Friday, December 8, 2017

"Don't Run" Makes DeVoe Into A Proper Villain For The Flash!

The Good: Decent performances, Generally well-constructed plot, Moments of character development
The Bad: Forced humor, A few plot contrivances
The Basics: The Flash finally starts to illustrate a dark side to DeVoe in "Don't Run!"

Fans of The Flash might have more to hate from the recent, massive, DC Television Universe crossover than fans of the other three shows produced for The CW. After all, in addition to killing the narrative momentum of The Flash, the crossover included both the would-be and actual weddings of Barry Allen and Iris West in episodes of other shows (not The Flash!). So, as The Flash returns for its mid-season finale, "Don't Run," it has the feeling of recovering from a stumble and is likely to leave viewers instantly bewildered if they are picking up from the prior episode of the show.

"Don't Run" follows up more directly on the plot events of "Therefore I Am" (reviewed here!) than it does of the immediate predecessor, "Crisis On Earth-X, Part 3" (reviewed here!). "Don't Run" returns the focus of The Flash and Barry Allen's life to The Thinker, Clifford DeVoe. "Don't Run" is the first overtly sinister on-screen action of Clifford DeVoe as he abducts Barry Allen. The episode also marks the return of Killer Frost's adversary, Amunet Black.

At S.T.A.R. Labs, Cisco and Harry are decorating the tree when Dr. Snow and Ralph Dibny arrives. The men note that they have been hanging out with Killer Frost, which upsets Dr. Snow. As Barry and Iris go through their gifts after their abrupt wedding (and their return from their honeymoon), Barry notes that he does not feel the need to use his speed powers when Iris is with him. DeVoe and his wife make plans to help DeVoe overcome his body's deterioration. While Harry is counseling Dr. Snow at Jitters, Amunet Black arrives to abduct Snow and Barry is abducted by a floating chair-equipped DeVoe.

Black brings Snow to a metahuman she has incapacitated and is in need of medical attention, while DeVoe imprisons Allen in his laboratory. Snow realizes that Dominic Lanse has telepathic abilities. Joe West arrives at DeVoe's home where he and Harry are unable to find Barry or a way into DeVoe's laboratory. Harry returns from the trip frustrated and advises Iris to make a tough decision. Dr. Snow and Lanse attempt to escape, but are captured by Black. When Snow attempts to remove the foreign object Black embedded in Snow, Snow uses the surgery as an opportunity to stage another escape attempt. DeVoe makes a bold move to try to get rid of the Flash, solve his deteriorating body problem and move on to the next phase of his plan!

The fourth season of The Flash, rather smartly, has not followed the same formula as its prior seasons. In addition to not having an enemy to defeat who is a Speedster, Barry Allen has known just who his adversary is. As a result, this midseason finale - unlike the three that have preceded it - is not about revealing the Big Bag and that part of the formula is refreshingly stirred up in "Don't Run." The weakness of the way that the villain for the fourth season of The Flash has been presented is that he does not seem particularly villainous. After all, in the prior episodes of the fourth season, DeVoe was revealed to have been a metahuman, accelerated his abilities to become super smart and he engineered the escape of Barry Allen from the Speed Force prison (in the process creating more metahumans). Until "Don't Run," DeVoe has not actually done anything that is demonstrably bad.

That changes in "Don't Run." Before "Don't Run," DeVoe was just a desperate man trying to save his own life. He manipulated circumstances to create other metahumans, but even that was not a particularly evil act. In "Don't Run," DeVoe forcibly abducts and imprisons Barry Allen. By the end of the episode, he and his wife have stepped over the line of desperate people into super-villains and the transition is pretty good. In fact, one of the few character and plot issues with "Don't Run" is how the subplot with Dr. Snow plays off of the a-plot. Marlize DeVoe built the chair for The Thinker; it seems like the surgery in the episode would have been well within her skill set to perform. The burden on the rest of the episodes in the fourth season is to prove that DeVoe is villainous beyond his desire to survive. What makes DeVoe want to control or change other people is still a mystery and it seems like (thus far) DeVoe would just be happy if he could effectively educate people, so his sinister plan actually has to rise to the level of villainy AND make for a sensible transition.

The surgery subplot is not the only character issue in "Don't Run." Suddenly all of the men of S.T.A.R. Labs talk like frat boys. That is a troubling change for fans of The Flash. So, too, is Cisco Ramon's utter stupidity in his final scene (really, he can't turn off the interdimensional message device?!). It seems like since Ralph Dibny showed up and joined the team, no one on the team is written to be as smart as they had been.

Katee Sackhoff returns as Amunet Black in "Don't Run" and Sackhoff seems to delight in playing the villainous metahuman as completely crazy. The most impressive aspect of Sackhoff's performance is that she plays the big-smiling sociopath amazingly well. But at one of the episode's key moments, Sackhoff is able to soften her performance and deliver a surprisingly inspiring monologue. Sackhoff ties together the disparate character moments without making either seem like they are not two halves of the same whole. That type of balancing act is actually pretty tough to pull off, but Sackhoff manages to do it.

Ultimately, "Don't Run" is another episode of The Flash where the titular character sits out most of the episode's important events. While Barry Allen is captured, he waits around. Iris West-Allen has to go through a whole "burdens of command" moral dilemma and Dr. Snow has to fend for herself to save a life; Barry Allen does shockingly little in the piece. As a result, The Flash continues to play second fiddle in his own show. Indeed, even Cisco seems more powerful in "Don't Run" than Barry Allen!

The net result is a midseason finale that puts a lot of burden on the rest of the season to actually make the viewers believe in the villainy of DeVoe and the ineptitude of the S.T.A.R. Labs team.

For other midseason finale episodes on The Flash, please visit my reviews of:
"The Man In The Yellow Suit"
"Running To Stand Still"
"The Present"


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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