The Flash’s Elongated Problem


Groundhog Day for Ralph Dibny

Ralph’s arc this season is extremely repetitive. The majority of his episodes are some variation of him not wanting to be a hero or being scared to be a hero or giving up at being a hero or being a hero for the wrong reasons, before he’s pep-talked into not giving up and then saving the day and, after all the praise he gets, promising that he’ll do better next time. Ralph’s arc this season is extremely repetitive. Except, he doesn’t learn – he goes through the same rigmarole every few episodes or so, each one with Ralph acting more obnoxious than he did the last time and the team getting more and more frustrated, to the point where every lesson he learns is dismissed because he’s probably going to forget it next time. Did I mention, though, that Ralph’s arc this season is extremely repetitive?

This is not the first time Ralph will learn this lesson.

And the larger problem isn’t even how repetitive it is. Like I said, it’s the fact that Ralph is learning such ridiculous lessons. His first appearance can be excused, since no matter how you slice it, waking up with superpowers will never be normal, but his subsequent ones are borderline insulting in how banal they are. In his second centric episode – in what has to be the most hilariously tone-deaf but very accurate examples of white male privilege I have ever seen – Ralph literally says that he spent so long caring about only himself that he doesn’t know what it’s like to care about other people. In the next one, he gives up because he gets hurt and needs a pep-talk from Barry. Two episodes later, he gives up because he feels sad and needs a pep-talk from Killer Frost. In the episode after that, it takes a woman he just met dying for him to commit himself to stopping DeVoe – but then a few episodes later he’s treating the whole thing as a joke, with some half-baked sob story about how cracking jokes during serious moments is his defense mechanism. Except that in the episode before that, he spent the entire time complaining that he didn’t feel safe and running away to hide because he was scared. And the lessons he learns? Care about people that aren’t you, don’t give up, don’t give up, again, stop hiding, and take your life seriously. It’s silly, platitudinous nonsense that the show used to be above, but with a character as unserious as they’ve made Ralph Dibny, they have to resort to.

Another problem is that unlike Barry Allen, Ralph has neither the innate goodness nor the constant trauma that make forgetting these “lessons” understandable. While you probably shouted at the screen when Barry created Flashpoint, it was understandable because he’d just watched his father be murdered by a speedster in the same spot as his mother. Going to great lengths to save Iris during season 3 is understandable because it would mean the third loved one stabbed by a villainous speedster. There is no reason why it’s so hard for Ralph to remember such easy heroic lessons, especially when they lack the depth that made up the previous seasons. If the writers had no idea what to do with him while on the show, they could have had him take a backseat more often or perhaps learn lessons in relation to his job rather than super-heroics, or working in a team. The only thing they can improve in this aspect is have Ralph actually remember what he’s taught, but at this point it just seems like an insulting waste of time. As it stands, I’m bracing myself for Barry to teach Ralph that the point of being a superhero is catching criminals next week.

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