Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Flash 4x17 Review: "Null and Annoyed" (Dull and... What’s A Stronger Word Than Annoyed?) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

"Null and Annoyed”
Original Airdate: April 10, 2018 

Welcome back to Central City, everyone! I hope you all had a lovely break. I only wish our return to The Flash could be a lot nicer than this mess of a Dibny-focused episode, which might be the first episode to give one of my snarky review titles to itself. “Null and Annoyed,” indeed. Not that they want us to actually find Dibny annoying, though. Oh no. By the end of this episode, the writers expect us to agree with everything Ralph does and feel sorry for his tragic past! They even make the hero of the show “wrong” so that Dibny looks better by comparison!

Sometimes it’s like The Flash’s writers are an overly enthusiastic hype man for Ralph Dibny, the supremely unfunny main act. Like, I get that there must be some genuine appreciation there and I have to commend them for their ability to see the silver lining on such a smarmy cloud, but every ounce of effort they put into winning me over just loses me even more. You want it too much, The Flash.

Also, Ralph Dibny is a garbage character and I’m not sure you can fix that.


I don’t really even want to mention the metahuman of the week for this episode, since — although I liked her, and found her a bit charming in her classic “jewel thief” motivations — she barely factors into anything. Seriously, I think Null gets... a dozen lines, maybe? At most? And probably less than ten minutes of screen time the whole hour. I suppose it says something that the actress managed to make any sort of impression at all, considering what little she had to work with. Kudos to her.

So, yeah, Null is a jewel thief who can make things float, but the point is less about stopping her from stealing stuff and more about arresting her to keep her out of DeVoe’s clutches. Do the members of Team Flash know that DeVoe’s bodies start to deteriorate after a while? Because a decent strategy could be to just wait it out. Like, yeah, it means letting Izzy Bowin die for sure, but the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, as a wise Vulcan once said.

(Side note: I just realized Izzy’s last name is Bowin — the violin-playing metahuman’s last name is Bowin. Like, “bowin’” a fiddle? Comics are really dumb and I can’t believe people on the Internet get so angry about protecting their integrity.)

The actual big plot of the episode is Ralph Dibny acting like a complete tool to everyone on the team, as he suddenly doesn’t take anything related to crime fighting seriously. Okay, so last episode, Dibny spent the entire hour whining about how no one was trying hard enough to save him. This episode, he spends the entire hour messing up all the team’s attempts to save him. Do... do the writers watch the show? Or read the scripts they write? I can send them all links to these reviews if they need weekly recaps.

Or maybe the inconsistency isn’t an inconsistency at all. Maybe Ralph Dibny’s personality is just “obnoxious” — like, that’s his sole character trait. He just exists as a perpetual foil to the real heroes: When they’re happy, he’s angry; when they’re serious, he’s a screw-up; when they provide likeable, endearing character moments and steady development, he’s elasticated garbage. It’s certainly a unique approach to characterization.

Team Flash has the masterful idea to use Dibny’s shape-changing ability to trick the Thinker, literally the smartest villain they’ve ever encountered and a person who can essentially see into the future via deductive reasoning, into mistaking Dibny for Barry. Uh... I hope they have a Plan B. Dibny can’t get a hold of himself long enough to run through any training sessions, which leads to Barry losing his temper with him. This frustration only increases when Dibny accidentally breaks an expensive vase at one of Null’s heist crime scenes, and then later lets Null escape because he’s too busy goofing off to follow Barry’s orders.

Of course the show plays this off as a problem of Barry being overly controlling. Which, yes, he is — I’ve discussed his poor teaching techniques and perfectionist behavior in these reviews before — but that doesn’t do a whole lot to excuse Dibny’s behavior, and having this “lesson” come from Iris (the show’s Very Likely Voice of Reason) just feels cheap. Showing always beats telling, The Flash, and what you’ve showed me is that Ralph ruins plans, doesn’t pay attention to anything his team members tell him, breaks everything he touches, and annoyingly ignores the messes he causes.

Whatever. In the end, Barry has to act “more like Ralph” (gag) in order to save the day, which essentially means he has to throw caution to the wind and wing the capture of Null. Where did this idea that Barry’s some strict follower of set plans even come from? The Flash has spent four seasons showing Barry thinking on his feet and formulating new plans in the midst of failed old ones during every episode climax, but suddenly for “Null and Annoyed,” he has to learn how to be spontaneous? I’m not buying it, show.

Barry & Co. capture Null and secure her away from DeVoe, which is nice. I hope they told Null that she’s being targeted by a megalomaniacal supervillain so she doesn’t try to escape, though.

And speaking of megalomaniacal supervillains: Let’s catch up with the DeVoe family real quick! Marlize DeVoe discovers that her husband has been drugging her with metahuman tears in order to keep her loving him. Then she discovers that she’s already discovered this before, perhaps many times before, and DeVoe keeps using a combination of those tears and Dominic Lanse’s mind powers to erase her memory of the event.

Wait, wait, wait — this psychological horror story is going on, and The Flash is wasting our time with Ralph Dibny? I don’t care about Ralph Dibny, show! Explain what the heck happened to Clifford DeVoe to make him this level of evil! Hint at how Marlize might eventually break away from this metahuman-brand gaslighting! This is a thousand times more compelling than literally every Ralph Dibny plot you have ever foisted upon us.

Other Things:

  • I changed it because didn’t know how far-reaching the Community reference would be, but my analogy for the writers’ relationship to Ralph Dibny was originally saying it was like Shirley Bennett’s friendship with her universally-hated Finnish friend Gary. Related: I hope Dibny transfers to hell.
  • Cisco’s plot with Breacher/Josh/Cynthia’s dad was a heck of a lot better than the A-plot of the episode, but its goodness doesn’t fit in very well in this largely annoyed review. We learned: Vibe powers deteriorate with age, Breacher retires, and Cisco might become Cynthia’s new partner in the interdimensional Collections business!
  • And what the heck is going on with Harry Wells? There are some “future evil” implications in those last seconds of the episode that, once again, I find a lot more compelling than the main plot of the episode.
  • Oh yeah, Kevin Smith directed this episode and “Jay and Silent Bob” make a little cameo appearance.


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