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)