The Flash introducer the season's big bad DeVoe (Neil Sandilands) — a.k.a The Thinker — in the very first episode, a big change from how the CW show operated in past seasons. Instead of an overarching mystery about who the villain is and how they'll ever figure him out, The Flash decided to put all its cards on the table.
Since then, we've seen DeVoe laying his plans out, however indecipherable they are at this point, and openly sending new metas Barry's (Grant Gustin) way. While the procedural element of the show has remained intact, DeVoe's immediate unmasking is such a departure from the story structure of the first three seasons, it begs the question: Why mix things up now?
According to executive producer Andrew Kreisberg, the reason behind this new method is two-fold. The first and most obvious is that they don't want to repeat the same narrative over and over again. It's worn out the trope of a mysterious villain who turns out to be someone we knew all along with Reverse Flash (Tom Cavanagh), Zoom (Teddy Sears) and then Savitar, so it decided it's time to move on. The more interesting reason though, is that they wanted to course correct a little after Savitar's long game in Season 3 didn't quite stick the landing.
"It's a constant problem for these kinds of shows about how much you reveal and how much do you hide the bad guy?" Kreisberg says. "One thing I think we might have done last season, we might have done a disservice to ourselves last season because we knew who Savitar was at the beginning, and I think we waited too long to reveal it to the audience, and then we lost what I think could have been some valuable real estate exploring that."
When you think about it, we didn't get the big reveal that Barry was Savitar from the future until Episode 20 of Season 3. That's a long time to wait for a payoff from the big bad, even if Savitar wasn't introduced into the narrative right off the bat like DeVoe was. Dragging out a mystery that long can be frustrating to fans in general, but when you add in the fact that The Flash writers knew they were turning Barry evil and then only decided to cash in on a handful of episodes depicting him that way? It's arguably not the strongest way to execute that particular arc.
Whereas most writers don't like to admit when or if a story has gone off the rails, the great minds behind The Flash had no problem acknowledging that misstep and how they're going to change that this season.
"This season we just wanted to be cards up and reveal here's the bad guy at the end of Episode 1, and they're going to get on him fast," Kreisberg explains. "This season we really worked on having a plan where trying to figure out who the villain was wasn't what the issue was. The issue was, we know who he is, but how do we stop him?"
Kreisberg even joked that one of the goals of this season was to change the show so much, they might even trick fans into thinking he'd been replaced with a new EP.
The audience may be used to watching Barry's quest to find out the identity of the latest threat to central city, but there's something gratifying about setting that kind of "whodunnit?" mystery aside for the time being and picking up a new one. There are no speedsters to unmask this time around, just a guy in a creepy lair who's 10 steps ahead of you.
Another added benefit of choosing DeVoe as the villain and introducing him early meant that the show had to get out in front of the story more than ever.
"This guy is the smartest guy in the world," executive producer Todd Helbing says. "You can't just be like, 'Oh let's try this and see if it works.' We really had to plot this one out and know exactly what his big plan was and then how to figure that out."
DeVoe is going to be busy playing chess all year, and a great chess strategist doesn't leave holes in his evil machinations. He has a master plan, and failing that, he's got a Plan B, C, D... you see where this is going. That kind of villain is certainly exciting for fans, but it puts added weight on every choice the writers make. As long as DeVoe knows where he's going, so too do the writers.
This new challenge could create a great big mess for Season 4, or it could give us some of the most artfully constructed story arcs the show has seen yet. We'll let you decide which way things shake out this year.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.
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