THE FLASH Season 4 Episode 17 Review: Null and Annoyed

Director and professional fanboy Kevin Smith made his way to Central City yet again, but his homecoming wasn’t quite the glorious return many were hoping for after the long and tedious dry spell that’s dominated this season. His previous episodes “The Runaway Dinosaur” and “Killer Frost” were some of the most emotionally intense stories the series has had; both depicted tumultuous life- altering moments for the member of Team Flash and introduced elements that went out to become pillars of the show’s mythology. In contrast, the stakes for “Null and Annoyed” were much, much lower and the tone was more light-hearted and comedic. 

Despite the fact that neither Smith nor THE FLASH are strangers to comedy, nothing in the episode really seemed to gel as it should, with enough on-the- nose zingers and obvious punchlines to make you expect a laugh track. Ralph’s already tenuous maturity devolved into that of a sitcom middle schooler, complete with recurring whoopee cushion jokes, and Barry, of course, became the stick in the mud that needed to learn a lesson about the importance of fun. 

But it was guest star Danny Trejo who had the most thankless job of all with an honest-to- god male impotence subplot that ended with him hanging up his leather jacket up in his second ever appearance. You really have to wonder why the show would even bother casting a big name like Trejo if the character he’s playing has no substance beyond “grumpy” and “subject of increasingly cringeworthy innuendos”. The only good to come of his storyline was his parting offer to have Cisco take up his mantle. Cisco has been mystifyingly sidelined for most of the season, and it’s high time the show tried to give him something to do besides spout exposition and get one-shotted by every new meta criminal. I suspect he probably won’t actually accept until the end of the season, but it’s easy to see how a role like interdimensional bounty hunter could open up some exciting new stories in the future. 

Of course, that’s assuming THE FLASH is still interested in telling any new stories and not just drawing plot ideas out of a hat, which is starting to feel more and more like the case. The series has always been more focused on week to week conflicts rather than creating an intricate overarching story, which has been both a blessing and curse at times. But recently there hasn’t even consistency to any of the characters, whose thoughts and motivations are subject to reinvention at any given time. Even putting aside the way Barry and the others were forced into unnatural roles for the sake of cheap jokes all throughout the episode, the emotional thrust of the Barry and Ralph conflict rang false on every level. 

A few weeks ago Ralph was a paranoid shut-in who needed several patented Team Flash pep talks before he could be persuaded DeVoe wasn’t going to murder him the moment he put a toe outside the lab building. Now Barry’s supposedly eager to bench Ralph because he isn’t taking DeVoe seriously enough, and Ralph is utterly crushed at not being allowed to go out on field missions. It’s the worst kind of mentorship—one where Barry is constantly scolded for not having faith in Ralph, but is given conflicting reasons for being in the wrong depending on what the flavor of the week is. When you consider the nuanced give and take relationships Barry’s had with his own mentors, it’s even more frustrating to see Ralph constantly be given a free pass for, well, everything. 

Speaking of Barry’s previous mentors, it has to be said that ending tease of Wells entering the time vault after so long was incredibly exciting. As much as I’d love a doppelganger plot about Eobard stealing the life of another Harrison Wells, I’m inclined to think the parallels were just meant to be symbolic of Harry’s new dangerously devious side that his obsession with DeVoe has brought out. (Although I do wonder about that “one thousand days” bit. Hmmm.) It’s unclear just what type of plan he’s developing, but I would bet that one way or another it will end up involving Marlize, who at this point seems destined to be the one meant to kill the Thinker, whether that be so she aid Team Flash or so she can take his place as a supervillain. It’d be a little bit of a late game twist, but given how long it took them to do a proper Savitar reveal last year, I don’t think it’s out of the real of possibility quite yet. The fact that there’s only one bus meta left to find means there’s clearly some wrinkle we haven’t gotten to yet that will take up these last half a dozen episodes, and with a continued stream of dud weekly plots, a good wrinkle is desperately needed for there to be some kind of high note to close the season on.

Written by Kaitlin Roberts, THE FLASH Beat Writer

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