The Flash returns from semi-hiatus with a painfully unimaginative and formulaic episode.
The Thinker is still at large, and Team Flash must track down another one of DeVoe’s ‘Bus Metahumans’ before they’re caught by someone else. The Metahuman they find is Izzy Bowin, AKA ‘The Fiddler’, a country singer who can manipulate powerful musical vibrations when she plays the violin.
Writing Compelling C-Grade Villains
It may have a started out as a bit of fun in the writers room – taking one of Jay Garrick’s arch nemeses and putting them on the tv series – a villain with powers so campy, that there’s no way to take them other than as a joke. They even gender bent the character too, a decision that’s proven popular before with Flash villain ‘Top’. The idea had potential, and at some stage it may have even had clout. However, where ‘Subject 9’ fails as opposed to other stories with ‘joke’ villains, is that it doesn’t try to do anything remotely funny with Fiddler. In fact, it was rather painful to watch.
C-grade characters or villains that you’re not supposed to take too seriously have worked before, as we’ve witnessed with Daredevil’s comically incompetent ‘Turk Barrett’. However, to fully understand why Flash’s ‘Fiddler’ doesn’t play (I’m sorry) well with the audience, let’s look at what’s made other C-grade villains compelling in the past.
Warning: this example contains minor spoilers for Batman: War of Jokes and Riddles (2017).
During Tom King’s Batman run last year, he utilised a recurring joke-villain who’d gained infamy over the years for just how plain dumb he was: Kite Man. King established the villain over several different issues, always trying to pull off some kind of heist before getting beaten down by Batman. His catchphrase, while making a fly-for-it (yes, Kite Man’s getaway vehicle was a hang glider), was always “Kite Man. Hell yeah!”, or occasionally, after getting taken down embarrassingly fast by Batman, a semi-conscious “Kite Man… Hell… yeah…”.
It was a funny. It was a great recurring joke. So what made it even better? During War of Jokes and Riddles, you find out that Kite Man’s real name is Charlie Brown. He makes kites for a living, and he’s spent his whole life being called a failure. When his son asks why his mother always calls him a joke, Charlie tells him that even when people are laughing, what’s he going to do? Prove them right? No, so he’ll get back up.
All of a sudden, you feel sorry for the guy. It’s heart breaking. And that’s how you make the audience care about a C-grade villain. The Flash has neither of those- the funny nor meaningful elements that make you care. Izzy Bowin is a terrible character with terrible powers. It’s no slight on the actress, however, her character is annoying at best.
The Same Old, Same Old
Furthermore, the show continues to undermine it’s own protagonist by delegating too much screen time to Ralph – something which I discussed in last episode’s review. The episode even has the audacity to make a quip once Izzy predictably stormed off – that Ralph should probably go “give her a pep talk to get her back” – nodding to the trope which occurs in every single episode. It’s one thing to be self-aware of lazy writing, and another to force your audience to watch it play out after you’ve just pointed it out to them. Sure enough, Ralph gives her a cheesy pep talk, making you wish the writers had acknowledged their tropes beforehand in the writers’ room, and decided to do something different instead.
‘Subject 9’ was far from a good episode for CW’s The Flash. Despite being a good looking episode (in a technical sense), it was ultimately meaningless, barely touching on anything of note (ba dum tsssss). Thankfully, next week’s episode titled ‘Enter Flashtime’, looks much more engaging. You can check out the promo trailer below.
The Flash returns on March 6th.
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The Flash 4x14 "Subject 9"
The Flash returns from its two week break with quite possibly one of its dullest episodes to date.