[WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Flash Season 1, Episode 17]
It would seem that regardless of how much the showrunners of The Flash advertise event-level plot twists, there is always the potential for a single episode to turn the show's fiction on its head. Such is the case with Episode 17, "Tricksters", primarily advertised for bringing original Flash TV series villain Mark Hamill back on the scene, reprising his role as James Jesse a.k.a. Trickster.
Getting to see Hamill play a DC Comics villain is a treat in itself (with a Star Wars nod, to boot), but it was the episode's time spent on the core mystery of Nora Allen's murder, Eobard Thawne's intentions, and Harrison Wells' real secret that ends up taking the spotlight. A TV series that prioritizes a season-long mystery over weekly action may sound like a gamble, but The Flash is finding success in that formula so far - a fact proven by the dropped jaws "Tricksters" no doubt elicited.
With so many nods to the comics and geek culture icons, and such a potentially game-changing twist, we invite all to share their own thoughts and predictions in the comments below.
Who is The Reverse-Flash?
Showing that the writers truly have no qualms about revealing more and more about the night Barry Allen's mother died, the episode began not with a new villain, but a new glimpse into Nora Allen's death. While much of the action played out as prior episodes (and Cisco's holographic re-enactment) implied, it came with a twist. the Reverse-Flash seemed as interested in killing young Barry as Nora in the flashback, but it was the villain's unmasking which was sure to leave fans stunned.
Although Thawne's A.I. assistant Gideon confirmed the situtation as described to Cisco before his now re-written death - Thawne's powers were drained, stranding him in time - the villain was unmasked to reveal... a completely unknown man.
Well, not entirely unknown - that man is the real Eobard Thawne. The confusion is dissolved once Harrison Wells is shown to, indeed, have lost his wife in a car accident. But the crash was no accident; merely another plot by the stranded Eobard Thawne to transform himself in Wells' image, and accelerate the production of S.T.A.R. Labs' particle accelerator.
It's a lot to digest, and while the body-transformation twist was too strange to predict (not necessarily too brilliant), it helps bring the disparate theories and subplots back in line. According to the fiction now established, Eobard Thawne traveled in time to kill Barry Allen as a child (we assume), instead killing Nora, and becoming stranded. Under the guise of Harrison Wells, Thawne set out to grant Barry Allen his powers, and usher him into the true potential of the Speed Force personally.
The implication given is that Thawne, in traveling backward in time to that fateful night in Barry's life, altered the natural course of history. Or at least, he emerged from the Allen household determined to alter it himself. The glimpse into Wells' life is a bittersweet one, when his ambition and dedication to his wife's memory is undercut by the knowledge that he never lived to see it become a reality. It presumably did, since Thawne knew to take Wells' place, using his knowledge of the past to change little besides the year of the particle accelerator's debut.
The questions are too numerous to answer now - if the accelerator didn't originally launch until 2020, was Barry not fated to become The Flash? Why must Thawne escape from this timeline before then? - but are sure to keep fans busy until the next episode. For now, Thawne's "endgame" remains a mystery.
The episode may be named for the villainous Tricksters, but it could be more fitting to refer to both Mark Hamill and his successor (Devon Graye) as a pair of 'Jokers.' Given his fame for voicing the animated versions of the iconic Batman villain, it would be hard for any DC Comics fan to view Hamill's mad antagonist as anything but a nod to the Clown Prince of Crime.
By a similar token, his successor's use of recorded video and maniacal weirdness walks intentionally close to Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. Neither version of the tricky villain produces more groans than plot-advancing suspense, but for every fan thrilled by the mirroring, there are as many who will deem it an unnecessary re-tread.
A series of bombs gives way to a massive one, capped off by poisoned champagne and a speed-sensitive bomb, all filling the episode's action quota, but inevitably paling in comparison to the larger story at play. Even so, the nod to the original Flash TV series is sure to be appreciated by older fans, and the scheme being brought to a close by Barry confirming to his father that he is The Flash opens up even more sentimental doors in the future.
New Powers, New Allies
We knew it was only a matter of time until Barry learned to vibrate his molecules fast enough to phase through solid objects, and with Thawne's coaching, Barry finally unlocked the new ability. However, it may be Barry's decision to bring Eddie Thawne in on his secret that holds the most promise for future story lines. Now Barry has two detectives working on solving his mother's murder alongside him, and twice as many ways to sweep the contradictions and wrinkles of a dual identity under the rug.
Again, it seems the writers aren't intent on manufacturing drama or suspense by keeping Barry's identity a secret, instead using the mystery to take actual steps forward in shaping and solidifying The Flash's supporting cast. At this point, it isn't who knows Barry's secret that matters, but the secrets of others that Barry is keeping to himself for the time being.
In the midst of so many life-threatening and identity-revealing twists, these smaller plot beats are worth pointing out for future episodes:
- The sudden disappearance of CCPN's Mason Bridge isn't entirely overlooked, although both Barry and Eddie both seem preoccupied with more pressing dangers.
- However clouded her feelings for Barry may be, Iris still has more than a passing interest in The Flash (especially once she finds out that Eddie has deceived her for her own safety).
Be sure to share your own thoughts on these twists and reveals, and where you think Eobard Thawne, Barry, and the series is headed in the next episodes!
The Flash returns Tuesday April 14 @8pm with "All Star Team Up". Check out a preview of the episode below: