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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.

Infowhile Barry has problems with a shapeshifter

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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.