The Flash is back!
The episode was entertaining.
Harry and Cecile are cute friends.
This show has some fantastic actresses.
So... that’s it for the prison storyline, then? No repercussions?
Failure to commit to LGBTQ+ representation.
Izzy’s storyline was rushed and, as a result, emotionally shallow.
With Barry out of prison, The Flash returns with renewed ‘meta of the week’ syndrome
The Flash returns from its Olympic hiatus with Barry (Grant Gustin) freshly out of prison. This week, we learn about a new metahuman as Team Flash works to save her from DeVoe’s (now tiny and blonde) clutches. Izzy Bowen (Miranda MacDougall) is a country music fiddler with the newfound power of super-soundwaves. Like most weekly metas, we don’t spend enough time with Izzy to grow to care for her. Which is a shame, because MacDougall’s portrayal makes her really likeable. The Flash seems to struggle with fully fleshing things out; similarly, with virtually no lasting effects, Barry’s prison storyline seems useless at best. Still, the episode managed to be entertaining and heartbreaking at times, so it’s far from a total bust.
RELATED | The Flash Roundtable 4×14 “Subject 9”
DeVoe (wearing Becky Sharpe’s face) works to take Izzy’s body while the team (primarily Barry and Ralph) work to stop him. Ralph quickly falls for the fiddler, and is devastated when DeVoe triumphs at the end of the episode. It’s not a total loss for Team Flash; Cisco (Carlos Valdes) thinks he’s figured out where DeVoe’s lair is (an alternate dimension… or something) and Harry helps Cecile shut off Joe’s disruptive thoughts long enough for her to sleep – in fact, the two of them form a friendship of sorts. Also, Ralph solves Barry’s career woes by offering him an official partnership, which will give Barry a solid cover for his real work as The Flash. It was a fine episode – not exactly filler but not entirely memorable, either.
The purpose of Barry’s prison arc remains to be seen, and its abrupt conclusion leaves the audience scratching our heads in confusion
Week after week after week we’ve pondered the purpose of The Flash’s foray into “Trial of the Flash.” When the trial itself was underwhelming, we looked to the prison arc. When the prison arc was disappointing, we assumed the outcome would be worth it. Now, with no real consequences of Barry’s time in prison, we are left wondering why The Flash bothered to send Barry to prison at all.
Was it the poetic heartbreak of sitting in his father’s cell? Or the drama of a newly married couple being wrenched apart? Or, possibly, was it the result of The Flash’s first season hinting at this very storyline? Could this whole mess be explained by the writer’s wish to fulfill this longtime promise? To ‘get it over with’, for lack of a better phrase?
Regardless of the reasoning, it’s time to call it. The trial/prison storyline was a failure. It was too easy. The only lasting impact it seems to have had is Barry’s removal from the police force, but is that really an adequate consequence for The Flash?
Iris: It’s going to be a little hard for a speedster.
Barry: Especially an unemployed speedster.
Generally, TV shows reflect real-life situations in extremely dramatized ways. Our favorite characters deal with real problems, but often with unrealistic elements mixed in (such as super-speed.) We aren’t asking for The Flash to be realistic — that ship sailed the moment Barry was struck by lightning — but we do want the more grounded storylines to have realistic consequences. Getting out of prison is not like getting back from vacation. You don’t easily reintegrate into society without a second thought. Even for those who have been proven innocent, there’s a stigma present that makes it difficult to get a job.
The Flash hits on this, briefly, but gives Barry an incredibly easy way out through Ralph. Barry shows no signs of having been changed by his time behind bars — no anxiety, sense of loss, or anger is gained from this storyline. Aside from a few offhand comments, it would be easy to skip Barry’s entire prison arc — the character is the exact same now as he was before. You never want a storyline, especially one as highly anticipated as this, to feel disposable. Every single thing a character experiences should shape them as a person, and The Flash failed to show how prison has shaped Barry.
The Flash dangles the possibility of pansexual representation, yet fails to totally fulfill it
It’s hard not to notice the fact that Clifford and Marlize DeVoe did not kiss at all this week. Why? Presumably because Clifford was wearing Becky Sharpe’s body. Seeing as DeVoe has no issue with stealing lives, it doesn’t seem to be out of respect for Becky. Were The Flash writers reluctant to have Marlize kiss her husband in a female body? If anything, they should’ve taken this opportunity for what it was: a way to show that love is not based on a person’s sex. Marlize and Clifford DeVoe now inhabit a space that is rare on television; they are technically a pansexual couple. But, The Flash can do better. Because Marlize was eventually accepting of Dominic’s male appearance, having explicit confirmation of her acceptance of Becky’s female one would make a fantastic statement.
TVLINE: Do you think that Marlize has been having “relations” with Clifford during his two body swaps?
Kim Engelbrecht (Marlize): I think definitely, yeah! I mean, your husband’s back! Your husband is back. And whatever you saw in Episode 7, I think that continues. They’re together, so definitely.
Body switching is certainly not a real-life issue, but it is a chance to represent real people. For instance, newly released film Every Day has a body-switching premise. When a girl falls in love with a person who continually switches bodies and genders, the couple provides insight into pansexuality and gender fluidity. The Flash could’ve done something similar, and it would’ve been miraculous. They still can. But in order for this to work, Marlize has to show the same levels of affection to her husband when he is in a female body as she does when he is male. The Flash has to clarify that Marlize loves the (evil) human soul, rather than the male body, of her husband.
Is it wrong of The Flash to make Marlize straight? No, of course not. But is it a missed opportunity nonetheless? Yes. And for those with so little representation already, like the pansexual and genderfluid, missed opportunities are a real shame.
With little to no time for development, Ralph’s relationship with Izzy, and his subsequent loss, felt superficial
Ralph’s relationship with Izzy was doomed to fail. It was obvious from the get go. Their connection felt so rushed that her eventual demise was entirely predictable. The Flash wanted to put Ralph in a position to have a personal grudge against DeVoe, and rather than work for it, they shoehorned an entire arc into less than 50 minutes of screentime. It’s a real shame, because ‘Rizzy’ (as the kids are calling it) had potential. Had The Flash taken adequate time to flesh out Ralph’s feelings for Izzy, that final loss would have landed the emotional punch they were going for. Instead, we are left with whiplash; when did this new metahuman become this important to Ralph?
Izzy Bowin: Are you my new target, Stretch?
Ralph Dibny: Yeah, ’cause I don’t break so easy.
Izzy Bowin: [scoffs] Please. You’re built like a twig.
The goal of good TV is always empathy. The audience has to relate to your characters. We have to feel like we are their same emotional journey, experiencing love and loss along with them. When a show reduces a potentially life changing relationship to one episode, it separates us from the characters we are meant to inhabit. We had no time to grow to care for Izzy. We didn’t see Ralph’s chemistry with her, because there was simply no time. The Flash broke the cardinal rule of TV writing: they told us, rather than showed us, Ralph’s connection to Izzy. Because of this, we didn’t feel it. Her loss hurt, but not on the level it should’ve. And certainly not enough to warrant Ralph sitting on the floor binge-listening to country music.
All in all, “Subject 9” was an episode of ‘almosts.’ It was almost pansexual representation, it was almost a heartbreaking loss; almost, almost, almost. But in the world of TV, ‘almost’ just doesn’t cut it
This review is tough, because we see so much potential in this episode. But it’s impossible to overlook some glaring issues. The lack of consequences for Barry’s prison trial is a huge stain on this season that will be difficult to move past. Still, The Flash moved the story forward, kept us entertained, built friendships, and evoked some emotion. These are very basic things that many shows fail to do, so kudos on that, Flash.
It seems that the show may be shifting directions for the DeVoes. Marlize and Clifford’s relationship gets more and more strained as the weeks go on, and we see a few options here: 1) Marlize gets so fed up with her husband’s shit that she kills him and becomes the villain. 2) DeVoe turns on his wife and attempts to use her body after he runs out of metas. 3) Marlize turns on her husband and assists Team Flash in defeating him. It’s really anyone’s guess which (if any) of these theories is most likely at this point.
We would be remiss if we didn’t give a huge shoutout to Sugar Lyn Beard for her excellent portrayal of Clifford DeVoe. There was an inherent comedy to her small stature combined with Clifford’s looming presence, and Beard handled it flawlessly.
“Subject 9” was truly a fine episode. So close to greatness, but just falling short. Here’s hoping that next week, The Flash overcomes those ‘almosts’ and delivers the excellence we know they are so capable of.
Some spare thoughts
- Firstly, I feel it’s important to say this: I hit on issues of representation in this week’s review, but I am not a member of the community being represented. If I mislabeled or misunderstood anything mentioned, let me know and I will be sure to fix it.
- I really really wanted to root for Izzy (and for Ralph) but I really wish the writers had given us more time with her. My lack of interest in her death made me feel heartless.
- I hate writing negative reviews, but it’s part of the job. I still love you, Flash. Promise.
- Barry and Iris are the cutest married couple ever. That’s all.
- Joe West got a vacation from the madness this week and I’m happy for him, I guess?
- Someone mentioned this on twitter and it deserves to be discussed: did master supervillain Clifford DeVoe spend time doing Becky’s hair and makeup in the morning?
- More Iris and Caitlin, please. Both ladies bring something special to the show that’s really lacking when they aren’t heavily featured.