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'The Flash' is brilliant, but why does Barry need to be?

Commentary: Counting the seconds as we wait for more episodes of "The Flash," Crave's Kelsey Adams ponders whether Barry's brains are a clue.

Tonight is the first Tuesday without "The Flash" in the long, slow period until the next new episode airs on March 17. How to cope? I mean, I have my screencap collection of the identical black crewnecks of Dr. Wells to comfort me, but it's not enough. Of course, that gives us more time to discuss Reverse Flash -- which has already been done plenty, but I just wanted to put out an extra argument in favor of one of the popular theories. I call this one Chekhov's Brain.


Video screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET

The popular theory to which I allude is that Dr. Wells -- the genius S.T.A.R. Labs director of questionable motivations -- is Barry Allen grown up. It's true that the similarity between their faces can't be unseen, and Wells' evil smirk is reminiscent of Barry's "mischievous" grin. The theory has the added bonus of keeping the evidence found at the scene of Barry's mother's murder nice and ambiguous. I don't know that I'm entirely on board with it -- though lately I've been leaning toward Wells being an adult Barry from an alternate universe, which would explain both similarities and differences.

Esteemed colleague and Flash fan Jeff Sparkman tells me the comics suggest this is a perfectly reasonable idea. [Update: Helpful Twitter commenter @Goonerknight points out it's implied that Cisco ruled out Barry being Wells in episode 13 based on the crime scene samples, but I'm not convinced that's final. Among possible explanations: Wells tampered with Cisco's tests, the sample on file for Wells isn't his, Cisco didn't actually check it against Dr. Wells (he only says he'll check against a criminal database)...The writers can find ways around it if they want.]

Anyway, here's something I've noticed in favor. Question: Why does "The Flash" keep telling us that Barry Allen is a brilliant scientist who's studied Wells' work? He needs to be smart and educated to be a CSI, but that doesn't require him to be genius-level. He didn't get his powers by being a scientist. Lots of people got powers when the particle accelerator blew -- some by doing something no smarter than climbing electrical towers.

It would still have been natural for him to seek out the S.T.A.R. Labs group after the accelerator explosion, even if he'd had no previous interest in it. Barry's interest in Wells' work creates a bond, but the protective, mentoring relationship between the two would have been enough to produce a real sense of betrayal.

Barry's role on the S.T.A.R. Labs team doesn't focus on active scientific participation -- it's nice that he understands things enough that we don't have to keep hearing him ask the group to "Explain again in English?" -- but it's mainly the S.T.A.R. lab rats Cisco, Caitlin and Wells who do the math while Barry runs around. Even though Barry can read at superspeed, which means he can think at that speed, which means he should be able to do his own calculations and still have time for a burger.

"The Flash" is a great nerd show overall, and it's true that Barry does solve problems with his brains -- he's not just an action man -- but I'm not seeing anything in the show so far that demands that he be brilliant, or even a scientist at all. But it is necessary if he's the person who becomes Wells.


"So, as you can clearly see, he does wear a black crewneck in nearly every episode." "I don't know, Cisco..."

Video screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET

I'm told that in the comics Barry Allen's not a genius so much as an "earnest" scientist, designer of the ring that holds his costume. So his scientific cred on the show could be a nod to that -- but TV scripts don't have a lot of room for wasted lines, and there's been enough emphasis on Barry's scientific brain that I can't help but wonder. As the Chekhov's Gun rule says: the diploma on the wall must go off.

Another obvious explanation is that the writers live in TV-land where every scientist is brilliant and every CSI is a genius. Fair enough. It depends how smart you think the show is.

Hit me with your best theories in the comments below. Sparkman and I have hashed this out at length, and we can't quite make the alternate universe thing work, yet.

Disclosure: CNET is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS. "The Flash" airs on The CW, a joint venture between CBS and Warner Bros. Entertainment.