Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Flash Season 1, Episode 13: The Nuclear Man

This week The Flash takes a break from its usual "Barry vs a supervillain" format and focuses mainly on Firestorm.

I don't mind them adding Firestorm to the show, but it still seems odd to devote so much screen time to him and his origin this early in the life of the series. Believe it or not we're only thirteen episodes in so far. They should still be concentrating on world building and establishing Barry. Adding a superhero pal for him to play with is the kind of thing that should happen in the second or third season, once the status quo needs a good shaking up.

Since there's no real villain for Barry to clash with, we get quite a lot of character moments as he goes on his first (and second) date with Linda Park, Joe and Cisco team up, and we find out just what makes Firestorm tick.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Barry goes on a date with Linda Park, who he met last week. They eat spicy food, which will become a plot point later on, so remember it. Barry keeps getting called away on Flash business, but due to his super speed he can thwart bank robberies while Linda's in the ladies room powdering her nose.

Meanwhile, Ronnie Raymond, aka Firestorm, is having a bit of an identity crisis as his body is now controlled by Professor Martin Stein. He confronts Quentin Quayle, an old colleague (of Stein's, not Ronnie's. Confusing!) and asks him for help. He then uncontrollably flames on, which kills Quayle and seems counterproductive to getting help.

Since this is a The CW series, there needs to be some relationship drama, so Barry tells Iris about his date with Linda. She pretends not to mind, but is obviously hurt and jealous that Barry's found someone and is seemingly happy. Barry gets called away during his second date with Linda, and she seemingly writes him off, until he wins her back by eating a hot pepper. Callback!

Joe recruits Cisco to help him reexamine Barry's old house, to try and find a clue in Nora Allen's death. The STAR Labs Gang deduces that Prof. Stein is in control of Ronnie's body. Barry remembers meeting Prof. Stein on the day of the particle accelerator explosion. They visit Stein's wife and show her a photo of Ronnie. Surprisingly she recognizes him, and says he's been stalking her the past few months. The Gang tracks down Firestorm, and Mrs. Stein is able to convince him to come to STAR Labs for testing.

Dr. Wells pumps Firestorm full of drugs to calm his shattered mind, and discovers that Ronnie's body is rejecting Stein, and they're gonna blow— literally. He suggests killing them both, but luckily Caitlin talks him out of that. He uses his top secret Reverse Flash tachyon suit to cobble together a containment unit for Firestorm, which will prevent him from exploding. 

Ronnie/Stein knows about the whole exploding thing, and flies off to the Badlands, wherever the hell that is. Barry and Caitlin arrive just in time. Caitlin places the technobabble device on Ronnie's chest, which kind of makes him look like Firestorm if you squint really hard, but he seemingly explodes anyway. Barry speeds Caitlin out of the blast radius in the nick of time. General Eiling, who's apparently been hunting Firestorm, detects the blast, rubs his hands together and hisses, "Excellent."

Meanwhile, Cisco uses magic to reconstruct the fifteen year old murder scene in Barry's old house. Joe finds a big splatter of blood on the wall, and has Cisco analyze it. He's expecting it to belong to Creepy Dr. Wells, but instead it belongs to Barry. Adult Barry. Time travel!

Thoughts:
• The writers really want us to feel bad for Prof. Stein and his wife, but it's hard to work up much sympathy since this is the first time we've ever seen either of them (OK, so we saw Stein in a video monitor last week, but you know what I mean). We're also supposed to be weirded out because Stein is in control of Ronnie Raymond's body, but again, our sole exposure to Stein was in Barry's flashback— which happened in this very same episode. Makes it kind of tough to tell if Ronnie's doing a good Stein impression or not.

Introducing the characters so long after Firestorm is created is a very odd way to structure this subplot. It would have worked a lot better if we'd met both Ronnie and Stein way back in the first episode, and had the occasional flashback to them throughout the season. 

• The comic book Firestorm is a bit different from the TV version, natch. In the comics, Professor Stein was a Nobel winning scientist who designed a new atomic power facility. Ronnie Raymond was a high school student who was protesting the facility in order to impress a girl. Stein's jealous assistant Danton Black sabotaged the nuclear plant, causing it to explode. The explosion fused Ronnie and Stein together into the being known as Firestorm, while Black became the super villain Multiplex (a version of which was on The Flash earlier this season). 

Ronnie and Prof. Stein were two completely separate beings, but when there was trouble, Ronnie could cause the two men to merge into Firestorm (Stein would disappear, no matter where he happened to be). Because Stein had been unconscious during the accident, he couldn't control Firestorm, but manifested himself as a voice inside Ronnie's head.

Firestorm could fly and rearrange the atomic structure of inorganic matter, which allowed him to transmute or create objects from other things. Think "changing bullets into flowers.

• Firestorm had one of the more... flamboyant costumes in comicdom, so I really didn't expect to see it recreated verbatim here. 

That said, I was hoping to see him wearing something a bit more elaborate than a Mossimo varsity jacket from Target with a few Anywhere Lights stuck on the front.

• During Barry's first date with Linda, he keeps getting calls from STAR Labs concerning crimes in progress. The first is a convenience store robbery at Brand and Paulson. The producers love to add little in-jokes and shout-outs to the comic in their addresses, but if these two mean something, it's over my head.

A bit later Barry gets a message that there's a suicidal jumper at the corner of 52nd & Waid. This one's a bit easier— Mark Waid had a very successful run on The Flash comic in the 1990s. I'm assuming the 52 has something to do with DC's The New 52— one of the many, many recent reboots of their comic universe.

• In their first battle, Firestorm lifts Barry high into the air. I was wondering how he'd manage to use his super speed to break his fall (spin like a tornado perhaps?), when at the last second Firestorm swoops down and saves him, depositing him gently on the ground. Well that was certainly anticlimactic.

• Joe and Cisco search Barry's old house for clues. The idea that anyone could find even a shred of viable evidence in the inhabited home a whopping FIFTEEN years after the crime occurred is ludicrous as best.

Despite this, science whiz Cisco spews out a bunch of technobabble that would make Geordi LaForge blush, stating that an antique mirror in the home contains silver nitrate, and during the Reverse Flash's attack may have reacted much like photographic film. He then somehow creates a 3D hologram from these 2D images.

OK, I know this is a comic book world, but this isn't science, it's magic, plain and simple. If Cisco had taken out a wand at this point and said, "Expelliarmus!" I wouldn't have blinked.

• By the way, Sherry, the woman who lives in Barry's old house and who was quite aggressively hitting on Joe, is played by Chase Masterson. You may remember her as Leeta the Dabo Girl on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

• Cisco's amazing Vegas-like light show depicts Nora Allen kneeling in the middle of her living room, surrounded by the Reverse Flash and another "mysterious" red-clad speedster. Young Barry looks on in horror. 

Joe studies the image and notices a spray of blood flying through the air. He tears off the wallpaper in the room, and amazingly the blood from the image is still splattered on the wall (!). He orders Cisco to take a sample of it and begin identifying who it belonged to.

So... I guess the Central City Police and Coroner's Office must have been pretty incompetent fifteen years ago, since they apparently never noticed a huge splash of blood on the wall. And Sherry must not have ever tried to clean it off, opting to simply wallpaper over it instead.

Speaking of Sherry, what the hell happened to her? She was macking pretty hard on Joe, but then is conspicuously absent while Cisco's doing his holographic light show and Joe's tearing the paper off her walls.

• During Barry's second date with Linda, they forego dinner and start making out on the couch. Barry starts vibrating uncontrollably at super speed, which Linda says "feels amazing." Yikes! I really don't need to know how Barry's powers affect his sex life, thank you very much.

• Barry's called away (to help corral Firestorm) during his make out session with Linda. He hurriedly and awkwardly exits, leaving her confused and fuming.

You know, Barry, all you had to do was remind Linda that you're a cop and you had to go investigate a case. That probably would have gone over much better than saying "Uh... something important's come up" in your best stammery Hugh Grant voice.

• After Barry's bumbling exit, Linda asks Iris about him. Iris thoughtlessly says he's still getting over someone, and probably needs more time. Linda quite perceptively realizes the "someone" is Iris herself. 

It looks like the writers can think of nothing else for Iris to do now than to cockblock Barry. Later on she sees him and Linda get back together, and storms off. Surely there's a better way to serve the character than to make her into a petulant child.

We all know that Barry and Iris are going to eventually end up together, and that makes these interminable "on and off" scenes even more tedious.

• Apparently Central City has a hockey team called the Combines. Duly noted.

• Did I hear Barry tell Linda that Joe got him tickets to a Mal Duncan jazz show? In the comics, Mal was a member of the Teen Titans.

• Dr. Wells just happens to administer the perfect "cocktail" of drugs to calm Firestorm's mind and make Prof. Stein lucid again. And on the first try yet! Usually it takes years to find just the right combination of drugs for someone suffering from mental disorders. Luckeee!

Wells then studies Firestorm, and says that Ronnie and Stein's cells have combined, but are now beginning to separate. If their condition isn't stabilized, Firestorm will go nuclear. (not nuke-cue-lar). Of course the comic book was called Firestorm The Nuclear Man.

So if Firestorm now has the mass of two men, why does he look normal? Shouldn't he look... bigger? Like twice normal size? 

• Dr. Wells reached Star Trek: The Next Generation levels of technobabble in this episode. He says, "It seems Ronnie's fight with the Flash has exacerbated the Firestorm matrix," whatever the hell that means. Later he asks his supercomputer, "Gideon, can the tachyon prototype be converted into a quantum splicer?" All new technobabble, now with twice the words, and one tenth the meaning!

• Firestorm realizes he's going to go nuclear and take out Central City, so he thoughtfully and politely flies out to the Badlands to explode. So this week Central City's in South Dakota?

• Barry tries to win Linda back by eating some kind of super hot pepper to impress her or something. For some reason she's touched by this bizarre gesture, and takes him back. She then kisses him. On his mouth that just ate a super hot pepper. Shouldn't her mouth be on fire now as well?

• Over the course of the series I've noticed that Barry's speed is portrayed very inconsistently. One week he's so fast he can zoom out of Joe's house, go to his apartment, pack all his belongings and return with suitcases in tow in less than a second. In another he's able to click the shutter of a camera, run in front of it to appear in the photo, then run back to catch it before it falls to the floor. Yet other times he's able to be knocked out by Captain Cold's freeze ray or Pied Piper's vibro-beams. His speed seems to vary wildly, depending on the needs of the plot.

I can't fault the show too much for this though, as this was a regular feature of the comics. There the Flash could run at the speed of light, but one of his most dangerous foes was a man who threw boomerangs, for god's sake. 

Realistically (!), every episode should last about thirty seconds. Barry should get a call from STAR Labs informing him that someone's robbing a bank, he should zoom off camera and then return a second later and say, "Welp, so much for Weather Wizard!" Fade to black. 

That probably wouldn't be very good for the ratings though, so this inconsistency in his speed is just something we're going to have to accept.

• After some soul-searching, Cisco analyzes the blood from the crime scene and discovers it doesn't belong to Dr. Wells (as Joe suspected) but to Barry. And not young Barry, but adult Barry. That means he was present at his mother's murder, and apparently tried to stop the Reverse Flash from killing her. Timey-whimey!

• So it looks like Dr. Wells was not the same Reverse Flash that killed Barry's mom. This falls in line with the comics, in which there've been several different Reverse Flashes over the years. It's also a bit of a relief, as all season long we've been suspecting he was the Reverse Flash, and the big reveal that he really was seemed like a bit of a letdown. 

This also opens up the possibility for Eddie to somehow become the Reverse Flash down the line.

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