[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Director: David McWhirter
Writer: Todd Helbing and Eric Wallace
Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Carlos Valdes, Danielle Panabaker, Jesse L. Martin, Tom Cavanaugh, Danielle Nicolet, Hartley Sawyer, Neil Sandilands, Kim Engelbrecht, Jessica Parker Kennedy
With hours before The Thinker’s Enlightenment, Team Flash joins forces with Marlize in a last-ditch effort to put a stop to DeVoe by sending Barry into the darkest of corners: Clifford DeVoe’s own mind.
Take a seat, kids, because this is my final Flash review for the year, so I’m pulling out the English major for this one. Ready? Here we go: Run, Jay, run!
This was the episode Flash fans had been waiting for, as it was the chance to resolve lingering subplots as well as the main conflict. One cast member this year to be commended is Neil Sandiland as Clifford DeVoe aka The Thinker. His performance as an antagonist who achieves his goal of omnipotent knowledge at the cost of his heart made him a memorable villain. Keeping his voice monotone and emotionless until he knew he was defeated was the best way to evoke that disconnected natural state. The brain had effectively overpowered and killed the heart. This was the result of a five-year evolution sped up by the body-swapping, thus freeing his mind from his humanity.
The man he was before and the monster he had become are like night and day, and Sandilands brought his A-game to enforce that distinction. He was as menacing without the chair as he was with it. He never had to raise his voice or lose control to get across the threat level he embodied. It all pays off when DeVoe finally does lose control verbally, realizing he’s been defeated, that garners a “HELL YEAH!” from the audience – certainly from me – after managing to fall on a multitude of contingency plans.
After weeks and months of Thinker pulling defeat from victory, fans were with Team Flash for that long-awaited taste of victory. Both Savitar and Kadabra last year promised DeVoe was more of a challenge than Zoom or Reverse Flash, but it was Neil Sandilands that realized that expectation. Having The Fastest Man Alive go up against a man without speed this year was a gamble, but it paid off because it was a very clever year-long chess game. I don’t think I can picture another actor portraying the Thinker, just as I can’t envision anyone else portraying Reverse-Flash to perfection than Tom Cavanaugh.
The “Inception-meets-Matrix” mental invasion of The Thinker to shut him down was a creative way of bringing Cecile’s mental abilities into the final solution in a relevant way. The diluted color of the scenes filmed in DeVoe’s mind was one of the best ways to convey how truly emotionally dead he is. Much like The Matrix trilogy, both Ralph and DeVoe in the Thinker-verse were how their minds truly saw themselves. In spite of both men enhancing their bodies – or, in DeVoe’s case, swapping them – the former history professor still saw himself as a disabled deteriorating man in a floating chair, while Dibny a complete slob. The visual effects involved were an even balance of both practical and CGI that didn’t fail. It would not have done as well if it was just twenty minutes of fists flying in Clifford’s head, the writers did a good job by making it a slow-paced search. It added an extra layer of tension given the clock racing for both the satellite’s increasing permeation field and Cecile’s labor. It was also Ralph’s true trial by fire; it was, ultimately, his body, and his chance to retake what was his. More on Ralph later, but the overall success of the episode owes a lot to these mental sequences. It was on the villain’s turf, his one greatest source of power, and a triumphant revelation that his power base was built on a hollow foundation because it wasn’t his body to begin with.
The Trump card status goes to Marlize in this episode, as it’s her chance at redemption for all the damage she had helped her husband cause this year. However, fans were quick to pick up on the notion that she held out hope that she could bring her husband back to defeat the monster he’d turned himself into. The emotional gutting discovery of the “real” DeVoe gutted in his chair and Marlize’s pause at this revelation tells a lot. And Kim’s conveyance of restrained disappointment that her husband is truly lost is realistic. This is a character who has been put through the emotional ringer by her husband’s ambitions. She’s been mind-wiped, drugged – allowing her to be effectively raped by a man not concerned with his wife’s sexual preferences – and subjugated by the husband who once claimed he was nothing without her. To have her reduced to wracking tears would have dismissed all of that and made her seem too forgiving. She had regained strength by leaving Clifford DeVoe, declaring him dead to her, but that pause meant that Marlize had not been fully prepared for final confirmation, as any normal woman would not be. The symbolism of throwing the final shovel of dirt on The Thinker’s coffin by turning off his chair post-crisis was not lost on the viewer. That was her closure, and her renewed chance for life her way.
MaGuffin status belongs to The Elongated Man. Just when fans believed that he was gone for good after DeVoe possessed his body, Ralph appears on the mental plane out of nowhere. And once more a pep talk from Barry awakens the hero Ralph has evolved into. What works in this episode is that he actually has a good strategy at dealing with DeVoe’s legions of copies a la Agent Smith. And yes it was still funny (i.e., “I’m running out of shrimp dishes.”) The use of his abilities was still as funny and a little more creative. Him making himself into a cape as he and Barry made a break for the cortex was brilliantly superheroic. It was poetic justice for the individual whom DeVoe regarded as weak to overpower The Thinker with his own will. The scene in which he morphed back into himself, “killing” DeVoe, was done in a way that wasn’t cheesy or forced.
Now we come to the case of Harry Wells. Everyone was expecting him to have some salvation for the damage he did to his mind five episodes back. Tom Cavanaugh’s performance as a mentally-depleted Harry mirroring the Speed Force dementia Barry experienced in the season premiere brings everything full circle; like everything else, Allen was mirroring what he had observed in the Speed Force. He had seen how things would unravel, even thought he couldn’t remember it. That blank look on his face as he sits there like a monolith is both haunting and tragic for one the audience has come to love so much. The fact that he does not have his scientific acumen returned to him when his brain is brought back is a brilliant way of saying to the viewer never take what you have for granted.
Wells’s entire arc for this year has been finding relevance on Team Flash after being rejected by his daughter’s team. The challenges DeVoe presented became an obsession that drove him to adopt the methods of the enemy – the Thinking Cap – that ultimately backfired. What works is that Harry is not enraged that he does not have his entire mental acumen returned to him. I think to do so would have cheapened the tragedy of Harry’s mistake. He is now of average intelligence and he is fine with that. He is wise enough to appreciate this new balance between his head and his heart. This shows the character has experienced growth, especially since focusing on the heart as opposed to the mind proved the best strategy in the fight. It will be fascinating to see a Harry Wells return next season that is no longer a scientific genius, although nowhere near as inept as H.R. Wells. Out of all the variants Tom has portrayed of the same character, this new version seems closer to Cavanaugh himself and therefore more realistic. Cisco is right in that it is the end of an era, as Team Flash has always had a Wells to offer all the answers. Now the children have become the adults and must fend for themselves.
And finally, the mystery girl stands revealed, and does so in a big way. It’s unclear as to the rewound sequence of Flash ramping up the sonic punch to destroy the falling satellite was Nora West-Allen’s doing, or the creator’s to show a different vantage point. It was a nice touch for Jessica Parker Kennedy’s character to come clean at the episode’s end to deliver a mutual cliffhanger: Barry and Iris have a daughter with her father’s speed, and she thinks that by coming back she made a mistake. Does she mean time traveling, or assisting Barry? Did getting involved disrupt the timeline on the level of Flashpoint? Was Barry meant to die fighting? After appearing in the background of Team Flash – which was naturally remembered by everyone in the room – Nora’s revelation was obvious yet refreshing. Personally, I can’t wait to see her full costume. Another nice touch was the cameo from the returned Wally West, fresh from DC’s Legends of Tomorrow season finale. It both reaffirms his connections to The Flash Family and the show’s connection to the overarching Arrowverse.
Last and certainly not least, Grant Gustin. Given the supporting cast had truly come into their own as effective heroes, Barry didn’t have to give much direction but rather work with the group. The title of the episode – “We Are The Flash” – has come to mean a lot more. Rather than Barry carrying the load, it’s the team as a whole. The run through the city was fantastic as always, as this was a feat that only the Flash could achieve. This year he truly was The Fastest Man Alive in that he had become a teacher and more effective team leader. He was only at a physical disadvantage in this episode; while challenged, Grant delivered a Barry that was more self-assured and take charge when he had to be. Being a good leader is knowing when not to give orders. Everything that he had learned this past year since returning from The Speed Force was put to the test, and he met it head on. The unspoken fact established was that it was not a singular victory, but one for the entire team.
What became of the Killer Frost plot thread from last episode? That part where Cecile sounds exactly like Frost and mentions Caitlin’s father’s name is very cryptic and haunting, it seems, to Caitlin. After a year of the fans getting used to Frost as an antihero and expecting her to reappear, the writers choose to keep her thawed out. And if Harry no longer has his scientific genius, how is he going to breach back to Earth-2? Doesn’t he need Cisco for that since he’s now both the brains and the toys of the group? And lastly, why doesn’t anyone address whether he can still retain his job a CEO of S.T.A.R. Labs? Whether the writers are retaining these loose ends as possible subplots for next season, it’s understandable but these questions seem too important to just ignore.
I will forgive the loose ends and end this season of reviews with a solid 5. Yup there were a few stinkers this year, but season 4 worked when it had to. The successful inauguration of Elongated Man onto Team Flash and the brilliant development of The Thinker kept this season strong. We also got a new version of Harry out of the deal on a path of his own that we hope to explore in the fall. And yes, I will put forth the request to retain my job as regular reviewer of what I still consider one of the best superhero shows on TV besides Arrow. I look forward to tuning in to The CW in October to hear those now-classic words, “My name is Barry Allen, and I am The Fastest Man Alive.” Have a good summer, everyone!