The Flash’s post-break return started off on the wrong foot last week with a return to the sort of mind-numbingly dull “drama” that made most of its third season such a drag in the first place. Thankfully, last night’s Flash put a spotlight on Hartley Sawyer’s wonderful Ralph Dibny as a reminder that this show is at its best when it has some fun.
For those not caught up, Clifford DeVoe/The Thinker’s sinister plan of getting himself a hot new bod—while also framing Barry Allen for the murder of his old body has left poor Barry ensconced in Iron Heights—meaning that Team Flash is now Team Flashless.
If only The Flash hadn’t, say, completely botched its introduction of a second speedster to the point they just shipped him off to another city, never to be seen again! Ah well, at least Legends of Tomorrow might finally start to treat Wally West with some respect. But with no Barry, and everyone more than happy to conveniently ignore the existence of poor Wally, that meant in the spectacularly titled “The Elongated Knight Rises,” Ralph Dibny got to step up to the plate, earning his comic book superhero name in the process.
But most importantly, Ralph’s journey from comical asshole to... still comical but slightly less assholish hero—one that we can now actually call the Elongated Man, thanks to the help of a random reporter, rather than Cisco’s usual cavalcade of suggestions—played out in such a fun way last night it was easy to forget that this was just a slightly more self-centered take on a typical “hero finally takes on responsibility” story. One that also happened to be campy as hell, in a charming way, thanks not just to Ralph being the center of attention but by bringing back the newer incarnation of the Trickster, Axel Walker, this time joined by Corinne Bohrer reprising her role as Prank from the original Flash TV show in all her scenery-chewing glory.
Ralph, who’s rather different from his classic comic counterpart in this regard, spends most of the episode having to learn that being a hero isn’t just something that happens because you have powers—especially ones, as he thought, that would prevent him from harm—but choosing to accept that you can get hurt, and choosing to be a hero in spite of that. It’s not the most noble of realizations, sure, but it’s at least an important bit of growth for this character who despite being a comedic highlight since his debut on The Flash, can occasionally come off as a bit too abrasive and self-centered for his own good. Ralph also gets the significant bonus of having learned about being selfless without, say, having to have completely messed up an entire timeline before doing so. Unlike some people.
In fact, the only thing interesting about keeping Barry in prison so far was to see how well—underneath the goofy undertones of Ralph’s time in the spotlight—he can work as a mentor to Central City’s latest hero. There’s more than a few shades of Barry’s own early adventures in the moments from “The Elongated Knight Rises” where a scared Ralph stretched his way into Iron Heights for a pep talk from Barry, and although Ralph and Barry don’t have the same bond as Barry did with his father, the mentor/mentee role they’ve fallen into is a compelling one. As frustrating as it is to see Barry arbitrarily sidelined by the season’s overall arc with the Thinker, continuing to see him grow through getting to experience Ralph’s journey into superherodom is one of the best parts of this season so far.