[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Director: David McWinter
Writers: Eric Wallace and Thomas Pound
Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Jesse L. Martin, Carlos Valdes, Danielle Panabaker, Tom Cavanaugh, Neil Sandilands, Kim Englebrecht, Keiynan Lonsdale, Patrick Sabongui
Barry’s first encounter with Clifford DeVoe complicates Team Flash’s investigation, while The Thinker’s backstory is retold through flashbacks.
In the film Unbreakable, Samuel L. Jackson’s character says to Bruce Willis’s “In comics, you know how you can tell who the arch-villain’s going to be? He’s the exact opposite of the hero.” That rationale provides the strengths in this episode. With the humor thrust aside, the audience is brought fully into the world of Clifford DeVoe, aka The Thinker. The writers have done a masterful job in making DeVoe’s life parallel that of Barry’s, right down to their origins dating back to the particle accelerator explosion. Having both antagonist and protagonist become empowered by means of a bolt of lightning link these two brilliantly in how extreme their paths diverge; Barry became the fastest man alive with a rapidly healing body, while DeVoe became the fastest mind alive at the cost of his mobility. Barry and DeVoe are made more the mirror opposites and on the level of he and Eobard Thawne (I loved the throwback to Tom Cavanaugh’s initial portrayal of Harrison Wells and the pilot’s press conference scene at STAR Labs).
The devolution of Clifford’s morale and ethics become very understandable and empathetic. He sought knowledge to change the world only to have his efforts cost him his independence. It follows that line of thought of how great men have power thrust upon them as opposed to seeking it out. Barry, as DeVoe’s counterpart, is the everyman granted amazing abilities and therefore becomes the best version of himself for the betterment of all. And the greatest irony is that for all his brilliance, not one of his ideas could yet figure out how to save his body.
Neil Sandilands’ monotone sound, following his empowerment, is noticeable as he tries to evoke the notion that this man is losing touch with his emotions in favor of cold logic. Making the Mechanic his wife Marlize elevates her above the title of henchwoman and enhances the empathy in that the love of his life is being jeopardized by his ambitions. The decline in their physical connection and the growth of Barry and Iris’s impending nuptials is another parallel.
The way DeVoe engages Barry in a game of cat-and-mouse without actively confronting him is brilliantly written. Grant’s performance as Barry in a state of heightened paranoia is subtle and still strong. This is a Barry Allen who has been fooled too many times by a visage of benevolence – Hunter Zolomon, Wells/Thawne – and has suffered personal cost because of it. He has wised up and shows determination in exposing this threat even at the cost of looking obsessive in the eyes of Team Flash and even Singh, who suspends him for breaking into the DeVoe residence. The confrontation scene between Barry and DeVoe works in its subtlety; nothing is over the top. Sandilands’s demeanor is calm and confident; he believes that he has Allen licked regardless of Team Flash. The stalemate is inevitable given the odds are in DeVoe’s favor.
Before next week’s crossover, this was the best “time out” the writers could offer the viewers; to let this drag on past the winter break would have felt strained. I look forward to seeing these two finally engage at full strength as the season unfolds.
Although there are few negatives in this episode, there are still relevant points to make. For starters, why would Barry not wear a mask when he broke into the DeVoe residence? I understand his reasoning for not going as The Flash, but given he was wearing gloves, a ski mask would have been a wiser course than just a hood. What has also been drawn to my attention is the level of DeVoe’s decline and how he balances that with his coursework. As a university professor, how often are his classes? If he has been unhooked from his chair for a couple of days and falling apart near the end of the episode, how can he maintain a weekly schedule on campus?
Wally’s reappearance at the end of the episode – albeit relevant considering the wedding is next week – feels very shoehorned in. And he went against Starro in Blue Valley?! Further, he tells Team Flash he battled an alien starfish and no one batted an eye at this?! To have such a relevant villain relegated to a mention for a secondary character is a waste. And where was Ralph? After his debut last week as a proto-Elongated Man, you would have thought that he would be involved in the investigation. I realize there was a need to eliminate certain focal points of humor to enhance the drama of the first confrontation between Barry and DeVoe, but this would have been good practice and showing off his skills as a private detective.
Since the premiere, we’ve been waiting for the first confrontation and answers surrounding The Thinker’s abilities and origins. Fans got a lot of holes filled in and now Clifford DeVoe feels like a valid threat and not a second-rate villain. It’s more ofa mental challenge to Barry rather than physical, which is necessary after two years of the question of “who’s the faster speedster?” The puppeteer role has been left vacant since season one and again having the original Harrison Wells give a hats off to DeVoe was like a passing of the torch that felt appropriate. As much as I’m looking forward to the upcoming Crisis on Earth-X next week, I’m in equal anticipation of how this rivalry will escalate. Great job!