“The Elongated Knight Rises” is a good example of everything that’s working and not working about The Flash‘s current season. Season 3 drained the show of its joie de vivre, turning an ebullient series into a dour slog, and season 4 has taken steps to correct that. No matter what, almost every episode has felt rather bubbly and has had a lot of heart — and that’s definitely the case in tonight’s episode, which features several fun scenes with the characters. Unfortunately, in the process of fixing that tonal problem, the show has lost its sense of direction, and it’s hard to understand some of its plot choices, which is also evident in this episode.
Let’s start with the good: With Barry stuck in prison, it’s up to the rest of Team Flash to step up to the plate to defend the city. This means it’s time for Ralph Dibny to show us what he’s learned over the past few months of Hero School under Barry’s tutelage. When the episode opens, Ralph easily, and somewhat recklessly, handles a hostage situation. He gains points for making sure the hostages were safe before confronting the bad guy but loses a couple for his arrogance. Believing himself invisible, he carelessly (yet amusingly) banters with the hostage taker before impulsively yanking the guy’s bomb from his chest and absorbing the subsequent explosion.
Sure, he saved the day, but what if he hadn’t been able to contain the explosion? That’s what Iris brings up when a victorious Ralph returns to S.T.A.R. Labs after saving the day and giving an interview to a local news station. Iris is concerned that Ralph is getting too cocky, but he ignores her because he’s riding the superhero high.
If you watch this show (or any series), you know that Ralph is due for a humbling experience, and that’s exactly what happens tonight, courtesy of the return of the Trickster. No, not Mark Hamill’s deliriously wacky baddie Jesse, but his son Axel, who manages to escape from prison with some help from his mother Zoey Clark. We learn that Zoey is the Bonnie to OG Trickster’s Clyde. Here, she breaks her son out because she wants them to flee Central City and live free lives, but Axel is more concerned with gaining his absentee father’s respect. Usually, The Flash barely tries to give its episodic villains motivation outside revenge, but I found the Axel’s decision to don the Trickster outfit once gain in order to get his father’s attention rather compelling and understandable.
Axel figures out how he’s going to accomplish his goal after a news segment featuring Ralph catches his eye, so Li’l Trickster (which would make for a corny, yet funny rapper name) takes over the Central City airwaves, as the Tricksters are wont to do, and demands that the Stretchy Man come out and face him. Ralph recklessly wades into danger, expecting an easy fight. Unfortunately, Axel comes bearing gifts: some pink acid that melts Ralph’s skin and shakes his confidence as a hero because he’s forced to confront the fact that he isn’t invincible. (Team Flash’s befuddlement over what was going on with Ralph and the acid was particularly amusing.) (Next: Prison Days with Barry Allen)
Desperate to gain her son’s approval, Zoey decides to stop taking her meds, which sends her back into murderous villain mode. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t think the script ever explains what mental illness she has, so that meds line ends up coming off as cheap and embarrassing for The Flash — especially since it airs on the same network as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which, among other things, delivers a very nuanced exploration of mental health issues. But I digress. With Zoey back as Prank, she and her son develop this weird twist on the Joker/Harley dynamic that I’ll admit is kind of intriguing. They decide to kidnap some hostages and threaten to dump acid on them unless the Stretchy Man comes out to play. However, Ralph refuses to take the bait because he’s scared of dying.
Rather than put on his big boy pants, Ralph comes up with a cowardly solution: breaking Barry out of jail so he can save the day. Barry refuses to go with Ralph, who stretches his way into his cell. Instead, Barry gives Ralph a little pep talk and tells him that having the power to help people and not doing so is worse than death.
Obviously, Barry’s pep talk works and Ralph wades back into the fray — and just in time, too, because Vibe and Killer Frost tried to save the hostages on their own but ended up getting captured. Ralph storms the Trick-family’s hideout and manages to take out Axel by turning himself into a slingshot. However, Zoey manages to flip the lever that releases the acid onto Caitlin and Cisco. In a defining moment of heroism, Ralph throws himself between his friends and the acid — and survives because Harry managed to neutralize the acid at the last minute. Not only does Ralph save the day, but he also gains his canonical superhero name: Elongated Man, although he’s not too pleased with it.
While all of this is going on, Barry is stuck in prison in a plotline that only feels mildly relevant to Ralph’s A-story. Imprisoned and under constant surveillance, Barry can’t use his powers and feels useless because he can’t help people. However, he ends up finding a person in need when Big Sir (Bill Goldberg), a fellow inmate who helped him out of a jam with some other less-than-friendly inmates, becomes their target. Barry sneakily uses his powers to save his savior’s life and gains a friend in the process. Unfortunately, all of this is rather boring, and it’s still not clear why the show decided to go this route with Barry this season, especially since there’s no sense that it’s telling any kind of emotional story. I didn’t feel the emotion during last week’s trial episode, and I definitely don’t feel it here, and Iris and Barry’s few visits together aren’t doing the trick. Using this as an opportunity to flesh out Ralph can’t be the only reason for this questionable diversion, which is also sapping the season of its earlier momentum. Fingers crossed the show regains some of that momentum next week.
Wall of Weird:
- Tonight’s episode ended with Cisco and Ralph running into Jessica Parker Kennedy’s chatty waiter, whom we met in the first part of this year’s crossover, at Jitters. After paying for their coffee, the exceedingly cheerful yet still unnamed woman returned to her table and scribbled some of those Speed Force markings into a notebook.
- The “C’mon son!” look Team Flash gives Ralph when he asks what Kryptonite is was great.
- When Big Sir, a big white guy, came to Barry’s aid against some inmates of color, I couldn’t help but think of a scene from The Good Wife. Midway through season 6, it looked like Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry) was going to jail for something he didn’t do, so his firm got him a prison consultant who suggested he find a white friend to have his back the minute he got to prison.
- In another world, The Flash would’ve waited a bit before sending Wally off to the Legends and used Barry’s imprisonment as another opportunity to give Wally some love.