This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Warning: contains season four spoilers up to and including 4.16 Run, Iris, Run.
For the first time ever, The Flash has a big bad that isn’t a sinister speedster. After Reverse-Flash, Zoom, and Savitar, Clifford Devoe – aka The Thinker – is a breath of fresh air, murder-and-madness-wise. Although the storytelling structure of The Flash season four has had a few familiar elements, this major villainous change has worked wonders for the show.
Primarily portrayed by Neil Sandilands, The Thinker is a former history professor who used a ‘thinking cap’ – in conjunction with season one’s particle accelerator explosion – to enhance his intelligence to an extreme degree. Now, years after the STAR Labs dark matter blast, Devoe’s machinations are causing big trouble for Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen and the rest of Team Flash.
But what exactly is Devoe’s plan? The Thinker is always seventeen steps ahead of Barry, but what on earth are his motivations and goals? Let’s recap his immensely complex plan so far, in a bid to work out where it’s all heading…
Step 1: get the right people on the bus
A recent line of dialogue alluded to the possibility that Devoe has been breaching around Central City for the last three years, manipulating events to ensure that the right people got on the bus (and subsequently got splattered by dark matter) on the day that Barry emerged from the Speed Force with a beard.
(Devoe also made a samurai robot that demanded a showdown with The Flash. This ensured that Barry came out of the Speed Force on the right day. Devoe predicted when and where this would happen, and what the dark matter consequences would be.)
Of the twelve bus passengers, we’ve so far met these ten: recently-sacked blackjack dealer Becky Sharpe (played by Sugar Lyn Beard); an upset man that later earned the nickname The Weeper (Matt Afonso); a sketchy cop-turned-PI (Hartley Sawyer’s Ralph Dibney); a truck driver named Neil (Ryan Alexander McDonald); a gym-enthusiast-turned-criminal (Derek Mears’ Sylbert Rundine); a cultural anthropology professor (Chelsea Kurtz’s Mina Chaytan); a hard luck computer programmer (Dominic Burgess’ Ramsey Deacon); an airport employee (Kendrick Sampson’s Dominic Lanse); an EMT named Matthew Kim (Leonardo Nam); and, most recently, a country singer (Miranda MacDougall’s Izzy Bowin).
There is no obvious link between these people or their jobs. Some seem like obvious would-be villains, while others seem like fairly nice folk. Some were in states of distress, while others were simply travelling from one place to another. So far, so obtuse. Devoe’s plan seems like nonsense.
Step 2: make sure they get the right powers
Every single one of these people, when blasted by the dark matter, became a metahuman and gained superpowers. It certainly seems that Devoe knew this would happen, and maybe he even predicted the powers that each person would end up with.
So far, we’ve seen the ‘bus metas’ using these powers: controlling luck; crying tears that work as a psycho-active drug; stretching to any size, altering appearance, surviving serious attacks; inflicting people with the symptoms of radiation poisoning; shrinking/unshrinking things; bringing inanimate objects to life; controlling technology; reading minds; transferring powers between other people; and, most recently, amplifying/controlling sound waves.
That list of powers is just as random and unrelated as any season’s collection of freak-of-the-week villain abilities. The only real pattern is that, if you squint, each bus meta’s power can tangentially be linked to their personality or what was going on in their life at the moment when the dark matter hit. You could say that about most Metahumans in the history of The Flash, though.
Step 3: frame Barry for murdering him
In a move that reminded me of Dan Slott’s incredible Superior Spider-Man comic book arc (where the mortal body of Doctor Octopus died, but his mind lived on), Devoe has succeeded in transitioning out of his weakening human body. (Side note: the metal tentacles that spread from Devoe’s chair are also a bit Doc Ock-y, aren’t they?)
Devoe let his original body die, and transferred his consciousness into Dominic, the airport worker. Not content with merely cheating death, Devoe decided to kill two birds with one stone: using his own corpse as a prop, Devoe framed Barry for murder. Because of the restraining order in place and Barry’s desperate attempts to dig up dirt on Devoe, the judge lapped this up and plonked The Fastest Man Alive into Iron Heights Prison.
Unless he’s saving his “The Flash ruined my life” speech until the back end of the season, Devoe doesn’t seem to have a particularly personal vendetta against Barry. So why lock him up?
Perhaps Devoe just wanted Central City’s premier protector out of the way so his plan could progress unimpaired. The next step, after all, is a biggy…
Step 4: steal powers from the bus metas
Over the last few weeks, Devoe has been stealing the powers of the bus metas. He doesn’t have all of them yet, but it seems plausible that collecting the full set could be a major stage in his game plan.
Like Thanos (the big bad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who will attempt to collect the immensely powerful Infinity Stones in Avengers: Infinity War next month), Devoe is putting together a powerful cocktail that would make him truly tough to stop.
If he succeeds in collecting the full set of abilities from the bus metas, Devoe will be nigh on invincible: he will be able to wear any face, read any mind, and remove any hero’s superpowers with a simple touch. He will be able to bend technology and effigies to his will, as well as dishing out powerful sound waves and shrink rays. He can use The Weeper’s tears to make people serve him (as he has done with his wife). And, perhaps most importantly of all, Devoe will also be able to survive bullet wounds and most other forms of attack. If powers and weapons don’t work against him, what will?
Essentially, if he manages to collect the powers of all the bus metas, Devoe will be incredibly tough to defeat. And what’s to stop him from taking the powers of Team Flash and their rogues, as well?
Step 5: more metas
Two body swaps later, Devoe is now wearing Izzy Bowen’s face. Meanwhile, in a desperate bid to try and outthink The Thinker, Tom Cavanagh’s Harry Wells has built his own thinking cap. In doing so, Harry has determined the identities of the final bus metas: at the end of the most recent episode, he announced two names.
Janet Petty was the first name that Harry spouted. (Her supervillain name is Null, apparently.) The trailer for the next episode confirms that Janet has gravity-manipulating powers: she will make The Flash float around a lot, in what looks like a fun episode. If Devoe manages to steal Janet’s powers, perhaps he will use them in a similar way – to reduce the threat of Barry in a one-on-one fight scenario.
Edwin Gauss was the other name that Harry dropped. In the comics, this is the civilian identity of Folded Man, who can flit between dimensions like nobody’s business. He can also alter his shape to become two-dimensional or four-dimensional, which is handy in a fight. If Devoe steals these powers, he would be even harder to battle, and he could escape capture with extra ease.
Even with all of this information and speculation, it remains impossible to discern what The Thinker’s motivations and goals are. The battle between The Fastest Man Alive and The Fastest Mind has been fun to watch, but what exactly are they fighting for? What does Devoe want?
In a flashback-heavy episode earlier in the season, it seemed clear that Devoe developed the thinking cap and boosted his intelligence with the intention of doing good in the world. It’s not clear exactly how he intended to do this, but the expanding of minds and the distribution of knowledge were mentioned.
Following this, in a chunk of story that we haven’t yet witnessed, Devoe put together his intricate plan involving samurai robots, bus timetables and superpower stealing. It’s unclear if Devoe is on some mad new path, or if his exceedingly complex plan connects somehow to his pre-villainous research.
My best guess for what Devoe’s current goals are? If I had to wildly speculate, I’d say that perhaps Devoe wishes to enhance the human race by reprogramming everyone’s minds and controlling them himself. With his cocktail of powers and his futuristic tech, he could easily attempt a massive villainous act like that. I’m imagining a slightly more serious version of The Riddler’s mind-controlling TV box scheme from Batman Forever.
How will Team Flash defeat him?
Unless the powers that be are planning to defy the core conventions of superhero telly, Devoe’s plan – whatever the hell it may be – will be thwarted by Team Flash in the season 4 finale.
After being blindsided by H.R. Wells’ Iris-saving rug pull from The Flash season 3’s finale, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled this year for hints and clues regarding Devoe’s weaknesses and Team Flash’s potential last-minute game-changing solutions.
As with H.R.’s face-changing device from last year, Ralph’s powers mean that he could disguise himself as any other character. Perhaps he could attempt to impersonate Devoe’s wife, and use her likeness to get close enough to the big bad to take him out of commission?
Failing that, it has already been teased that Devoe’s wife, Marlize, is losing faith in her hubby’s plans. Kim Engelbrecht has done fine work already in the role of Marlize, and a late-in-the-day switching of sides feels like a logical endpoint for her arc. I would be happy to see Marlize helping Team Flash in the last couple of episodes, working with our heroes to save Clifford from his madness.
Additionally, if Devoe manages to steal Ralph’s powers, he will be impervious to a lot of attacks. But one thing he won’t be impervious to is ‘axcid’, the super acid that was established as Elongated Man’s Kryptonite equivalent earlier in the season. If a tiny bit of axcid can burn Ralph’s knee, a STAR Labs bazooka filled with the stuff could do some serious damage to an elongated Devoe.
Devoe’s enhanced mind has a big weakness, as well: if you keep it in one body for too long, the stress on the brain is too great. If you stopped Devoe from switching bodies – perhaps by luring him into a power-draining prison cell – you could trap him in a body doomed to die.
There are a few options, then, regarding Devoe’s eventual downfall. A worried wife, a super soaker filled with axcid, and some kind of power-dampening tech might be enough to stop Devoe and his mightily mysterious, impressively detailed plan. Whichever way it goes down, I’m sure we’ll have plenty to talk about when the credits roll on the season finale.
In the meantime, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments below. Don’t forget that when it comes to The Flash, no theory is too crazy…