TV REVIEW: The Flash S4E17, ‘Null and Annoyed’ (CONTAINS SPOILERS)

The Flash returned from its three-week hiatus with “Null and Annoyed,” which is a pretty apt descriptor for how this episode felt. Once more, the writers retraced the steps of Ralph’s (Hartley Sawyer) absurd behavior and juvenile humor only to turn around and make him a hero at the last moment. It’s not a trick that gets better each time it’s repeated, and yet it was the focal point of the episode when both Cisco’s (Carlos Valdes) crisis of conscience vis-a-vis his future father-in-law Breacher (Danny Trejo) and Marlize’s (Kim Englebrecht) horror at her husband Clifford’s (guest star Miranda MacDougall) abusive machinations were far more compelling plot points.

Ralph was the star of the episode, and no character was safe from succumbing to the needs of his story. Even though he starts off refusing to take training seriously and wasting everyone’s precious time, Iris (Candice Patton) is immediately put in the position of defending him to Barry (Grant Gustin) and conveying to the audience that there’s a deeper meaning behind Ralph’s exasperating actions. Granted, it’s not out of character for Iris to understand when others normally wouldn’t, but in “Null and Annoyed” it very much comes across as her playing the role of mouthpiece for another character’s benefit.

Barry needs this gentle prodding from his wife to learn how to be more patient with Ralph, but that is apparently the only thing he needs to learn. Because just as the new kid on the block is the one behind all the major heroics in “Null and Annoyed”, Harry (Tom Cavanagh) is the one doing all the grunt work to stop Devoe. His Thinking Cap clearly foreshadows a dark path for the Earth-2 Wells, but it’s also a narrative shortcut that removes much of the The Flash‘s tension – especially when it comes to, well, the Flash. Earlier in the series, Devoe not having a personal vendetta against Barry seemed like a breath of fresh air. Now it seems more like Barry has less at stake than anyone else, which is not how things should be for the title character.

As for Ralph himself, his most enjoyable moments are when he’s shapeshifting into Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), and that’s primarily due to Martin’s comedic timing. Again, this is not the fault of Sawyer as an actor, but rather the repetition of his tired antics. The character shines when giving insight into his childhood, but while these moments explain why he acts the way he does they don’t make his previous scenes any easier to swallow. And as humorous as Gustin’s exasperated face may be – not to mention the sight gag of Iris holding onto Barry when he’s a balloon – the episode would have been better served by letting them both be productive in the search for Devoe.

Onto the more interesting aspects of “Null and Annoyed,” Valdes and Trejo have excellent chemistry in their second go-round together and they both have the ability to turn what might otherwise be a silly side plot into a story of substance. Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) provides some assistance, and it’s always nice to see her friendship with Cisco as well as her ability to ground his high-flying ideas, but the tense father and suitor dynamic is really the one to watch. Despite their criminal lack of onscreen development, Cisco’s romance with Cynthia has been one of the recent highlights so it’s easy to believe he would go to any length to keep her father happy in the hopes of getting her some time off. Trejo does wonders with Breacher’s curious mix of aggression and vulnerability and, unlike other parts of the episode, the progression in their relationship is refreshing rather than a rehash. Hopefully the offer Breacher makes Cisco at the end is one he can refuse, because that’s one change The Flash‘s status quo is not ready for.

But all of this pales in comparison to Englebrecht’s performance in tonight’s episode, which single-handedly saved the hour. Marlize has evolved so much over the course of seventeen episodes: from appearing to be nothing more than the Thinker’s lackey to being his wife and partner in vision to slowly coming to terms with losing the man she once loved, her development has made her the show’s most complex villain yet. That achievement was marred somewhat when Clifford began drugging her to keep her in love, seeing as that took away her agency in a manner reminiscent of too many other female characters. So it was a pleasant surprising for her to start getting wise to his ways, in a harrowing subplot the called back to Memento among other thrillers. As many metahumans as Clifford has thoughtlessly murdered, nothing cements him as more of a villain than the way he treats the wife who was supposed to be his equal, and it’s a testament to Englebrecht’s talent as an actress that the audience has gone from despising her to rooting for her to take her husband down single-handedly. It’s also a tragic full circle to have their dynamic change from “I am nothing without you” to “You are nothing without me,” and it also serves as a counter to Westallen’s motto of “We are the Flash.”

Final notes: While director Kevin Smith was not given the most exciting episode to work with, he did get to make a Jay & Silent Bob cameo alongside friend and costar Jason Mewes, which was far and away one of the funniest bits. And the villain of the week, Null (guest star Bethany Brown), had a lot of potential thanks to a quirky performance and the always-excellent visuals from Encore VFX. Hopefully she survives beyond next week so that she can do more than spout a few one-liners about shiny objects. Speaking of which, the trailer for next week looks like a total game-changer. Maybe they could’ve skipped right to it?

Rating: 2/5

Reviewer: Tatiana Hullender (@myrcellasear)

The Flash airs Tuesdays on the CW at 8/7c in the US.

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