At the risk of sounding like a member of The CW’s PR team, once again I am amazed at The Flash’s fast found consistency. It’s normal for a new show to waver, to have ups and downs, but The Flash has been steadfast in its approach from the beginning. It’s unabashedly a comic book show, reveling in the otherworldly exploits it’s allowed to explore each week, but it’s also extremely inclusive. This is not a show I recommend to fellow lovers of capes, but to fellow lovers of television. Each week it delivers genuinely creative stories and characters worth caring about—and an explosion or two.
Last week saw The Flash go public, which took him out of the realm of myth in Central City, but also put the police on his side. More importantly, though, it saw Barry and Joe become roommates. I would have been fine with 42 minutes of Barry and Joe shenanigans this week, but sadly there were none. Instead, “The Sound and the Fury” brought a deeper understanding (sort of) to Harrison Wells, and a classic Flash villain.
As has become customary, the story in “The Sound and the Fury” was tight and focused, leading to a well-paced hour of television with more than a few surprises. Episode 11 brought Hartley Rathaway, better known as Pied Piper, a longtime Flash adversary and sometime ally who is an expert in sonic technology and wields a flute with hypnotic powers. This iteration of character smartly did away with the flute, which is a filmic nightmare. I can’t imagine many things more difficult than making a flautist seem sinister, and not merely hokey. Instead, Rathaway wielded gloves that emit sonic blasts at various degrees of strength, and some nice eyeglasses.
The most important aspect of the television version of Rathaway, though, is his connection to Harrison Wells. In a handful of flashbacks, we learned that Rathaway was a former employee of S.T.A.R. Labs, one thought highly of by Harrison and one who let that thought go to his head. Both Caitlin and Cisco had their fair share of run-ins with Rathaway while he worked for the lab, until he eventually left after he and Harrison had a falling out. That falling out wasn’t your average quibble, but involved the particle accelerator that would explode and give Barry his speed. Rathaway discovered that there was a possibility for a catastrophic failure once the accelerator was turned on, a fact that he parlayed to Harrison who, expectedly, did not care. Add in years of feeling under-appreciated, being injured in the accelerator explosion and Pied Piper is born. Andy Mientus (Smash) inhabited Hartley Rathaway and did so successfully. It wasn’t a magnificent performance, but Mientus showed a knack for the seedier side of things.
Another important aspect of Pied Piper’s arrival that should not go overlooked is the fact that he is an openly gay character. It’s not a character point that overshadows the story, but is merely mentioned in a thoughtful and organic way. It continues both The Flash and Arrow’s already commendable record of inclusion for LGBTQ characters, and the writers’ efforts on both shows to create fictional worlds that more accurately reflect our reality should continue to be noted and serve as an example for other shows.
Rathaway, particularly his superior intelligence, did lead to one downfall in the episode, a lack of satisfying action. While there was a decent amount of zip on display from the Scarlet Speedster, Barry was often outsmarted by his counterpart and ultimately this was an episode less about Barry overcoming a new obstacle as Harrison having to outduel a former protégé. What it lacked in heart-racing action, though, “The Sound and the Fury” made up for with clever schemes from Rathaway and equally clever solutions thought up by Harrison and Co.
I’m excited that Mientus and his ever-clever Hartley Rathaway will be back, and most of me hopes Team Flash won’t put him away for good in next week’s episode. I like the idea of The Flash having numerous enemies out in the world scheming against him. A roster of super people who can do super things only fleshes out the world, making everything richer and fuller. But, my favorite plot move this week comes, once again, from Joe. There has been a clear power struggle for several weeks now, between Joe and Harrison, over who has Barry’s trust more and who is the true father figure. Now that Joe is investigating Harrison, there is undoubtedly going to come a time when Barry must choose between the two, and given Harrison’s clear ability to manipulate our lovable do-gooder, Barry’s decision on who to side with may not be so clear cut, but will certainly be heart wrenching.
?Another week, another solid episode of The Flash. While no episode has been able to reach the heights of the Arrow crossover event, the writers have proven they have control of their story, and the ability to keep the flame burning in between larger episodes. It’s only a matter of time before we hit an hour that is more than just another strong installment, but something truly phenomenal. There are issues, most notably Iris and her lack of anything interesting outside of Barry (this week’s new job storyline was mostly forgettable), but those are easily covered up when the meat of each episode is so flavorful.
Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.