The Flash – Season 4 Episode 23
“We Are The Flash”
The Flash completes its fourth season with a race against time before the Enlightenment takes effect and the final showdown against DeVoe.
What happened to this show? I ask myself this question frequently and I really don’t have an answer for it. Season 1 was exciting superhero TV with characters an audience could invest in and well written stories that built naturally to an emotionally resonant conclusion that worked. Ever since then the show declined in quality until we’re at the point where this is a bad show that occasionally has a good episode or a good moment within a bad episode. I’m not sure what the reason for this decline in quality is but it just feels like the production team aren’t even trying any more.
One thing I can say about this episode is that it maintains a consistent level of quality with the recent output. In fairness there was probably no way a single episode could redeem a multitude of bad decisions leading to this point. In arc based storytelling the quality of the ending is largely dictated by everything that built up to it. With the groundwork being so bad it’s no surprise that the ending is so underwhelming as a result of that.
The previous episode ended with DeVoe beginning his Enlightenment and this outing picks up from that point giving a brief view of Central City in chaos when the power goes out and the people start to panic. It’s not a bad opening because it provides scope and shows that Team Flash have a far reaching problem to deal with. Establishing stakes is important and this opening certainly does that.
Unfortunately the rest of the episode fails to carry that momentum because the people that are endangered are never a factor after that point. Instead urgency is attempted through two means; the first is the rising percentage counter on a screen and the second is the imminent birth of Cecille’s baby. The birth is a source of tension because Cecille’s temporary powers are needed for the only plan they have and having the baby would see her lose them.
In short neither of these things are good enough because the episode doesn’t use them well enough. Halting Cecille’s labour is never established as something that could be dangerous nor are there consequences for it and watching numbers rapidly increase on a screen is never a good way to remind an audience that time is running out. It’s almost video game like with a time limit to defeat the final boss only this isn’t interactive so it doesn’t work.
Marlize is along for the ride and decides to help Team Flash stop her husband. She’s happy to go along with this because she doesn’t associate what he has become with what he used to be so there’s no hesitation on her part. It makes sense because she left him because of what he became but her presence is emotionally hollow because she doesn’t seem to care that she is actively working to defeat her husband. Given that one of the main themes of this season is intelligence vs. emotion it’s baffling that the episode fails to acknowledge the most prominent emotional connection and use that to make the plot feel something other than disposable. Marlize comes across as another voice spouting nonsense because of the failure to make use of her relationship with her husband.
The plan is for Barry to go inside DeVoe’s head in order to find the good part of him and let that assert itself. It’s a long shot but also the only idea they have at this point. All Barry has to do is find the good in DeVoe and bring that to the surface which involves him visiting some places that meant something to DeVoe and Marlize to find this buried goodness within him. What could have been an interesting story about exploring the different facets that make up DeVoe’s mind is wasted with Barry running around in a largely barren world visually defined by an ethereal camera filter. We don’t learn anything interesting about DeVoe and no depth is revealed by Barry being inside his head so it’s yet another thing that just happens to be going on with no weight to it.
Barry does find something he didn’t expect in the form of Ralph. His consciousness is still alive within DeVoe allowing Barry to have an ally while he works to solve the problem. I’ve gone on record saying that I have never really liked Ralph so his return didn’t actually fill me with excitement though he is far less annoying than he normally is here. He is actually used really effectively as the antithesis to DeVoe’s boundless intelligence though having a character around because he’s “stupid” and using that as a plot point is problematic in itself. DeVoe failing to predict what Ralph will do next because of his lack of intelligence is as clumsy and ineffective as pretty much anything else this show brings at this point.
This would have been a great opportunity to bring back the other Metahumans that DeVoe absorbed. Many of them didn’t have much of a chance to make an impression so it would have been good to see that their deaths weren’t entirely pointless. If Barry had been able to work with the people DeVoe had murdered in order to gain his abilities there could have been some catharsis to his defeat as hurting those people could prove to be his downfall. It would have tied nicely into the emotion vs. intelligence theme as DeVoe wouldn’t have been able to anticipate such a passionate reaction to his actions.
It doesn’t take long to discover that DeVoe has actually killed all goodness inside him which means that all hope is apparently lost for a few seconds until Barry realises that Ralph can act as a variation of that goodness. With this being Ralph’s body all he has to do is go through that portal and regain control therefore resurrecting him and defeating DeVoe. It makes about as much sense as anything else and allows for the classic storytelling trick of having a plan fail only to reveal a different one. It’s also designed to capitalise on Ralph’s growth as both a hero and a person as his motivation to fight back is supposed to be the culmination of his character development but that also falls flat because Ralph didn’t actually receive much in the way of character development though regaining his own body and being alive again doesn’t actually need him to have any more depth than he had before because not being dead is surely a clear enough motivation on its own.
The result of Barry’s revision to the plan is a fight with multiple copies of DeVeo that resembles The Matrix Reloaded with some direct visual references to a particular sequence in that film. As action sequences go it’s fairly strong and I even found some amusement in the effort made not to think in order to confuse DeVoe. The problem with it is that this is just another action sequence with no weight or meaning behind it. It feels like there are no stakes because DeVoe can’t be harmed by what they’re doing and I never got the impression that Barry or Ralph were in any real danger so it amounted to empty spectacle with an anticlimactic conclusion involving their escape that left me wondering why they didn’t just do that earlier rather than standing around talking about it.
As this is going on Team Flash has other problems as DeVoe is constantly on their tail. Marlize is able to stay one step ahead of him but eventually he catches up with them and fails to just kill everyone for reasons that are not made clear. He has more than enough power to kill everyone pretty much immediately but doesn’t do it. This episode establishes that there is no good left in him to justify why he might feel uncomfortable with killing so the only reason he doesn’t kill Team Flash is because the plot says so. Actions are supposed to make sense based on established character traits but in this case DeVoe’s actions are counter to what we know of his character. It’s one of the many things that makes this episode and the show itself incredibly frustrating.
His final attack on Team Flash is definitely lacking for the reasons stated above but there is one moment within that sequence that I really liked. Joe overpowering DeVoe’s ability to control his mind because of his need to protect his family was great because it shows how strong Joe’s connection to those he cares about is and Jesse L. Martin plays the sheer determination wonderfully. It doesn’t amount to anything because DeVoe throws him against a wall but for a brief period the episode had a great representation of the intelligence vs. emotion theme.
Once Ralph reasserts himself it seems that Team Flash are on a winning streak but DeVoe can use his powers to download his consciousness into the chair and bring the satellite down from orbit to cause a catastrophic impact. DeVoe living on in digitised form had potential until Marlize broke his chair and put a stop to it. Basically this episode is anticlimax after anticlimax though there is some consolation to be taken from the fact that DeVoe seems to be definitively defeated now that every possible avenue of return has been cut off. It’s a really weak resolution because DeVoe’s defeat doesn’t feel earned. The right way to close this off would be for him to be outwitted in some way that he didn’t anticipate but this doesn’t happen. Marlize actually stops the Enlightenment by pressing a few buttons which amounts to sheer laziness on the part of the writers.
There is an impressive display of visual effects as Barry builds up enough momentum to hurtle himself into the air and punch the satellite so it doesn’t pose a danger. It involves a strange rewind with the appearance of another Speedster who helps him save the day. It’s a great looking sequence and the most exciting part of the episode by far. I also liked seeing the people gathered around Barry cheering after he has saved the day. I’ve mentioned before that this show doesn’t really show enough of how the city reacts to Barry’s heroics so this could possibly signify a move towards establishing The Flash a a hero the people can look to for inspiration though equally it could go nowhere as many things do.
Harry’s predicament finds a resolution in this episode. An early scene where he uses the Thinking Cap one last time to communicate an idea to Cisco before burning away the last of his intelligence was a well acted moment by both Tom Cavanagh and Carlos Valdes. The scene is played as Harry passing the point of no return and being lost though it’s very quickly undermined. For starters the idea that apparently takes away the last of his intelligence doesn’t work and for another the problem is solved by Marlize giving them the solution. It’s not a perfect solution as Harry is no longer a genius but he’s happy being of average intelligence because it means he has found a balance between his intelligence and his emotions. I suspect this means that Harry is off the team for good and we will have a new Harrison Wells next season. I’m not against the idea as long as it’s none of the versions we have see belonging to either the Council of Wells or the Council of Harrisons because I would find that tough to tolerate.
Marlize isn’t handled all that well either. I’ve already mentioned that she’s another voice spouting nonsense without any real depth and her exit is equally underwhelming. Barry and Iris both ask her to join the team as if everything’s forgiven but she resolves to go off and find some other way to make up for the things she’s done. I feel like there should be more to it than that given her involvement in DeVoe’s plans all season. I also wonder whether Iris mentioned her in the articles she was writing because that would surely make it difficult for her to go anywhere if she is implicated in these terrible crimes. The best thing about her role in this episode was that Cisco showed her absolutely no sympathy and was clearly disgusted by the prospect of having to work with her.
The end of the episode basically amounts to the team celebrating their success as well as welcoming the newborn into the world. Wally shows up to join the party in an unexpected but welcome cameo appearance. There is some closure on his time on this show when he tells Joe that he has found a place to belong with the Legends so that more or less wraps up his limited contribution to this show in a way that allows him to be a natural part of the family dynamic. Like Sara in the recent Arrow finale he can now be free to grow and change in his own way on a different show while popping in for the occasional cameo. There was one confusing thing about his appearance in this episode; Barry should have asked him if he was the one to help bring down the satellite.
A knock at the door signals the cliffhanger ending when the young woman played by Jessica Parker Kennedy shows up and introduces herself as Barry and Iris’ future daughter Nora Allen and announces that she needs help with a mistake that she has made. Her identity is pretty much as I predicted and I fail to be shocked by her appearance nor did it build any real anticipation for the next season. What we have seen of her so far is fine as Jessica Parker Kennedy has an effervescent quality that is endearing enough, at least in small doses so if she does join the cast or at least stick around for the early part of the season then she could be a welcome addition.
One thing I keep wondering is if this season has given us anything worthwhile and I constantly come to the conclusion that it hasn’t. Barry hasn’t grown or changed in any meaningful way so the entire struggle that brought us to this point feels completely worthless. DeVoe was a challenging villain in that Team Flash struggled to defeat him because he was so far ahead of them all the time but he wasn’t all that interesting and his intelligence was really badly written so there was a failure in providing an engaging villain. None of the other characters developed much either beyond bouts of Iris learning about leadership and Caitlin missing Killer Frost. Neither of these are resolved or even mentioned in the finale so once again it amounts to empty storytelling designed to fill time. There wasn’t even an answer given to the reason Barry was writing on the walls and speaking gibberish despite the fact that Harry was apparently saying the same words in this very episode. What did all that mean? Apparently nothing as far as this episode is concerned. A big deal was made of the “This house is bitchin'” line which also came to nothing despite apparently meaning something early on. Once again lazy writing and poor storytelling further runs this show into the ground.
An underwhelming end to a bad season. The opening sequence does a good job of establishing scope and outlining the stakes but this is quickly undermined by replacing that with numbers on a computer screen and the threat associated with Cecille losing her powers if she gives birth. Marlize working with Team Flash is meaningless because she has no trouble with bringing down her husband and fades into the role of yet another voice spouting nonsense. Barry running around in DeVoe’s head amounts to very little because we don’t learn anything interesting about DeVoe in the process. It also wastes the opportunity to bring back the other Metahumans as a presence in his head. Ralph’s return is a thing that happens and ultimately proves to be the key to defeating DeVoe which is supposed to be satisfying but falls flat because it never feels like there’s a reason DeVoe is outwitted. Having him come back through is consciousness being in the chair could have been a good idea but it’s dealt with by breaking the chair adding yet another anticlimax.
The resolution of Harry’s predicament is equally weak despite a well acted early scene where he sacrifices the remainder of his intelligence by using the Thinking Cap to communicate an idea. It’s a meaningless sacrifice as his brain is restored with more average intelligence but a better sense of emotional intelligence so once again consequences are minimal. There are a handful of good moment such as Joe overpowering DeVoe’s mind control through sheer determination and an impressive visual effects sequence where Barry brings down the satellite and saves the city. Wally’s cameo appearance is also good while offering some closure to his limited role on this show through pointing out that he has found something to belong to. The cliffhanger ending where the identity of the mysterious girl is revealed to be Barry and Iris’ daughter from the future will be a surprise to no-one but using that as a springboard for at least the early part of next season could be good. One thing is for certain, this season was not good and nothing has really been accomplished by anything the characters went through.
This segment will be more brief than it normally is on other shows because I have very few ideas on what next season will bring. I am no longer invested in this show because I find much of it to be terrible with no sign of improvement. Some aspect of it still appeal to me such as the impressive visuals and still liking the characters as well as the actors that play them for the most part. My issue is with how those characters are written and the stories they are put into. It’s very difficult for me to speculate because this season hasn’t given me much to base speculation on. The finale in particular felt disposable and meaningless because there were few consequences to any of it. Season 1 ended with a singularity opening threatening to swallow the planet if it wasn’t stopped, season 2 ended with Barry changing the past and season 3 ended with Barry going into the Speed Force as penance for creating Flashpoint. This season ends with a girl from the future asking for help.
Lower stakes might be the way to go now that I think about it. The power level is so high that it’s very difficult to make drama out of it because Barry should just be fast enough to stop pretty much anything. As good as “Enter Flashtime” was it definitely broke the show though the writers failed to realise that. The Flash built up good faith early on with engaging character drama where the powers were an afterthought so going back to that might be the nest idea. Nora Allen’s appearance at the end of the final episode creates the possibility of telling a character driven story where Barry and Iris get a taste of what is ahead of them while trying to help the daughter that they don’t know yet. It could be interesting and I’m cautiously optimistic about it.
It’s also worth pointing out next season will bring the 100th episode and it will take place during the crossover event assuming that retains its position as the 8th episode of the season. I find this notion concerning because it will likely overpower the crossover storyline and I’m not sure this show has much to celebrate for a landmark even like a 100th episode.
In terms of villains next season I really hope the writers decide to break the season into smaller arcs because exploring a single villain over an entire season just isn’t sustainable. This has been proven time and time again so it’s time to do something different. Gotham and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD found creative success breaking their large seasons into smaller and more manageable chunks so that a complete story could be told without padding it out with endless filler. As for what else the season could be about I suspect there will be some progress on Caitlin trying to restore Killer Frost as well as exploring the mystery around how her powers and alternate personality manifested years before the Particle Accelerator explosion. It also looks like Ralph is unfortunately here to stay but has he kept all of DeVoe’s powers? It doesn’t look like he has but if not then why not?
Even though I constantly criticise this show I will still be reviewing it next season as my rule is to watch all of the shows taking place in this universe as long as I’m enjoying at least one of them. I would love to drop this show but I would honestly wonder if I was missing something if I did so I’ll persevere.
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