Ragdoll returns to The Flash, but the series still can’t seem to take full advantage of this kooky villain.

It’s only been a little over a month since the previous new episode of The Flash, but that feels like a lifetime ago now. It’s hard not to approach the show’s return with a mix of emotions. On one hand, it’s always nice to have more choices of escapism these days. On the other, Grant Gustin just confirmed everyone’s worst fears – The Flash: Season 6 is ending several episodes early due to the coronavirus shutdown. It seems too much to hope the season will receive the strong, conclusive finish it deserves, and it doesn’t help that Episode 16 is so slow to move the Mirror Master storyline along.To be fair, this episode does connect some dots and work to make the show’s multi-pronged, post-Crisis approach a little more coherent. The big takeaway from this episode is that all roads lead back to Eva McCulloch and her quest for revenge against her glory-hogging husband. Even the Ralph/Sue subplot is tied into the Mirror Master storyline in a more direct way. The issue is more that these connections happen in spite of the main Ragdoll plot thread rather than because of it.
Ragdoll is a fascinating villain who never seems to fully get his due in the Arrowverse. This episode really encapsulates the problem. The Flash tends to lean too heavily on the character’s creep factor without doing much to explore the man behind the freaky mask. Gail Simone’s Secret Six run did so much to humanize the character and paint him as a sad clown warped by a lifetime of misery and familial abuse. Ragdoll’s bending antics only take the character so far. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see the series still focusing on the physical fear factor even now. We do get a bit of insight into Ragdoll’s motivations at the very end when he reveals his true reason for targeting Joe, but by that point it’s too little, too late.On that note, it’s a bit frustrating to see so much effort devoted to taking Joe off the board given how little he appeared in Season 5 while actor Jesse L. Martin was injured. The intent here is obvious. Eva clearly wants to isolate Barry from his friends and family, one by one. But why not simply replace Joe with a Mirrorverse doppelganger rather than introduce a plot point that could theoretically keep him MIA for the rest of the season? Especially since it would be great to see how Martin would play an evil, inverted version of Joe.
This episode mainly connects when it focuses on Barry himself, which isn’t often enough considering the increasingly dire state of his powers. There’s a growing, palpable sense of tension in the fact that his speed is now a finite resource, and one that his enemies are all too happy to squander. The heart rate monitor watch is a clever, reasonably subtle way of highlighting that struggle and constantly reminding us of the danger he’s in. This episode makes especially strong use of that plot point in the climax. Once again,we see Barry push past his limits to become “fast enough,” except this time he fails. He used up so much precious speed, and for what? That failure helps set the right tone going forward, with Barry all but powerless and increasingly alone. Again, I just wish this episode spent more time exploring Barry’s point of view in all of this.
Another plus – the Ralph/Sue subplot is a hoot, even if it doesn’t mesh terribly well with the rest of the episode. Yes, we get a better sense of how Sue fits into the bigger picture of Season 6. But tonally, this material is a weird match for the otherwise downbeat approach of Episode 16. It often feels as though the Ralph/Sue/Cisco scenes were grafted on from a different episode.
Still, I’m really enjoying the chemistry between Hartley Sawyer and Natalie Dreyfuss, as well as the show’s generally kooky take on Sue. Their relationship may be way different from the source material, but these two just create fun whenever they’re in a room together, and that’s all that really matters out of a Ralph Dibny/Sue Dearbon pairing. Is it too early to demand a spinoff?