The Flash – Season 8 Episode 18
“The Man in the Yellow Tie”
The Flash explores the mechanics of the new Speedster’s temporary speed as an old enemy shows up in unexpected circumstances.
Eobard Thawne is simultaneously the biggest asset and the biggest problem this show has. He’s an asset because he’s such a strong villain and a problem because the show leans on him as a crutch. This season alone revealed that he engineered the events that created the “Armageddon” arc and now he is being positioned as the end-of-season threat.
I’ve written at length about how the best days of The Flash are long behind it and the overall quality of what is produced now is very low. Consistently the show has failed to deliver engaging antagonists that aren’t Eobard Thawne. This is something the writing team is likely aware of because they keep returning to him rather than putting the work in on newer antagonists. Even Thawne is a shadow of his former self but he has the notable advantage of being played by Tom Cavanagh who can make even the flimsiest of material work.
The bulk of this episode uses the Mat Letscher version of Thawne. Letscher plays Thawne’s original face before he assumed the identity of Harrison Wells and subsequently keeps that face because otherwise, Tom Cavanagh wouldn’t be playing him. Barry encounters the Letscher Thawne when looking into the technology that gives Meena her powers. He expresses concern after she accidentally hits him with a lightning bolt and it briefly cancels out his powers. He immediately identifies the tech as being decades ahead of what anyone else could come up with and it turns out the reason for that is because Thawne built it.
There is a twist to this Thawne as he has no memory of his past exploits so doesn’t remember being the Reverse Flash, killing Barry’s more or ever meeting Barry. It’s identified that he has a condition that affects his long-term memory but retains his scientific knowledge which allows him to collaborate with Meena on the machine.
Thawne’s involvement means that the machine taps into the Negative Speed Force which supposedly explains why her lightning cancels out Barry’s speed. That has never been the case prior to this but consistency and continuity are not to be expected on this show. Barry is concerned because the Negative Speed Force is fuelled by anger, hatred and a host of other strong negative emotions so is worried that Meena will be consumed by that and take her place among the other evil Speedsters that he has had to deal with. Another obvious concern is that Thawne is involved.
Naturally, he doesn’t believe the memory loss story and goes to visit the other Thanwe currently locked up on Lian Yu to check that he’s still there. Their conversation leads Barry to conclude that the other Thawne is the one who participated in the creation and destruction of the Flashpoint timeline. The episode does narrative backflips in order to explain this in a series of baffling exposition dumps that become progressively more confusing.
It doesn’t really matter and certainly doesn’t hold up under scrutiny but the Thawne that came into existence through the creation and destruction of Flashpoint plagued the Legends back in their second season before supposedly being erased by Black Flash. Instead of being erased, he was placed as the guardian of a fixed point in time before being killed in that role. Barry speculates that his good work in that role earned him the second chance supplied to him here. The information is clumsily delivered and makes very little sense but it’s actually entertaining to see how committed the episode is to offering an explanation as to how this version of Thawne came into being. Ray even shows up in a video message cameo to deliver the last piece of the puzzle. The effort put into trying to force any of this nonsense to make sense is honestly to be commended. Unfortunately, it doesn’t because the rules that govern things like time travel in this show are constantly in flux.
Despite the overuse of nonsensical exposition, this is largely a good episode by this show’s standards because the main emotional stories it tells are actually very simple and they are competently handled. One is Barry coming to understand that the new Eobard Thawne is a good man; something he understandably finds difficult to accept. Thawne took a lot from him and shaped his life in fundamental ways. His acceptance that Thawne is a good man and offering his hand in friendship is a strong example of growth from Barry after going through the emotional ringer to reach the point where he could conclude that Thawne is being genuine. He didn’t hold onto his preconceived notions when presented with evidence that this version of Thawne is different and accepted the truth that was in front of him. It’s a strong development and does show how far Barry has come in processing his grief. This is the exact version of Thawne that made him explicitly request he kill his mother but Barry was able to recognise that the man in front of him is far removed from the man that asked that of him and that’s growth.
The other strong emotional narrative is the romantic connection between Meena and Thawne. It is pointed out to Barry by the incarcerated Thawne that he is incapable of caring about anyone beyond himself. Understanding that is one of the main drivers for Barry accepting that the other Thawne is a good man. The incarcerated Thawne pointing that out is an interesting example of self-awareness on his part. He’s very dialled into the sort of person he is and proud of that fact. It’s a view brought on by sheer arrogance and genuine belief that he is better than everyone else. The other Thawne doesn’t share that view and has fallen in love with Meena who he regards as his world. This is proven by the fact that the machine was built for him to use and could only be used by one person but he used it on her because she was dying and the machine was the only way to save her. He gives up his chance to have speed and chooses to save her life because he has feelings for her. This version of Thawne had the opportunity to be a decent compassionate man and he fully embraced it. It’s another example of growth and an inspiring message about second chances being possible along with change being possible under the right circumstances.
There isn’t enough time to fully showcase the Thawne/Meena relationship but enough is done to show how genuine Thawne is when expressing his feelings for her. The episode goes down a predictable path in corrupting Meena with the Negative Speed Force and making her the antagonist. As is the norm, the first plan to defeat her which involves draining her speed by making her use it all up doesn’t work so the solution has to be a character-driven emotional one. Thawne talks her round through the power of his love for her and it works. It’s a cheesy sentiment but by the time it comes it’s fully earned and it provides a hopeful conclusion by pointing out that the Negative Speed Force doesn’t have to be a negative influence on people. Those who have strong emotional support can overcome its corrupting influence. It isn’t the first example of powerful positive emotions overcoming the Negative Speed Force as the same happened with Nora but it’s a powerful and affirming display of the power of positive connection and proof that the incarcerated Thawne didn’t need to be corrupted by the Negative Speed Force. He’s very much his own worst enemy but if a version of him can change then maybe he can also.
The incarcerated Thawne is likely to be the endgame antagonist for the season which is lazy and tired. There is a forced connection to the baffling Time Sickness plot and Deon’s recent decision to turn villainous. He shows up to offer to team up with Thawne. In a way, this is a good idea as Thawne is the most engaging villain the show has and involving him is the only way to make the Time Sickness plot interesting at this point. It’s likely that it won’t but at least Tom Cavanagh’s presence will guarantee some strong acting in what is to follow.
This episode is peppered with no less than three subplots, not at all connected to the main plot. The first is Cecile’s power level increasing exponentially for some reason. This manifests during a bank robbery; Central City must schedule them like in Free Guy at this point. Cecile’s amplified abilities allow her to attack people with emotions and overwhelm them. Where this is going is anyone’s guess but towards the end of the episode, she is shown dressed in her badass clothes and patrolling the streets enacting vigilante justice. This amounts to nothing more than just another thing that’s happening with no deeper significance, at least so far.
Another subplot that receives very little attention but moves forward significantly is the potential resurrection of Frost. Mark contacts Caitlin with a way to bring her back that has nothing to do with her previous plan and Caitlin tries to tell him that she has accepted that she has to move on but seems to be brought back around to the resurrection plan by seeing a way it can work drawn on a transparent board. It’s not an unexpected development but it stands out as a completely unconnected vignette among others.
The last is the return of John Diggle who was last seen on Batwoman having decided to pursue the calling that fell out of the sky but unable to open the box. Since then he’s no further forward on opening said box so seeks out Eobard Thawne to ask his advice. Fortunately, Thawne knows exactly what it is and explains to him that he needs to really want it. The box will open for him once he decides that he’s ready to accept what it has to offer. He does and it opens for him before showing him all the possibilities now open to him. After seeing what he’s in for he decides to reject the offer because the life presented to him takes him away from his family.
This is a strange subplot in terms of how it was executed. Diggle first appeared in an episode of Batwoman indicating that there was a problem he was looking to have resolved and this plot has slowly developed over the course of multiple shows in very short bursts. Those invested in the totality of the Arrowverse are theoretically rewarded by seeing this bubble along in the background. Diggle is a popular character who has been around since the first episode of Arrow so seeing him continue on in some way is a good thing for fans. I number myself in this camp as I’ve always considered Diggle to be an excellent character so any appearance from him is welcomed. Kudos is owed to the production team for not revealing this ahead of time or having it leaked -at least as far as I’m aware- which made his appearance a pleasant surprise.
For those not invested in the Arrowverse, this appearance will be a complete head-scratcher. It has nothing to do with anything else going on in the rest of the episode and Diggle has no interaction with Barry so their friendship can’t even be utilised. There is a thematic link through Diggle reminding Thawne that positive emotional connections are powerful and more valuable than anything else.
Diggle’s rejection of what the contents of the box offer him reaffirms his commitment to his family. Being taken from them to explore the universe is an unacceptable compromise for him and the box disappears, much to Thawne’s disdain. As an ending to this very protracted subplot, this is very disappointing and renders it not worth the time spent developing it. Fans -including myself- have been interested in seeing Diggle take on the mantle of Green Lantern for a long time and teasing this at the end of Arrow was very exciting. Continuing to tease this over multiple shows was somewhat tiresome and ending it with the complete rejection of the possibility is a complete waste, especially when it culminates in Diggle learning that family is important. This is something he unquestionably understands on a fundamental level which means he doesn’t need to learn that lesson. It isn’t even explicitly confirmed that the box contained a Green Lantern ring.
This tease should have been left as just that at the end of Arrow and certainly shouldn’t have been concluded in an unconnected scene contained within an episode of The Flash. It’s such a confusing addition to what was otherwise a good episode of this show and difficult to critique in any objective sense because engagement with it depends on investment in the shared universe. Flashback clips and Thawne’s exposition does provide some context but it’s far from comprehensive. The shared universe is very much a double-edged sword as fully committing to the idea means making the decision to render lots of it inaccessible to casual viewers. Catering to the casual viewers risks frustrating the invested viewership by constantly repeating information so that those tuning in periodically can understand the content. Where the Diggle subplot is concerned, the producers have committed to the viewer being devoted followers though the Diggle inclusion here stands out as being out of place.
A good episode with a strong example of growth for Barry and an engaging emotional story involving the new Speedster. The return of the Matt Letsher version of Thawne encourages Barry to understand that this version of Thawne is a good man. He has no access to his memories so has a second chance to make better choices and embraces the opportunity. He is in love with Meena and demonstrates that by selflessly giving up his chance to gain speed powers in order to save her life. Barry’s acceptance that Thawne is a good man and offering his hand in friendship is a strong example of growth from Barry after going through the emotional ringer to reach the point where he could conclude that Thawne is being genuine. He didn’t hold onto his preconceived notions when presented with evidence that this version of Thawne is different and accepted the truth that was in front of him. It’s an engaging development and does show how far Barry has come in processing his grief. The other emotional narrative is the romantic connection between Meena and Thawne The incarcerated Thawne points out that he is incapable of caring about anyone beyond himself. Understanding that is one of the main drivers for Barry accepting that the other Thawne is a good man. This is an interesting example of self-awareness on the incarcerated Thawne’s part. It’s a view brought on by sheer arrogance and genuine belief that he is better than everyone else. The other Thawne doesn’t share that view and has fallen in love with Meena who he regards as his world. Thawne using his love for Meena to snap her out of her Negative Speed Force corruption is an earned resolution and provides a hopeful conclusion. The plot is muddied by excessive exposition and more inconsistencies in the rules that govern aspects of this show but it really works on a character level.
This episode is peppered with no less than three subplots, not at all connected to the main plot. Cecile’s power increase amounts to nothing more than just another thing that’s happening with no deeper significance, at least so far. Another subplot that receives very little attention but moves forward significantly is the potential resurrection of Frost. It’s not an unexpected development but it stands out as a completely unconnected vignette among others. The last is the return of John Diggle and the resolution to his protracted subplot developed slowly over multiple shows. It’s a strange subplot in terms of execution as following it relies on full investment in the Arrowverse as a shared continuity. The resolution is disappointing as it involves Diggle internalising a lesson he already understands on a foundational level. It’s a strange inclusion as it has no connection to the rest of the episode and Diggle doesn’t interact with Barry at all.
- strong growth for Barry
- the engaging emotional narrative involving Thawne and Meena
- an earned resolution brought on by Thawne’s connection to Meena
- a hopeful conclusion by showing that the corruption of the Negative Speed Force can be overcome
- interesting self-awareness from the incarcerated Thawne that highlights the difference between the two versions
- the abundance of confusing exposition
- several unconnected sublots
- the disappointing resolution of the ongoing multi-show Diggle subplot
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