[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for The Flash Season 2, Episode 5.]
The minds behind season 2 of The Flash showed they weren't going to use the success of the first season to buy them time in coming up with a new plot or purpose for its star speedster. A bigger, badder villain was revealed in the multiverse-threatening Zoom, with the recent episode ending on a cliffhanger as Earth-2's version of Harrison Wells arrived on the scene. We wish we could say that things only got better from there.
In "The Darkness and The Light", written by Ben Sokolowski and Grainne Goodfree, the new version of Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) emerges to work with Barry (Grant Gustin) to bring down Zoom like his own world's Flash never could. Meanwhile, Barry will need to capture another Earth-2 metahuman with a familiar face, but not miss out on his date in the process. And finally, Cisco's (Carlos Valdes) superpower is exposed.
A Brand New Man(?)
Setting off on a positive note, fans will be happy to see so much of the story and circumstances of Harrison Wells' arrival laid bare in the episode's opening scenes. As an even smarter scientist back home on Earth-2, Wells managed to avoid the same mistakes of his Earth-1 counterpart... but unfortunately still caused an explosion that created an army of metahuman criminals, and needed the speedster to stop them.
The good news is that Tom Cavanagh makes the cast a better one simply by being present; offering a new dynamic for he and Cisco, the way that neither of them is cast in a particularly positive light shows potential. And at this point in the story, with so many open wounds and nasty scars, bringing in a character with virtually no attachment to any of it could - could - move the plot forward. Unfortunately, "The Darkness and The Light" isn't a strong sign that that's what fans can look forward to in the short term.
We've Been Down This Road Before
Not to be negative for its own sake, but it's difficult to think of any aspect of this episode which shines - or perhaps, more accurately, allows anyone in front of the camera to shine (with one notable exception that we'll get to soon). After prior episodes took strides forward with a new take on Firestorm, or showed a new team dynamic set to take on a different kind of threat, the speed with which The Flash slipped back into completely familiar territory was alarming - and at the expense of so many new subplots, no less.
Our collective hearts sank when the "twist" of the episode was (apparently?) revealed to be yet another secret Harrison Wells is keeping to himself. Even giving the showrunners the benefit of the doubt in this regard, we're certain that not enough time has passed to make ending an episode on Cavanagh's sinister glare seem like a wise decision. And frankly, having Wells shout orders at Barry based on his unique knowledge of the Speed Force is a step backward for the show's ensemble.
On top of that, the relationship or rivalry between he and Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears) seems to leave viewers on the outside looking in. Is Wells' unwillingness to accept blame for creating metahuman criminals truly sinister or hard to grasp? Is Jay Garrick truly a coward? Has he been lying to the S.T.A.R. Labs team, at least, about his run-ins with Zoom? Did Joe really tell Iris to murder an innocent man if she felt threatened? What is so hard to understand about Earth-2 doppelgangers for every Central City resident?
It's staggering to think that in an episode which, according to the plot summary above, contains plenty of bombshells and revelations, the overall episode fails to feel momentous in delivering any of them. Cisco's deepest secret is outed by a "superpower detector," Dr. Light remains a one-note threat until being whisked away, and neither Joe nor Iris have any real role in the various subplots (unless you count firing a pistol).
Those viewers who have caught a glimpse of next week's episode know that Dr. Light's appearance may be an opportunity for the team to get the jump on Zoom. But for the time being, a forgettable villain, a familiar undercurrent of suspicion (far less exciting the second time), and a muddled handling of Jay Garrick's place on the team make this episode one to simply set up stories farther down the line - not unfamiliar to those who saw season one, but disappointing nonetheless.
Love Shines Through
Thankfully, there's no way to stop the chemistry between Barry Allen and Patty Spivot (Shantel VanSanten). And although the date night seems to take up a good chunk of time in an episode that you might think would have enough on its plate, the thread is a pleasant bright spot, aided by Cisco's commentary. Compared to the rest of the episode, the Barry/Patty scenes are a reminder of what sets The Flash apart from other monster-of-the-week TV shows - and considering the other balls this episode is juggling, all involved should be praised for carrying off what could have been a clunky "blind date" so well.
Add in Cisco's budding romance with Hawkgirl (Ciara Renee) before her move to Legends of Tomorrow, and those looking to have their hearts warmed can call it a night.
All things considered, an episode of The Flash tasked with simply passing the ball forward into the next major event, like "The Darkness and the Light", is understandable. But when the episodes preceding it are all walking with confidence, and so many plotlines must be spun off in one fell swoop, folly is hard to miss. The questions raised may have answers coming, but this week, we're thankful to find that there's no challenge Grant Gustin's charm can't best.
The Flash returns next Tuesday @8pm with "Enter Zoom". Check out a preview of the episode below: