canary and her dad don’t feel gratuitous; they feel like something that could and should happen if Joe were to ask the SCPD for help on a case. Or, to put it another way, if there were an episode of The Flash that took place in Starling City and there weren’t any guest appearances, you’d feel short-changed.

Then again, Black Canary’s appearance could have been as gratuitous as the mobile phone product placement in The Vampire Diaries and we’d have forgiven it just for that fanboy photo of her and Cisco at the episode’s end.

In so many ways this is almost a five-star episode, not least because of the major revelations in the Wells arc plot and the fun crossover elements. This is an exciting, edge-of-seat set-up for the season finale, answering some questions but posing a whole lot more.

Intriguingly, as the net closes on Wells, there are even more scenes that are humansing him. How are we to take his man-to-man chat with Joe about the loss of a loved one? Is he simply setting Joe up? Leading him into a trap because he knows the cop is on to him? Possibly, but it’s difficult to forget their coffee together earlier in the season when Wells came across as genuinely hurt that Joe was simply pumping him for information. Then again, it is perfectly possible to be evil and lonely; in need of a friend to have a chat with from time to time. You can’t spend your entire life plotting to wipe out a time line.

The villain of the week isn’t even “a gimmick and a motive” this week, just a gimmick. He steals because the gimmick enables him to! Then again, the shapeshifting’s a great gimmick and the episode makes the most of it, with humorous mistaken identity shenanigans and visually arresting fight scenes with the Flash vs the Flash, Iris, Eddie, an old lady, etc, etc. As usual, the show doesn’t go out of its way to avoid the clichés; it embraces them and does them really, really well.

So, why not five stars, then?

Villain of the Week

If your surname was Bates, possibly about the only first name worse to give your son than Norman would be Hannibal. However, in the comics, there’s more of a themic link between the villain Everyman (first introduced in 52 #9, 2006) and his cannibal namesake, Dr Lecter – in order to take on the form of another person, he needs to eat a little bit of them. Thankfully (for the victim) toenails will do…

Sadly for an episode bursting with such goodness, there are some unusually sloppy examples of plotting and logic. Admittedly none of them in isolation is heinous. There are so many dumb moments here, though, it becomes irritating.

• When Everyman is subdued at STAR Labs, why doesn’t Caitlin use her serum on him there and then? Or why not have Barry carry him super-fast into custody rather than driving him to the police station in the back of a car?

• Why are the police only now aware of metahumans? Admittedly only “enhanced” humans (like Captain Cold) or obsessive freaks (like the Clock King or the Trickster) have actually been apprehended in the past, but it’s impossible they couldn’t have spotted some of the other metahuman activity that’s been going on recently.

• On a similar note, are the police and legal establishment really happy with Wells keeping metahumans in his pipeline? We’ve mentioned before how Amnesty would be appalled if they knew about this practice and now Central City’s authorities seem complicit. The whole shift from “the police are in the dark” to “the police are happy for Team Flash to police metahumans” seems a little swift and convenient.

• Why wasn’t there better security for Wells’s secret room at STAR Labs? Anybody can touch the keypad and be allowed entrance? Really? Again, maybe Wells is laying a trap (after all, wouldn’t Gideon mention to him that they’ve had intruders?) but if not, come on! This guy surely knows that Cisco is tech savvy enough to locate a secret room.

• Why does Barry even bother fighting Hannibal once he has the serum? He’s the fastest man alive – he could inject Hannibal before the guy could even think about morphing, let alone running. Yeah, the fight’s great to watch but it doesn’t make much sense.

None of these issues seriously damage the episode, but collectively they begin to push your patience. Especially for a show that’s usually so polished you can’t see the blemishes for the glare.

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Best Line

Cisco: “I love you. I mean, I love the way that you beat up criminals.”

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52 Spotting

It wasn’t difficult to spot this week’s reference to DC’s New 52 as the apparently damning footage from Police Cam: 52 was used on numerous occasions.

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Canary Cry

Cisco gives the sonic weapon that Black Canary has been using on Arrow a makeover. It’s now mounted on a “choker” – a famous feature of (most of) the comic book Canary’s costumes. In the comic world, however, the choker is merely decorative because her “Canary Cry” (as Cisco christens it here) is actually a superpower.

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Flying Visit

Barry fetches some pizzas from Coast City, home of Green Lantern in the comics. The city sign also features “Ferris Airlines” prominently; Hal Jordan (Lantern’s alter ego) worked at Ferris Aircraft as a test pilot and Carol Ferris is his traditional love interest.

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Crossover Frenzy

Just in case you’re one of the seven people in the world who watches The Flash but not Arrow both Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) and Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) are recurring characters on the Starling City show. That means this is the fifth episode of The Flash to feature characters first seen in its parent show (after “Going Rogue”, “Power Outage”, “Flash Vs Arrow” and “All Star Team Up”). These occurrences are now so common they’re hardly crossovers any more, just a natural development of a shared universe.

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Possibly Carlos Valdes’s greatest piece of acting yet – how convincing is that fanboy grin!? If SFX does a "100 greatest moments from 2015” at the end of this year, this had better be in there!

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To be honest, this isn’t really an in-joke, as it’s something that unashamed geek Cisco would say under the circumstances, but it’s worth pointing out that “Frak” was the censor-dodging swearword of choice on Battlestar Galactica.

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Time Travel Side Effects

Quentin Lance’s coffee does a slow motion leap from its carton in the same way that the water in the fish tank defied gravity when Barry’s mum was killed. All of which suggests that time travel must have a disturbing effect on the contents of your stomach…

Infowhile Barry has problems with a shapeshifter

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Dave Golder
Dave Golder

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.