The Flash – Season 4 Episode 11
“The Elongated Knight Rises”
The Flash deals with Barry’s incarceration and how the team pull together to protect the city without having access to him or his abilities.
Barry being put in prison was something of a surprise last week even if it made sense in the context of the story. After the excellent first season this show has become really safe and predictable so anything that seems a bit riskier is definitely welcomed. I’m happy to say that I was wrong in my prediction that Barry’s name would be cleared and he would be out at the end of this episode. It looks like the writers are looking to commit to this storyline and make the most of the potential. it brings.
Last week Barry made a choice to honour whatever decision the court rendered because as both a superhero and a CSI he protects people within the confines of the legal system. Every criminal stopped and Metahuman taken down is eventually put through that system and given a fair trial. It’s understandable that he would feel that it might be hypocritical to decide that he above that system and circumvent it using his powers. Arguably he already does that as a vigilante but his intention is to bring those who have done wrong to justice.
Barry’s approach to being in prison is really interesting. His secret identity is one of the reasons he let himself be locked up so keeping that is always at the forefront on his mind. The very beginning of the episode shows a prison riot that Barry is trying to keep out of the way of. He is shown to be bursting to rush into action to sort it out. People around him are being hurt and it’s not something Barry finds easy to ignore. I like that he gives in and uses his powers to put the prisoners back in their cells though it’s curious that nobody questions why this has happened. Despite that showing Barry’s difficulty adjusting to life in prison is nicely encapsulated in this opening scene.
The rest of the episode does a good job as well. Broadly speaking Barry tries to stay out of the way because he doesn’t want any trouble but unfortunately finds himself noticed by a gang of prisoners and chosen to be their next target. Luckily their first attempt is thwarted by a fellow prisoner by the name of Dave -or Big Sir- (Bill Goldberg); an inmate who owed his father a favour for identifying that his appendix was about to burst and performing a life saving operation.
Initially it’s very much a relationship founded on evening the score but when Barry is able to save him later in the episode it quickly becomes based on mutual respect. Barry having a friend on the inside should enhance the prison scenes as he now has someone to talk to who he can share things with. He does have scenes with Iris when she visits but they don’t rise above the trite conversations about their feelings that they usually have. It’s important to establish that they miss one another but it comes with its usual level of melodrama that makes it difficult to buy them as a couple.
Another striking thing about Barry in prison is just how slow time passes for him. It is well established that as a Speedster he perceives time at a different rate to everyone else so it was good to see this deployed in a really subtle way. Seeing him glance at the clock waiting for Iris’ visiting time and having it feel like an eternity between ticks of the clock was a really nice touch sold well by Grant Gustin’s silent performance.
In the meantime Team Flash have the responsibility of protecting the city without their leader around to help them. Dibny takes it upon himself stretch into the limelight and claim the heroic glory in the absence of his mentor. This plays out well enough if you happen to like Dibny -which I don’t- and offers him some opportunity to push himself into becoming more selfless. Of course he still enjoys the glory of being dubbed a Hero and takes any opportunity to gloat about his accomplishments but his desire to help others does feel genuine enough. It does feel strange that the disappearance of the Flash as a Hero isn’t addressed considering how prevalent he was to the citizens of Central City.
Having his second thoughts come after he finds out that he isn’t as indestructible as he once thought was a really nice touch because it humanises him in a way that the show often fails to do with their characters. He’s brave enough when he feels like he can’t be hurt but when he finds that he’s in real danger then self doubt creeps in and the whole Hero business is a lot less appealing as a result. I really liked his blunt admission that he was only interested in pursuing this when he thought he couldn’t be killed because it’s honest and relatably Human. Of course it is neatly resolved by Dibny finding that honour driven courage and putting himself in danger which unfortunately likely puts this to bed but the brief attempt was appreciated even if the resolution is clumsy and unearned.
Dibny’s first foray into being a solo crime fighting arc puts him up against Axel Walker aka the Trickster (Devon Graye) and his mother Zoey Clark aka Prank (Corinne Bohrer). If Barry wasn’t in prison and was around to deal with them then they would be absolutely no match for him but as a training exercise for Dibny they feel like about the right level.
The handling with these villains brings attention to a lingering problem this season has. Settling on a tone that works has been a consistent struggle; there’s a clear emphasis on reclaiming what made season 1 work to some degree but the attempts to recreate that feel very artificial. The Trickster and Prank are a clear example of this as they belong in a really campy show with reduced stakes and routine ridiculousness which directly contrasts the effective drama created by Barry in prison. Playing around with tone is good for a show because it can prevent it becoming stale but the mismatch is really profound to the point of being really jarring to watch. It should never feel like two scenes that run right after one another are from two completely different shows but that’s what happens here.
Another issue is that Devon Graye just isn’t Mark Hamill in terms of presence or ability so his version of the Trickster feels less than threatening. Hamill always brought a sinister comedic edge to the character as well as an unhinged quality that made him interesting to watch because he was so unpredictable. Graye does nothing of the sort most likely because the writing gives him nothing interesting to work with. He’s clearly supposed to be intelligent and threatening but this fails to come across.
His mother Zoey aka Prank is impossible to take seriously as well which makes her presence feel almost pointless. Some attempt was made to play around with the mother/son dynamic but there wasn’t enough work put in to make it strong enough. I like the idea of a mother trying to gain her son’s favour while being unable to make him forget about his father long enough to pay attention to her. Ultimately they fail to resonate because their presence isn’t much more than an excuse to kill time.
Underwhelming villains aside this episode vastly improves on something the first episode of the season fails to do. I criticised it heavily because Barry Allen was brought back in the space of a single episode therefore ruining any potential to show Team Flash as a cohesive unit operating without their leader. Here an entire episode elapses without Barry showing up as the Flash at all and it’s appreciated. Dibny does go to him for advice on being a Hero but that’s not the same as Barry solving the problem for them. I do like seeing secondary characters working to fill the void left by the absence of their leader because it tests them in different ways and there are hints of that happening here.
The problem with this is the same issue the show always has. The writers consistently fail to consider the actual scale of abilities present within Team Flash. The younger Trickster may be a suitable match for an arrogant and inexperienced Dibny but there’s no way he has any hope of besting Cisco. He’s not a Metahuman so has no powers to fall back on which means that all Cisco needs to do is breach him into a prison cell before he has any idea what’s happening. It certainly should never have never got to the stage where he and his mother were able to surprise and capture both Cisco and Caitlin as Killer Frost. The writers have written themselves into a corner with how overpowered the characters are and it’s something that affects every plot.
This episode boasts the second appearance of the young woman played by Jessica Parker Kennedy who last appeared in the first episode of the recent crossover. Her previous appearance heavily hinted at her seeing Barry and Iris’ Wedding as an event of personal significance leading me to wonder if she is Barry and Iris’ time travelling daughter. At the very least she is very interested in observing Team Flash for some reason and seems really excited to be there. The answer to this seems obvious though I’ve been wrong before.
This will most likely be the final edition of this particular feature because he has been found. I’m very glad that a place is being found for the character that feels like a good fit for him and I’m fully confident that he will be put to much better use in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow but the timing for this feels off.
The time to do this was earlier in the season when the character was being unnecessarily cast aside with the flimsiest of explanations as to his whereabouts. Having Barry in prison presents the perfect opportunity for Kid Flash to step up and fill that void rather than using Dibny. His absence isn’t addressed in this particular episode either which is even more baffling as someone should mention the fact that Wally would come in handy right about now.
An uneven episode that excels in delivering an engaging story focused around Barry in prison. There is subtlety to the way that this story is handled and progressing it to the point that he has a friend on the inside makes sense in terms of sustaining this plot in future episodes. Fully committing to the idea of Barry being in prison is certainly appreciated on a show that generally plays it safe.
Using this as an opportunity for Team Flash to develop as a group in the absence of Barry is a good idea in theory and having Dibny come into his own as a Hero in the absence of the Flash also works in theory. I liked Dibny’s arrogance followed by a crisis of confidence when he realised that his life was in danger but resolving it in a single episode was a bit of a cop out. The Trickster and Prank were probably the right level of threatening for Dibny on his own but any scene featuring them was at odds tonally with the rest of the episode to the point that it felt jarring and the episode fails to acknowledge that they would be no match for Cisco or Caitlin as Killer Frost.
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