‘The Flash’ 1.17 Recap: “Look Who’s Back”

After a real dog of an episode the week before, ‘The Flash’ gets back on track with a new one that is, if not necessarily the best episode of the season, probably the most fun.

Both John Wesley Shipp and Amanda Pays, the stars of the 1990s ‘Flash’ TV series, have already appeared in this new revamped version. Shipp plays Barry’s father, and Pays confusingly reprised her original character – or at least played a similar character with the same name. The producers of the show really crank up the fan-service in episode ‘Tricksters’. Not only is Shipp in this one, but so is Mark Hamill, and he most definitely is supposed to be the same guy from the old show. Photos of him in costume, taken directly from the old episodes, are a significant plot point. Is this all intended to lead to a revelation that Barry’s father was The Flash before him, and that the earlier show is really supposed to be in canon with this one? My head hurts a little just thinking about the ramifications of that.

The episode is divided into storylines that take place in the present day and a flashback to 15 years ago (which would place it in 1999). We’ll start with the current stuff.

A young, garishly costumed psycho calling himself The Trickster pulls a dangerous prank that results in the bombing of a public park. Joe West knows that he’s not really The Trickster, however. He’s a copycat. The real Trickster, a lunatic named James Jesse (and yes, the characters point out that this is a simple reversal of Jesse James) had terrorized the city back in the early 1990s until he was finally caught, and has rotted in prison ever since. Conveniently, it’s the same prison where Barry’s father is serving his sentence.

Barry and West pay a visit to the original Trickster (Hamill, doing his Joker voice from the various ‘Batman’ animated projects he’s been involved with) in prison to question him and gain some insight into the copycat. Clearly, they’ve seen ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ one too many times without understanding it. Rather than be flattered, Jesse gets really pissed when he hears that he has an imitator, especially when he realizes that the copycat must have found his secret lair and is using his old tricks.

By the time West and Barry get to the lair, they find it cleaned out. Among the missing items is a bomb said to be big enough to destroy the whole city. The new Trickster issues a public taunt challenging the police to find the bomb. Against Dr. Wells’ advice (Barry doesn’t exactly trust him these days), Barry wastes a lot of time scouring the city for the bomb. When he finally finds it, he realizes that it’s a fake. It was just a distraction so that new Trickster would be able to break old Trickster out of prison. They’ve been working together on this plan the whole time. In fact, old Trickster even reveals that he’s young Trickster’s daddy. (If you think this is a shameless set-up for Mark Hamill to parody the “I am your father” scene from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, you’d be 100% correct.) On their way out of jail, they take a hostage – Barry’s dad.

The two Tricksters next show up in disguise as waiters at the mayor’s fundraising gala. They claim to have poisoned the champagne, and blackmail all of the attendees to turn over every cent they have in exchange for the antidote. Naturally, Barry races in to save the day. The Trickster (the real one) has anticipated this and straps a so-called “kinetic bomb” to Barry’s wrist. He tells Barry that it works just like the movie ‘Speed’. He needs to run at least 600 mph or the bomb will blow. Barry immediately takes off.

On the intercom, Dr. Wells advises Barry that his best chance of getting rid of the bomb is to vibrate his molecules so quickly that he “phases” through a solid object, like a wall, and that doing so should trap the bomb on one side while he passes to the other. (If he can do that, couldn’t he just vibrate his wrist until the bomb slides off?) He tells Barry to, “Feel the lightning, feel the power” and connect to something called the Speed Force. Barry concentrates until he achieves a Zen-like state and then runs straight through a bus (another ‘Speed’ reference!). The bomb gets stuck and explodes harmlessly, exactly as Wells said it would.

Barry next runs off to save his father, and after doing so reveals his secret identity. His dad doesn’t seem surprised in the slightest.

The revelations aren’t quite done there. Later, Barry and West decide to tell Eddie their secret, so that Eddie will convince Iris to stop investigating the disappearance of her boss. (Viewers already know that Dr. Wells killed him, but the other characters don’t.) Funny how none of the other reporters at the newspaper are concerned about this…

By the end of the episode, Barry tells Joe that the way Wells described the Speed Force sounded like he must have experienced it for himself. Barry finally suspects that Dr. Wells is the Reverse-Flash.

15 Years Earlier

In the flashback storyline, we see the Flash and Reverse-Flash race to young Barry’s house and have a huge speed-fight in Barry’s living room. We already knew that this happened, but it’s viewed from a different perspective here, and suggests that Reverse-Flash was not intentionally trying to kill Barry’s mother, but rather had come for young Barry. The older manifestation of Barry whisked the kid away to safety. Upset at his failure, Reverse-Flash races outside, howls in frustration, pulls off his mask and… wait a second, that’s not Harrison Wells! Who the hell is this guy?!

(It’s Matt Letscher from ‘Eli Stone’ and ‘Scandal’.)

Come to find out, Harrison Wells and Eobard Thawne are (or were) two different people, not just a pseudonym. Thawne comes from the future but is now stuck in the past. In order to get back to his own time, he needed to create The Flash so that he can exploit his connection to the Speed Force. Or something. To do so, Thawne stalked and murdered the real Harrison Wells, then used a doohickey borrowed from the cast of ‘Fringe’ to assume Wells’ appearance and identity.

Honestly, the explanation still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I can forgive it. I at least kind-of understand what’s going on now, so that’s something.

Plotline coherency notwithstanding, this episode is really entertaining. Unless I’m forgetting something, I think The Trickster got away in the end, so we should hopefully be seeing more of Mark Hamill in the future.


  1. Tom Landy

    I love this show. They obviously have fun making it, and I really like how there are homages galore. Mark Hamill was hilarious. This was definitely one of the best episodes.

    Now what we need is for the producers to make a Trials and Tribulations-type episode that merges with one of the old The Flash episodes. Would be pretty easy since time travel is pretty easy.

  2. Jim

    You missed one of the callbacks to the 90s series. At the fundraiser, the man playing the mayor is named as Bellows. The same actor played officer Bellows in the 90s series, and he was the first policeman to actually see the Flash, which got him a lot of flack from his partner.

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