Kevin Smith’s first two directorial outings on The Flash were played relatively straight, sticking closely to the established house style. With the aptly-titled “Null And Annoyed,” he puts more of his personal stamp on the material, with decidedly mixed results. Given that Smith is recovering from a recent heart attack, I’m not inclined to be too hard on him here, especially since the episode’s big deficiencies are inherent in a script he didn’t write. A broader than usual tone is unmistakable, however, particular in connection with a couple of already established characters.
The first question that comes to mind is, “How many personal growth stories does the character of Ralph Dibny need in a single season?” In previous episodes he’s been selfish, unheroic, and fearful, but he always overcomes these character flaws and asserts himself as a valuable member of Team Flash in the end. Yet there’s always a new personality quirk to overcome, and this week it’s...his fondness for terrible improv and hackneyed practical jokes? Ralph was always a lighthearted figure in the comics (at least until his wife was raped and murdered, but the less said about that, the better), and in theory, a storyline about his jokiness getting in the way of the superheroics could work. It would help, though, if he was the slightest bit funny. He’s had his moments in earlier episodes, but this week, he’s simply cringeworthy and annoying.
It’s hard to be on Barry’s side when he goes into self-righteous mode, but in this case, he certainly has a point. He wouldn’t be Barry Allen if he didn’t take it too far, and sure enough, Iris points out that he’s more upset about Ralph not thinking like him than he is about the lame and inappropriate humor. At least the resolution is amusing, as Ralph is able to rescue a plummeting Barry by expanding into a giant whoopie cushion (given that Barry has fallen thousands of feet by the time he lands, this is one of the more extreme examples of comic book physics in show history, but I’ll let it slide on account of the farty noises), but maybe Ralph can go a few weeks without needing a boost from the team?
The other character who doesn’t benefit much from Smith’s direction is Danny Trejo’s Breacher. Trejo basically played the character straight in his first appearance, but he appears to be straining for comedy here, and it’s not working because the strain is showing. The idea of a superhero forced to retire because old age is causing his powers to run down is a decent one, but the treatment it’s given here just makes it feel like a filler subplot. It has no connection to anything else going on this week, although it does leave Cisco with a dilemma in the end, as he has the opportunity to leave Team Flash and take over for Breacher, thus spending more time with Gypsy.
The resolution to that will have to wait, however. The search for the remaining bus metas is front and center this week, and while the villain (Null) doesn’t make much of an impression, an interesting dynamic has finally emerged between the DeVoes. After discovering traces of a strange chemical in the lab, the Engineer figures out that DeVoe (now in the form of the Fiddler) has been poisoning her with a formula made with the Weeper’s tears, keeping her docile and loving while also wiping her memory each time she figures it out. It’s a creepy moment when she stumbles on the recorded warning she’s already made several times before, and a pretty strong hint that DeVoe will ultimately be defeated with her help. It would be great if that could happen as soon as next week, but that’s the downside of serialized superheroics: we’re stuck with a dud villain to the bitter end.
- On the plus side of the ledger for Kevin Smith, I actually don’t mind that Jay and Silent Bob are now established as part of the CW-verse. Their appearance was brief enough to give me a nostalgic hit for a time when I enjoyed their antics.
- Harry is another character who felt a little off this week, although by episode’s end it’s clear that there’s a reason for that. Overuse of his thinking cap looks to have put the zap on his brain as he summons Gideon, who has not heard from Dr. Wells in three years or so.
- Jesse L. Martin looked like he was having fun doing Ralph-as-Joe, but I’m still not so hot on Dibny’s morphing powers. He elongates! That’s what he does!