I was feeling pretty down about ‘The Flash’ last week. Surprisingly, the show bounces back with a much improved episode despite letting Ralph Dibny take center stage.
As Barry tries to settle into prison life, the rest of Team Flash are left to take care of all of Central City’s problems on their own. Still without a cool superhero nickname, Dibny steps up to act as the city’s newest savior and really relishes being in the public spotlight. After saving some hostages from a bank robbery gone wrong, he smarmily cracks jokes on camera and flirts with a pretty reporter. When the press dubs him “The Stretchy Man,” however, he obsesses on finding a better name. Cisco repeatedly brushes off the requests and tells him that he’s too busy to think of a name for him.
Meanwhile, Barry discovers that one of his prisonmates is Axel Walker, the young psycho who tried to take up the mantle of The Trickster from his father back in Season 1. Axel insists that he wants to be “murder buds” with Barry, but of course Barry wants nothing to do with him. He spends his days trying to keep his head down while waiting for Iris’ visits.
Axel gets broken out of prison by his mom, Zoey (Corinne Bohrer, reprising a role from the 1990s version of this show). Back in the day, Zoey was better known as the Trickster’s loony henchwoman, Prank. Mother and son hide out in the Trickster’s long-abandoned toy factory (which you’d think would be the first place the cops would look for them, but somehow isn’t). Axel is eager to also be reunited with his dad, but Zoey informs him that his father is a deadbeat who skipped town after breaking out of prison more than a year ago. (Sorry, that means no Mark Hamill cameo.) This makes Axel very sad. He’s really desperate for daddy’s attention, and thinks he can get it by resuming the Trickster’s reign of terror over Central City. To start, he takes over the television airwaves to demonstrate his tiny bouncy ball bombs and demands that the Stretchy Man come get him.
Believing himself invincible, Ralph is totally cocky about this confrontation, and gloats when the Trickster’s bombs and other weapons have no effect on him. However, this was all a ruse to give him a false sense of confidence. Axel then whips out a squirt gun loaded with a super-acid called “axid” that his mother (a chemical engineering genius) whipped up for him. He sprays it at Ralph and hits his leg. The axid eats through his uniform and badly burns his skin. Horrified, Ralph screams like a baby until Cisco portals over and pulls him back to S.T.A.R. Labs.
Realizing for the first time that he’s not invincible, Ralph panics and insists that he’s done being a superhero. He only ever got into the hero thing because he thought there was no downside to it for him. If it could actually be dangerous, he’s out.
In prison, Barry befriends a beefy inmate known as Big Sir (wrestler Bill Goldberg), who was a friend of his dad’s. Big Sir saves Barry from getting shivved, and Barry later saves Big Sir from a beatdown by a gang of other inmates.
The Trickster and Prank take a bunch of new hostages and stage a game show they call “Wheel of Misfortune.” They give Stretchy Guy an ultimatum to turn himself over to them or they’ll start playing, and the rules of the game all end with the hostages getting doused by axid. To demonstrate, they melt a Beebo doll (a joke carried over from ‘Legends of Tomorrow’). Too cowardly to help anyone anymore, Ralph refuses to face the Trickster again, even after Cisco offers him a much cooler suit to replace the ugly one he’d been wearing.
Instead, Ralph sneaks into Barry’s cell at Iron Heights and begs him to break out and take care of the Trickster. Barry turns him down. He’s determined to play by the rules until he can be legitimately exonerated. He does give Ralph a pep talk about the difficulties of being a hero, though.
Cisco and Killer Frost try to confront the Trickster and Prank while Harry works on a chemical agent to neutralize the axid. They get tricked by some flying Beebos and are caught by the baddies. Fortunately, Ralph puts on his new suit and comes to their rescue. In order to save them, he sacrifices himself to shield them from the axid. Of course, Harry neutralizes the axid just in the nick of time and Ralph isn’t hurt by it at all.
Axel and his mom get arrested but vow to break out of prison again. Ralph is interviewed on the news again and inadvertently gives himself the nickname “The Elongated Man.” He hates it at first and moans that, “It’s so literal!” Cisco, Caitlin and Harry talk him into learning to live with it.
In an epilogue scene, the strange nervous girl who appeared as a waitress at Barry and Iris’ first wedding attempt shows up at Jitters writing bizarre symbols into a notebook. I still suspect that she’s from the future and knows everybody’s secret identities.
I get that the Dibny character is supposed to be an obnoxious ass, but most of this season has overplayed the joke and made him simply annoying. The prospect of watching a Dibny-focused episode didn’t fill me with a lot of confidence. Remarkably, it’s quite fun. The story uses the character’s abrasiveness to good advantage and forces him to become a more tolerable person. While the lesson-learning may be a bit heavy-handed, it doesn’t detract from the entertainment.
The stuff with Barry in prison is a lot duller. Mopey Barry is the least interesting Barry. I guess it’s a good thing that he takes a backseat for most of this episode.