Series 2, Episode 11
The Reverse-Flash Returns.
You know, despite Thawne having really impressed me as a villain in the first series, I wasn't that excited for this episode. It'd been Cavanaugh's Thawne, with his interesting mix of coldness and affectionate warmth, his quiet and understated menace punctuated by occasional moments of overt megalomania, his general matter-of-fact way about everything. Letscher's Thawne was only glimpsed briefly in the first series, making him effectively a new actor to the role, for the audience, at least, and he had a tough act to follow.
In this week's episode, Cisco vibes that the Reverse-Flash is back in town. After he kidnaps Tina McGee, the head of Mercury Labs, the team, baffled that he could still be alive after Eddie's sacrifice in the first series, head out to find him - discovering in the process that this Thawne comes from earlier in his timeline and, while he knows the Flash, this is his first time in their timeline, and his first time meeting any of the STAR Labs team.
Okay, so the simple fact of the matter is that Matt Letscher is not as good an actor as Tom Cavanaugh. It feels a bit harsh saying that, but it's true: While Cavanaugh's Thawne had a menacing presence, to the point where he could be sitting in a wheelchair, talking softly and eating breakfast foods and it would be terrifying (I'm not even extrapolating, that was a scene in the first series), Letscher's Thawne seems to constantly be in full-on Smug Saturday Morning Cartoon Villain mode, and is completely unintimidating for it.
|It's all very yellow.|
They don't even seem like the same character. Letscher's Thawne is loud, angry, crowing and smug, nearly the exact opposite of Cavanaugh's soft-spoken, perpetually calm Thawne. This is the same character, they should really act at least similar to each other. It's a shame, really, but maybe when he shows up in future episodes, Letscher will be a little more accustomed to the role, and a little better at it.
(Please don't make him the villain of the third series. I will take a confused sword-wielding dad from Canberra's suburbs over this.)
But even apart from that, I do kind of have to say that this is the weakest episode so far. For most of it, very little seems to happen - it seems like the story jumps from them first encountering Thawne to the final showdown with him, which, while it's a very well done showdown, feels like it had almost no build-up. There's a lot of stuff about Cisco's vibing, but it's not really anything new, so much as it is just a bit of stuff on him learning to control it.
The ending, where they are forced to release Thawne and send him back to the future, is both predictable and disappointing. Obviously, they can't keep him locked up forever, because he does eventually have to return to his own time, but it would have worked better for the overall series plot, I think, if he had been locked up until near the end of the series.
|Fraught interpersonal dynamics.|
Consider this: Thawne knows more about the speed force than anybody else, and could have been an invaluable resource when dealing with Zoom, thus forcing the team to go back to him again and again for advice and giving him an almost Hannibal Lecter esque role for a spell of episodes, manipulating and toying with the team while leveraging his knowledge to get things that he wants.
That could have been a much more interesting storyline, allowing Barry's issues with Thawne to grow even more, fostering a kind of mutually respectful relationship between him and Wells which would set him up well to later steal Earth-1 Wells' face, and fostering relationships between himself and both Cisco and Caitlin that could evolve into him respecting their scientific abilities and contextualise him seeking them out and hiring them later.
We have a few subplots this episode, too - one with Iris, Francine, and Wally, which is fine but not especially inspiring, and one with Barry and Patty, which is from Smallville. I'm not actually joking there, the 'I know you're [x hero] but since you won't admit it, I'm leaving town, thus ending our romance' plotline was literally used in Smallville, a show not renowned for its high quality and excellent romantic subplot writing.
Even though I did like Patty, I'm kind of glad to see her go. That particular romantic subplot had kind of grown out of control, and we were already getting into Smallville-oid territory even before this episode happened. I do hope we see her return, at some point - or even better, show up on Legends of Tomorrow! That'd be great. It'd just be so great.
So, definitely my least favourite episode. Our next episode is apparently about a tar dude. He's going around and tarring things. It happens.