Over the last six weeks of episodes, The Flash has relied heavily on the monster of the week style format. In that time it’s tried to be sillier and fun to recapture that first season vibe. This week though the series tossed aside the villain of the week style aspect and dove back into a darker season three style episode and it worked. Previously villains were hiding in the midst of Team Flash with their identities not learned till deep into the season, sometimes almost the end of the season. The minds behind The Flash spoke over the summer about doing something different this season and they are sticking to that. While Barry & the team found themselves being tricked each time these big bads have emerged, this time Barry sees the threat before anyone else and that is where the drama comes into play.
Barry’s actions this episode makes him come off as paranoid and losing it, yet it also makes him the most forward thinking of his group. Too many times they have fallen for the ‘I’m just normal and alongside you’ mask, & Barry is actually starting to see through it. Watching as Grant Gustin gets serious as Barry & goes deeper and deeper into proving Devoe is their villain was a treat and allowed him to tap into those more serious moments that the series has done well in the past. Watching a hero lose himself to the point of seeming madness is far more interesting than the animated statues, Ralph Dibny issues & other stuff that the last few episodes have thrown out there. For weeks I’ve bemoaned mentally the fact that Team Flash has kept the head of a droid from their enemy right in their base, but it paid off greatly here with Barry’s obsession taking him to new heights with the camera. This season we’re told that unlike previous ones Barry will have to outthink a villain rather than outrun them, and with this episode, it proves that this will be very true. Devoe has crafted the perfect trap that the Flash falls right into. Their final confrontation where The Thinker lays out how much smarter and better than the previous villains he is, letting Barry knew he’s a hundred steps ahead of them, was worth everything. It continued to shatter the villain formula that the show had fallen into.
Having Devoe’s villain origins played out through flashback, even allowing a return to season one versions of Harrison Wells & others, was a great move. It allowed us the viewer to witness the birth of the Thinker and what got us to this point while in the present day Barry was left grasping at straws. Unlike many of the big bads who just crave revenge or power, Devoe’s story is a very tragic one. Just wanting to be able to unleash his brain’s full capacity, the man ends up destroying his body in the process. Barry & Iris’ relationship in the present day shows just how strong they are against any threat that is rising, yet it provides the perfect reflection in a way for another relationship that grew this episode. In the last few episodes, Marlize seemed to be just an assistant to The Thinker, yet the flashbacks revealed she was far more than that. She is the loving, devoted and brilliant wife of Clifford Devoe. It was through her that his Thinking Cap, through which he gained his abilities, became a reality & it was her that helped him devise a device to keep his deteriorating body in working order to enact his plans. The best villains are not the cackling just evil to be evil villains most times, it’s the ones that are sympathetic and have depth. In just this one episode, very early in the season, The Thinker & Marlize are given both of those things.
Neil Sandilands and Kim Engelbrecht were able to show their acting range as they got to spend much of the episode in civilian mode, not the over the top villain personas that we had seen in previous episodes. As the end revealed the true state of Devoe’s falling apart body right before Barry and Iris are to be wed, it does offer up the possibility of continued mirroring for the couples. While Clifford and Marlize were happy previously there is the high likelihood that this happiness will not last forever and as Clifford loses more of his humanity and his body deteriorates more they will be torn apart. At the opposite side, Barry & Iris look to be getting stronger in their relationship and should continue to be stronger and happier as things go forward, barring any unforeseen tragedies or moments that are bound to come as the season continues to play out.
Setting aside the villain of the week formula was a nice change of pace this season, especially since it was proven quickly that a non-speedster villain is for the best. What the series needs to do moving forward though is find a better balance. There is room for dramatic and silly at the same table, they do not have to just keep picking one or the other. While the crossover episodes will be great next week, it’s a shame that we have to take a break from The Thinker plot for a week. With Devoe’s plans unfolding the events of the midseason finale in two weeks should be very interesting. Hopefully, the series finds a better balance with their episodes in the second half coming in 2018. Less animated statues and Ralph being a jerk and more fun but serious is the best way to go. It was something they achieved well in the past, and I believe the series can find that again.
Score: 9 out of 10