'The Flash' hopes Elongated Man will help the show run for more seasons

As the latest episode of The Flash, “Elongated Journey Into Night,” makes clear, there’s about to be a new superhero in Central City, and his name is Ralph Dibny – at least right now. As the episode’s title suggests, soon enough – after a little training from Barry Allen – Ralph will very likely assume the moniker he’s gone by in the comics for 57 years: the Elongated Man.

But as Flash executive producer Andrew Kreisberg reveals, Ralph’s introduction wasn’t just a nod to the long, rich history the character shares with the Scarlet Speedster (although the Flash first encountered the stretchable sleuth back in 1960 and the has shared many adventures with him since). In fact, Ralph’s not just there to pump fresh blood into Team Flash; he’s there to give the entire show a creative goose as well.

The creative team has long been considering bringing Elongated Man into the fold, says Kreisberg, but the timing was finally ideal. “Every once in awhile, somebody would bring it up as an episodic thing, but we thought he was too big of a deal,” he admits. “It’s Season 4 and shows can get stale, so we really wanted to bring somebody in and have it feel like something new and different, and like something you haven’t seen a lot on television, and not just with his skill set, but also that character. 

“Shows that have seven, eight or nine years always have that new character come in around Season 3, 4 or 5, that helps take you through the rest of the way,” adds Kreisberg. “They’re not similar as characters, but like Faith on Buffy [the Vampire Slayer] – that was our hope.”

And while actor Hartley Sawyer provided a perfect visual match for the DC Comics’ Ralph, the character’s backstory got a bit of a makeover – and, in making him a disgraced cop with a tense history with Barry, a considerable darkening, too.

“You don’t want to add something that you already have,” says Kreisberg. “Ralph, in the comics, is very squeaky clean and a good guy, and the one thing we didn’t have on this show, because everybody is so likeable, is a jerk. Well, Harry is a jerk, in a different way, but we didn’t have somebody who was just a louse and crude and who liked to drink… somebody that would come in and point out how silly it is that everybody is in a superhero show.”

Kreisberg elaborates, “With so many of these characters, they’re not who they are yet. They’re becoming the Green Arrow, or becoming The Flash. We thought it would be interesting if he had a murkier backstory, so that by the time we got to season whatever, he’s the Ralph Dibny that everybody knows and loves from the comics. That was the decision.”

The inclusion of the Elongated Man also gives the show a chance to reconnect to the lighter, more wide-eyed tone of its debut season, explains producer Todd Helbing, who wrote Ralph’s introductory episode. “With Ralph discovering his powers and how to use them, it’s fun to watch somebody – and especially a guy like him – do that. Season 1 was all Barry discovering his powers, and now you can see Ralph do it, in the crazy ways that we’re gonna show that.” 

“And it’s different from Barry,” adds Kreisberg. “We have an episode coming up where Ralph gets hurt, and he didn’t know he could die. Cisco is like, ‘Wait, I’m sorry, were you only doing this because you thought you were invincible?!’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah! Why else would I be doing this?!’ It’s interesting ‘cause it’s different, as opposed to a speedster. Jesse and Wally were both going on very similar trajectories to Barry, but Ralph’s problems and his hero’s journey has different facets to it, which make it feel fresh.”

In the comics, the Elongated Man has traditionally shared the spotlight with his beloved bon vivant wife Sue, who was an equal partner in investigating his trademark mystery cases over the years. They were played, effectively, as the Nick and Nora Charles of comics — until the very controversial storyline 2004 miniseries “Identity Crisis,” in which Sue was brutally murdered by the previously laughable supervillain Doctor Light. So with Ralph on the scene, is Sue’s arrival also imminent?

Yes, offers Kreisberg, “but I think we want to wait until we get to know Ralph and sort of exhaust Ralph where he is before he meets Sue, because Ralph and Sue are endgame, as the kids like to say. You don’t want to bring her in too soon, but it’s definitely in our plan. If not for this year, then we’ll see.”

Kreisberg offered a few other behind-the-scenes revelations regarding the current season, particularly in regard to the concerted effort to lighten up the series after a particularly dark storyline last season, which proved frustrating for some fans. To that end, the creative team has changed up the way it’s dealing with the central Big Bad of Season 4, The Thinker.

Neil Sandilands as The Thinker

Neil Sandilands as The Thinker

Image: Robert Falconer/The CW

“It’s sort of a constant problem for these kinds of shows, not just Flash, of how much do you reveal, and how much you hide the bad guy,” says Kreisberg. “One thing where we might have done a disservice to ourselves last season was we knew who Savitar was from the beginning, and I think we waited too long to reveal it to the audience, and we lost what I think could have been some valuable real estate, 

“So this season we just wanted to be cards-up and reveal ‘Here’s the bad guy’ at the end of episode 1,” he continues, “And this season we really worked hard on having a plan, where trying to figure out who the villain is wasn’t what the issue was. The issue was, ‘We know who it is, but how do we stop him?’…I think it’s very easy to fall back on our own writing tropes, of hiding the ball for as long as you can, but we just thought this year let’s do something different and play it more cards-up. So that they know it’s DeVoe, it’s about figuring out which DeVoe it is, and there’ll be a confrontation sooner rather than later.”

“Obviously at this point you understand that The Thinker has plans for these metahumans [including Kilg%re, Hazard and Elongated Man]; he arranged for them to be created,” reveals Kreisberg. “We thought that the audience, especially after some of the opaqueness of last season, could be like ‘Oh, okay, I understand, I get what’s going on.’ And we created a structure that allows us to have our bad-guy-a-week, but still allows it to fit in with the structure of the season.”

“Also, he’s the smartest guy in the world,” adds Helbing. “We can’t just be like “Hey, 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 how to divvy that up throughout the season.”

“That’s the one thing that’s been sort of interesting about him: he’s playing chess,” says Kreisberg. “And as far as he’s concerned he’s already checkmated Team Flash, so he really doesn’t give a shit what they know and when they figure shit out, because he’s going to say in an upcoming episode ‘You’ve already lost.’ So it’s really about us trying to figure out how to get ahead of somebody who’s playing so far ahead of you.”

“That’s really the trajectory of the season,” he says, “as opposed to just trying to figure out who the hell they were, like it was with Zoom, or like it was with Savitar, or even to a certain extent like it was in Season 1 with the Reverse-Flash. It was ‘Who are you?’ and those questions weren’t answered until, like, [episodes] 16, 17, 18, 19, in all three of the seasons, and now this season we’re like ‘Oh, we know who it is.’”

The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.