If you don't know the lesser Flash villain the Pied Piper, you may not understand what an achievement last night's episode of The Flash was. Basically, it not only turned on of the Flash's least intimidating foes into an instantly compelling character — but it also delivered The Flash's greatest episode yet.
And yes, I'm even counting the Arrow crossover.
What "The Sound and the Fury" did so, so right — and what I hope we can continue to expect from The Flash moving forward — is that it took a standard freak-o'-the-week story but married it into the season's overarching plot. It sounds easy, but it takes some genuinely good writers to write episodes that are good stories by themselves, are compelling parts of a larger storyline, and also develop the show's characters on a micro level, too. It's this level of quality that turns viewers into die-hard fans, and again, it did all this with a Flash villain who originally looked like this:
This is pretty goddamned impressive.
In the comics, the Pied Piper was just a rich kid named Hartley Rathaway, who was born deaf and grew up fascinated with sound, eventually figuring out a way to hypnotize people with sound waves. He used his technology to rob banks, and not much else. The Flash TV show reimagines him as Dr. Wells' former protégé — a brilliant jerk who is out for revenge on his former boss for unknown reasons. Happily, the show genuinely makes Hartley smart — he has several cunning plans for fighting the Flash and beating Wells — and the show doesn't need to dumb down our heroes to make them work. (Admittedly, it helps if you remember the Flash is good at science and crime scene investigation, but isn't exactly a tactical genius.)
The episode begins strong when the Piper attacks Wells at his (incredibly nice/large/expensive) home, shattering every glass in the place; Wells is forced to use his speed powers (briefly) to escape harm. Apparently the neighbors call the cops, to Wells' chagrin; he plays it off at some prankster still bitter over him nearly blowing up the city with the particle accelerator, but tells Barry he already knows who the culprit is. But this scene serves a dual purpose — both Joe and Thawne notice that even though Wells' entire glass ceiling shattered by him, he remains completely unharmed — something a man in a wheelchair probably shouldn't have been able to manage.
Back at STAR Labs, Wells explains who Hartley is, and alludes that Rathaway is bitter about being forced to leave STAR Labs, without exactly specifying why. We get a few flashbacks to the time before the accident, during Cisco's first day where we learn that Rathaway is indeed brilliant and a dick (in a nice bit of meta-storytelling, Hartley's instant distaste for Cisco is pretty much exactly what viewers have complained about the character). When the team gets reports that Hartley is attacking his parents company — they basically disowned him after he came out to them, because they're old money, "old world" assholes — the Flash shows up to capture him, and quickly takes the Piper's sonic gauntlets off his hands.
The Flash, the SuperSTARS and the viewers are hard-pressed to take the Pied Piper very seriously at this point… which is a great misdirect. Once in the Labs' prison, he's clearly where he wants to be. By announcing to the entire SuperSTARS tam that he knows Wells' "deep, dark secret," he forces Wells to admit to the others that Hartley warned him there was a potential risk in activating the accelerator, and Wells chose to ignore him. The team is devastated at this betrayal — especially Caitlin, since it turned her fiancée into The Flammable Hobo — but they'd be even more upset if they saw the flashback, where Wells doesn't just ignore Hartley's warning, but fires him, has him immediately escorted off the premises, and threatens to ruin his career if he ever tells anyone. By this time, the Piper has easily escaped his cell, managed to download some unknown information of the Labs' computers, and escaped.
Part of the reason "The Sound and the Fury" works so well is because it uses the Pied Piper to focus on The Flash's most intriguing mystery: Harrison Wells. Admittedly, it doesn't give any answers, but that's fine when the questions are so fascinating. Was it just hubris that caused Wells to activate the particle accelerator despite Hartley's warning, or was it always part of his crazy masterplan involving the Flash? Was Hartley really talking about warning Wells, or does he know a bigger secret? Did Wells admit his guilt about ignoring Hartley's warning solely in order to diffuse other suspicions? Was Wells apology to the team even genuine? You'd think it wouldn't be, but he goes to far as to hold a press conference to admit his guilt to all of Central City — seemingly specifically to atone for his mistakes and gain back the SuperSTARS' trust. But does he do it because he generally cares of because he needs them for his final plan? Or is it even both?
And that's not even mentioning the fact that when Hartley escapes, Wells tries to use his speed powers but quickly falls. There's something wrong with his powers, which I think we can safely guess is tied to his plans regarding the Flash.
Eventually, the Piper stages another attack at the dam, solely so Flash can try to capture him — except he downloaded all of Barry's info, so he knows what frequency will cause him the most damage. When the Flash rips off the Piper's gauntlets, Hartley has rigged them to hijack his suits internal ear speakers, broadcast the frequency, and basically tear apart his internal organs from the inside. With Barry completely out of commission, it's up to Wells to save the day — he uses a satellite to take over the satellite radios of the cars driving by the dam to broadcast a frequency to short out the Piper's gloves (which also makes them explode, which is a bit much, but whatever).
If this were an earlier Flash episode, it would have ended with the Pied Piper captured and the STARS forgiving Wells. Both of those things happen, but it's not quite the end. First, Cisco comes to gloat at the imprisoned Hartley, but the Piper had a back-up plan all along: he knows where Ronnie Raymond is, what happened to him, and how to save him, and all Cisco has to do is free him. As for Wells, he uses the episode's final moments to recharge his Speed Force — yes, his A.I. literally calls it the Speed Force — with the large harness thing seen on the Reverse-Flash suit. Unfortunately, the device isn't recharging his powers like it should, but Wells isn't that concerned… because, as he announces, the endgame has almost arrived.
This is the Flash show I was hoping for from the Arrow team, guys. It wasn't perfect — the opening narration is still horrifically on-the-nose, Barry's sense of "betrayal" by Wells is overwrought, and his heart-to-heart with Joe near the end seems forced and unnecessary — but it was close enough that I basically don't care. It's what I've been waiting for, and man, was it worth the wait.
• Iris is hired as a cub reporter at the Central City Picture News. While it's nice to see Iris do anything that isn't specifically related to the men in her life, she's quite shocked to discover that the newspaper only hired her because of her Flash blog, and the potential that they'll be able to get some Flash news out of her. The idea that Iris, who has as far as I can tell has no journalism experience at all, is somehow surprised and miffed about this strikes me as painfully naïve.
• Barry explains how sound can shatter glass to Joe by using a speaker to break a glass. When it breaks, both Barry and Joe laugh like idiots. It's really strange.
• In their first encounter, the Flash initially beats the Pied Piper by pushing him so hard he falls down. It's kind of hilarious.
• When Barry and Joe have a heart-to-heart, Barry casually mentions his scientific heroes, including Neil deGrasse Tyson and… uh… Richard Dawkins? I feel like a non-science-aware Flash writer probably meant Richard Feynman and got confused, don't you?
• Joe has Eddie secretly investigating Wells. I sense this is going to work just great for everybody! Especially Eddie.