In the Arrow-verse, it’s very rare for flashbacks to be the most compelling part of an episode, but that’s exactly the case here in this very expository hour. Part of “Therefore I Am” is devoted to revealing the Thinker’s backstory through flashbacks, while the other underwhelming half follows Barry as he tries to learn what the audience has known for weeks.
“Therefore I Am” picks up right where last week’s episode left off with Barry and Joe questioning Clifford and his wife, Marlize, both of whom are professors. Based on this first meeting and Team Flash’s subsequent deep dive into their background, the DeVoes seem like a perfectly normal married couple. However, the episode’s flashbacks reveal that’s far from the case. If only Team Flash could break the fourth wall and see what we see!
Four years ago, Clifford was simply a history professor at Central City University who was passionate about enlightening young minds but was failing at it because his students were too distracted and uninterested. Marlize shared his passion. Clifford figured he couldn’t implement his ideas about teaching because his mind was too small, so he designed the thinking cap, which would grant him access to his brain’s unlimited power. He asked his wife, a brilliant scientist and engineer in her own right, to build it.
Marlize built the thinking cap, but there was one small problem: They didn’t have an energy source large enough to power it — until, that is, Harrison Wells’ particle accelerator came along. On the night the accelerator was set to be turned on, Clifford stood outside of S.T.A.R. Labs in the rain wearing the cap. You can imagine what happened next. His head got struck by lightning in a pretty fantastic sequence that recaptures the chaos of the particle accelerator. When he regained consciousness, he had achieved enlightenment and was the smartest man in the world, which was clear because he started listening to classical music!
With these new powers, Clifford believes he can finally achieve his goals. Unfortunately, his super intelligence comes with a side effect: His brain is sapping energy from his body, causing muscle degeneration and paralysis. Unlike most metas, he wants to use these gifts for good, but he can’t because it’s killing him. This irony makes the Thinker different and possibly deadlier than The Flash‘s previous big bads, because he thinks what he’s doing is actually good — at least, that’s what the episode suggests. It’s not entirely clear, but it seems as though he’s still trying to change the way people think in the present, except now he’s willing to cross some lines to do it, making him a very interesting character.
Unfortunately, Clifford is a million steps ahead of Barry, which means Barry spends most of this episode looking exceedingly paranoid to the rest of his friends. Even after Team Flash learns everything there is to know about Clifford, Barry remains certain that he’s the guy both Savitar and Abra Kadabra warned him about. So he decides to take matters into his own hands. (Next: The fastest man alive versus the fastest brain alive)
Barry drops by Clifford’s class one day to ask him more questions. This doesn’t go anywhere, so he steals Clifford’s mug and tests it. The tests come up negative, and Barry gets in even hotter water when Clifford and Marlize complain to Singh about Barry’s harassment. Singh orders Barry to stay away from Clifford — but that doesn’t stop Barry’s obsession. Barry starts Carrie Mathison-ing, creating his own stringboard to support his investigation. His growing obsession worries Iris, who keeps reminding him that they’re getting married in seven days, like he could possibly forget! (God, if I took a shot each time Iris brought up that their wedding was in a week…)
Because Barry’s unaware of Clifford’s powers, he continues to fall for his gaslighting. Barry discovers the camera inside the Samuroid head and stupidly decides to break into DeVoe’s home to investigate, which frustrated me to no end. Barry, aren’t you supposed to be smarter than this?! Thankfully, the members of Team Flash serve as the audience’s surrogates in this episode and collectively shake their heads at him once they find out what he did. In a predictable development, it turns out the DeVoes caught Barry on camera and reported it to Singh, who suspends Barry for two weeks.
Iris confronts Barry yet again, and he comes clean about what’s driving him so crazy. He’s been so happy since he returned from the Speed Force, and he’s worried about losing this feeling. Believe me, Barry, I’m worried The Flash will slip back into its emo ways, too. Iris assures him that whatever is coming for them, they can face it together because they’re the Flash.
Throwing caution (and a restraining order) to the wind, Barry decides to confront Clifford once again. Obviously, Clifford was expecting this, but this time he doesn’t pretend be a mild-mannered professor. Instead, he comes cleans about the basics of villainy: He has the fastest mind alive; he knows Barry is the Flash; he’s playing an elaborate chess game with Team Flash, and they haven’t done anything yet that he hasn’t predicted and planned for, including the Council of Wells business. This leaves Barry shaken, and I don’t blame him. Clifford sounds scary.
As the episode ends, Barry shares what he learned with the team, leading Cisco to name Clifford the Thinker — which is something Clifford predicted, too! Marlize, back in her futuristic villain look, asks Clifford why he’s willing to let Barry’s marriage go forward, and Clifford has a simple answer: “What is knowledge without love?” This little line further distinguishes Clifford from Barry’s other foes. How many of them had someone they cared about working with them? How many of them cared about anyone apart from themselves, to be honest? While this episode was really underwhelming and mainly concerned with table setting, I’m still excited to see what the show has planned for the Thinker.
Wall of Weird:
- Wally returned from his soul searching at the end of the episode. Apparently during his time away, he fought a giant alien starfish, which is a nod to Starro, the villain that first brought together the Justice League in the comics.
- “You may be the fastest man, Allen, but I’m the fastest mind” — Clifford, to Barry
- During the particle accelerator press conference, Marlize asks Wells a question, and he immediately recognizes Clifford DeVoe as the Thinker. “I’m a big fan of your work. I believe it’ll have an enormous impact on our future,” says Wells, wishing Clifford good luck.
- The flashbacks made me realize I miss Thawne as Harrison Wells.
- Barry referred to his Spidey Sense in this episode.