The Joker makes Batman better. The same with Sherlock and Moriarty, with Bond and Blofeld. Every superhero needs their arch-villain and how The Flash would deal with the return of Dr. Harrison Wells has been the question since he was erased from the timeline at the end of season one. That’s not exactly something you walk off, and luckily, The Flash dealt with his return with aplomb. Everyone brought their A-game, from the cast to the writers, giving us season two’s best episode so far.
It would have been fatal for the writers and Tom Cavanagh to repeat the beats of last season with “Dr. Wells the sequel”. Earth-Two Wells isn’t Reverse-Flash Wells and the change of dynamic between him and the team is smoothly handled by their insistence on calling him “Harry”. All of Harry’s authority is gone with Cisco (Carlos Valdes) summing up the difference by saying: “Our Dr. Wells was evil. You’re just a dick.” Cavanagh plays Harry as if he’s a different character, no longer the father figure or the dastardly douchebag. He is lost, abrasive and determined to stop Zoom. But Cavanagh’s genius is that he incorporates the elements of season one Wells – with the hand movements and facial ticks – to show that even though they’re different people, from different dimensions, they have the same DNA.
Harry’s inclusion also brings out the best in Grant Gustin. Gustin suffers from being consistently and reliably good in every episode, meaning reviewers tend to overlook his work. But, with Barry coming face to face with his archenemies doppelganger, Gustin steps it up a notch, forcing people to remember why he’s a great Flash and an even better Barry. Barry has a lot to deal with in the episode what with Harry, an ex-girlfriend reappearing and a date with Patty Spivot (Shantel VanSanten).
After a fight with Dr. Light (the villain of the week), who is the Earth-Two version of Barry’s ex Linda Park (Malese Jow), a blind Barry goes on a date with Patty with the assistance of Cisco who is “creepin’ and peepin’” through some eyesight shades. The scene has that cuteness found in a Meg Ryan movie but unlike The Amazing Spider-Man films, it doesn’t overplay it, using Gustin’s physical comedy talents and his chemistry with VanSanten to elevate to superhero art. Patty, for her part, is smart, sassy, and unafraid to call out Barry’s BS. She isn’t dumb so hopefully the show won’t assault her intelligence by keeping her in the dark about Barry’s alter-ego.
Beyond the too-cute-to-function dates, there’s the realisation that The Flash is the Millennial superhero show. Most superhero shows are your dad’s version of the character, but with the revelation that coffee is the one constant in the multiverses and Cisco’s admittance that alcohol is a great way to de-stress (“When I said I wanted a drink I didn’t mean a latte. I meant alcohol, mind-numbing alcohol.”), we see the characters react how a member of its audience might react. It’s these little moments that make the characters relatable amongst all the super fast super-heroics.
Still the show likes to revert back to formula by getting Barry out of a situation via superpower ex machinas, giving Barry random new powers that come out of nowhere to solve the problem. The powers are cool but it is something the show is too reliant on.
There are many episodes in a TV show that are filler and there are many episodes that are plot driven, but the best thing about ‘The Darkness and the Light’ is that it balances both. There’s the overall multiverse storyline and the small character moments that make the episode sing.