After three years of watching The Flash go up against evil speedsters the show needed something different for its fourth season in order to stand out from previous years. Yes, the characters have changed, with many now having powers and hero personas of their own, new people have come and gone, and the personal trials and tribulations are different, but rehashing the same type of villain for a fourth time would be a huge mistake.
Fortunately, the creators of the show seem to have paid attention to all of the grumblings and criticism that viewers have had during the third season, and have made an extra effort to make a change. It might not seem like much, but the simple act of giving the fourth season a big bad that doesn’t have a carbon copy of the Flash’s powers makes a big change to the way the series has played out so far.
Using The Thinker (Neil Sandilands) as the villain took many people by surprise when it was first announced, however, after only a handful of episodes it has become clear that this was a brilliant choice. The villain can no longer have super speed fights with The Flash, he can’t travel in time, or skip between parallel worlds, but he’s able to challenge the character in a way never seen before.
Team Flash has always been a smart group, and they’re even better off now that Earth-2’s Harry Wells (Tom Cavanagh) is back, but now they all look like idiots next to their villain. They’re up against someone who’s not only smarter than them, but is able to predict their every move and reaction before they’ve even crossed the heroes minds. Even before the shock plot twist of the mid-season finale episode it was difficult to see how they might be able to beat The Thinker.
This is what has made this season great so far: they have given us a villain and problems that actually challenge our heroes in ways that they haven’t before, and it’s both exciting and scary.
As well as a new villain, this season has given us one of the best new additions to Team Flash, Ralph Dibney (Hartley Sawyer), the Elongated Man. The series has been great with it’s supporting characters, Cisco (Calros Valdes) as Vibe has been great, the roller coaster of Caitlyn (Danielle Panabaker) and Killer Frost has be awesome, but season three did drop the ball in a few ways. It didn’t really know what to do with Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale), and Julian (Tom Felton) was interesting but didn’t bring a great deal to the team dynamic. Ralph, on the other hand, is a great new wrinkle in the team dynamic, and a fun injection of energy.
The Elongated Man is a much beloved comic book character (his story line in Identity Crisis is still one of the most heartbreaking comic book stories DC has ever written), so the show needed to do something really special with him here. Yes, he might not be the Ralph we know and love from the books, he’s much more of an arse, but you can see the Ralph he’s going to become beneath it all, the hero he’s destined to become. His continued journey to becoming a hero, and the fun energy he’s bringing to the series, makes him a great addition to the show.
With the final episode of this first half of the series pulling the rug out from audiences feet by essentially having The Thinker beat Barry in a way that has never been done before, it’s putting the second half of the season in a position to go in some bold new directions. How Barry being framed for murder will play out, if he’ll be found guilty, if his identity as The Flash will come out, are exciting prospects.
The Flash, more than any of the other CW DC shows, has sometimes fallen into the trap of feeling slightly repetitive, but thanks to a drastically different villain, some new cast additions, and brave story choices, season four already stands out as a old and different direction for the show.