After four episodes full of questionable choices, The Flash delivers the best second-season episode thus far. Much of this season has felt burdened by setting up Legends of Tomorrow. That’s still apparent in this episode, but in a sweeter way, with Cisco asking out Kendra Saunders, who we’ll eventually get to see as Hawkgirl on the spinoff. But it’s mostly spent on far more interesting matters, particularly giving us a closer look at Earth-2’s Harrison Wells and watching Cisco embrace his abilities. There’s a lot going on in this episode, but it somehow doesn’t feel overwhelmed by all the plot dynamics being moved forward.
“The Darkness and the Light” opens with a flashback on Earth-2, as Harrison Wells speaks to a rapt audience at STAR Labs. He’s introducing a new line of apps that look like wristwatches, meant to detect the presence of metahumans. How convenient. The presentation is crashed by none other than Jay Garrick (proving the app works). It becomes clear pretty quickly there’s a lot of animosity between these two. Jay calls Wells out for creating metahumans in the first place, which Wells denies with smarmy panache. This episode provides us with a few key differences between Earth-1 and Earth-2 Harrison Wells. Earth-2 Wells is emotionally cold, openly full of himself, and has a daughter who looks to be in her early twenties. Given the brief but potent focus on her, I knew she’d become an important player. At the end of the episode, we see she’s presently captured by Zoom (oddly, even abandoned hideouts in Earth-2 have a golden glow). But the most important takeaway from the opening flash-forward is the dynamic between Jay and Wells. It’s their antagonistic relationship that shapes the way Barry handles the latest metahuman-of-the-week.
Most of the metahumans brought to Earth-1 by Zoom to kill Barry have been lackluster (although the show gets major points for introducing King Shark at the end of last week). They just don’t have enough development to make much of an impact. This week’s metahuman is Dr. Light, a petty thief turned major bank robber thanks to her abilities. Her presence solves the previous issues the show has had with metahumans since she is the Earth-2 counterpart of someone in Barry’s orbit.
Jay reappears from wherever he’s been doing to provide a stark counterpoint to Wells in terms of how to handle Dr. Light. Everyone may be listening to Wells, but his presence isn’t going over well at STAR Labs. After all, they associate his Earth-1 counterpart with the most tragic moments of their lives. And to quote Cisco, “Our Dr. Wells may have been evil but you’re just a dick.” Tom Cavanagh brings a different energy to this version of Wells. He speaks a bit raspier, moves a bit stiffer, he’s less a mentor than that blunt uncle you try to avoid at family reunions even if most of what he says is right. I would love to see him try to out-sass Captain Cold.
While the show writers have been insisting that this Wells isn’t evil, I still wouldn’t be surprised if he has ulterior motives. Jay is right when he argues throughout the episode that Wells has his own secrets. It’s awfully convenient that he now wants to own up to his role in the creation of metahumans and just wants to help Barry take down Zoom. Maybe it has something to do with his daughter being captured, but I wouldn’t be as quick to trust him as everyone else. While Wells demands Barry basically kill Dr. Light, Jay says reasoning with her has always worked in the past.
When Cisco finds out about her location (using his powers although he doesn’t admit that to his friends), Barry rushes over to do just what Jay suggests. It starts off well enough until Dr. Light takes off her mask revealing she’s the Earth-2 counterpart of Linda Park, his brief girlfriend from season one. Barry stupidly says her name, which freaks out Dr. Light, getting Barry blinded in the process and putting Earth-1 Linda in a precarious situation.
Barry’s blindness, while severe, is only temporary. But it still has a ripple effect, including his inability to be around when Dr. Light unsurprisingly makes her appearance at the newsroom, looking for her Earth-1 counterpart. Dr. Light hopes to kill Linda and take over her life in order to avoid the wrath of Zoom. Which is exactly the kind of desperate, poorly thought-out idea someone would have trying to escape a speedster compared to a demon.
Jay and Caitlin are nearby in a van, which gives us the chance to see them interact, and for the writers to drop some interesting tidbits about Earth-2. Apparently, Atlantis is above water on Earth-2, and one of Jay’s best friends is from there. Hmm, wonder who that could be? (For the record, I’d be surprised to see Aquaman at this point on The Flash, but I’m open to the idea.) Caitlin and Jay are just about to kiss when Dr. Light blasts the van, ruining the romantic moment (which I’m surprised happens considering he never seemed all that interested until now).
I often complain about how this show utterly mishandles Iris, a character important to the Flash mythos in the comics, but who seems like an afterthought here. (Please don’t talk to me about endgame. Look how much good that did Laurel on Arrow). She doesn’t get a lot to do here, but it’s valuable. Yes, she acts as Barry’s therapist (although he does ask her how she’s coping with the emergence of her mother) and even expresses joy over his date with Patty, figuring out a way for him to go on it despite his temporary blindness. But more worthwhile is what happens with Iris and Dr. Light.
Joe visits Iris to let her know about the presence of Earth-2 Wells and gives her his gun to hold onto, reminding her there’s a reason he taught her how to use it. We actually get to see her use it when Dr. Light shows up, hell-bent on killing Linda. I liked seeing Iris stand in front of her friend and co-worker. Very heroic. It’s her impressive skills with the gun that get the mask knocked off of Dr. Light, which ends up not only saving Linda, but becomes an important in stopping this metahuman. Unfortunately, there’s one accidental casualty — Linda and Iris’ boss — who tried to stop the metahuman but got a blast of energy through his chest for his troubles. (Sidenote: Iris’s wardrobe is killer this season. That black-coat-and-gray-dress ensemble when she meets with Joe looks amazing.)
This episode shows a lot of what The Flash does best, with its willingness to really commit to the oddness and wonder of its source material. The action is particularly fun here, especially in how Barry is able to defeat Dr. Light, and Joe’s decision to shoot first, ask questions later when it came to Wells. What isn’t fun is Patty. Look, I know I’m in the minority with her. I also know she isn’t going anywhere for a while. But no matter how many aww shucks, dorky, cutesy moments they give here, she still comes across as forced. The Flash never really feels like a CW show until it comes to romance.
Barry finally asks Patty out. Unfortunately, when the night comes, he’s dealing with his temporary blindness. Thanks to Iris’s suggestion, he wears black sunglasses that Cisco can see through in STAR Labs so that Barry doesn’t make a fool of himself. This ends up being pointless since Patty figures out he can’t see. He covers his bases by explaining that his pupils were dilated earlier. Cisco’s hilarious asides end up making the date a fun watch for the most part. Patty points out the parallels in their lives. He laughs awkwardly. They stumble over their words. The only new part of the equation is that they kiss. Whatever.
The other supporting plotline this week involves Cisco reluctantly embracing his abilities. It’s his visions that first spot Dr. Light. His explanations are paltry, and it’s obvious everyone isn’t buying it. Especially Wells, who blows Cisco’s spot by revealing he’s a metahuman. When Cisco can’t get a vibe off of Dr. Light’s mask at first, it’s Wells who pushes him by saying he can use these powers when he wants to. Of course, his friends accept and reassure him. Even Barry is the one to come up with his superhero name, Vibe. I understand Cisco’s reluctance to embrace anything he sees as a manifestation of Wells’s influence. But his abilities are tantamount to saving the day.
With Wells’s hard-knuckle encouragement, Barry creates speed mirages of himself to confuse Dr. Light, which allows him to capture and secure her in the pipeline. They’re going to use her to lure Zoom despite Jay’s protests, which I’m not sure how I feel about. Of course, I’ve always found the treatment of metahumans to be at odds with the light, jovial tone of the rest of the show.
One thing I’m definitely not feeling is the treatment of Jay. In the comics, Jay is definitely slower than the other incarnations of the Flash. But I’m surprised at how inconsequential he seems. When he has a brutal fight with Wells, a lot of it is over being called a coward and reminded that Barry can do what he can’t: Kill Zoom. When Barry needs a pep talk to take down Dr. Light, Jay says Barry is faster and better than him as the Flash. I thought they’d spin Jay as a sort-of older mentor figure who had been a superhero longer so he’d be able to consistently give advice to Barry. The show seemed to be going that direction, but with the presence of Earth-2 Wells, maybe the writers thought STAR Labs got too crowded. I do think there’s more to Jay and Wells’s history than we’ve learned thus far. And I hope the show makes better use of Jay going forward. Otherwise, what is really the point of bringing him on only to utterly waste him? Jay ends up leaving the team because he can’t in good conscious support Barry going after Zoom and trusting Wells. I agree with Jay. Given how much Jay losing his powers to Zoom is mentioned, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens to Barry in the future.