Image: The CW

The Flash’s fourth season has so far been about a lightning-fast rehabilitation of its lead character. The show has jettisoned the sour mood of its third season while acknowledging also how much of a jerk Barry has been lately. To show how far he’s come, last night we got to meet a new superpowered asshole with a heart of gold: the Elongated Man.

“Elongated Journey Into Night,” aside from being a fantastic episode name, is one of the best episodes of Flash in recent memory. It smartly balanced the excellent introduction of Hartley Sawyer as Ralph Dibny, the DC Comics mystery-loving character better known as stretchy superhero Elongated Man, the humor that has become almost alarmingly prevalent throughout these early episodes of season four, some good moments of growth for Barry, and a charming if ultimately forgettable B-Plot about Cisco being introduced to Gypsy’s father, surly interdimensional bounty hunter Breacher (played by Danny Trejo, and made delightful by the way Trejo “menacingly” raised his arms above his head in the most robotic way possible whenever he was about to use his powers, a sight that got progressively funnier and more absurd each time it happened).

LOOK AT HIS ARMS

Ralph’s introduction to the show—connected to the bus-ful of metahumans the team is tracking for its villains of the week—served as the heart of the episode, and there’s been a few tweaks to the character’s backstory in bringing him from comics to TV... changes that, in some ways, make him feel a bit closer to the Barry we’ve seen on Flash recently. A supposedly crooked cop who Barry helped get kicked off the force in one of his first CSI cases for planting false evidence, the Ralph we first meet on The Flash is a private investigator with seemingly little in the way of scruples. He’s a bit of a dirtbag, alarmingly self-centered, too sarcastic for his own good, and the bad blood between him and Barry makes Ralph immediately unwilling to let the Star Labs team help him when his stretching powers emerge for the first time, to hilariously gross effect.

This was a great visual gag in an episode filled with them.

Which initially is for the best, because Barry immediately reverts to his jerky self around Ralph thanks to their shared past—practically leaping at the opportunity to paint him as a villain unchanged from his crooked days as a cop who he’s certain will only get worse now he’s a metahuman, before brazenly demanding Ralph gets locked up in their ethically questionable prison of rogues. But instead simply being a tonally weird moment for Barry that jars with the dorky jokester we’ve had in season four so far, The Flash turns it into a teaching moment, because Caitlin and Iris immediately call Barry out on his judgmental bullshit.

It prompts a moment of introspection for Barry as he further investigates Ralph’s connection to the ongoing bus incident—one where he realizes Ralph is more like him than he wants to admit. In his time as the Flash he’s done some incredibly questionable things (like, say, imprison a bunch of people in a facility with trial unbeknownst to law enforcement!). Even if they could be justified as being for the greater good, they’re bad actions taken by someone with their heart in the right place. Barry comes to accept that the same thing could be said for Ralph—and maybe how he got kicked out the Central City Police Department was for trying to do something similar. If Barry Allen can be convinced to be a better person and not a self-centered jerk, then why can’t Ralph Dibny? Look at this, actual learning moments for Barry! It only took showing him someone who is basically himself (without actually being himself). I was pretty sick of that by the end of last season.

Finally learning to accept that people can change—and that he himself is changing, for the better—Barry decides to open up to Ralph. When Ralph’s private investigator work boils over into a ludicrously villainous encounter with Central City’s mayor, Barry comes to the rescue, inviting Ralph to look inside himself and be the hero he’s always wanted to be now that he has goofy stretch powers (leading to the very silly yet very cool moment of Barry speedrunning up Ralph’s elongated arms). The day is saved, everyone is kind of okay with the Mayor turning to shady cops and kidnapping to cover up a minor blackmail scheme, and best of all Barry stops judging Ralph so much and offers him the chance to join Team Flash fulltime. Hooray!

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In offering Ralph a place at Star Labs, Barry hopes to lead him on a road of self-discovery that will teach him to be a superhero and less of an asshole. Hopefully in doing so he’ll continue on the journey he’s been set on himself season, which asks Barry to do much the same.