In a recent interview with Collider, Tom Cavanagh, a relatively longtime TV veteran at this point, admitted that there is one aspect of working on The Flash that has concerned him, “It’s some of the more fearless producing and writing that I’ve been privy to. They are just going for it, to the point where I was like, ‘Are we, at all, worried about story?’ And [Executive Producer] Greg Berlanti said, ‘There’s always more story.’”
This is an anecdote Cavanagh has actually shared in multiple interviews at this point, going back to right around the time the show premiered. Having now seen “The Man in the Yellow Suit,” I think I better understand exactly why the man who plays Harrison Wells would be concerned that maybe, true to its title character, The Flash is moving way too fast. We’re not even halfway through the season yet, this being episode 9 out of what will be a first season total of at least 23 episodes, and we’ve already met The Reverse Flash, i.e., the dude we (kind of) saw kill young Barry’s mom in the opening minutes of the pilot. You know what other CW show opened with a depiction of a yellow-tinged villain killing the good guy’s mom while they were still just a little kid? Supernatural, with the hero in this case actually being plural, Sam and Dean Winchester, and the killer being Azazel, aka, “The Yellow-Eyed Demon.” We didn’t actually meet Azazel again until the final two episodes of the first season, and even then he didn’t become a significant on-screen presence again until the final two episodes of the second season.
That was 9-10 years ago, though, an era in which you had to build shows in a way that they could be picked up by even the most casual viewer halfway through. The people behind The Flash recognize this is the age of the binge, with Andrew Kreisberg tellingThe Hollywood Reporter after “The Man in the Yellow Suit” aired:
TV moves at a much faster pace now, and it’s one of the things I’ve learned from [Arrow and The Flash executive producer] Greg Berlanti. If you get really excited about something, you can’t always wait because there might not be a “then” to get to. We really wanted this show to be exciting and be a roller-coaster ride, and part of that is you can’t just tick off mysteries and never solve them. For us, it’s really important to reward the audience for faithful viewership. We want to set up new mysteries and reveal how they affect all the characters.
So, if you look at the pilot what were the mysteries and on-going storylines it set up?
- Who or what killed Barry’s mom?
- Will Barry succeed in getting his dad out of prison?
- Will Barry ever tell Iris how he feels about her?
- What exactly happened to Caitlin’s fiancé?
- Who is Harrison Wells, really, and what is he up to?
Every single one of those was addressed and, in most cases, at least partially answered in “The Man in the Yellow Suit”:
Who or what killed Barry’s mom? | Barry getting his ass handed to him by The Reverse Flash in that football stadium was an absolute joy to behold, sort of like a reverse version of Barry’s fight with Oliver in the Arrow crossover. Barry eventually told Oliver that when he fights him it’s like he is literally standing still, and it appeared as if The Reverse Flash probably could have said the same thing about his fight with Barry. It is brave of the show to completely undercut its central hero like this, making him no match for The Reverse Flash at this point, but it was also heartbreaking, with Barry later explaining that he is scared of Reverse Flash. That’s his boogieman.
The big reveal, at least as it pertains to Barry’s mom, is that there were two speedsters in the room that night, not one. The implication is that someone who gives off a red energy signal, likely The Flash, was actually fighting someone who gives off a yellow one, likely The Reverse Flash. That’s going to mean time travel, and this screams of a causality paradox, i.e., Barry Allen probably inadvertently caused his own lifelong obsession with the red-yellow blur he saw surrounding his mother when he was a kid. That type of time travel paradox pops up in The Flash comics a lot (too often, if you ask me), and right now I suspect it’ll turn out that the force which whisked young Barry out of the house and into the street right before his mother’s death was probably the adult Barry, breaking off his fight with The Reverse Flash. I could be wrong.
Regardless of how I think this is going to turn out, this was an interesting new wrinkle to throw into the mystery, giving us an extra variable to consider in the mystery of the murder of Barry’s mother. It is worth noting that unless I missed it The Reverse Flash never actually confirmed he is the one who killed Barry’s mom. Then again, maybe his, “If you want to know that you’re going to have to catch me, Barry,” in response to Barry’s, “You killed my mother! Why?!” is confirmation enough, and I’m reading too much into it.
You give us our first glimpse at the big bad, but you do so without directly answering questions, instead introducing even more mysteries, such as what to make of Reverse Flash saying “You and I have been at this for a long time” to Barry. This is a very Doctor/River Song on Doctor Who kind of thing. Clearly, Reverse Flash and Flash have many battles ahead on this show, but from Reverse Flash’s point of view most of those may be in his personal past.
Will Barry succeed in getting his dad out of prison? | When Barry Allen cries we all cry, and nowhere else has that been truer than any time Barry visits his dad in prison. To some degree, the ongoing effort to clear Henry Allen’s name has been the most backburnered element of these first 9 episodes partially because it took a while for Joe to finally get behind Barry on the subject. Of course, the most direct way to prove a convicted murderer is innocent is to catch the actual murderer. Even then, I was surprised (and slightly heartbroken) to see Barry conclude that his failure to capture Reverse Flash even though the guy was right in front of him now means that every additional day his dad spends in prison is directly his fault. John Wesley Shipp’s effort to convince him otherwise was perhaps a note we’ve seen played between these two before, but it’s an effective one. Shipp even managed to make it mostly seem normal that Henry would bring Iris up in that situation. The weight of the world is forever on Barry’s shoulders, but it appears as if his dad is forever the self-sacrificing type.
Will Barry ever tell Iris how he feels about her? | It’s not fair to say that all CW shows are ultimately boiled down to preternaturally attractive, young people forever entangled in angsty teen romance, but it is fair to say that it is a key ingredient of anything Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, and Greg Berlanti do for The CW. Those three are responsible for Flash and Arrow, and the latter was also responsible for the short-lived The Tomorrow People, which, similar to early Arrow, clearly wanted its audience to ship for every single possible romantic pairing.
So, it was no surprise that The Flash had this kind of thing baked in, with Barry given a lifelong unrequited love in Iris, and similar to Arrow there is already a contingent who have rejected the more traditional, comic book canon love interest (Iris here, Laurel on Arrow) in favor of a less-traditional, often times funny presence (Felicity on Arrow, Caitlin on Flash, although her fiancé is back now). There are also others who simply reject any of this, wishing that the powers that be didn’t feel the need to make the romance such a big part of the story. Around the time Barry started appearing to Iris as The Flash is when I soured on what the show was doing with it, but I have to give them credit for finally pushing forward. The Flash’s relationship with Iris is seriously damaged after the Arrow crossover, and now in the midseason finale Barry finally told Iris how he feels about her. I personally thought it was kind of funny that this would partially come about because Eddie just now noticed those “I hate you so much!” eyes Barry was throwing his way. Barry’s been looking at him like that since the pilot! However, his suspicions would have been naturally raised when Barry gave Iris a freakin’ wedding ring for Christmas, albeit a recreation of her mother’s ring.
To me, The Flash is at its best when this type of drama is not the focal point, but instead nicely mixed in with everything else. For those reasons, I actually enjoyed what “The Man in the Yellow Suit” did with Barry and Iris as though it was an undoubtedly important part of the episode it was far from the only thing going on. The scene in which Eddie gave Iris a key to his apartment was well executed as was Barry’s “come clean” moment to Iris, with special mention to Candice Patton’s non-verbal, single-tear-down-the-cheek reaction. With everything they’ve done to this point, this seemed like the kind of thing that had to happen eventually, and it didn’t feel quite as manufactured as it has in the past.
What exactly happened to Caitlin’s fiancé? | For a guy who claims he doesn’t want to be found, it sure seemed fairly easy to track down Ronnie Raymond, didn’t it? This is a tricky storyline to handle because from the moment they announced Robbie Amell had been cast on the show it was pretty much confirmed he was going to play Firestorm. So, you didn’t even have to know the comics to know that Caitlin’s fiance wasn’t dead, but I appreciate that the show still played it as a surprise, dropping Firestorm’s debut in at the end of the Arrow crossover which came just a couple of episodes after Iris told Barry about a metahuman whose hands and head were covered in fire.
The way they brought him back, though, could have been better. It all invariably felt like it got the short end of the stick in an episode having to also deal with Reverse Flash and Barry/Iris. Perhaps it would have worked better if we would have seen Ronnie tracking Caitlin from afar for maybe an episode or two before this. As is, she literally just walks around a corner, and there he is. However, Robbie Amell does plays the brooding hero well (it runs in the family), and Panabaker’s heartbreak is believable. This is a comic book show. So, I have to mention that Firestorm’s powers look really cool, except for that Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer hair:
Of course, how you reveal Firestorm is not quite as important as whether or not you’ve properly prepared Caitlin for that moment. My go-to reference is, as per usual, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which dropped Buffy’s former lover back into her life at the exact moment she claimed she was ready to move on thus maximizing the drama. Flash’s method has differed in that other than the brief moment she admitted Eddie was hot we’re probably not supposed to think that Caitlin’s actually moved on from Ronnie yet. Instead, she’s simply grown into treating Barry like Ronnie. Not once but twice has there been a moment where something threatening Barry’s life directly echoed Caitlin’s grief over Ronnie, most recently in the episode where they were trapped in STAR Labs. Because of the Buffy example I actually wouldn’t have expected them to bring Ronnie back until Caitlin showed the first signs of moving on, perhaps going on a terrible date with a random guy. However, that’s not the place they wanted to go with Caitlin, and having Barry throw all of this back in her face last week is the moment they used to segue into Ronnie’s return.
Who is Harrison Wells, really, and what is he up to? | This was one of the first lines in THR’s morning-after reaction to “The Man in the Yellow Suit”: “Yes, we now know Reverse Flash is … Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh)!” Do we really? Granted, he has his own ring, the yellow suit, and the tachyon beam, apparently the same one we saw the Reverse Flash steal while beating the heck of Harrison Wells. Let me repeat an abbreviated version that last part again: We saw the Reverse Flash beat the heck out of Harrison Wells. So, how the heck is Harrison Wells The Reverse Flash? This isn’t like Liar, Liar where when Jim Carrey is beating his own ass it’s because one of his own arms has turned on him. No, there were two people in the same room together, and the dude in the yellow suit grabbed the guy in the wheel chair, pulled him behind a fancy forcefield, and beat the living the hell out of him. How in the world are those two people, then, supposed to be the same person? Sure, the circumstantial evidence is pretty substantial, as is the fact that Dr. Wells spoke in that same vibrated voice that Reverse Flash and Flash use, but unless we’re getting into some seriously tricky time travel logic here (same guy just from different time periods) I don’t see how it makes any sense that Dr. Wells is the Reverse Flash unless there are more than one and not just because they’re the same guy from different time periods. It makes total sense that Dr. Wells is obviously somehow connected to The Reverse Flash, though.
THE BOTTOM LINE
“The Man in the Yellow Suit” was a remarkably enjoyable “mid-season” finale which took advantage of its 4 extra minutes of screen time to surround its impressive action set-pieces with contemplative one-on-one conversations, Cisco and Caitlin, Barry and Iris, Barry and his dad in prison, Barry and Joe, etc. The result, at least for me, was an episode that I felt as much as I enjoyed, if that makes sense. It advanced or at least addressed all of the show’s on-going stories, and while it may be unwise that Reverse Flash and Firestorm both debuted in the same episode, not even technically before the season’s mid-point, it was also pretty darn cool. Of course, that final moment threw everything off for me, but before that I greatly enjoyed “The Main in the Yellow Suit.”
1. Anytime the word “tachyon” is worked into a sci-fi show Star Trek fans nod in approval.
2. I have to admit that I had no idea the actress playing the rather severe-seeming business rival of Wells was actually not only an original cast member from the first Flash TV show but was, in fact, reprising the same exact role from that old show where she was a love interest for John Wesley Shipp’s Barry Allen. If you did know that, though, it’s a fairly cool cameo just as long as you didn’t expect much more than a cameo.
3. I have yet to put up my own Christmas tree. Could The Flash do that for me? It’ll apparently take him no more than 5 seconds.
4. Caitlin to Cisco, discussing the Christmas gift she bought for Dr. Wells: “It was that or Stephen Hawking’s new autobiography, and we both know how he feels about Hawking.” What does Dr. Wells have against Stephen Hawking? There’s a science joke here I’m probably missing unless the connection is more about them both being in wheelchairs.
5. Am I the only one who did not initially recognize Caitlin when she went to talk to Iris at the café? It must have been the way they had Danielle Panabaker’s hair pulled back that threw me.
6. No one is going to thank you for playing the mother who gets killed off in a flashback, but I will. Thank you to Michelle Harrison, the actress responsible for bringing such warmth to Nora Allen in that scene where she taught young Barry not to be afraid of the dark. In that single, solitary scene she made Nora a mother worth grieving.
ScreenCrush – “The truth is, this was actually one of the weaker episodes of the year, with about eight minutes of actual good content and 32 minutes of Sad Barry Being Sad That Barris Isn’t A Thing. Those 32 minutes are ‘The Flash’ as its worst.”
TV.com – “One of the pleasures/annoyances of narratives that rely on big reveals and twists is that you feel that rush of, “OH NO THEY DIDN’T!” and you’re all psyched about what it could mean… but then a little part of your brain says, “But did they really?” It’s a little cynical, yes, but it’s also something that comes with the territory of building twist upon twist upon reveal upon reveal. Because we all know there’s another layer to this Harrison stuff. There has to be an explanation for how and why he had the yellow suit, vibrated his voice, appeared in multiple places at once, and didn’t harm Eddie—and that reason has to be something other than, “He’s the Reverse Flash.”
I’m done with my ramble. Your turn.