‘The Flash’ 4×17 Review: ‘Null and Annoyed’

Whatever nefarious thing I did to Alyssa so that I could write the reviews for two of my favorite episodes of the season, she definitely got me back with this episode. I was looking forward to Kevin Smith’s return as director, but – due to no fault of his – ‘Null and Annoyed’ was a rough one. Let’s just jump right in, shall we?

Holding Out for a Hero

All right, ladies and gentlemen. It’s time to play Ralph Dibney Madlibs! Grab your cards and we’ll get started! Ralph is feeling (mad / indignant / hungry / heroic) this week. He expresses this feeling through (stretchy parlor tricks / stretchy parlor tricks / fart jokes / stretchy parlor tricks). The villain makes him feel (hungry / horny / scared / confused). Barry finds his behavior (hilarious / irritating / annoying / totes adorbs).

Are you ready to find out how you did?

For those keeping track at home, Ralph is eager to be a hero again in this week’s episode. This is at least the third time he’s come to that realization. If not fourth. Or fifth. Honestly, I’ve lost count. However, after being too scared to even attempt to accomplish anything at all in Run, Iris, Run, he’s determined to be a hero again. More, he’s hurt that anyone (specifically Barry) would question this conviction he holds so dear, he thought of it when he got up at eight in the morning and will undoubtedly forget it again before noon.

As hard as it is to understand why Barry wouldn’t put a lot of faith in him, his attitude doesn’t make it easy. Last episode, he was hiding in his little hole, the mere thought of DeVoe too much to handle. This week, he’s cracking jokes and resorting to parlor tricks, seemingly unable to take the situation seriously.

And, look, I know it seems I’m being hard on the guy. So let me make something really clear: what annoys me the most is that I genuinely think the actor, Hartley Sawyer, could have played a truly fantastic character. And, really, he seems like a sweetheart behind the scenes. I wish I’d had a chance to see the character I think he could have portrayed. This is not a failure in the acting. This is absolutely a failure of writing. The show has utterly failed this character. First, in introducing him as a misogynistic creep. He learns, he grows, he forgets again. He learns the same lesson, he grows, he forgets again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

By now, I’m just over it. I’m sorry, but it’s time for this character to go. I won’t waste too much more time on this story, even though it was the bulk of the episode. Trust me, it’s not worth it.

Barry snaps at Ralph for refusing to take things seriously, which hurts Ralph’s feelings. This somehow gets spun into Barry just being frustrated that Ralph isn’t tackling the situation as Barry would. (Can someone explain to me how this became the issue? That wasn’t the problem at all!) Barry’s frustration that Ralph was goofing off instead of training with the team and seeming to take the situation seriously is, frankly, pretty valid. But, fine, we’re pretending that Barry is in the wrong here.

Iris stands up for Ralph because…I guess somebody needs to, and Caitlin’s busy. She convinces Barry to give Ralph another shot, and in doing so, Barry learns about Ralph’s tragic past. Tragedy may have made Barry a hero. Iris a leader. Caitlin cold. It made Ralph annoyingly wishy-washy, ricocheting from pants-soiling fear to inappropriate humor. I guess.

Ultimately, in taking on the Villain of the Week (she makes things go up; she makes things go down. There isn’t much else to say about her), Barry decides he was wrong about Ralph all along. He also somehow concludes that the team is stronger with Ralph on it. Well…at least it is until Ralph decides he doesn’t want to be a hero again. So maybe next week.

And, yes, all of this culminates in Ralph fart jokes. How’d you do in your Madlibs? Now let’s get to some of the better parts of the episode – the subplots.

Giving Love a Bad Name 

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Clifford and Marlize started the season with a love that could stand the test of time. Unfortunately, it seems body hopping and superpowers have taken their toll on Clifford’s morality – if not his very sanity.

Can I do a quick shout-out to the actress who plays Marlize, Kim Engelbrecht? I may not be entirely happy with the way her story has centered entirely around Clifford’s goals to this point. But the actress did some phenomenal acting in this episode. I think I’m going to miss her when this season is done.

While attempting to help Clifford with the next stage of his plan, Marlize discovers the awful truth that the audience has known for some time: her husband has been drugging her. He has been manipulating her emotions using metahuman means. Absolutely devastated by this realization, she tries to leave a frantic, desperate message for herself – a reminder, lest she forget again. And that’s when she (and the audience) realize that the truth is even more sinister than we believed. This is not the first message she’s left for herself.

In terms of character arcs, I feel that Ralph and DeVoe are on opposite sides of the spectrum this season. Although he’s had a less consistent presence on the show, I think DeVoe’s character arc has been more internally consistent and better handled. The Thinker in this episode is not the same Clifford we saw earlier in the season. His actions over the course of the season have changed him, and he has corrupted the love he and Marlize once shared in doing so.

Before she can escape, DeVoe wipes her mind once again. Like in Groundhog Day, we don’t know how many times he’s spun this sinister merry-go-round for her. He simply admits it has been too many (for his convenience, I’m sure), and tells her that she’s nothing without him.

While I normally wholeheartedly root for Barry to take down the Big Bad of the season, I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that Marlize get a well-deserved jab or two of her own in, in the end.

Family or Homicide?

The writers may have forgotten about Cisco’s relationship with Cynthia for a while, but it seems he hasn’t. Nor has Breacher forgotten him. Breacher may have spent a good amount of time terrifying Cisco on their first meeting. However, this time he comes to Earth 1 in need of help. So he spends a good amount of time…terrifying Cisco.

You have to appreciate his consistency, if nothing else.

In a clear euphemism for another issue that tends to hit with age, Breacher comes to Cisco because he’s having performance issues. His abilities keep failing. He thinks his abilities were stolen by another meta, and he wants Cisco to fix his problem.

Caitlin and Cisco work together to find the solution, and she quickly realizes that it is time, not another meta, that is stealing his powers. However, while Caitlin encourages Cisco to break the bad news right away, he’s reluctant to do so. Breacher has promised to find a way to give Cynthia more time to see Cisco in exchange for help, and he really misses his girlfriend. (To her credit, Caitlin does a valiant job resisting the urge to beat her head against the wall.) So instead of telling him the truth, he gives him a bottle of antihistamines and hopes for the best.

Cisco’s prevarication (okay, his lie) leads to the rather predictable outcome. Breacher’s powers fail him when facing off against a bad guy, and Cisco has to vibe to the rescue. Although Breacher takes the bad news with understandable poor grace at first, he comes to accept reality fairly quickly. More surprisingly, he offers Cisco a rather intriguing proposal: take over as his replacement, and he can work alongside (and thus see more of) Cynthia.

While I’m not eager to see Cisco lead the team, I think this could be a really interesting plot to explore next season. Cisco is desperately in need of a storyline outside of the lab. I would love to see him struggle to juggle his two “jobs” – and see what character growth would stem from doing so.

Who Is Harrison Wells?

All this brings us to the big twist in the episode. Ever since Harry began his aggressive pursuit of the mind helmet, I have believed that he would be the Big Bad next year, like he was in Season One. The writers have never seemed to have as much fun with him as they did that year, and – to be honest – neither has he. I did not necessarily expect that he would go back to being the same villain he was in Season One.

The episode ends with “Harry” sneaking into the time vault. He puts his helmet away and then calls up Gideon, who remarks that it has been over a thousand days since they last spoke. “A lot has happened since then,” he responds, implying, at least, that he is the Harribard we once knew.

I have a few questions. Namely: What? And how? When? What? Wait, what?

Of all of these, I would say the “When?” is the most pressing. If this is indeed Harribard, I assume he’s the version Barry allowed to go free in the crossover. But if that’s the case, when did he make the switch with Harry? After Enter Flashtime, since Harry shared some memories of his wife with Jesse in that episode? Or did Harribard find a way to fool her, too?

While I was largely disappointed in the writing for Kevin Smith’s third directed episode of the season, it is these subplots that leave me intrigued regarding not just the rest of the season but the season beyond. Let’s just hope that the remaining episodes are better overall than this one.


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