The Flash – Season 4 Episode 13
The Flash deals with Barry’s change in prison accommodation as the DeVoes make their presence felt once again.
Barry’s incarceration has been both interesting and rife with wasted opportunities. It has been useful for the rest of Team Flash as it has provided a much needed opportunity to show what they are capable of without Barry leading them. The execution of this has been mixed considering it has been an extended series of lessons about being a hero for Ralph but the established formula of the show is at least somewhat subverted.
The problem with this arc is that it has struggled to give Barry anything meaningful to do. I liked seeing him try to find his place in the prison population and his friendship with Dave was really watchable but I don’t get the sense that Barry has really learned anything from his imprisonment. This would be the perfect opportunity for him to understand what motivates some of the criminals the Flash deals with on a daily basis but we get almost none of that.
With this episode it feels like the whole plot was simply an excuse for Barry to find himself in the Metahuman wing and be at risk of his powers being misused. There’s nothing inherently uninteresting about that idea as it puts Barry in a situation he hasn’t been in before and really tests his resolve when it comes to upholding his principles. To be imprisoned among some of the dangerous Metahumans he put in those cells to begin with is great drama that also provides an opportunity for Barry to understand what makes them tick.
The concept of selling Metahumans effectively into slavery is also an interesting one. Barry captured each of the villains that return in this episode which means he unwittingly condemned them to a period of cruel treatment before being sold into slavery by the corrupt Warden Wolfe. How does Barry react to that considering he’s supposed to be a hero? The episode really isn’t interested in exploring this so it’s basically a non issue when it should really be the main issue.
A hero having to work with his enemies is a tried and tested trope in superhero stories for good reason. It puts the hero in an unpredictable situation they aren’t comfortable with, forces them to put their trust in people who likely can’t be trusted and keeps them constantly looking over their shoulder. Supergirl played around with this idea in a far more satisfying way recently but The Flash handles this with the usual clumsiness.
Barry does work with the villains but it amounts to little more than a group of people trying to escape from prison. The prison escape itself feels far too easy but that’s to be expected from a character that is as smart as Barry is supposed to be so I can let that slide. The real story here should be Barry struggling to keep control of the situation but that doesn’t come across.
In general Barry is as problematic as he usually is. I’m still trying to wrap my head around his concept of the law and when to follow it. Last week he was perfectly content to break Dave out because he was innocent but opts to stay in prison until his obvious innocence has been proven. In this episode he’s quick to escape the Metahuman wing which is fair enough because it’s either that or be sold into slavery but decides to stay in the normal prison until his friends can prove his innocence legally. I get that the writers want to establish a virtuous Barry who upholds the law and trusts in the system but there are so many inconsistencies that it just doesn’t work. His attitude basically comes across as pig headed idealism.
I found it really baffling that none of the other characters knew that Barry was the Flash despite being told that he’s a Speedster. It’s true that there has been a handful of evil Speedsters terrorising Central City over the years but the possibility should at least have crossed their mind. When Warden Wolfe outs him as the Flash it’s treated like a big reveal that ignites the hatred of the villains who immediately turn on Barry. It should have been obvious from the start and the betrayal should have been triggered by it not being necessary to work with him any more.
The collection of villains was entertaining enough. They were conveniently made up of the Bus Metas that defined the early part of the season which is fair enough though it might have been good to mix it up with one introduced in an earlier season. For the most part they aren’t especially well developed though their approach to being a criminal has changed somewhat. Ramsay Deacon aka Kilg%re has decided to use his technology controlling ability to manipulate the stock markets for example which does suggest some growth. Mina Chayton aka the Black Bison doesn’t feel like she’s a criminal in the first place so in theory she’s headed for the same fate once she’s free. It all proves pointless since they appear to be killed by DeVoe anyway as he siphons off their powers.
Becky was the strongest thing about this episode. Her appearance earlier in the season showed that she wasn’t a bad person by nature and adopted a selfish attitude once she learned that she had the ability to make luck turn her way for once. It’s easy to understand why she did that and how that could go out of hand. This episode furthers that idea by having her bond with Barry because they are both decent people. When he knocks out the prison maintenance worker Becky tends to Barry’s wound and justifies her experience by telling him that she used to fall a lot. It’s almost funny but also highlights how terrible Becky’s luck was prior to her getting her powers. Her decision to be a good person and use her powers to save Barry feels earned and makes her fate all the more meaningful.
For an episode that has so many villains it completely fails to make many of them work. Amunet’s return was reasonably entertaining thanks to Katee Sackhoff’s infectious charisma but the character does nothing and fails to feel like a looming threat. The same can be said for Warden Wolfe who should have been a constant source of tension but isn’t. A better show would have explored Barry realising that there is corruption in the lawful system he holds in such high regard.
Clifford and Marlize DeVoe return and are equally underwhelming as villains. The writers clearly have no idea how to write a villain of his intellect and are coming up with flimsy excuses for him not having a next move prepared. This time it’s something about the probabilities being calculated in his brain. There really needs to be a decision made on whether he knows exactly how Team Flash will react to certain scenarios or if he can be surprised. His cavalier attitude to going after the Bus Metas during their prison break and his surprise at Barry being freed from prison show him to be less effective than he should be. There is a hint that switching bodies dulls his intelligence but it isn’t explored. His entire character just feels lazy at this point.
The one saving grace from DeVoe’s part of the story is his relationship with Marlize. As time goes on she becomes more unsure of her husband and is aware of how much he is changing. His mind reading powers terrify her and she does everything he can to block him out. To his credit, DeVoe notices this and uses one of his newly acquired abilities to basically cast a love spell on her. This is incredibly unsettling to watch as the word “violation” comes to mind pretty much right away. It is an interesting relationship to watch and I suspect Marlize will decide that her husband is no longer the man she fell in love with before betraying him in some way.
It looks like I was correct when I predicted that DeVoe hopping bodies is a possibility as he discards the body of Dominic in favour of Becky’s. Why he does this is unclear as he seems to have nothing to gain from it but the prospect of Sugar Lyn Beard delivering her own interpretation of this character intrigues me.
This episode gives Ralph yet another lesson to learn that it feels like he has learned before. After being confronted with an old associate he starts counting his blessings around having friends and takes note of the fact that he has never had friends he was worried about losing before. It’s a new experience for him and causes him a certain amount of anxiety when delivering what is asked for him. He accidentally discovers that he has the ability to become anyone he wants thanks to his stretching powers so Team Flash ask him to become Warden Wolfe to call of the deal made with Amunet. It’s fun to see Richard Brooks playing Ralph while keeping Hartley Sawyer’s inflections but ultimately this doesn’t add up to much more than time wasting. Ralph should have already learned to value his friends because he’s had every opportunity to realise this so this whole thing feels like a stalling tactic. Receiving a heart to heart pep talk from Killer Frost is a waste of Caitlin as a character as well.
Ralph’s shape changing ability is used to reasonable effect here when he takes the form of the Neil Sandilands version of Clifford DeVoe to clear Barry’s name. It seems easy because he can’t have murdered someone who is still alive. This feels a little too neat because Ralph -as DeVoe- says that he was stabbed so surely Barry is still the main suspect for that crime and the case merits at least some investigation before casually letting Barry out of prison. This action does clearly put Ralph in DeVoe’s crosshairs as it is now apparent that he is only interested in the Bus Metas for reasons that the audience aren’t privy to though we probably wouldn’t understand even if we were.
A badly underwhelming episode that fails to take advantage of the obvious potential in the setup. The prison arc was the perfect opportunity for Barry to learn why criminals act the way they do but this is never explored. Barry is forced to work with other Metahumans that he put in prison in the first place to prevent them from being sold into slavery. There is no exploration of the moral question over whether Barry is dooming them to a terrible fate by having them locked up nor is there no real tension between him and his fellow Metahuman prisoners because they aren’t allowed to realise that Barry is the Flash until just before they are randomly killed by DeVoe. The collection of villains are entertaining enough and Becky is really well used which makes her fate feel meaningful.
The episode has so many villains but largely fails to make good use of any of them. Amunet has one or two entertaining moments but is underused, Warden Wolfe fails to come across as the threat he needs to be the DeVoe’s are poorly written afterthoughts. Nothing about Clifford DeVoe’s actions make him seem like a genius of any kind and the fact that he’s starting to say that he doesn’t know what to do next is laughable. He has a plan but it’s still unclear what it is and for whatever reason events are playing out in a way that he couldn’t predict which flies in the face of everything that has been set up. His relationship with Marlize is interesting with her misgivings over his behaviour and terror associated with his mind reading ability. The fact that he puts her under what basically amounts to a love spell is really unsettling as well. Seeing that Sugar Lyn Beard can do with the character might prove interesting later on. I was less than impressed by having Ralph learn yet another lesson that he should have already earned and the neatness of his shape shifting ability allowing Barry to be cleared of all charges was really clumsy plotting.
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up.
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.