The Flash has a Ralph Dibny problem. It’s become too hard to ignore and, while season four isn’t at all perfect, Ralph’s presence is the most consistent issue the show currently has and his presence has brought down the season as a whole because the writers refuse to back off of his poorly-executed journey toward heroism. It’s a journey that moves in small increments before taking large steps backwards almost every episode. Ralph has added nothing to the show this season and his behavior has become frustrating, exhausting, and anger-inducing.
Seventeen episodes into the season and Ralph (Hartley Sawyer) hasn’t really developed as a character and his story has become so incredibly repetitive it’s practically reached a dead end. If The Flash has proven anything, it’s that you don’t need superpowers to be a hero. However, having powers doesn’t make you an instant hero either and that’s never been more true than with Ralph. The show’s writers have essentially tried to force him into a being a hero, but the shoe doesn’t fit and never has. Ralph, and his selfish and incredibly childish behavior, continues taking up too much space and screen time without showing any clear sign of progress. The centralization of his character is taking a toll on The Flash, sidelining Barry and the rest of the characters, and diminishing the enjoyment of the show.
Ralph lacks any drive and a moral compass
Barry (Grant Gustin), for whatever reason, has taken Ralph under his wing and has essentially become his conscience, his guide to being a better human being and a worthy hero. But is Ralph deserving of being a hero when he constantly flakes on the team in dire situations and can’t understand basic human decency? Fear is understandable and a good sign that you’re human, but, at the same time, Ralph has had to be coerced into doing the right thing and walking into danger several times now. He seems to want the easy way out and quits when things don’t seem to be going the way he thought they would. And it’s become exhausting. He never wanted to be a hero to begin with and having powers without morals or drive certainly doesn’t make one heroic. He was a shady PI and now a shady superhero. Ralph is constantly being mentored by Team Flash–he’s taught how to talk to people, about what’s appropriate, what isn’t, and always, always has to be reminded that helping people comes before helping himself.
In “True Colors,” Ralph is asked to impersonate Warden Wolfe (Richard Brooks) in order to call off a deal with Amunet (Katee Sackhoff) that would have sold Barry and the bus metas to her. But, instead of wanting to help a friend no matter the costs, Ralph chickens out and bails on the team, citing that he can’t do it anymore and that he’s a failure. In “The Elongated Knight Rises,” Ralph leaves the team because he’s too scared of getting hurt–in the midst of a crisis that puts Caitlin and Cisco at risk. In “Run, Iris, Run” he refuses to go into the field to rescue anyone because he’s afraid Clifford DeVoe will kidnap him and attacks Iris (Candice Patton) for trying to help despite having only had her powers for a day. I could go on, but you get the point. Ralph is essentially a selfish character who doesn’t understand compassion and what helping people really means. More importantly, why should we care about a character who can’t care about others?
His development regresses constantly
Introduced in the fourth season episode “Elongated Journey Into Night,” Ralph is revealed to be a man without a moral compass, a sexist, and an asshole who tries to flirt with a woman on the job while she’s grieving the death of her husband. He’s also someone who can’t be bothered to remember women’s names and instead refers to them by their waist measurements. It’s tasteless and disgusting behavior, the type of male behavior that is currently under deep scrutiny. He’s the type of character who’s only fine in doses, but grates on the nerves when any episode is centered around him.
In “Elongated Knight Rises,” it seemed like Ralph’s insecurities about putting his life on the line were being addressed and his learning to be a hero finally coming full circle from when he was introduced. It was annoying, but fine. But then the same thing kept happening. He’s left the team behind often and showed little to no concern about saving people or even himself. Every time there’s a bit of forward movement, he goes right back to square one. Does he have amnesia? Why is it so hard for him to learn and grow and be better? The only episode where he shows any progress and a hint of maturity is in “Subject 9” and one could argue it’s because he was interested in Izzy (Miranda MacDougall). But in the very next episode, he’s back to being a frustrating human being with nothing to show for what he’s learned.
He’s immature, doesn’t listen, and needs a pep talk almost every episode
Promising a lighter season, the humor on the show has instead become juvenile due to Ralph’s personality. Ralph’s immature and childish and always needs to be pep-talked into doing the right thing. In fact, Barry and Iris spend most of “Null and Annoyed” propping Ralph as a “hero,” even though he spends most of the episode avoiding conflict, cracking bad jokes, and not listening to anyone during training. If Ralph is indeed cut out to be a hero, then he wouldn’t need to be coerced into saving people’s lives. As a member of a team, and one he’s most certainly not in charge of, it’s his duty to listen to others who have more experience than him, Barry being first and foremost.
It’s frankly insulting to Barry’s character that Ralph can opt out of listening to anyone on the team and do things the way he sees fit, whereas Barry always has the team to rely on for help. It’s like Ralph is a child on training wheels and whenever he tries to go without them, he ends up failing. He’s constantly whining about DeVoe kidnapping him, about how he could die at any point should he step outside, or railing against another team member for not knowing what it’s like to be a hero. The team wastes precious time trying to keep him in check and when he’s not complaining or putting people down, he’s joking around to the point of being distracting and unhelpful. It’s ok to joke, Cisco does it all the time, but Ralph’s sense of humor is juvenile, just like his behavior and there’s no place for it on the team or on the show.
His presence takes away valuable screen time and development for the show’s regular characters
The Flash already has a large number of regular characters it needs to cater to on a weekly basis and Ralph, who is a recurring character and therefore not as important, casts a large shadow over everyone and consistently hogs the spotlight. Several episodes have focused on him and it’s become increasingly obvious that when he’s central to an episode’s plot, everyone else gets benched or cast aside. It’s gotten so bad that in “Null and Annoyed,” the writers actually have Iris defend Ralph and Barry apologize to him for something the speedster isn’t wrong about. Barry then gets taken out in a fight all so that Ralph can save the day and prove himself for the umpteenth time. On a show called The Flash, this is unacceptable.
In addition to this, Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) are also metahumans with much more powerful abilities than Ralph and yet they’ve also been underdeveloped and cast aside so that the Elongated Man can take center stage. When Ralph comes to the forefront, every other character takes a back seat and the show suffers for it. Even more frustrating is the fact that Ralph has to be taught the same lesson when that time could be spent on the other characters. Barry, who’s the show’s title character, is also being used as a prop for Ralph and spends too much time training him instead of going after DeVoe himself. Trying to make Ralph a hero has become a detriment to the show as a whole to the point that it’s taking away Barry’s own moments to shine.
Ralph isn’t a hero, so The Flash needs to stop trying to convince us he is
It seems like every episode that gives Ralph focus (which has been an alarming amount in the back half of season four), the show’s writers are attempting to convince us that, yes, he is worthy of being a hero. Ralph is many, many things, but a hero he is not. Seventeen episodes into the season and “Null and Annoyed” pulled out the great sob story about Ralph’s past. This late in the game, there isn’t a sympathetic bone in my body left for a man who couldn’t be bothered to do Barry and Iris a favor and go see the mayor as DeVoe in hopes to get Barry his job back, but could easily slip into being Joe (Jesse L. Martin) when he felt it was needed (spoiler: it wasn’t necessary and was only used for laughs).
Ralph doesn’t act like a hero because he never puts his best foot forward, nor does he look convinced of his own abilities to be one. He only does somewhat heroic things whenever it suits him and never because he actually thinks it’s the right thing to do. His character is an inconsistent mess and The Flash implying that someone like Ralph can be a hero is a problem because it’s giving him the benefit of the doubt that the show hasn’t afforded to other characters–this includes half of the metahumans Barry has fought, such as Black Bison earlier this season. No one wants the same character arcs repeated on a weekly basis and it’s putting a huge damper on the season. Ultimately, Ralph isn’t a hero, he’s a man-child trying to be something he’s clearly not and it’s time to cut him loose for the benefit of The Flash and its audience.