After a bit of an underwhelming last episode, I wasn’t really expecting much from The Flash’s “Subject 9” other than the fact that it would be another Ralph-centric episode. Thankfully, the episode went in the opposite direction of what the summary had promised and even had the subplot tying back into the main plot. It progressed the season-long arc and even followed through on what Barry experienced in the Iron Heights courtyard.
Ralph, Ralph and more Ralph
It’s safe to say that Ralph is sticking around indefinitely and while his presence still prickles, “Subject 9” was the first time the character garnered any sympathy. Worried that it would just be another episode of Ralph complaining about how he can’t be a hero and ditching his friends in times of need, he actually stepped up and extended a helping hand to rising country music star, Izzy Bowen (guest star Miranda MacDougall), and bus meta number nine. For the first time, the newly-named Elongated Man saw first-hand how difficult it can be having powers to save someone and also being unable to. Instead of just worrying about how being a bus meta affects him, Ralph really took to Izzy and, although annoying and slightly suffocating all the “I’ll protect you” stuff was, wasn’t thinking about his own safety. He went out of his way to make her feel comfortable and worked to gain her trust. While it’s still very frustrating that Ralph is truly getting the hero arc Wally deserved, it was hard not to feel bad for him and also happy about actual character growth.
Izzy was one of the more memorable metas to be on the show and it’s saddening that someone who seemed on their way to having a great and fulfilling future had to die at the hands of DeVoe. From her reluctance to trust Team Flash, to her stubbornness and overconfidence in her attempt to take on DeVoe alone, Izzy had a lot of personality and her loss begs the question: Does The Flash always have to get rid of their metas in this way? It’d be nice if, every once in awhile, they actually stayed alive so that they could make an appearance again down the line. Regardless of the way Izzy went out, her story was one that felt genuine, even though it would have been nice for her to actually get to interact with Iris and Caitlin and not just the guys.
The Cerebral Inhibitor
Pacing-wise, the first few episodes back from winter hiatus fluctuated and didn’t always flow well as a unit, so it’s nice to see the plot kick back in and it’s even better that The Flash didn’t forget about the cerebral inhibitor until the last possible second. Its creation and Barry and Iris remembering what Savitar said about it helping to take down DeVoe opens plenty of doors for Team Flash moving forward. It also makes the team far more active in trying to take down the villain rather than waiting for something to just fall into their hands. It’s even better that the idea for the device came by way of Harry in the midst of helping an exhausted Cecile, who hasn’t been sleeping because Joe’s (who was strangely absent) thoughts have been keeping her up. Besides the wonderful way this subplot fed into the main plot, it also gave us a chance to see a new friendship develop between Cecile and Harry, who mentioned he doesn’t have many friends his own age. It was delightful to watch their dynamic and also how Cecile can more easily help to tone down Harry’s need to be angry all the time by getting to the root of his problem.
Barry’s insistence on training
This is going to sound a bit odd, but slightly angsty Barry has been missed. He doesn’t need to be around all the time, but the reasoning behind his less-than-enthused behavior in the episode at least made sense. After witnessing the deaths of the metas in the previous episode and being unable to do anything about it, Barry was insistent that it not happen again. So much so that he was pressuring Izzy to train, Cisco to work harder, and blamed Ralph for Izzy leaving. Understandably, he didn’t want anyone else to die and all that was on top of the fact that his days as a CSI were temporarily over. He also thought Izzy’s powers were the key to finally defeating DeVoe and his obsession to stop him got the better of him. But Iris reminds him that you can’t rush some things, that not everyone wants to be a hero, and becoming one doesn’t just happen overnight.
It was also great to see Barry facing the repercussions post-prison. Even though he’s been cleared of all charges and we know he’s innocent, Central City’s citizens seem to have lost their trust in law enforcement and Mayor Van Buren doesn’t seem like a fan. It’s even sadder because Barry being a CSI is one of things that constantly gets set aside to accommodate STAR Labs, so the fact that he won’t be there at all in the near future is unfortunate. Still, it’s nice that The Flash didn’t brush it under the rug as they’ve done so many times in the past.
Clifford, in the body of Becky, and Marlize are no longer on the same page. Not only is DeVoe doing whatever he wants without any thought to Marlize, the two have strayed far off the path of partnership and marital bliss. Marlize was thankfully not love drugged here, and Kim Engelbrecht gives so much away with her facial expressions. You can see she’s scared of Clifford, of what he’s becoming, of the fact that he no longer cared what she has to say. His plan is no longer theirs, but his alone. And the unraveling of their formerly strong bond, along with Team Flash, will ultimately be Clifford’s undoing.
While “Subject 9” gently lets The Flash come back from the unevenness of the last few episodes, it’s also time to really kick things into high gear as the show gets ready to head into the last quarter of its fourth season. What is DeVoe’s ultimate goal? Will Marlize betray him? (She will.) Why hasn’t he kidnapped Ralph yet and will he attempt to do the same thing to him as he’s done with the rest of the bus metas? It’s great that this episode at least laid some of the groundwork for what will come and it’s solid enough to warrant curiosity and excitement for what the next few episodes have in store.