The Flash: Dear Ralph Dibney

I didn’t like you.

For 4 seasons of The Flash I have wondered why it seemed like the criminal underworld got the mega-share of metahuman gifts, seriously, didn’t any nice, normal people get hit with the dark matter and decide to help out like Barry Allen? Sure, we had a few nice ones get hit. But they appear and are usually dead in the same episode, so, they didn’t count.

And then we got Ralph Dibney. Gross, self-piteous, self-focused, dirty-minded Ralph Dibney. Really? THIS is the one we get to keep? Why in the heck couldn’t Julian have stuck around for another season?!? You actually made Joe puke, and I agreed with his assessment.

gross ralph

Ralph, sir, you made yourself so hard to like. You were a mess. I hated it when you made off-color comments about women. I hated it when you ate gross food. I hated your extraneous banter. I hated the establishments you loved to frequent. I hated your self-absorbed attitude about how your life had turned out. I was delighted when we had an episode where you were mysterious “out of town” or otherwise occupied. I hated it all, and I still do.

I. Did. Not. Like. You.

Dear Ralph Dibney, I’m going to miss you.

elongated man

I know, I never, EVER expected those words to come out of my mouth. You had managed to take me beyond indifference for an unlikable “good guy” character and make me actually wish you were gone! But now that you are, all I want is for you to come back.

‘Cause here’s the truth, Ralphie-boy, even when I still didn’t like you, you started to make me proud of you.

I was proud of you when you saved someone even if it meant letting the bad guy “get away”.

I was proud of you when you decorated for Christmas, even if your taste in decorations is atrocious.

I was proud of you when you encouraged Joe to stay true to his moral standards and not plant false evidence at the DeVoe’s house to save Barry.

I was even prouder of you when you choose to step up and protect Caitlin and Cisco from the Prankster’s acid, even if it meant you died a horribly painful death.

I ached for you and was proud of you when tried to help Izzy, when you didn’t turn away from her pain but rather embraced it. I saw the heroic, protective, kind heart you had hidden under the slime, and I was proud.

But Ralph, when you sat and told Barry what you were afraid of, that you didn’t fear losing your own life, you feared losing the people you loved. When you looked him in the eye and said with passion,

I would walk into a furnace for them….they’re mine! DeVoe can’t have them!

ralph's family

Ralph, at that moment, I wasn’t just proud, I didn’t just ache, Ralph, at that moment I LOVED you. You did it, you won me over. I loved you so much I couldn’t even believe I was there, but I was.

And now you are gone. Just when I loved you, you are gone. You died looking at Barry and thanked him for the gift he had given you, and my heart broke.

How did you do it, Ralph? I’ll tell you how.

We are all broken people. So many of us are unlikable, smarmy, gross, self-absorbed, jerks. Without help, many of us stay there. But someone saw you, Ralph, for who you could be, and your story took a different turn.

Love empowers. But I’m not talking about just any old brand of “love” that gets sold as lust and chocolate. No, I’m talking about real love. Real love sees someone, no matter where they are at, and sees who they can be, and that kind of love never lets go. That kind of love can happen to anyone, it’s not confined to romantic relationships. That kind of love crosses colors, nations, boundaries, personalities, and any other obstacles that get put up. That kind of love changes people.

sweet ralph

It changed you, Ralph. You couldn’t even believe it, not for the longest time. Someone actually cared about you? About slimy, worthless, failure-ridden-old you? They cared more about you than you cared about yourself. When you fell down, they picked you up. When you made a mistake, they forgave you. When you hurt, they hurt with you. When you didn’t feel like a hero, they told you that you were one and gave you the strength to become that person.

It changed me too, Ralph. I believe in the power of Love to change, this kind of love anyways. Love came down and saved me at the Cross regardless of how unworthy or unlikable I was.

But it was nice to be reminded, I needed to be reminded.

You died a hero, Ralph; you died a changed person. You died knowing you were loved, and you died giving your life for the people you loved. Someone offered you something that no, you didn’t “deserve”. But that’s not how true love works, love keeps giving even when we don’t deserve it. And choosing to accept that love changes us.

It changed you, Ralph. And it touched me.

Dear Ralph Dibney, I wish I had seen you sooner. I wish we had more time. I don’t know if you will be brought back or not, that episode seemed pretty final. But I had to thank you, I had to thank you for reminding me of something so precious.

You reminded me to look beyond the book cover. To see beyond the unlikable. And to love first.

Goodbye, Ralph. You made a difference and watching how your story progressed encouraged me to keep making a difference as well.

Dear Ralph Dibney, you will be missed.

hero ralph

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The Flash Vs. The Thinker

Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) in The CW’s The Flash is one of the clearest heroes on-screen today. A more straightforward “knight in shining red suit” than some hero characters on the sibling CW super shows, Barry Allen is a family-friendly hero who strives to stay true to himself and fight the good fight.

I have no problem with this, I wish more of today’s on screen heroes were less gray. It’s a common misconception that villains are more interesting because they are more “conflicted”. Wrong! Heroes deal with internal conflict on a regular basis, they just win the battle more than the villains do. We have seen Barry Allen go through hellish things and come out, not unscathed, but still true to who he is.

Barry’s strong moral compass and hopeful spirit have a huge impact on those around him. He collects friends and allies like some people collect stamps. He has a contagious spirit that rallies people to action and inspires a fierce loyalty and strength.

For every great hero’s story, it is important to have a strong contrast to your hero, otherwise everything comes out black and white. The creators of The Flash have come up with a perfect solution to this need: the villains are all a twisted reflection of Barry himself.

The scariest villains we meet are the ones we can see ourselves in. Ursula in The Little Mermaid is a dramatic and fabulous villain, but she fails to strike fear in us on a personal level. She never touches that part of your mind that says, “That could have been me…”

reverse flash

Eobard Thawne aka The Reverse Flash is the most obvious example. He began his journey trying to become another Flash, but he lacked the character and inner strength that Barry possesses. He personally attacks everything about Barry that he is the opposite of. His previous goal of becoming the Flash has twisted into becoming the dark alternative. And he’s really good at it.

zoom

Hunter Zolomon aka Zoom has an eerily similar childhood background to Barry, with a few very important exceptions. Barry was taken to a home filled with love and good people, Zolomon was kicked around from one miserable place to the other. Zoom is obsessed with speed, but his goal to become the universe’s fastest speedster stems from a self-glorified desire for power and people to fear him. Barry is constantly trying to get faster, but his desire stems from a desire to protect innocent people. Barry loves it when people feel safe because of his efforts.

savitar

Savitar aka the god of Speed is actually a time remnant of Barry, he’s essentially a clone. More than any of the other villains he starts from a place of being a mirror image to our Scarlet Speedster. But as we’ve seen in the cold cruelty of his heart, he is what Barry could have become had he not been loved, cared for, and chosen to do the right thing.

Barry has faced each one of these villains on a very personal level. They have either threatened, or actually taken his family, his health, his confidence, the love of his life, and so much more. And yet, he always overcomes. He picks up himself up after failure. He resolves himself to stay true to who he is, no matter what. He outruns every villain and their plan to destroy him.

devoe

Clifford DeVoe aka The Thinker is our first non-speedster villain. I was excited to have a new kind of villain this season, at the same time, I had to wonder how DeVoe would impact Barry on a personal level, what part of Barry he would attack.

He enters the picture as we were welcomed into a new era of The Flash and Barry Allen as we know them. Barry was reborn in Season 4, Episode 1 The Flash Reborn. He’s settled, he’s confident. He’s stupid fast. He’s faced Vader and the Emperor and come out the victor. He’s a Jedi Knight now.

Barry ties the knot with the love of his life, Iris West-Allen and together they are reigning as Central City’s heroic power couple.

west allen season 4

Clifford DeVoe begins as a deeply sympathetic character. He’s a kindly professor, quiet and intellectual. He is married to a gorgeous woman who is his perfect partner. They have a beautiful house and eat homemade macaroni and cheese together. At first glance DeVoe has little in common with Barry, nor does he pose a deep threat. I couldn’t find the connection between Barry and his villain.  In fact, for the first several episodes I actually LIKED the DeVoes and appreciate their devotion to one another. “Just like Barry and Iris.”

the devoes

And then it hit me. This villain isn’t a dark reflection of Barry, he’s his own version of Barry. This season isn’t about attacking some personal aspect of who Barry is, this isn’t about making the Flash better, faster, stronger. This is all about DeVoe and his own “origin story”.

Like West-Allen, the DeVoes start out as a power couple. Soul mates, best friends, practically inside of each other’s heads. Their love has stood the test of time. Like Barry, Clifford wanted to make a difference in the world. He started out with the best of intentions, and his adoring wife The Mechanic went into the trenches right alongside him. They were a team.

As the season has continued, we have begun to see the unraveling of Clifford DeVoe from his own hero to a villain. He began his journey with the desire for two things:

(1) To love and be with his wife

(2) To educate

evil devoe

Once DeVoe gained powers, he managed to hold onto these two goals for a time, but the power began to take over his priority list, along with fear as his body gave way. Desperation, bitterness, and anger took root in his heart, now he must rule. He must be the best. He must know everything. He must have power.

We have seen him go from a loving husband and decent citizen to a crazed maniac who keeps switching bodies on his poor wife. There is no greater indication of just how low DeVoe is sinking than to watch Mrs. DeVoe’s face as her husband sinks lower and lower into crazed villainy. He sees her doubts, her questions, the way she is looking at him with distaste. He no longer seeks to partner with her, she has now become another object he desires to control.

Barry has lost himself at times, but it was always remembering the PEOPLE he loved that brought him back around. He welcomes and builds up the strength of others, even if they surpass his own in some aspects. West-Allen is so powerful because both Barry and Iris know they are at their best when the other person is thriving and strong.

DeVoe has lost sight of all the people, even his most beloved person, Marlize DeVoe, in his desire for control. He is rotting from the inside out.

It is said that we are all “the heroes of our own story”. This rings incredibly true in this season of The Flash. This season isn’t about the villain changing Barry, it’s about showing the heart of Barry and what makes him different from other people with “good intentions”.

Barry Allen and DeVoe may share a few similarities, but in the end one will fall to ruin, and the other will rise even higher. Why? It’s simple, Barry has never been about the power, he’s always been about the people. And people last. Power does not.

Barry invests in the people around him, and that is why he will win, because he is not alone. DeVoe has invested so heavily in his power that it has destroyed the people around him and himself in the process.

I applaud The Flash writers for taking a different approach with their internal and external conflict this season. Even though I am sure we are not done with Barry evolving as a hero, or with speedster villains, it was nice to explore a different side of The Flash and his dark alternatives.

The CW’s “The Flash” series airs Tuesdays at 8/7 Central.