Warning: SPOILERS for The Flash season 4, episode 11.
The Flash season 4 started strong, introducing an intriguing villain (who wasn't a speedster, thank goodness) and bringing back the upbeat attitude that had defined earlier seasons. The midseason finale then ended on a shocking twist, teasing a back half of the season that would pit Team Flash against its toughest opponent yet - the legal system. Then the show sped through 'The Trial of The Flash', wasting its potential for a deep examination of its hero in favor of a slapdash conviction that landed Barry in jail by the episode's end. Basically, it was 'Flashpoint' all over again.
With Barry incarcerated, the duty of protecting Central City falls to Ralph Dibny - easily the least qualified candidate on whom to hang the safety of the city, but hey, Wally West left for Legends of Tomorrow so who else is there? 'The Elongated Knight Rises' is Ralph's first solo mission, and for the most part it's a by the numbers freshman outing. Ralph has success in thwarting a (very silly) hostage situation, flounders when facing a villain who inflicts real pain, only to rise above his fears (after a patented Barry Allen pep talk) and become the hero he always claimed he could be. If only his name wasn't such a mouthful, but props to The Flash for sticking with it, even crafting a funny origin for the moniker. ("I elongate, man.")
Ralph's journey from selfish jerk to beloved hero is an enjoyable if predictable arc, providing 'The Elongated Knight Rises' with the sort of levity that's been drained from the show since it returned last week. The first major villain he squares off against is The Trickster (though sadly not the OG Trickster played by Mark Hamill), whose petulance works well as a foil to Ralph's own burgeoning maturity. But while Devon Graye gives another amusing turn as Axel Walker, it's his mother who steals their villainous sideshow.
In another bit of legacy casting, The Flash brings back Corinne Bohrer of the 1990s Flash television series as Zoey Clark AKA Prank, Axel's mother and former partner-in-crime to James Jesse. She's something of a proto-Harley Quinn, starting out as an obsessive fan of Jesse's Trickster who eventually joins him on his crazy criminal escapades. The mother and son dynamic is a fun twist on the Joker/Harley combination, allowing the Arrowverse to play with at least the archetypes of characters they aren't able to actually include. Here's hoping there's a Trickster family reunion in the future because these wacky villains are a hoot.
Sadly, the whole of 'The Elongated Knight Rises' cannot be the antics of Ralph and the Tricksters. Barry's in prison, which means a return to the gloomy doldrums that plagued so much of season 3. Practically everything about this story line is a downer: Barry's depressed, Iris too, Joe gets all sad when he visits, and the prison yard drama does little to lighten the mood. Making this whole scenario all the more frustrating is the fact that this could have all be avoided had Barry told the truth and revealed he's The Flash. Even more baffling, for someone so committed to retaining his secret identity, it's pretty brazen of Barry to keep using his powers in jail. Won't anyone grow suspicious if prison riots keep ending with inmates magically back in their cells?
After a weak return, 'The Elongated Knight Rises' does little to restore any enthusiasm for where The Flash is going this season. The Thinker, The Mechanic, and their plan to re-educate the world is barely mentioned, zapping any and all urgency from their threat. In the end, it's a pretty inconsequential episode that reveals a real problem with this season - outside of framing Barry for murder, there's been no development given to the villains and their scheming. If the series can't muster the energy to care about them, why should we?
• "Polygamized." Oh Ralph, never change.
• As dreary as this jail plot has been, it was admittedly kind of neat to see Barry use his super-speed to make himself a better fighter. He was already guaranteed to survive a shanking thanks to his healing factor, but he followed prison protocol and even gained a new friend.
• The whole Caitlin/Killer Frost dual personality thing is weird, but now they're just getting lazy with it. Cisco and Harry yell at her and she transforms? What is going on here? Explaining it as repressed anger works, but even The Hulk usually needs a bit more prompting than hearing the name of a childhood bully.
• By far, the most tantalizing bit of the whole episode was the appearance of that strange woman from Barry and Iris' wedding in the 'Crisis on Earth-X' crossover. It seems almost too obvious that she's Barry's daughter or granddaughter, but who else could she be? Hopefully this isn't a reveal they hold on to all season, because her goofy enthusiasm is just what the show needs.
The Flash season 4 continues next Tuesday with 'Honey, I Shrunk Team Flash' at 8pm/9c on The CW.