winter finale didn't have many surprises in store, until its very last moments. After an interesting but rather unremarkable adventure in "Don't Run," The Flash
delivered a double-feature of a twist. Clifford DeVoe is dead, or at least his body has been used up, and Barry has been framed for his murder. The first part of The Thinker's master plan has come to fruition and he has traded in his dying body for a newer and younger model. It remains to be seen how the "new" Thinker, now played by Kendrick Sampson, does in the role. However, Neil Sandilands' performance as the original Thinker was, undeniably, one of the character's greatest assets.
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In Control Without Ever Breaking a Sweat
Sandilands' performance wasn't wholly unique on The Flash. The series did start with Barry's main villain being another super-genius confined to a wheelchair. However, Sandilands managed to tap into that menace and fear-mongering that hasn't been seen in a Flash villain since Eobard Thawne. Despite the fact the Devoe could barely move, he always came across as completely in control in his each and every scene. Devoe didn't need to walk or barely move his head to come across as a threat, it was all in the measured and effectively creepy way that Sandilands delivered his lines.
It's hard to deny that The Thinker looked ridiculous -- not in his civilian clothes but in his super flying chair with all its wires, tech and full body suit. The Thinker looked like a silly Power Rangers baddie with all the cheesiness that implies. The second DeVoe opened his mouth and Sandilands' voice came out that didn't matter. The appearance was irrelevant because Sandilands imbued the character with such a believable level of supreme intelligence and control.
Since Thawne, The Flash has focused on the main villain's powers, not their personalities, to make them big threats. A lot of this is due to The Flash keeping the identities of the villains secret until the very end of the season, making it impossible to get to know them. Still, once Zoom and Savitar were unmasked The Flash was much more focused on what each could do, rather than who they were.
But with The Thinker and the performance that brought him to life, The Flash crafted a fully realized and human villain. Sandilands took the unbelievable and made it possible. Even the typical convention of The Thinker talking about his master plan, but still not revealing anything about it, worked because Sandilands was fully committed to making DeVoe into a terrifying and real person.
An Unstoppable Force Meeting an Immovable Object
The Thinker as a character on his own is just one half of The Flash's formula for creating a good villain. The thing that made DeVoe so incredibly effective, even more than just the tightly controlled menace coming off of him in waves, were his interactions with Barry. There's an unusual bit of chemistry in having the hero bounce off the villain but Sandilands and Grant Gustin were doing the job wonderfully in the first episodes of season 4.
Barry has come a long way since season 1 when he was being constantly outmaneuvered by Thawne. Yet somehow The Flash was able to get right back into that dynamic of Barry being outwitted and in over his head with DeVoe. Grant Gustin played Barry in a number of different ways while confronting DeVoe, with anger, desperation, frustration and even violent aggression. Yet it never caused DeVoe to shake from his restrained and holier-than-thou position.
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DeVoe's steadiness could have become repetitive or bland but both actors managed to make that dynamic work to its fullest potential. DeVoe and Barry's relationship didn't feel like it had been seen before, it felt new and thrilling. There was such an immediate sense of rivalry and contention between them as soon as DeVoe uttered "Mr. Allen" for the first time.
A lot of The Flash villains have told Barry that they've beaten him before he even got a chance to face them. In most cases though, those threats end up feeling empty and hollow. This wasn't the case with The Thinker as Sandilands completely sold the idea that Barry was out of his depth without literally raising a finger against him. Realistically there's no way that a severely crippled man should've been a threat for the "fastest man alive" but through sheer force of personality, The Thinker and Sandilands made that a far-fetched idea a reality.
With his new body (and actor) The Thinker might end up becoming more of a threat. The second phase of his plan can start and it's probable that The Thinker will now have access to his new body's metahuman powers of telepathy. At the very least, The Thinker now has the ability to walk. While there's hope that Kendrick Sampson can rise to the challenge, taking all these new elements and creating something even scarier, Neil Sandilands set the bar very high. Even if Clifford DeVoe's original body is dead, hopefully The Flash is not completely done with the character appearing in that form and with that performance.
But what do you think? How did you feel about the "original" Thinker? Are you excited to see what Sampson does with the role or will you miss Sandilands too much? How does The Thinker stack up to past Flash villains?
(Image courtesy of The CW)