The Flash – Season 6 Episode 18
“Pay the Piper”
The Flash brings back an old enemy as the team faces a newer enemy while reeling from the revelation of the mirror duplicates.
I’ve often accused this show of being excessively morbid and I stand by that accusation in every instance because the writers do have a tendency to make things more melodramatic than they need to be. I’m not saying characters can’t be upset about things that are happening in their lives or emotionally impacted by what they experience but there’s such a uniform approach that means they are miserable all of the time rather than a more realistic approach that has a variance of emotion.
In this case everyone is upset about the fact that Iris and Kamilla were replaced by mirror duplicates that have now been destroyed and there is no way to retrieve the originals or even know if they’re still alive. It’s not a great situation and everyone certainly needs a bit of time to adjust which proves difficult when you’re part of a team tasked with protecting the city from unusual threats. There are a few ongoing projects at this point; the artificial Speed Force, rescuing those trapped in the mirror dimension, dealing with Frost’s lingering injury and Eva McCulloch’s recent escape from the mirror dimension. Not to mention Joe being in witness protection though that is connected to the Eva McCulloch plot in that she wants revenge on her husband who wants to kill Joe. This episode largely exists to serve as a reminder of everything that’s going on while offering up a fairly disposable villain plot as a distraction.
Godspeed has been oddly treated in this show and I don’t mean that he bears very little resemblance to his comic book counterpart beyond the physical. I mean that the way he has been used in the episodes he appears in is really odd. We’ve seen several versions of him before now in the form of drones that sound like a “broken modem”. This one at least has more of a voice but is quite clearly a construct with a limited vocabulary as becomes known after Barry interrogates him. It’s bizarre that we don’t see this conversation given how significant it should be; I’m never a fan of crucial plot details being delivered to the viewer by way of after the fact exposition especially when it means robbing the viewer of time spent with what should be the main antagonist of the episode. Godspeed barely appears as it is so another scene featuring the character would have been welcomed. His appearance here exists to set up another threat keeping their identity secret but motivated by a desire for infinite speed. The smart money is on this being yet another scheme concocted by Eobard Thawne. It’s likely to be someone known to the team and the viewer otherwise there’s no point in keeping the identity of who is behind Godspeed a secret unless there’s a reveal coming designed to have a very personal impact. It’s a game this show has played far too many times and it’s no more exciting here than it is pretty much any other time. Godspeed isn’t a character, he’s a means to an end which diminishes his effectiveness.
This episode does feature the return of Hartley Rathaway aka Pied Piper who has changed a bit in the Post Crisis reality to someone who hates The Flash rather than being the ally he was established as back in season 2. The reason for the animosity is because Barry accidentally caused one of his henchmen, Roderick (Joel Semande) to lose control of his molecules. The flashback to an alternate version of the events of a season 1 episode was admittedly a nice touch but there was definite clumsiness in the way the information was delivered. It quickly turns out that Hartley and Roderick were in a relationship so Hartley’s hatred for Barry is because he blames him from taking the love of his life away from him. It’s a reasonably sympathetic motivation for Hartley and it reinforces Barry’s innate goodness when he feels guilty about something that technically had nothing to do with him. Whether he was actually involved or not it’s easily something he could have done and he feels a sense of responsibility so immediately focuses on trying to put it right. It’s good to be reminded that despite the numerous flaws this show has Barry remains a hero.
Hartley’s purpose is to hold up a mirror to Barry who is dealing with the loss of his entire world in the form of Iris just as Hartley did when he lost Roderick. By the end of the episode Hartley gets Roderick back which prompts him to encourage Barry to not lose hope because he will get Iris back. Naturally there are a couple of pep talks back and forth; the first where Barry encourages Hartley to get back to being the man that Roderick fell in love with and the second where Hartley returns the favour by telling Barry to not lose hope. It’s standard stuff for this show but it works well and it’s good to see Andy Mientus back. Hartley is more complex than your average antagonist and has the potential to fit into Team Flash on a more permanent basis assuming the roster isn’t to continue growing to unmanageable levels. The team-up moments in this episode were great with Hartley’s abilities complimenting Barry’s nicely.
I also really enjoyed the Barry vs. Godspeed action sequence. As I’ve said before, Barry’s diminished abilities add an extra layer of tension to any action sequence as he can no longer move as fast as he once did and there’s the constant threat of him running out of speed as he enters into any situation. It would be good to get an idea of how much speed he actually has left at this point because there’s lots of talk of how finite his abilities are but every sequence ends with him still having speed left. I suspect that he’ll reach a point very soon where he abruptly runs out of speed and has to face up to the fact that he is no longer The Flash. The diminished speed was used well in his confrontation with Godspeed with him having to use his knowledge of the city to gain an advantage -even if that barely came across- and his speed failing him when he was midway up a wall. Action sequences are more exciting than they have been for a while thanks to this limitation so I’m glad it exists from the point of view of improving the quality of the show.
Barry and Hartley aren’t the only characters to share pep talks. There’s a lot of them going around with Cisco feeling helpless following the loss of Kamilla and blaming himself because he gave up being Vibe. He identifies that those powers could be helpful in this situation and Cecile has to help him snap out of it by telling him how much of a genius he is which gives him the clarity to head to Atlantis seeking a solution. Sadly we’re highly unlikely to see him in Atlantis which makes for another potentially cool scene -or collection of scenes- that will only ever be talked about after the fact. Iris and Kamilla also need pep talks to function in the mirror world. Kamilla is reminded of her strong relationship with Cisco that we’ve only ever barely heard about in passing as something to latch onto and Iris fears turning out the same way Eva did but Kamilla urges her to trust in herself and realise that she could never turn out like that.
Ralph makes Frost feel better by telling her how much progress she has made in her quest to be a well rounded person so that she can find the courage to face her mother and understand that she has as much entitlement to that connection as Caitlin does. I still don’t fully understand whether Frost and Caitlin are supposed to be two different people or if we’re heading towards a merging that turns them into a single complete being but the conversation is done well enough and raises some interesting points about identity that will never be fully explore but are compelling by themselves. The final pep talk involves Barry realising that they are still Team Flash despite their limitations and can pull together to defeat Eva using more than just their powers. Nash is a big part of that realisation after pushing Barry into confronting what’s bothering him so that he can head towards finding a way to forgive himself. This episode is at its best when it shows how Team Flash support one another and having Nash helping Barry understand certain things feels appropriate because he is basically an outsider who is still finding his place. This means he’s better equipped to challenge Barry than others might be. It is a shame that Coronavirus will result in what is sure to be an underwhelming finale as the next episode was never intended to be the end of the season. There are enough compelling elements in place to produce interesting challenges over what would be the remainder of the season but it’ll be interesting to see how those inform the next season whenever production is allowed to resume.
A solid episode that makes great use of the natural rapport between the main characters and delivers a strong Speedster battle. This show is often guilty of being overly melodramatic and this episode is another example of that. The bulk of this is characters being morbid and receiving pep talks that make them feel a little less morbid. It’s good to take stock of where the characters are at this point and remind the audience of the major plots at play but there isn’t much of a variance of emotion which makes their angst feel less real. The treatment of Godspeed in this show is odd as he is a means to an end rather than a character which greatly diminishes his effectiveness. This episode reveals that there’s someone behind him which sets up another unnecessary mystery that will likely be answered with “Eobard Thawne”. Despite the lack of an actual character the threat he represents works really well especially when combined with Barry’s diminished powers. Having his speed fail him when halfway up a building and having to use his knowledge of the city to gain an advantage makes for a more exciting sequence even if the city knowledge isn’t deployed as well as it could be. Barry’s diminished powers have added an impressive layer of tension to action sequences that improves things massively though it would be good to get some idea of how much speed Barry has left as it’s a finite resource that doesn’t seem to be at any risk of running out. Hartley makes for a good addition as well. He’s much more complex than your average villain and his reasoning for hating Barry turns into an opportunity for Barry to show how heroic he really is. Hartley exists in this episode to hold a mirror up to Barry and show him what it’s like to lose hope before eventually reminding him that all hope isn’t loss. He’s used well and will hopefully return.
The various pep talks overpower the episode to some extent but succeed in getting things moving for various characters. Nash is able to challenge Barry in ways other characters can’t, Ralph helps Frost realise she’s as entitled to a connection with her mother as Caitlin is, Cecile reminds Cisco that he’s a genius who always had more to offer than his powers and Barry reminds the team that there’s nothing they can’t accomplish when they work together. Kamilla also helps Iris deal with her fear of turning out exactly like Eva. It’s all fairly standard for this show but the actors make it work and the natural rapport that exists within the cast comes across clearly. It’s a shame that Coronavirus affected the production so severely as there’s enough compelling elements to carry the next few episodes though there’s an opportunity to use them to build the beginning of the next season whenever production can resume.
- great use of the natural rapport that exists within the cast
- the actors carrying the pep talks really well
- Hartley having more depth than the average villain of the week
- using Hartley to hold a mirror up to Barry and help him process his emotions
- the strong Barry vs. Godspeed sequence
- the episode being generally overly melodramatic
- Godspeed feeling like nothing more than a means to an end
- no real sense of how close Barry is to completely losing his speed
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