Grant Gustin, Hartley Sawyer (Photo: Katie Yu, The CW)

Taking its cue from the Elongated Man this week, The Flash contorts itself into self-parody as it pushes the boundaries of this whole “lighter, funnier” experiment. The retooling of the series tone has been going pretty well so far, but it was probably inevitable that at some point, the pendulum would swing too far the other way from last season’s gloom-fest. The result is an almost completely inconsequential episode, which wouldn’t be so bad if it were as funny as it thinks it is. 

At least one of the problems with “When Harry Met Harry...” appears to be on its way to being solved by the end, and that’s the one-note rut the character of Ralph Dibny has quickly fallen into. This is not the fault of actor Hartley Sawyer, whose rubbery features and comic timing couldn’t be more perfectly suited to the role, but rather the writers who keep doubling down on his sniggering lewdness, to the point where he’s referring to women by their measurements and interpreting everything he hears as a double entendre. It makes me wonder if this aspect of the character was intended as a stealth commentary on a certain behind-the-scenes figure on the show (see Stray Observations for more on that), although that might be reading too much into it.

As a superhero, Ralph has a different set of flaws, one of which isn’t his fault: He has what is, without a doubt, the most unsightly super-suit ever conceived. It’s played for laughs, as Cisco introduces a prototype made from malleable fabric that fits Ralph’s stretching form, but I was holding out hope that the joke would be over by episode’s end and the finished product would be introduced. Alas, no such luck. Ralph’s other shortcoming is his defiance of the superhero code: rescue first, catch the bad guy later. This almost results in tragedy when a little girl is hit by a falling power line while Ralph is snagging the villain’s getaway car, but by the end Ralph has it figured out, saving a security guard from an animated T-Rex skeleton and making balloon animals to entertain the injured but recovering girl.

Of course, Ralph doesn’t figure this out on his own. He needs a pep talk from Barry, who must be delighted to have a new member of Team Flash with whom to share his well-worn bromides about teamwork, unselfishness, and trusting in others. It plays as even more of an After School Special than usual, perhaps because the tone of most of the episode is so brightened, it feels pitched to a kiddie audience.

Grant Gustin, Jesse L. Martin (Photo: Katie Yu/The CW)

Take the Council of Wells, which sounds like a great idea on paper. Tom Cavanagh has had a blast playing several different variations on Harrison Wells, so why not bring a bunch of them together for a meeting to figure out the identity of the mysterious DeVoe? We’ve already seen a variation on this idea back when Harry was helping Cisco select a replacement for him and they settled on HR, but the execution in tonight’s episode is on the level of a community theater skit. Harrison Wolfgang Wells is basically Mike Myers’ Dieter character from the oldSNL “Sprockets” sketch, the Lothario Wells is a half-amusing Matthew McConaughey impression, and Wells 2.0 is a cross between Mad Max and the Terminator. (There is also a Gandalf-esque Wizard Wells, mercifully briefly.) The scenes are not completely devoid of laughs (I enjoyed Wells 2.0 munching on roadkill), but they play like a misconceived sendup of the multiverse concept and Cavanagh’s versatility, and end up reflecting badly on both.

A great villain might have saved the hour, but good intentions aside, the Black Bison is not that villain. The ability to animate effigies pays off well enough with the climactic T-Rex attack, but elsewhere it’s a bit of a stretch (sorry, Ralph): Good thing the CCPD happened to be testing a tactical dummy at that particular moment, eh? Her motives in returning the bison necklace to the Sioux people made for a rare bit of social commentary for the show, and it’s a nice touch to have Ralph be the one who eventually follows through on that. For the most part, though, “When Harry Met Harry...” is trying too hard to accomplish something the last few episodes pulled off with ease.

Stray observations

  • In case you missed it in the recent onslaught of Horrible Men News, showrunner Andrew Kreisberg has been suspended amid a swirl of sexual harassment allegations. It’s hard to say what effect this will have on the season going forward, as production is obviously still in progress. My guess is that the impact will be minimal, as it’s not like The Flash (or any of the CW-verse shows) is the product of one visionary genius and would be crippled without his presence. There are plenty of cooks in this kitchen, and I’m hopeful they will be able to establish a respectful and safe workplace going forward.
  • “What is this, a puppy’s raincoat?”
  • The Council of Wells does eventually deliver on both a first name (Clifford) and a location for DeVoe, but when Team Flash shows up there, the Mechanic and the Thinker have taken on very ordinary human forms. It looks like next week will give us the first real dive into the season’s overall arc.
  • I’d watch an episode about Killer Frost at Burning Man.

 

The Wall

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