Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Flash 4x14 Review: "Subject 9" (The Literal Power of Music) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

"Subject 9"
Original Airdate: February 27, 2018 

Previously on The Flash: Barry got out of jail, Ralph Dibny might be in trouble, Clifford DeVoe stole a new body and killed a bunch of the bus metas, and I was very confused about what the end goal of all this is supposed to be. This week’s episode doesn’t exactly shine a light into the gaping, cavernous darkness that is our main villain of the season’s motivations for, well, anything. But it gives us a pairing we haven’t really gotten before (Harry and Cecile want to be friends! Adorable!) and... some brief fiddle music? I mean, I really like fiddle music, so that’s neat.

Overall though, this episode is a weird mix of filler and real plot: it’s all about DeVoe being the main villain, so it’s not solidly in the “filler” category, but we don’t get any new information, so I can’t give The Flash any credit for advancing the plot. The most critical thing that happens in “Subject 9” is a tech foreshadowed by Savitar fails to work on DeVoe. Everything else is just more of the same, and this episode is yet another episode that reinforces my theory that these superhero shows could benefit from a little culling of the season episode numbers and a tightening of storylines.


Interesting thing I realized while watching this episode: the bus meta-ization yielded a lot more good metahumans than the initial particle accelerator explosion did. Including the ones who were part of the team or joined the team, I think there have only been, what, around a dozen good people with superpowers over the course of the show? Considering the number of villainous metahumans fought by our team has to be in the 50 or 60 range, that is not a promising ratio of good vs. evil. But roughly six (if you count Becky, who seemed okay deep down, and the crying dude, whom I’m making an optimistic assumption about even though I don’t think he had any lines) of the nine discovered bus metas fail to live up to the sociopathic criminal tendencies that metahumans in Central City have been known for thus far. I’m not sure if this is important to the plot or if the writers just realized the unlikelihood of that bus having twelve potential criminals on it, but I found it interesting, especially since the show has failed to adequately explore the relationship between metahuman ability and a propensity for lawbreaking.

Our bus meta of the week is one of the good ones (odd, because she’s based of a comics villain called The Fiddler) and she’s a country performer named Izzy. Izzy has the ability to send out sonic waves to confuse and hurt people opposing her, and Barry, armed with the knowledge that DeVoe will be after all the bus metas eventually, signs the team up for Izzy protection duty. Unfortunately, Izzy is having none of his warnings of danger — she’s got jigs to fiddle and reels to bow! — and she sends Barry and Ralph packing with a burst of sound waves, before heading off to her next music gig.

So, does DeVoe target these metas in some kind of order? Since he tells Marlize that Izzy isn’t “ready” yet, there must be some measurement he’s using that dictates what order to go in and the fact that Team Flash is after her at the same time is just a coincidence. Anyway, DeVoe wants Izzy because he wants her powers, but also because all the powers he’s sucked up and crammed into the diminutive frame of Becky is causing the body to deteriorate at a faster rate. Wait — he’s gonna get Izzy’s powers too, so that won’t exactly help his deterioration problem if he changes bodies?

And that right there is the biggest problem with this storyline. The writers are doing a great job establishing DeVoe as an impressive villain, more so than previous main Flash nemeses. Like, I really liked Zoom’s bonkers-balls personality, but I never believed for a second that Barry et al. would fail against him. Pretty much everyone guessed Savitar’s identity immediately, so the suspense and intrigue with that villain was non-existent and he was boring. But with DeVoe, the writers have created an enemy with a level of unpredictable evil akin to Zoom, they’ve allowed him to win in every encounter (thus making him a daunting adversary), and they’ve fixed their inability to craft a decent mystery... but maybe they’ve succeeded too well in that last thing?

I've had a pithy bit of writing advice pinned to the corkboard beside my desk for years, and it goes like this: “Until we know what a character wants, we don't know what the story is about. Until we know what the stakes are, we don't care.” DeVoe is a promising character, but I don't know what he wants, so I don't know what this story is about. Does he want to kill Barry? Destroy the Speed Force? Take over the world? Ascend to a higher plane of existence? And yes, DeVoe is an imposing villain, but I don't know what the stakes are — whether Barry's life is at stake, or his powers, or the welfare of humanity, etc. — so I can't really care about what is going on. I can appreciate the evilness of DeVoe, I can shake my fist at his ability to thwart the good guys, I can wonder about the increasing instability of his marriage, but I can't care about the long-term storyline of the season because the show has obscured everything related to why DeVoe does what he does.

DeVoe goes after Izzy in an alleyway and that’s when Izzy learns she’s actually in trouble, but she manages to use her powers against DeVoe and wins where The Flash, The Elongated Man, and Vibe all fail — Marlize has to portal in and rescue her husband before the combination of Izzy’s sonic power and the deteriorating body become a real threat to DeVoe’s life. Considering how little Marlize seems to trust her husband these days, I’m surprised she bothered. But I’m pretty sure Marlize turning against DeVoe is going to be a key moment in the coming episodes (one that I’m seriously looking forward to) and I get why she hasn’t given up on him yet.

Things unravel from there. Barry unmasks and decides that Team Flash will help train Izzy to protect herself, giving her the new violin for focusing her powers and running her through those manic drills Barry tends to inflict on new team members. Of course, faced with Barry’s ruthless training regime, Izzy gets hurt and bails — against the wishes of Dibny, who has developed a bit of a crush on her (the show emphasizes his feelings as more than a “crush” but let’s be real). Of course, DeVoe swoops in and, yes, Izzy gets her body snatched. Again, I have to say how important it is that DeVoe is engaging with the team a lot and winning every engagement. As a villain calling himself Barry’s greatest foe thus far, plotting from the distance doesn’t work — “show don’t tell,” and all that jazz — but I fully believe in DeVoe’s strength as an opponent specifically because he wins these smaller (still critical) battles.

Other Things:
  • I guess that Dibny, with his elasticized, non-deteriorating cells, will be DeVoe’s plan for a final body. Plus he’d be able to transform himself back into himself.
  • "Why is it damp?" "I sweat a lot when I sleep." "You nasty." Have I mentioned lately how much I love that they're giving Candice Patton comedy lines now?
  • I enjoy a lot of little character things in this episode. Even though he makes everyone miserable because of it, I enjoy the fact that Barry pushing the people he’s training too hard out of a desire to protect them is a consistent, negative character trait. I like everything going on with Harry: His insecurities about his life, his awkwardness at making friends, his inability to express his negative emotions in a healthy way. I also like that we get a bit more of Cecile’s character in this episode, and how understanding and friendly she is — between the relatable excitement over getting superpowers and this episode, I’m really starting to appreciate her character a lot more.
  • Not mentioned in the main review: Barry is put on suspension until the furor over DeVoe’s undeath dies down, but he joins Dibny as a partner in his PI firm.


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