The Flash – Season 4 Episode 9
The Flash wraps up for midseason with some Christmas cheer and a double kidnapping for the team to deal with.
I’ve frequently pointed out that this show doesn’t make the best use of characters not named Barry Allen -though it often doesn’t make the best use of characters who are named Barry Allen- so having an episode focused on Team Flash dealing with things in his absence was a good idea. It’s what the first episode of the season should have been and wasn’t. This episode does manage to put Barry in the background to some degree though isn’t entirely successful.
The simultaneous kidnapping of Barry and Caitlin by different kidnappers is framed as a test for Iris’ leadership skills. Part of being a leader is sometimes making a difficult choice with no idea of what the consequences would be. In this case Team Flash have the resources to look for one of their missing members but not both so Iris -as self appointed team leader- has to choose between her husband and her friend.
It’s a solid idea that puts Iris in an uncomfortable position that she isn’t quite ready for. Her indecisiveness has a knock on effect on Cisco and Ralph who bicker incessantly because they have no clear focus and are forced to spend time on what appears to be an impossible task. In theory it’s a good idea but in practice it fails to take into account Cisco as a character. Having him wait around for Iris to make a decision robs him of all agency and feels completely counter to everything we know about him.
One of the major issues here is that the show has done nothing to explain why Cisco accepts Iris’ leadership and blindly follows her orders. To my mind Cisco makes a lot more sense as a leader based on his experience though I understand why the writers have put Iris in this position since she was languishing with nothing meaningful to do before now.
I’m all for giving Iris more to do in the context of the show and defining her role but it has to make sense. It hasn’t really been a problem before now because Barry has been largely leading the team so it hasn’t really come up but having everyone defer to her leadership in his absence doesn’t work. Cisco has never been one to blindly follow orders that he disagrees with and Harry certainly isn’t someone who would let a decision he doesn’t agree with go unchallenged.
It is Harry who points out that Iris needs to make a difficult choice because Team Flash lacks the resources to find both missing members at the same time. He approaches the conversation calmly and rationally which makes for a good scene where Harry takes on something of a mentor role for Iris. Given her lack of experience with situations like this it does make sense for him to take a more nurturing approach to giving advice but him leaving it as long as he did doesn’t work.
What really should have happened was a private word with Iris once she declared they would work on finding both of their missing people to point out the obvious. This approach would have still allowed Iris to agonise over a difficult decision and Harry to be the voice of reason. Some other excuse could have been made for the delay in finding Caitlin. Instead Cisco and Ralph take out their frustrations on one another rather than actually addressing the issue which does a disservice to Cisco as I said.
Caitlin had the strongest abduction story as it fed into a very particular emotional issue she was having. It was established early in the episode that Ralph and Cisco had spent some time hanging around with Killer Frost and had fun doing it. Apparently the interactions are casual enough for there to be in-jokes that Caitlin isn’t privy to. As such Caitlin is starting to feel marginalised by her own alternate personality. The idea is a sound one and it’s amusing to think that Killer Frost has gone from being a villain to someone that Team Flash can happily be around without being afraid. It would have been better to see this actually play out as it’s an interesting prospect if a little outlandish.
The important thing to remember is that Caitlin feels marginalised so building a story around showing why the Caitlin persona is worthwhile is the obvious choice. She is presented with a medical problem to solve as well as having to engineer her escape. Bringing back Amunet for this was a good decision as well since she has that history with Caitlin/Killer Frost. Even though she has only had one prior appearance their unseen history is well enough developed that it’s easy to fill in the blanks.
Caitlin shows how resourceful, compassionate and confident she is through her actions dealing with her predicament. The compassion comes from the fact that she can’t let Dominic Lanse aka Brainstorm (Kendrick Sampson) die so promises to do what she can to help him. Her confidence is seen in how she reacts to Amunet’s demands and the resourcefulness is in how she engineers her escape.
According to the dialogue the extent of Dominic’s injury is really severe though that doesn’t come across in the execution. Operating on him actually seems fairly simple and it isn’t mentioned again after that so there’s an air of clumsiness about this particular plot point. Amunet’s interest in him pays off nicely when it is revealed that DeVoe commissioned her to find Dominic. It adds to the supposed intricate nature of his plan and prevents Caitlin’s role in the episode from feeling disposable.
Barry’s abduction plot isn’t nearly as good because it feels like there are almost no stakes attached to it. He’s captured for reasons that aren’t made clear to the audience. We are assured that it’s all part of the plan but that also comes with the cop out boast that lesser minds couldn’t possibly understand the complexity of DeVoe’s scheme. All that says to me is that the writers have no idea where they’re going with this and are disguising it by claiming that only a super genius like DeVoe would be able to comprehend it. I don’t find this an acceptable explanation as it makes the overall story impossible to invest in since we have no real concept of why DeVoe does anything.
This would have been a great opportunity to further the antagonistic relationship between Barry and DeVoe or at least gain greater insight into his overall plan. Neither of these things happen so Barry’s capture feels like something of a waste. His method of escape wasn’t all that impressive either considering it’s something that the Thinker should have anticipated. I did get a chuckle out of the reference to standing still really fast but the fact that DeVoe didn’t consider it despite all the apparent research he has done on Barry’s abilities makes him look far less than a genius level opponent. My concern is that the writers aren’t up to the task of creating an antagonist who also happens to be the smartest man alive. The writing needs to be at least sharp and clever and it just isn’t so far.
Despite the weaknesses in the execution of this character as an antagonist the angle of him being a tragically sympathetic character still works. Neil Sandilands does a great job portraying a man who is running out of time and is frustrated at the fact his body is failing him. Based on this episode Marlize might end up becoming the focus of the villain story as there’s a sense of desperation and growing unease coming from her as time goes on.
The ending of the episode was really effective. We get another West family Christmas which made for a really charming scene. Nothing especially impactful happens but watching the characters interact often creates memorable moments and this is no exception.
Barry being summoned back to the loft and receiving a call from DeVoe in Dominic’s body is a compelling twist though it’s unfortunate that Neil Sandilands has been replaced as the Thinker so early in the season. I wonder if he’s going to keep burning through bodies until he finds something more permanent or if Dominic’s body is better able to support his essence than his natural one is. It’s also unclear if the real Dominic is still in there somewhere and there will be some kind of internal battle over who regains control of his body. It could also turn out that Marlize doesn’t like her husband in the new body so there are a lot of possibilities afforded by the body switch to play with in the coming episodes.
DeVoe’s plan to frame Barry for murder by depositing his bloody discarded corpse in the loft to make it look like Barry did it was a good cliffhanger as long as certain things are ignored. Barry knows that he’s innocent and has plenty of time to dispose of the planted evidence before the cops break in to arrest him. I understand that the intention was to show that Barry believes in the justice system enough to turn himself him and trust that the right verdict will be reached but like so many things the execution was off. I suspect the upcoming episodes will be a version of “The Trial of the Flash” which definitely interests me.
According to Joe our resident forgotten Speedster is in Camboda for reasons that are unexplained. I’ve said before that there’s no point in having this character in the show if he isn’t going to be used but the repeated excuses for him not being there are nothing short of pitiful. If any episode needed a spare Speedster it was this one. The writers missed yet another opportunity to develop Wally and his dynamic with other members of the team. He’s a more interesting character than Ralph and would fit much better into the overall tapestry of the show. I’d like to see Wally end up in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow as he could be put to much better use there.
An uneven episode that fails to build tension in the way it should and struggles to keep consistent stakes throughout. Having two members of Team Flash captured is a reasonable idea is t forces the other characters to step up and deal with the crisis. In particular it’s a great opportunity for Iris to test her leadership skills. Unfortunately it feels contrived because the writers do Cisco a disservice by making him completely useless until Iris tells him what to do. It doesn’t work because everything we know about Cisco suggests that he wouldn’t behave this way. Iris having to make a tough choice is fair enough as an idea but it depends on the audience forgetting fundamental character details to make it work.
Caitlin’s capture is the strongest as it makes a case for why the Caitlin persona is important after establishing that Killer Frost is becoming more friendly with the team. Having her feel marginalised before exploring what makes her useful is a good idea and is handled fairly well for the most part. The details around Dominic’s injury are somewhat lacking but other than that it was a good showcase for Caitlin. Barry’s capture is far less effective as it fails to explore the antagonistic relationship between him and DeVoe or develop DeVoe’s plan in any meaningful way. His escape strategy was something DeVoe should have easily seen coming as well. The ending involving a West family Christmas, a body switching reveal and Barry being arrested for murder was really effective and sets things up nicely for the next part of the season even if the execution of Barry being framed left a lot to be desired.
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