Friday, November 24, 2017

The Flash Season 4, Episode 7: Therefore I Am

This week's episode of The Flash is an odd one, as there's no new metahuman threat, and no real reason for Barry to use his powers. In fact there's little or nothing that actually happens, as most of the episode consists of scenes of characters talking.

And yet somehow it turned out to be a pretty darned good episode, no doubt due to the quiet, sinister menace of The Thinker, who demonstrated he could destroy Barry's life without even getting up out of his chair!

For the past couple of months I've been noting that Season 4 of The Flash has been a lot more fun and lighthearted than the previous ones, and that overall this was a good thing. I did complain a bit about last week's episode though, saying it swung a bit TOO far into wacky and goofy territory. This week the pendulum most definitely swung back toward the serious side. A bit too far, if you ask me.

Sure, this week's tonal shift was justified by the storyline, but... I hope the show's not gonna go all grim and gritty again as it did in Season 3. There's gotta be a perfect balance here somewhere, and the sooner the writers find it, the better.

Overall I liked this episode quite a bit, with a few exceptions. I was very impressed with the way DeVoe expertly manipulated him, playing up the "Poor Disabled Professor Who's Being Harassed" angle perfectly. Even better, he somehow managed to be just as creepy and intimidating and dangerous out of his "costume" as he does in it! Well done, writers! On the other hand, I thought Barry's Ahab-like obsession with DeVoe was a bit over the top, and could have been toned down a few notches.

It's also a nice change of pace to have a Big Bad that's not another speedster. DeVoe's a foe that Barry can't just outrun this time. He's definitely out of his element here, as DeVoe practically ruined his career and destroyed his life without even really trying.

Even better was the revelation that The Mechanic is not just The Thinker's lab assistant, but his adoring wife. This gave their relationship some real emotion and pathos, as well as lending some much needed depth to The Thinker.

Speaking of The Mechanic, actress Kim Engelbrecht looks REALLY familiar to me. I checked IMDB and I've not seen a single thing she's been in before. So I have no idea why I think I know her. 

Of course I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't point out that DeVoe's backstory involved some massive retcons to the particle accelerator explosion storyline. 

One question the writers still need to answer though— just why is DeVoe so obsessed with Barry? So far I don't see any connection between them, other than the fact that they were both lived in Central City during the particle accelerator explosion.

The Plot:
FLASHBACK: We begin four years ago, before Clifford DeVoe became The Thinker. At this point in time he's nervous and absent-minded, as he tries to teach a seriously disinterested college class. Later he's joined by his wife Marize (who will eventually become The Engineer), and shows her his design for a "thinking cap" (oy) which will augment his brain waves or something. She promises to build it for him.

Cut to the present, where Barry and Joe question the wheelchair-bound DeVoe at his house. He and his wife Marize seem to be a perfect, loving, normal couple. While there, Barry notices a painting of a samurai, and immediately thinks back to the Samuroid that attacked Central City back in The Flash Reborn. Barry's instantly convinced that this innocent coincidence proves DeVoe's the supervillain they're hunting.

At STAR Labs, Barry tries to convince the others that DeVoe's really The Thinker. They don't believe him, but Iris orders them all to investigate DeVoe more closely (even though last week they claimed he had no online presence).

FLASHBACK: Marize finishes the thinking cap, but says it requires more power than can ever be generated. This seems like a serious design flaw, but whatever. Just then, DeVoe sees Harrison Wells on TV, announcing the activation of the particle accelerator. DeVoe says it could provide the power they need.

In the present, Barry attends one of DeVoe's lectures, which are now dynamic, informative and hold the students' attention. After the lecture, Barry pesters DeVoe again, asking him where he was on January 7, four years ago (the night of the particle accelerator explosion). DeVoe lies and says he has no idea. Barry uses his superspeed to invisibly steal DeVoe's coffee mug.

Barry takes the mug to STAR and has Caitlin analyze it, but it doesn't contain any metahuman DNA. He has Cisco vibe the mug, but all he sees is DeVoe and Marize enjoying a nice dinner. Despite finding absolutely no suspicious evidence, Barry still insists there's something "off" about DeVoe.

FLASHBACK: DeVoe and Marize join the crowd to watch Wells activate the particle accelerator. DeVoe puts on his thinking cap, which I guess just needs to be near the accelerator to work? I dunno. Anyway, it's struck by dark matter when the accelerator explodes, and DeVoe's knocked unconscious.

In the present, Barry's called to Captain Singh's office, where the DeVoe's have filed a formal complaint against Barry, claiming he's harassing them. Later that night, Iris begs Barry to drop the DeVoe investigation before he gets fired. Later that night, Barry's working alone in STAR Labs and hears a buzzing noise. He sees it's coming from the discarded Samuroid head. He pries open the head, and discovers a small camera inside.

FLASHBACK: After the explosion, we see DeVoe's now a certified genius, able to absorb huge amounts of knowledge and answer any question. The good times don't last though, as he suddenly has a seizure and collapses. 

Cut to a doctor's office, where DeVoe discovers his brain is now so powerful it's drawing energy from the rest of his body, causing a form of ALS. The doctor gives him two to five years to live. Marize tells DeVoe she's not about to let him die, and vows to build him a life support chair.

Back in the present, Barry tries once again to convince Team Flash that DeVoe is an evil supervillain, but they still won't believe him. Frustrated, he decides to stake out DeVoe's house. When he sees Marize drive off on an errand, he phases into the house and looks for some kind of evidence (um... what about DeVoe?). Marize unexpectedly comes back, and he zooms out of the house before she sees him. 

The next day, Barry's called into Singh's office again. Marize is there as well, sobbing. Singh hands Barry a security photo from DeVoe's house— which clearly shows him snooping around the place. Marize places a restraining order against Barry, forbidding him from coming within five hundred feet of her or her husband. Singh suspends Barry for two weeks, and says he's lucky he doesn't fire him.

The next day Barry tempts fate by meeting DeVoe after his class. DeVoe reminds him that he's currently breaking the law, but Barry says he doesn't care. He asks DeVoe to look him straight in the eye and tell him the truth. DeVoe pauses a few seconds, then says he knows Barry's the Flash, along with virtually everything else about him. He says that neither Barry or Team Flash can come up with a plan that he hasn't already anticipated. Barry realizes that DeVoe's power is his vast intellect. As Barry leaves, DeVoe wishes him luck with his upcoming wedding.

Barry goes back to STAR and tells the Gang that DeVoe admitted he's a supervillain. Despite the fact that he has no evidence other than his word, this time they all believe him, and Cisco dubs DeVoe "The Thinker." Just then Wally returns to the show for some reason.

Later The Thinker and The Mechanic are in their lair, discussing Barry and Team Flash. Suddenly DeVoe has another seizure, and The Mechanic says he's been out of his flying Barcalounger for too long. The Mechanic pulls the skin back on DeVoe's head, revealing his brain. The chair floats down and a series of writhing electronic tentacles plug themselves into his head. We then see him in full Thinker mode.

• This week Iris tells Team Flash to dig up info on DeVoe, saying, "Okay, Cisco, Harry, you guys want to see what kind of digital footprint you can get on this guy?"

I guess everyone (including the writers) forgot that last week they said DeVoe had no social media presence whatsoever. I suppose maybe a Social Security number and driver's license aren't the same as a Facebook account, but it still feels like a flub to me.

 Later on Iris asks Cisco and Harry if they found anything on DeVoe. Cisco says, "Well, he's never been arrested, he pays all his taxes and his mortgage. He has a very reasonable 401k plan." 

Harry says, "Donates to the Sierra Club, volunteers at an orphanage as a big brother..."

Hmm. That sounds like a lot, especially for a dying guy in a wheelchair. I wonder if he really does all that, or he used his intellect to fabricate an idealized fake identity?

 At one point, DeVoe dons a "thinking cap" to augment his already formidable intellect, and becomes The Thinker.

The concept of DeVoe's thinking cap comes straight out of the Golden Age of comics. Clifford DeVoe, aka The Thinker, first appeared in All-Flash #12 back in 1943, and often fought the Jay Garrick version of the Flash.

Best of all, as you can see here, the TV version of the thinking cap is a dead ringer for the one in the comics! Cool! Well done, guys!

• Great confusion seems to surround the issue of whether or not DeVoe is a metahuman, and why he can only be a threat to Team Flash if he is.

Caitlin scans DeVoe's coffee mug and proclaims it contains no metahuman DNA. She heavily implies that since he's an ordinary everyday human, he poses absolutely no threat.

That doesn't make any sense. Suddenly this season The Flash writers seem obsessed with the idea that every superhero and villains is a meta. That's just not true. What about Captain Cold and Heat Wave (before they joined the Legends Of Tomorrow)? They're both just regular humans, and they were every bit as dangerous as any meta. How about Grodd? He's not a meta, or even human! And how about Supergirl and Martian Manhunter? They're alien superheroes. No metagenes anywhere.

Later in the episode, DeVoe actually admits he actually is a meta, mutated by the gene-altering dark matter from the particle accelerator explosion. Wait a minute... I thought his "thinking cap" was what made him smart? So which expanded his intellect? The explosion or the cap?

• When Barry phases into DeVoe's house, he's wearing a hoodie and has it pulled up over his head. For some reason, once he's inside he pulls it back down, exposing his face like only a true idiot would. Of course DeVoe's home security cam is then able to snap a perfect shot of Barry's face.

If he'd left his hoodie up like a normal person, his face wouldn't have appeared on camera, Marize wouldn't have been able to issue a restraining order against him and he wouldn't have been suspended.

• After the explosion, DeVoe's intellect increases exponentially. He shows off to Marize by saying he's figured out various "unsolvable" theorems and puzzles, such as Reimann's Hypothesis, Hilbert's 15th problem and the standard conjectures on algebraic cycles.

OK, I looked it up, and the Riemann Hypothesis is a real mathematical problem— one I'm not even going to attempt to explain. Hilbert's 15th problem is an actual thing as well, which involves calculus.

DeVoe goes on to reveal the identity of Jack The Ripper, saying, "The prevailing theory is there was a London barber by the name Aaron Kosminski who committed the crimes. He also suffered schizophrenic and delusional tendencies. But it was his nurse at the Colney Hatch Asylum! Catherine Jewell!"

Aaron Kosminski really is one of the more likely Ripper suspects! I couldn't find anything on Catherine Jewell though, so I'm assuming that's the one thing the writers made up to make DeVoe look like a genius.

• Why's Barry so surprised that DeVoe figured out his secret identity? He's been so cavalier about it the past four seasons that by this point the baristas at Jitters probably know he's the Flash.

• Wally comes back late in the episode! I knew he wasn't gone forever. Typically, the rest of Team Flash barely seems to notice. Poor Wally! By the way, I'm still not digging his weird Cab Calloway hairstyle.

• Barry asks Wally how his vacation in Blue Valley went. Wally says, "Self-reflection and a battle with a starfish from outer space gives you perspective."

That's undoubtedly a reference to Starro The Conqueror, a long-running DC foe who fought the Justice League in their very first appearance in The Brave And The Bold #28! As Wally said, Starro's a giant alien starfish, who has dangerous telepathic powers and a hankering to rule the Earth.

Starro can create small clones of itself, which attach themselves to the faces of its victims. It can then use these smaller starfish to control the actions of any subject— even Superman!

It's too bad the writers used such an important character as a throwaway line here. Given Starro's importance in the DC Universe, it would have been fun to see him onscreen!

• So I guess every time Marize accompanies DeVoe down into their secret supervillain lair, she puts her white lab coat on and then takes the time to smear a bunch of greasy product into her hair and slick it down flat? But why? For who's benefit? No one's in there but the two of them!

• Kudos to the effects team for DeVoe's gross and disturbing transformation into The Thinker. It reminded me a bit of the Borg Queen being assembled in Star Trek: First Contact.

I wonder why we're so put off by the sight of a human brain? After all, when you boil it down, we're ALL brains. Brains that are riding around in articulated meat armor. So why's it so gross when we're reminded of that?

• This Week's Best Lines:
Joe: (asking DeVoe about Mina Chayton, the Black Bison) "You were colleagues? Did she mention her work?"

DeVoe: "No, no, no. Mina was an... an animated woman."
(I'm assuming that's a joke, referencing Black Bison's power to animate any object. Cute)

Barry: "That painting Uh, it's beautiful."
DeVoe: "The samurai. They were formidable foes. They'd often make unstoppable enemies to their opponents. You wouldn't want to cross one."

(DeVoe is obviously subtly toying with Barry here, as he knows he faced off against his robotic Samaroid)

Harrison Wells: (in a flashback) "Once my particle accelerator goes online, it'll blow the doors of science off their hinges."

(Funny, Dr. Wells. Real funny)

Iris: (discussing whether DeVoe's really The Thinker) "No, it's not that we don't believe you, Barry. It's just, right now DeVoe seems like a good guy."
Barry: "Guys, it's him."
Caitlin: "I thought we were done just assuming people are villains."

(Ouch! Sick burn there by Caitlin, aka Killer Frost!)

Harrison Wells: (discussing the accelerator again in a flashback) "This is the future. And trust me, it'll be here faster than you think."

(Wow, the writers exceeded their "foreshadowing dialogue" quota this week!)

DeVoe: "Could any one of those clowns identify what my abilities are? You could gather every genius on every planet, and you still couldn't out think me."
Barry: "Plenty of metas have come after me, the people that I love. You know the one thing they have in common? They failed."
DeVoe: "You've done wonders all these years punching gorillas with rudimentary powers, chasing madmen shooting icicles. Those were children with play guns. Savitar, Zoom, Thawne. Their powers are nothing compared to the power of limitless thought."
Barry: "That's your ability? Your intellect was amplified by the particle accelerator."
DeVoe: "You may be the fastest man alive, Allen. I'm the fastest mind."

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