Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Flash Season 2, Episode 4: The Fury Of Firestorm

This week's episode of The Flash had a certain feeling of familiarity to it. Seems like it was just earlier this year that Ronnie Raymond and Professor Stein learned to work together to form Firestorm. Now here we are watching it happen all over again, as the Professor gets a brand new partner.

So why did actor Robbie Amell, who plays Ronnie, leave his half of Firestorm and the show? Maybe he's just too busy. He was recently cast in the new X-Files reboot. He may also be wanting to try and break into feature films as well. If that's the case he's going to have to do better than things like The Duff, or he'll be landing right back on TV.

Whatever Amell's reasons for leaving, Ronnie's out and Jax Jackson is in. Looks like I was wrong about who Professor Stein's new partner would turn out to be. Back in the Season 1 episode Revenge Of The Rogues, Caitlin met Jason Rusch, a friend of Ronnie's who worked with him on the top secret F.I.R.E.S.T.O.R.M. project. I assumed Rusch would become Ronnie's replacement, especially since he did so in the comics. Whoops! I totally got that one wrong. So if Jax Jackson is the new half of Firestorm, what was the point of introducing Rusch last season? Odd.

Anyway, this was obviously all setup for The CW's upcoming Legends Of Tomorrow series, which will feature Firestorm, along with several other superheroes. I'm hoping we're done setting up other shows for a while so we can finally get back to this one.

So far this season the whole "Iris' Lost Mom" subplot has gone nowhere, to the point where I began wondering why it existed at all. Now we know. Iris has a secret brother. Don't be surprised when his name turns out to be Wally West. As in "Wally West: Kid Flash."

Barry and the STAR Labs Gang were exceptionally irritating in this episode. They literally popped into poor Jax's life out of nowhere and started badgering him into merging with a complete stranger in order to become a superhero. They were worse than schoolkids pressuring a classmate into doing drugs! It got to the point where I was starting to actively dislike all of them. I don't blame him a bit for telling them to get lost.

There were also a lot of heavy-handed lessons in this episode, reminiscent of an ABC After School Special (do they still make those?). Both Professor Stein and Caitlin had reservations about Jax because he wasn't as educated and polished as Henry Hewitt. Later when Jax steps up and agrees to merge with Stein, they learn a valuable lesson about taking chances that can change your life.

Barry learns the same thing when he's reluctant to let go of Iris and choose Patty Spivot. Joe literally spells out the message for him, telling Barry, "That was a hell of a leap of faith that kid took, merging with Professor Stein. Maybe that should be a lesson for you."

Gosh, The Flash writers, I'm still not sure I understand the message you're trying to get across. Maybe you should hit me over the head with it a couple dozen more times.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Two years ago, Jax Jackson (oy) is a promising young high school football player who has his pick of colleges. Then Dr. Wells' particle accelerator explodes, exposing him to dark matter and ending his career.

In the present day, Professor Stein is dying. The Firestorm Matrix inside him needs another person to help stabilize it, or it's gonna blow. Caitlin uses STAR Labs' magic computer to find two compatible candidates. Henry Hewitt, a successful and well-educated scientist, and the aforementioned Jax, who's now a garage mechanic.

Barry and the STAR Labs Gang approach both men. Hewitt is familiar with Professor Stein's work, and excited to merge with him. The two men touch hands, but nothing happens. Hewitt flies into a rage and leaves, angry that his time was wasted. Jax wants nothing to do with the whole idea of merging his body with that of a middle-aged man, which seems like a logical response to me.

Over at Mercury Labs, Dr. Tina McGee sees someone who looks exactly like Harrison Wells steal a piece of tech from her lab.

Meanwhile, Iris meets with her estranged mother Francine. Iris calmly listens to Francine's story, then tells her she's sorry but wants nothing to do with her. Later Francine tells Joe that she's dying of the ever popular MacGregor's Syndrome, and has just a few months to live. 

Iris does some digging (because she's a reporter and that's what reporters do, man!) and finds out that Francine was pregnant with Joe's child when she left. This means Iris has a secret little brother, who absolutely won't turn out to be Wally West, the Kid Flash. Iris tells Francine to get lost once again. Iris decides not to tell Joe about his secret son, which means she's now keeping a huge secret. Wait, didn't she get pissed at Barry and Joe last season for doing that very same thing to her?

Elsewhere, it seems that Henry Hewitt was affected by his contact with Stein. He begins developing fiery powers similar to Firestorm's. As his powers grow, his mind becomes increasingly unstable and he goes on a rampage. Jax returns to STAR Labs and agrees to merge with Stein after all. They touch hands and the merging is successful. 

The Flash and Firestorm intercept Hewitt and defeat him. Professor Stein and Jax fly back to Pittsburgh (I guess Jax is just going to leave his friends and family behind?), seemingly hightailing it off the show as quickly as possible.

In the tag scene, the Flash is spying on Patty Spivot, which isn't the least bit creepy, when he's attacked by an enormous shark-man. It tells Barry that Zoom sent him to kill him. Suddenly the shark man is blasted by a bolt of energy from a ray gun wielded by... Harrison Wells.

Thoughts:
 Kudos to actress Danielle Panabaker (as Caitlin Snow) for delivering several epic mouthfuls of expository technobabble at the beginning of this episode. Her description of what happened to Professor Stein and how to fix him-- all while trying to act and hit her marks-- couldn't have been easy.

Here's her first block of dialog:
 "I think I might know how to do that. When the particle accelerator exploded, the dark matter that collided with Professor Stein fused with the Firestorm Matrix and altered the normal molecular processes that occurs within his body. Those highly reactive molecules needed something to bond with in order to stabilize."

A few seconds later she says:
"No, he can't, but I've done some research, and I've found two potential candidates that might be compatible with him. They both were affected by the dark matter and they were both admitted to the hospital showing symptoms of gene rearrangement mutation. And they both sare the same blood type as Professor Stein and Ronnie."

Then she goes on to say:
"If I can isolate the genetic locus of the two candidates and cross reference it with the mutations in Professor Stein, I might be able to find a match and save his life.

Whew! Take that, Geordi LaForge!

 Joe's wife Francine tells him she's dying of MacGregor's Syndrome. If that has a familiar ring to to it, there's a reason. In Batman & Robin, Mr. Freeze's wife Nora was suffering from MacGregors, and put into cryogenic stasis until he could find a cure. Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred also had it. 

Over on Arrow, William Tockman, the Clock King, suffered from it as well. 

MacGregor's is one of those "TV diseases," the kind that are terminal but have no obvious symptoms. You don't waste away with MacGregor's, you just get weaker and weaker until you die. 

 Did it seem odd that the Cisco & Caitlin invited two complete strangers into STAR Labs, while Barry's Flash suit was hanging on a hook just behind them? Is anyone even trying to keep Barry's identity a secret at this point?

 Dr. Tina McGee calls Joe and reports a break in at Mercury Labs. She tells Joe the culprit was Dr. Harrison Wells, and he was walking. She asks Joe if there's any way that's possible, and he tells her absolutely not.

Jesus Christ, Joe! Just a couple of weeks ago you learned all about the existence of Earth 2, and how we could all have a double there. It's really not that tough to understand!

• How times have changed. Last year I thought Iris was the worst character on the show, and could barely stand to watch her. This season she's done a 180 degree turnaround, and has become the voice of reason. Likable, even. In fact I liked her much more in this episode than I did Barry and the STAR Labs Gang. They seem to have degenerated into children. while Iris has become the adult.

The way Iris handled her estranged mother was also well written and totally believable.

• Henry Hewitt works for Eikmeyer Technologies. As far as I can tell that doesn't seem to be a comic reference.

Hewitt originally appeared in the Firestorm comic. There he was the head of the Hewitt Corporation (natch), whose attempts to recreate Firestorm ending up spawning the female superhero Firehawk. 

Hewitt later ran the experiment on himself and built a containment suit he named Tolomak, and became an archenemy of Firestorm.

A "tokomak" is an real thing-- it's a device that uses a magnetic field to contain plasma in the shape of a torus, for use in creating a fusion reactor..

• There are tons of comic book characters out there with Firestorm's "pupil-less" eye look, but it looks really disturbing in real life.

• I wish the show would delve into Firestorm's other abilities a bit more. He's not just a Human Torch clone-- he's supposed to have the ability to transmute matter. Turn bullets into confetti; that sort of thing.

• Wow, King Shark actually showed up on a TV series! What a surprise! He first appeared in the Superboy comic in 1994, and was later a member of  the Suicide Squad.

He looked amazing too! The effects team did an awesome job bringing him to life. In fact I'd go so far as to say he looked better than Gorilla Grodd! I'm betting he'd be too expensive to appear in an entire episode, so this fun little cameo is probably all we'll ever get.

Next week we finally get back to finding out what the Earth 2 Dr. Wells is up to!

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