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As someone who watched and reviewed every episode of Season 3 of The Flash, I’m astounded by the 180-degree turn the show has made in Season 4. A show formerly obsessed with dour navel gazing, The Flash is now fun and fresh without being cloying. The positive environment makes it an ideal time for the show to introduce one of DC Comics most vivacious heroes (and a personal favorite of mine): Ralph Dibny, aka the Elongated Man. Not only does The Flash get Ralph right on the page, they have in Hartley Sawyer a performer who’s the best real-life match for his role since Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman from Season 2 of Supergirl. Throw in a highly enjoyable B-plot featuring Danny Trejo as Gypsy’s dad, and the result is a first-rate episode of The Flash with the tantalizing promise of more to come.
With that said, there are a few things about “Elongated Journey Into Night” that I’d like to nitpick (aside from the awkward title for an episode that doesn’t even reference Eugene O’Neill). Dibny is first introduced as a dirty cop who planted evidence and committed perjury on a murder case Barry worked as a rookie CSI; Barry exposed the cover-up, which got Dibny kicked off the police force and led to him working as a shady private investigator. Contrast this origin story for Dibny with the one he gets in the comics, in which he gets his powers by drinking a popular soda called Gingold consumed by all the world’s top contortionists. Maybe the comics origin is too hopelessly Silver Age for today’s jaded times, but the TV series seems needlessly dark, almost as if the vestigial influence of Season 3 continues on a deep level. My other chief complaint is that Dibny’s first on-screen appearance marks him as a sleazy sexual harasser, which is a marked difference from the happily married Elongated Man from the comics. Once I was able to set those quibbles aside, I gave myself over to the show and Sawyer’s interpretation of Dibny and didn’t try so hard to compare their version of the character to the one I love from the comics. In doing so, I realized that the TV version of the character had a lot going for it and retained the core charm that makes him appealing.
Ralph Dibny re-enters Barry’s orbit when Team Flash discovers that Dibny was on the metro bus that gave superpowers to Kilg%re and Hazard, the antagonists from the past two episodes. Barry and Joe go to Dibny’s office to ask about his bus ride, only to have Dibny try to extort them for the information. A disgusted Barry storms out with Joe, but then two thugs come by to rough Ralph up by dangling him over a rooftop. Instead of dropping to his death, however, Dibny’s body descends slowly to the ground while the thugs continue to hold him by his ankles. As a result, his legs are stretched out like linguini before him, forcing Team Flash to figure out how to fix them. Dibny’s elastic powers are played mostly for laughs, although there are a few moments of body horror such as when a sneeze causes his face to distort like a Dali painting or when Barry takes a swing at Dibny and gets his fist stuck in Ralph’s mouth. But Dibny is able to gain control of his powers thanks to a potion cooked up by Caitlin—my speculation is that it’s the show’s version of Gingold, except that he’ll need it to control, rather than cause, his stretching abilities. Dibny even loses the donut paunch he’d been developing and can form the rock-hard abs all self-respecting superheroes need.
Meanwhile, Cisco and Gypsy (no first name given) are having a romantic moment together when they are interrupted by her father, Breacher. As his name implies, Breacher has the same interdimensional hopping powers as Gypsy. And like nearly every dad in any timeline, Breacher is highly protective of his daughter—the difference being, Breacher is also a highly dangerous bounty hunter who gives Cisco twenty-four hours to avoid being captured and killed without using his powers. Believe it or not, this plotline, though played mostly straight, is actually pretty funny, thanks to no small part to the simultaneously menacing and hilarious presence of Trejo. There’s one scene in particular in which Cisco traps Breacher (or at least thinks he has) that plays as a live-action version of a Tom and Jerry sequence and adds to the humorous tone of the episode.
The two plotlines converge in an ingenious way as Dibny confronts Mayor Bellows, the man who hired the goons that tried to murder Dibny and who was being blackmailed for his crimes by the private dick. Dibny makes a heel turn and decides to give back the money Bellows offered him while also threatening to expose the mayor’s actions if he’s attacked again, leading to a funny exchange about blackmail logic. Bellows shoots Dibny in the head but the bullet ricochets out of his nose, which Dibny delightfully calls a “bullet booger.” At the same time, Breacher comes into the scene to attack Dibny, who he thinks is a member of an alien race known as Plastoids. In the scrum, Bellows takes Joe as a hostage and escapes in a helicopter. Dibny uses his stretching abilities to reach out to the helicopter, thereby allowing the Flash to race up his arm and stop Bellows. Is the sequence absurd? Undoubtedly so, but in the specific way that fun superhero stories can be. It’s nice to see that The Flash showrunners have made the series absurd again.