After last week’s relatively weak episode, The Flash returned tonight with an outing that could barely contain the show’s level of amusement. Admittedly, this was mostly due to Mark Hamill’s scenery-chewing guest appearance as The Trickster, a role he also played in the 1990 series. “Tricksters” had all the characteristics of a great Flash episode: an outstanding rogue, Barry/Joe and Barry/Henry scenes that hit every emotional beat perfectly, gorgeous VFX, and answers to some of our many outstanding questions.
Villains of the Week: James Jesse and Axel Walker, a.k.a. The Trickster(s)
In the wake of his Harrison Wells-epiphany, Barry has done what all non-detectives working a case do: He’s done research and created a cork board of Harrison Wells miscellany. Sadly, the only conclusion reached is confirmation that Wells is very enigmatic. Barry and Joe remain just as baffled by Wells’ motivation as they were before.
Meanwhile, a copycat killer named The Trickster starts terrorizing the city with bombs. This isn’t the first time Central City has dealt with someone who goes by this name. Twenty years ago, James Jesse (Mark Hamill) menaced the city as The Trickster, but he was eventually caught and imprisoned in Iron Heights. Thus, Joe and Barry are forced to meet with the very much off-his-rocker criminal mastermind. And if there’s one thing television and film have taught us, it’s that seeking advice from a criminal on their copycat will definitely go well and no one will escape (jokes!).
Yes, Hamill’s portrayal of Jesse is very similar to his Joker on Batman: The Animated Series, but there’s also just enough to distinguish them. For one, his deliciously maniacal laugh is slightly lower. Also, who cares, because Hamill’s Joker was awesome and the world could use more of it.
At first Jesse isn’t willing to cooperate, but with some obvious ego stroking from Joe, he finally tells them that this copycat must have found his lair. Joe and Barry head over to his hideout, which looks very similar to The Trickster’s hideout from the 1990s series. Unfortunately, the new guy cleaned the entire lair out, including Jesse’s Mona Lisa: a bomb capable of destroying all of Central City. (Once he stopped killing the prison guards, they gave him cable.)
The Trickster sends out another vlog claiming to have hidden the bomb in Central City. Using his superspeed, Barry searches high and low, but can’t find it. Wells realizes it’s a trick and that there’s no bomb, but Barry, whose growing distrust of Wells has not gone unnoticed by the man himself, ignores him. This allows the copycat to not only break Jesse out of prison, but to also kidnap Henry as a hostage.
If you ignore the whole murder thing, Axel Walker (Devon Graye), the copycat Trickster, is basically a stand-in for fanboys everywhere as we see him gush over his newly freed idol. Jesse specifically chose Axel and mentored him to assume The Trickster mantle for one reason: Jesse is his father. That’s right: The Flash found a way to get Hamill to say, “I am your father.” Cheesy, yes, but, again, who cares because it’s Mark “Bloody” Hamill and he’s clearly having the time of his life reprising this role. His visible joy is infectious. We find out that there wasn’t a bomb and that Jesse has spent the last 20 years planning the Breaking Bad season 5 of pranks.
Naturally, Henry’s kidnapping combined with his suspicions about Wells gives Barry a case of the sulks. And there’s only one person with the cure: Joe West. I would complain about this scene lacking subtlety—The Tricksters attacking the city, Barry being tricked by Wells—but it overcomes that obstacle because it’s another great showcase for the chemistry between Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin. Barry can’t believe he let himself be fooled by Wells and has trouble leaving his father’s fate in the man who might have put him in jail. Ever the optimist, Joe puts a positive spin on it: “You always want to be the person who sees the best in people.” Having been a cop for so long, Joe can’t do that and he wishes he could be like Barry.
NEXT: Barry continues to fail at the whole secret identity thing. [pagebreak]
Jesse’s magnum opus prank ends up containing two callbacks to the 1990s series. First, he attacks a big party; however, it’s a mayoral fundraiser being held at City Hall instead of a police force costume gala. And none other than Vito Ambrosio, who played Officer Tony Bellows in the original series, is Central City Mayor Bellows. The Tricksters spiked every glass of champagne with a deadly poison that will kill them in an hour. Jesse and Axel have the cure, and he’ll only give it to them if they transfer all of their money to him. Unfortunately, Iris is there and drank the champagne.
The Flash shows up, but Jesse is ready for him with a Speed-inspired plan: Axel attaches a kinetic bomb to The Flash’s wrist that will explode if his speed drops below 600 mph. Barry speeds off and his no idea what to do. Thankfully, Wells is there and he tells Barry that he’s going to need to run into a wall—and by run into a wall, he means Barry has to vibrate at the frequency of air so that his body phases through the wall. Barry is doubtful, but Wells, obviously drawing on personal experience, is able to calm him down and walk him through it.
Breathe, breathe. Feel the air. Feel that wind on your face. Feel the ground beneath your feet lifting you up and pushing you forward. And the lightning, Barry [Wells removes his glasses so we know he’s serious], feel the lightning. Feel its power, its electricity pumping through your veins, crackling through you, traveling to every nerve in your body like a shock. You’re no longer you now. You’re part of something grater. You’re part of a speed force. It’s yours. Now do it.
It’s an amazing bit of writing and it does just the trick. Having phased through the wall—and leaving his wristwatch bomb on the other side—Barry picks up the antidote from S.T.A.R. Labs and quickly, and unsanitarily, injects every one at the party with it. From there, he jets off to save his father and the two share a touching moment as Henry gets to see the man his son has become. With this brief and unauthorized furlough, Barry takes Henry to meet his team at S.T.A.R. Labs, where irony strikes again. Henry calls them all heroes and specifically thanks Wells for everything he’s done for Barry.
Meanwhile, Iris continued her journey to becoming The Flash‘s Lana Lang: Basically the only one of the good guys who doesn’t know Barry’s secret. Iris suspects something’s afoot with Mason’s disappearance and asks both Eddie and The Flash to look into it. To stop Iris from getting further involved, Barry and Joe decide that it’s time to bring Eddie—yes, Eddie whose sole purpose up until now has been to stand there and be pretty—in on Barry’s secret and their investigation into Wells.
They even put Eddie through the “Not-So-Secret Identity” club initiation: telling Iris a poorly formed lie. Eddie tells Iris that Mason impulsively moved to Brazil for a woman and to hike and write a book. Sure.
Flashbacks: 15 Years Ago
Remember the awesome VFX I mentioned earlier? Well, we see it in tonight’s flashbacks, which shows us the night Barry’s mother died from the Reverse Flash’s point of view. The Flash and Reverse Flash’s fight in the living room is a thing beautiful. It’s electric, dazzling, and a true feast for the eyes.
While Future Barry saves his past self, Reverse Flash is able to escape the home. He tries time traveling again, but this most recent jump was so exhaustive that it used up all of the speed force in his cells. After Gideon imparts the bad news, he takes off his mask and we see Eobard Thawne, except it is not Tom Cavanagh’s face, but that of actor Matt Letscher (Scandal, The Carrie Diaries). Plot twist!
Stuck in this time period, he starts monitoring Harrison Wells, who will create the particle accelerator in 2020 with his wife Tess. (Spoiler alert: Harrison Wells and Tess are an unbearably cute couple.) That’s too long for Eobard to wait. So, he orchestrates the car accident that kills Tess and using futuristic technology that copies Wells’ body, kills him, and transforms himself into Wells.
Wall of Weird:
- Did anyone see that plot twist coming?
- “You always did look good in red,” says Henry when he sees his son in costume.
- “Sometimes I’m not sure why I wear a mask around you,” says The Flash to Iris when they meet. Barf.
- “When I was free and at my height, a day without casualties was like—well, like the Cubs winning the pennant. It just never happened.” —James Jesse
- My colleague Samantha Highfill has a point: How do you throw cut off someone’s head and throw it in their face?
- Did you catch the trailer for the remainder of the season? The Flash clearly isn’t holding anything back this season, because YOLO—except that it’s been renewed for a second season.