The Flash - Season 4
With their movie enterprise failing rather spectacularly, DC Comics has to rely heavily on their television shows to satiate their fan’s desire for live-action adaptations of their beloved characters. The Flash helps to scratch this itch with a show that’s equal parts camp, absurdity, and just plain fun. While the show in recent seasons may have seemed to drag its heels a bit now and again, season 4 aimed to return to its roots and (mostly) succeeds. Beware ahead of spoilers littered throughout.
The season begins with Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) taking up the hero mantle for Central City while Barry (Grant Gustin) is held prisoner in the Speed Force. Along with Caitlin’s (Danielle Panabaker) help, and against Iris’ (Candice Patton) wishes, Cisco manages to spring Barry from his Speed Force prison. It’s later revealed that in the course of doing this, the gang accidentally releases a massive amount of dark matter that imbues a dozen Central City citizens with metahuman powers. The season revolves around the Flash team attempting to identify and stop these new metahumans all while under the looming threat of this season’s new big baddie, Clifford DeVoe aka The Thinker (Neil Sandilands). Rounding out the cast of characters for this season we see the return of Joe West (Jesse L Martin), Harry Wells (Tom Cavanagh, more on him in a minute), Cecile Horton (Danielle Nicolet), and the addition of newcomer Ralph Dibny aka The Elongated Man (Hartley Sawyer).
One thing that becomes apparent throughout this season is just how dangerously close this show is coming to it’s sister show, Arrow. The main cast of characters at times started to feel so bloated that some of the character’s arcs and side-stories didn’t get much attention. While the writers did manage to stitch all of these stories and people together, it felt as if it was at the expense of some of the characters’ emotional depths.
Newcomer Ralph Dibny was easily one of the more enjoyable aspects of the latest season. Dibny, a former Central City detective that was fired because of evidence tampering that Barry had uncovered and then turned private eye, bore the brunt of the humor and levity this season. He often charged into new situations with a devil may care attitude and relying solely on improvisation resulting in some rather hilarious outcomes. The writers were also able to give him a surprising amount of depth and emotional chagrin; we saw how he transformed from the sleazy private eye into a true bonafide hero.
Let’s take a moment to quickly appreciate Tom Cavanagh’s acting abilities. In the previous seasons, he’s played multiple versions of the same character, each with their own personalities and quirks. This always seemed like an intriguing and fun idea. This season we see the return of Earth-2 Wells, the Wells from season 2, and Cavanagh manages to keep the snarky, asshole demeanor alive. Where Cavanagh really shines though is during his conversations with The Council of Wells (both iterations). Very minor spoilers, on two occasions during the season Wells has to convene the help of his doppelgangers from multiple Earths. The first time this happens is with his super-smart counterparts Harrison Wolfgang Wells, H. Lothario Wells, and Wells 2.0 (with a brief appearance of Wells the Grey aka Gandalf). In a later episode he convenes with the less than stellar second council comprising of H. Wells, Sonny Wells, and Harrison H.P. Wells. Each of these characters have radically different personalities, demeanors, and accents, yet Cavanagh manages to portray them all perfectly and imbues each of these iterations with life and depth.
There was another interesting character arc that occurred this season, this one being with Caitlin aka Killer Frost. Early on in the season we learn that Caitlin is capable of switching between her science-loving regular self and her dangerous, slightly psychotic superpowered alter ego Killer Frost. Caitlin’s character brings an interesting twist to the show because the truly superpowered people that we’ve met so far have been ‘born’ out of either the particle accelerator explosion or from the massive dark matter dump that DeVoe orchestrated. Yet here we have Caitlin who is revealed later on in the season to have always had these powers dormant in her, manifesting themselves once previously in her life as a child after a traumatic accident. This leaves the room open for the introduction of more and more ‘naturally born’ superpowered people in the future and also opens a whole new mystery as to just exactly how Caitlin got these powers that will hopefully be resolved in the future.
There was a single episode this season that perfectly encapsulated the essence of The Flash. Episode 15, ‘Enter Flashtime,’ shows the true might and power that the character has. For the most part, the episode takes place over the span of less than 10 minutes with the majority of the action taking place within seconds. A nuclear bomb explodes in Central City and Flash enters what is dubbed Flashtime. In Flashtime, Barry and any other speedster is moving so quickly that everyone else around them is essentially frozen while they just casually saunter around. The episode perfectly portrays what it’s truly like to be a speedster and how quickly their minds move. But, on the flip side, we also see how taxing it is to sustain this. Jay Garrick (John Wesley Shipp) makes an appearance in this episode and about halfway through has to exit Flashtime due to his body’s inability to cope with the stress of the Speed Force any longer. By the end of the episode we see Barry drenched in sweat and absolutely exhausted from maintaining his super speed for what to him seems like hours.
This season does have its share of faults and plot holes too. One of the biggest, most glaring issues with this season, to me at least, was the CGI. This show has to rely on CGI for most everything, obviously, as practical effects aren’t always possible. In past seasons this wasn’t much of an issue. This season, however, there was so much requiring CGI work that their resources and finances clearly got stretched thin. Bad CGI is one thing; it helps to give the show some character. But jarringly shoddy, clearly computer simulated images and scenes are an entirely different issue. I’m not usually one to complain about visuals in shows or movies but boy were some of these scenes just bad.
Let’s talk plot holes quickly and beware some spoilers. We learn during the course of the season that Dibny is able to shapeshift into various persons which is great and all, but how exactly was he able to augment the pigments in his skin? His powers were never described to be able to do this and yet when he needed to change his appearance to that of Warden Wolfe he was able to perfectly replicate his appearance, skin color and all. And this wasn’t a one off thing either; after DeVoe obtains all of the bus meta’s powers and breaks into A.R.G.U.S., he does so by impersonation of John Diggle by also somehow manipulating his skin pigment as well. I know that this is the world of The Flash where the impossible is possible, but how exactly does a superhuman ability to stretch and contort one’s body include the ability to change skin color, aside from plot convenience?
Keeping the plot hole train rolling, we learn in the ‘Enter Flashtime’ episode that Cisco is unable to open breaches while in Flashtime. This is because a breach is simply a folding of time and space and with the speed at which he is moving during Flashtime, space-time doesn’t have enough time to actually fold in on itself, hence why his plan to just vibe the bomb to a dead Earth didn’t work. Skip ahead to episode 22 where DeVoe attacked the A.R.G.U.S. base and holds hostages suspended above electroshock plates. The team’s plan to save the hostages is to place Cisco and Caitlin in Flashtime and create breaches below the hostages and vibe them to safety. And it works. Which directly contradicts what we were told just 7 episodes earlier…
Plot holes aside, watching DeVoe using the full might of his powers taking down the A.R.G.U.S. agents in the base was just pure comic book bliss. Quick refresher for those who may not quite remember, these powers included:
Kilgore’s ability to manipulate anything electrical/computer based
Hazard’s ability to manipulate luck in her favor (and misfortune for everyone else)
The Elongated Man’s ability to stretch and shapeshift
The Weeper’s ability to create addicting substances in his tears (although this didn’t seem to really play much part aside from the Amunet side-story)
Black Bison’s ability to animate inanimate objects
Brainstorm’s ability to read and manipulate people’s thoughts
Fallout’s radioactivity manipulation
Dwarfstar’s ability to shrink and enlarge objects and people
The Fiddler’s ability to produce intense sound waves
Melting Point’s ability to takes powers from one person and give them to another
Null’s ability to manipulate gravity
And The Folded Man’s ability to travel between dimensions
During the course of this ~2 minute scene we see him use the full might of his powers to absolutely demolish a hallway’s worth of soldiers in clever and inventive ways. This was such a treat to watch and honestly the shoddy CGI at times is worth it if we can see more of this type of thing in the future.
One last little note, which was a fun set of one-off lines for comic fans, the entire Flash team throughout the course of the season drops so many Marvel references ranging from The Hulk to Spider-man and beyond. The first time one character mentioned The Hulk I thought ‘Oh that’s an odd but neat little reference’ and figured it was a one off thing. But then it kept happening. And I loved it every time. It was so interesting to see a DC show acknowledging their rival company and even more interesting to learn that Marvel comics actually exist in the Arrowverse.
Despite it’s few glaring issues, season 4 of The Flash was still as fun as ever. The show manages to maintain the camp and goofiness of previous seasons which helps to offset the inherit broodiness of Arrow. DeVoe himself seemed like a rather weak villain, or rather a weak execution of the villain. He was very much a ‘sit back and watch things happen’ type of villain which just isn’t as fun to watch as say a cross-city lightning fast battle between Barry and Eobard. While the character development in this season was present still, it definitely seemed to stagnate a bit. In the future the show needs to begin to trim down the cast a bit before it becomes overburdened which should in turn help to allow the characters to develop more naturally than by forced writing.
I’m intrigued to see where the show goes with the final cliffhanger moment from the finale. With the revelation that the random girl that keeps popping up and helping the Flash team throughout the season to be Barry and Iris’ daughter from the future, it’ll be interesting to see what goes so wrong in the future that warranted her trip to the past to change the future/her present (and for once it isn’t Barry who’s screwing with the timeline although he seems to have been a rather poor influence in that department). I just hope they don’t end up wasting the opportunity to really delve into some cool time manipulation or time travel aspects.