The Flash: “Matter nine” Assessment



The Flash is back in action.

Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.

After a brief, Olympics-induced hiatus, The Flash returned tonight to chronicle the ongoing feud between Barry Allen and Clifford DeVoe. The previous episode offered a new ray of light in Barry’s world, as Ralph helped him beat the murder rap and return to active duty. But any hopes that this latest twist might have been the catalyst the DeVoe conflict needed were sahed this week as the show promptly fell back into old, repetitive habits. It’s enough to wonder what was actually accomplished by putting Barry in prison in the first place.

The only real, tangible fallout of Barry’s prison stint appears to be that his CCPD career is on shaky ground. It’s tough to muster too much sympathy for Barry when I’ve often found myself wondering why Barry maintains a day job in the first place. Given that he’s a metahuman and has access to all the resources and money left to him by the original Harrison Wells, aren’t there better ways he can be spending his time? I’ll grant I am mildly interested to see where the series is going with Barry’s newfound career as a private eye, but on the whole it just doesn’t feel like there’s enough fallout from the whole prison ordeal.

Apart from that, this episode unfolded in pretty typical Season 4 fashion, with both Team Flash and DeVoe racing to track down the latest bus meta. There’s a certain novelty in seeing DeVoe switch bodies and take on new forms. That’s especially true that that Becky Sharpe has become his unwilling host. There’s a fun juxtaposition between her small, unassuming frame and the intensity of her performance. That said, DeVoe just isn’t the same when he isn’t being portrayed by Neil Sandilands. There’s a sadness and a gravitas to Sandilands’ performance that doesn’t carry over to his successors. Though, to be fair, that may be an intentional shift as we see DeVoe’s mind grow more irrational and desperate as his hosts wither away.

Still, I’m hoping it won’t be much longer before we get to the end game of his plan. The bus meta MacGuffin has worn out its welcome by this point. With each passing week, it seems more and more likely that DeVoe himself isn’t going to be the ultimate antagonist of Season 4, but rather Marlize. The sooner that transition happens, the better.

It seems the goal with “Subject 9” was to build a conflict that could give Ralph a stronger sense of personal investment in the war against DeVoe. The description for this episode made it sound like we were in for more of the character waffling over whether he has the right stuff to be a hero. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Rather, he tried to impart some of his newfound superhero wisdom to fellow bus meta Izzy Bowen (newcomer Miranda MacDougall). In general, a decent step forward for the character.

Where this episode really floundered, however, is that it failed to create a convincing rapport between Ralph and Izzy. Izzy never came across as a particularly compelling character, with MacDougall basically playing her as a bundle of country music stereotypes with an over-exaggerated accent. Beyond that, she simply wasn’t in the picture long enough for her to form much of a connection to Ralph. She basically hung around STAR Labs for an afternoon and we’re supposed to believe Ralph is profoundly changed by this loss? Izzy needed to have been in the picture longer than one episode for her “death” to have any real significance.

Exit Theatre Mode

It didn’t help that the latest showdown with DeVoe fell utterly flat. The idea that his own mental powers have been bolstered by the addition of six other abilities should have made for a dynamic battle scene. Instead, what we got was short, sluggish and awkwardly framed.

On top of everything else, it’s clear the writers are still struggling to juggle the show’s supporting cast. At least the Cecile/Harry subplot proved mildly charming, creating a connection between two characters who have rarely had much reason to interact before. And we got that callback to Season 3’s “cerebral inhibitor” reference, even if the payoff didn’t seem quite worth the buildup.

But too many other Team Flash members felt like superfluous background characters this week. Joe didn’t even put in an appearance, and Caitlin was relegated to the same, thankless support role she’s been trapped in for most of the season. All in all, “Subject 9” was not a strong showing for a series that really needs to be bringing its A-game right about now. As flawed as Season 3 was, at least it managed to recover a lot of its lost momentum in its final few months as the true nature of Savitar was revealed. There’s little sign at the moment that Season 4 will be able to pull off a similar transformation.

The Verdict

“Subject 9” proved to be one of the weakest installments yet in a generally weak season. This episode calls into question what the series actually accomplished with Barry’s prison ordeal, as the plot has basically fallen back into its old routine. Nor did the latest bus meta, Izzy Bowdin, leave a strong impression in her brief run as an ally to Team flash. The closer this season gets to the finish line, the less room there is to hope for a dramatic reversal in quality.


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