Across four seasons and counting, Barry Allen has liked just about everyone he meets. And unless you are a supervillain — sometimes even if you are a supervillain — you probably like Barry Allen too. But not Ralph Dibny. Barry hates Ralph Dibny. And Ralph hates him right back.
I was terribly excited for Ralph Dibny to show up on The Flash, mostly because the show has been strangely conservative when it comes to having other heroes on the show (barring major crossovers with the other CW shows, of course). Outside of fellow speedsters and Team Flash, it generally just doesn’t. Which is strange, since Arrow, the supposedly more grounded show that came before The Flash, has introduced characters as wild and weird as John Constantine, Mr. Terrific, the Human Target, and Vixen.
(The main exception to this rule seems to be Cisco, who can’t seem to stop dating superhuman women like Kendra Saunders before she left to join Legends of Tomorrow. Or Gypsy, who leads to all sorts of trouble for him this week, when Danny Trejo appears in Cisco’s room from another world, ready to kill him because he’s dating his daughter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)
Like in The Flash TV series, Ralph Dibny was created in 1960 by Carmine Infantino and John Broome to give the Flash a supporting character. Over time, Dibny became embedded in DC’s wider superhero community: Although he had an alias as the Elongated Man (the source of this week’s excellent episode title pun), he outed himself pretty quickly, building a career in show business before joining the Justice League with his wife, also putting his skills as a detective and weird stretchy powers to work when called upon by friends.
“Elongated Journey Into the Night” plays a lot of direct tribute to Dibny’s first appearance in comics. Like those first stories, Barry suspects Dibny of a crime, there’s a helicopter set piece, and the two end up making a pact to work together in the future. But, interestingly, this version of Dibny seems to borrow a few things from a DC hero who’s very similar in powers but very different in personality: Patrick O’Brien, a.k.a. Plastic Man, a reformed crook who also becomes an invaluable (if irreverent) member of the Justice League.
The resulting amalgam is a bit of a cad, a shady private dick who got kicked off the police force because Barry claimed he planted evidence on one of their first cases together, even though Dibny maintains the man he framed was guilty. Now he’s got a problem, one he discovers when a couple of goons show up to his office to shake him down over the edge of a rooftop — his body is stretching. Stretching all the way to the ground. You know, the sort of thing that makes a fella end up in S.T.A.R. Labs.
Dibny, it turns out, was also on the Meta Bus (that’s what Cisco has dubbed the bus Barry zapped with superpowers when he returned from the Speed Force), and so Barry thinks he might be able to help them learn more about what happened. Dibny, however, is wrapped up in a small scandal of his own: He’s got evidence of Central City’s mayor cheating on his wife, and wants money to help him forget it ever happened. Unfortunately for him, this mayor doesn’t have a problem with making problems like Dibny go away, permanently.
This is the primary conflict of “Elongated Journey Into Night.” Both Dibny and the Mayor are, on some level, wrong — only Barry, because of his prior experience with Dibny, is all too willing to pin it on his former colleague. It’s a dynamic I like, on paper at least. Barry should have some more antagonistic relationships. They’re fun! But last season tried something similar with Tom Felton’s Julian Albert, a.k.a the Walking Scowl, and it didn’t pan out. The difference here is that Ralph Dibny seems to relish hating Barry Allen and his adorable charmed life. Also, Hartley Sawyer, the actor who plays him, is leaning into a dirtbag Eleventh Doctor sort of vibe and I am into it.
Meanwhile, The Flash continues to make me feel like an weird voyeur into Cisco’s relationship since, again, his girlfriends tend to just show up without any sort of romantic arc. This remains frustrating, but not as much as usual because this week Gypsy’s father arrives from another world, ready to kill Cisco, and he’s played by Danny Trejo.
Trejo is incredible as Breacher. Yes, most of his scenes just involve him scowling, he’s hardly ever in the same shot as anyone else, and his big menacing move is to stalk around with his hands raised like he’s playing Monster with a shrieking toddler. Honestly, this plot is a bunch of nonsense that is almost entirely without consequence — it’s shoehorned into the main plot to bring everyone together at the very end — but I’m glad it’s there. It’s a nice side story in an episode that isn’t terribly funny.
It definitely wants to be funny. But ultimately, everything is too low-stakes and underplayed. As much as I like Ralph hating Barry, Barry can’t hate Ralph back without seeming like an oblivious jerk, something Caitlin points out to him when he expresses disinterest in helping Dibny with his sudden transformation. Although he comes around on this — saving Dibny from both the Mayor and Breacher and then revealing his identity to try to turn over a new leaf — I never really saw Barry’s grudge as reasonable, no matter how much he talked about it. It was too inconsistent. Take that in stride with a boring villain (this mayor is a snooze, man) and the energy that made the first couple episodes sing just isn’t there.
That’s okay, though. Ralph seems to be sticking around, and I want to see what this weirdo does next.
• What is wrong with you, Joe? There is no Cecile in this episode, which is nuts considering how the last episode ended! Instead, Joe spends most of this episode hiding the fact that he’s now a dad, telling Team Flash about it in a wordless montage.
• Breacher, meet Harry: “You look like someone I sent my daughter to kill.” “Yeah I get that a lot.”
• Thinking about the Thinker: This episode’s stinger doesn’t just have Barry offering Ralph a spot on Team Flash — he also asks how Ralph knew to look into the Mayor. Dibny says he got a call from someone named DeVoe, a name that Barry knows belongs to one of his greatest foes that he hasn’t yet faced, thanks to people he met from the future.
• We know you’re hiding stuff, Caitlin: After some really shady stuff in the premiere and hiding her Killer Frost powers, Caitlin has been chugging along like everything’s normal. These first few episodes have kept her frustratingly on the sidelines, but that looks like it’s about to change — someone left a message on her apartment door, and it looks like she can’t pretend everything is hunky-dory for much longer.