This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the episode to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt for you please do not read further.
The end of the last episode of 'The Flash' gave audiences a shock as season one villain The Reverse-Flash made a dramatic return following his apparent death at the end of the last season. Viewers were left with many questions, was this the same man from the end of season one, was this a Reverse-Flash from earlier in his timeline, or was this another Earth-2 counterpart?
Luckily fans didn't have to wait long to get their answers as those questions were quickly answered. This was the same Reverse-Flash that we knew and loved/hated from season one, but a long time before he experienced those events. One of the many beauties of telling a time travel story we get to revisit one of the shows best characters and tell their origin story, even after having them as a central character for more than 20 episodes already.
It's not long after arriving in 2016 that Eobard Thawn, the Reverse-Flash of the title, is discovered by team Flash, thanks to some handy vibing by Cisco (more on that later) and becomes their target. It was to be expected that the return of Thawn would open a lot of old wounds in our heroes, after everything he'd done in the past it would be impossible not to, but none more-so than Barry and Cisco.
Even after seeming to have some kind of resolution at the beginning of the season, thanks to the message left by the older version of Reverse-Flash that saw Henry Allen freed from prison, it would appear that the pain Thawn caused Barry is still extremely raw.
The best emotional moments of the episode comes not from Barry though, but Cisco and the return of Iris' mother. The West family are given the chance to show that they are more than just a part of team Flash and a surrogate family for Barry as they had drama of their own to deal with this week as Francine lays dying in hospital. We get some beautifully written and acted scenes from Iris as she prepares for the death of a mother she should hate, but manages to find a way to love in some small way.
The impending death of Francine also helps to bring Wally further into the family, as he discovers that he needs the help of his big sister in order to find the strength to say goodbye to the only family he has ever known up until that point. The West story doesn't tie into the Reverse-Flash story in any way, and is better for it. It's given its own space in order to play out naturally and mean a little something, rather than being part of so supervillain story.
The person who tied into Reverse-Flash's story the most was, surprisingly, Cisco. Whilst Thawn betrayed and hurt a lot of people in the first season one of the people who suffered the most was undoubtedly Cisco. Barry lost his mother, Caitlin lost her fiancé, but Cisco was actually killed, and even though those events were wiped out when Barry changed the timeline Cisco can still remember it thanks to his powers. He can remember what it felt like when the Reverse-Flash vibrated his hand into Cisco's chest and burst his heart. That's something that will undoubtedly leave a mark on someone.
The scene where Cisco gets to confront the younger version of the man that killed him is a powerful one, and Carlos Valdes does a fantastic job in portraying the myriad of emotions that Cisco is going through. You get to see the sense of triumph and joy at helping to catch Thawn, you get to see the sadness of him confronting a man who he once say as a father figure, and you can see the trauma of someone coming face to face with the man that hurt him in a way no one else ever has. It's not an easy scene to do, there's so much going on that it's a surprise that Valdes pulls it off so well, but this easily becomes one of the stand out moments in the episode.
Unfortunately for team Flash things never go as planned and they ultimately have to free Thawn, and help him to return to his home time of the 25th century. With everything that Thawn comes to learn in this episode, that he eventually dies in the 21st century, that he helped to give Cisco powers and his brief encounter with Harry it raises some questions as to whether or not these events were always meant to happen. Did the Thawn we see in season one also travel to this point and live these events too? And if so, and he knew that he was going to die in this time period, could that mean that the Reverse-Flash from season one have somehow prepared for the events of the finale and not actually be gone?
A sad development for the viewers this week though was the loss of fan favourite Patty Spivot. Patty was a great character, and she was written wonderfully and played in such an amazing way by Shantel VanSanten, but she was always doomed from the beginning. We all know that Barry and Iris are destined to end up together, the show told us that in the first episode, so we all knew that Barry and Patty would only be a passing thing, however, the way the show used the character and the way that VanSanten played her made me genuinely sad to see her go. She's more than proven that she could fit into the cast dynamic already, she's charming and sweet, funny and smart, and willing to run into danger for the right reasons. I think the show will be poorer for her loss, but sadly her fate was already set.
My one criticism for what would be an almost perfect episode of 'The Flash' would be the scenes involving Jay and Caitlin. Don't get me wrong, these weren't bad scenes, not at all. They added to the unfolding Jay Garrick story, they gave us a nice nod to the comics by making his Earth-1 counterpart Hunter Zolomon, but it felt to me that these scenes could have been better in another episode, where they could be given more time to themselves. The writers clearly have an idea where they're going with Jay and Caitlin, and write some great scenes with the two of them, but they keep getting put into episodes that already have a lot of things happening in them. Give Jay the time and spotlight the character deserves rather than squeezing his scenes in. He's the original Flash, he deserves that much at least.
All in all 'The Reverse-Flash Returns' is a great episode of 'The Flash' that gets to show just how fun and funny yet emotionally hard hitting the show can be. I can't wait until we get to meet Eobard Thawn again.