Subtly mentioned in passing in the last episode of “The Flash,” in “The Sound and the Fury” we meet Hartley Rathaway in person for the first time, or as he’s know in the comics – The Pied Piper! In the comics the Piper has jumped between being a friend and a foe of the Flash, now we’ll see how his television counterpart plays out. Meet me after the super speed jump for my thoughts on “The Sound and the Fury.”
The Pied Piper
In the comics, Hartley Rathaway began rather simply, a spoiled rich kid obsessed with sound and sonics so much he made it his hobby and turned to crime. An expert in the field he designed weaponry that could control minds or destroy, all through sound. Later layers were added to his character. Rathaway became one of the original members of Flash’ Rogues Gallery. He was originally deaf, later cured, and he was one of comics’ first out gay characters. Like many of the Rogues, he fluctuated between good and evil over the years, either by choice or outside manipulations.
While a foe of the second Flash (Barry Allen, with the first being Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash years before) the Pied Piper, later just called the Piper, actually became close friends with the third Flash, Wally West, the former Kid Flash. When Barry returned from the dead (it’s comics, this kind of stuff happens all the time) Piper remained on the side of the angels and even began a relationship with Barry’s boss Captain David Singh, who we’ve seen in the TV series as played by Patrick Sabongui.
The TV Piper
Played by Andy Mientus, late of “Smash,” “Chasing Life,” Spring Awakening, and a handful of other Broadway and off Broadway shows, we’ve already had hints of who the Pied Piper is in the Flash and Arrowverse. He’s the son his parents don’t acknowledge, and he was also Dr. Harrison Well’s former assistant, who was also affected by the particle accelerator accident. Here, the Pied Piper is more of a jerk than a friend, or even a foe. He is certainly a complete character change from the comics, vengeful, violent, and dangerous.
The Pied Piper has a revenge on for Wells, because he knew the accelerator would blow, and instead of taking his advice, Wells had him fired. Fashion-wise I do have to say that while I’m bored by the drab hoodie outfit worn by Piper here, anything is better than the character’s original Silver Age duds, probably one of the more ugly designs in comics (shame on you, Mr. Gambi) this side of the Signalman. I also prefer the glove devices over the horn or flute weapons Piper has used in the comics. Refreshingly though, this television version of the character is certainly a viable threat.
Attack on Casa Wells
We have a terrific opening where Wells helps Barry shortcut through the city to catch the bad guys. Of course Wells was able to help Barry navigate those streets to stop them, because he himself is also a speedster – the Reverse-Flash. He knows how to use his powers. Also, look sharp for the subtle Arrow crossover as the Flash bags the bad guys, because they’re the Royal Flush Gang.
After this we see Wells assaulted in his home by a phone call and sonic waves. We see him use his speed for the first time on screen, surprisingly in a lightning-laced red blur. Wells has nice digs, as noted by his friends at S.T.A.R. and the police when they come to investigate. Various things about what Wells says about the incident don’t add up and just makes Joe more suspicious than he already was. Toward the end of the episode we learn he and Thawne are digging deeper.
Picture News! Yes, the fanboy in me was jumping up and down. In the comics, Iris West was a reporter for Picture News, kind of a cool version of Lois Lane. She was sharp, spunky, and indeed had gumption, and while she did wonder who her city’s costumed protector was – she never obsessed on it like her counterpart, Ms. Lane. Iris of course really hired because of her blog and her connection to the Flash. She seems to be having problems at the paper similar to those 1940s worries of measuring up over in “Agent Carter.” Honestly, in 2015, it’s a bit disturbing.
Iris’ mentor at Central City Picture News is one Mason Bridge, played by Roger Howarth of “General Hospital.” That name, or some of it, should ring bells for 1990s Flash readers as Mason Tollbridge. He was the sidekick to 1930s pulp hero The Clipper (sort of a second rate version of The Shadow), and eventually took over that role for some time. The retired hero aided the Flash (Wally West) in many cases for a time. The name is a nice homage, but really I wonder if that’s where this reference will stop. Honestly The Clipper is not a cherished memory of Flash stories past.
We flashback to two years ago to Cisco’s first day where we meet Hartley Rathaway and learn just a little bit more about him. He apparently was a bit of a jerk, but as Cisco notes in the present, “sometimes he could be a dick.” Yeah, I was surprised that got past the censors too. He was the wonder boy and ‘chosen one’ at S.T.A.R. Apparently, but Rathaway is not a nice guy at all, a total character turnaround from the comics. I can only assume they intended to make him seem worse than Wells so the latter could play hero later.
After an encounter with the Flash, Piper is captured and put into the Pipeline (which in the comics is where the really dangerous villains are placed at Iron Heights, but different on TV), where he threatens to blow all of Wells secrets. Our doctor confesses that yes, he knew about the accelerator, driving both Caitlin, who lost her fiancée, and Cisco away. To gain back trust, Wells calls a press conference to confess, one where he also singles out Iris West to get the scoop. Is he securing the future here, making sure she’s a star reporter? There were similar circumstances when Farooq endangered the future, I wonder…
Vibrations and Victories
I was not happy with this ending. I hate victories that the hero does not enact himself, and a victory achieved through the actions of a character we know to be the true villain, the real big bad of the show, is especially disappointing. Harrison Wells is not a hero, he is the Reverse-Flash, and I’m sorry, the powers that be will have to work much harder to make me feel for him at this point, no matter how nasty they make the Pied Piper.
We are left with several hanging chads this time out. When Piper first escapes from the Pipeline he blows up the door with Cisco in the way of a sonic device. Comics fans know that sooner or later Cisco Ramon becomes the hero known as Vibe. Did this accident affect him in ways other than a simple concussion? And when Piper said Cisco would let him out, did he really mean because he knows where Ronnie Raymond is, or because of some new powers he’s been given? Time will tell, thankfully, the show doesn’t always follow the comics.
Braille Room Epilogue
Speaking of the comics, when all is said and done, Wells is back in his Braille room again, and makes the first TV mention of the Speed Force. The tachyon device stolen back in episode nine doesn’t seem to be living up to expectations, so something will have to be done to keep his speed up. I was very surprised to see that Wells’ speed gave out on him at one point during this episode.
Perhaps it has to do with the aforementioned Speed Force. Get your wonky comic book science hats on, cuz this is going to be fun. The Speed Force is an extra-dimensional energy that is said to fuel speedsters in the DC Comics Universe. When approaching inhuman speeds or traveling through time or breaking the light barrier, it can be accessed. Perhaps because the Reverse-Flash in the comics is originally from the 25th century, Wells needs it to get home. Also it might be theorized that whatever brought him here might have messed with time, so that he’s being very careful what he changes, and is making sure the Flash is on his correct path. Time, pun intended, will tell…
Next: More Piper, more Firestorm, Peekaboo, Linda Park, and Barry goes on a date, in “Crazy for You.”