THE FLASH Season 6 Episode 18 Review: Pay The Piper

How many episodes can we have of Barry running on fumes and yet somehow having just enough speed enough to take down another bad guy? At least one more, if the Flash writers have anything to say about it. While I’d hardly expect airtight logic for a show focused on science-y sounding magic, it would be nice if there were at least some basics established about what the limits of Barry’s faded powers are — especially when, as with this episode, Barry’s dying speed is supposedly forcing the team into a corner. It’s hard to really feel that drama when Barry’s still zipping off for pep talks with Joe, and every move that shorts his powers seems to be arbitrary. 

The team's supposed desperation leads to a reluctant alliance being made with Hartley Rathaway, AKA Pied Piper. In the early days of the show, Hartley was the rare villain who made an impression, due in no small part to the fact he had a personal history with the original members of the STAR Labs team. When you factor in that his comic book counterpart has long since turned into a Flash ally and friend, he seemed like a natural fit for a recurring character, but instead he disappeared after turning over a new leaf in Season Two thanks to Barry’s meddling in time. Crisis flipped things around once so that Hartley is now a baddie in this timeline. While it's not necessarily a bad move to have Hartley be closer to his original personality after such a long gap between appearances, it does feel rather like there's a weird cosmic game of tug of war to see Hartley pinging back and forth with every reset. 

The material he's given this episode isn’t the strongest — Hartley had far too little interaction with team members other than Barry, and his relationship with his boyfriend was rather underdeveloped, leaving his big emotional moments feeling stale. Still, it was refreshing to see The Flash finally have some LGBTQ representation; the show is certainly dead last in that regard among its Arrowverse sister shows, all of which have multiple LGBTQ leads in the core cast. While this episode may not have a grand re-entrance for Hartley, it did enough to show us the character still works and is definitely worth keeping around this time. Now that Captain Cold is well and truly gone, Hartley could easily slide into the role of the Flash’s resident frenemy. With so many earnest and optimistic characters in the main cast, having someone around who can still be a jerk helps dial down the many sappy speeches everyone’s prone to giving. (Hartley interrupting Barry with “Thanks, Oprah!” is a great example of this in action.) 

Even the once prickly Frost has now become so infected with the rest of the team’s sentimentality that we get a whole subplot dedicated to her fretting about letting down Ralph as her life coach (a title she seems to be way too seriously). I appreciate that the show is using Frost’s illness to hide Danielle Panabaker’s pregnancy, but it does seem a little weird that every time we check in on her she’s sitting in the exact same spot on her couch. In a visual medium, it's hard to get the sense Frost is making any important life changes when she looks like she's literally stuck in the same place, and “dib-ploma” doesn't really do much to help. Then again if we truly revisiting the incredibly dull Snow family saga again, we may soon long for the days when Frost’s plotlines involved being a couch potato. 

And while the less said about Godspeed this episode, the better (his design somehow looks worse with each new appearance), I did perk up at his last words possibly hinting at our Season Seven villain. There's certainly enough loaded meaning in his parting to create plenty of speculation to sustain the fandom even without the more explicit lead up into the next season that the traditional finale provides.

Written by Kaitlin Roberts, THE FLASH Beat Writer