‘The Flash’ Review: “The Nuclear Man”
It’s somewhat ironic that an episode featuring this much Firestorm would leave me a little cold. But that’s where I am tonight with ‘The Flash,’ which did enough to keep things moving along even if its actual content was all over the map both narratively and tonally. There were about three or four solid episodes in “The Nuclear Man,” all fighting for the same space. But whereas the battleground over Ronnie Raymond’s body yielded a literal explosion, this episode yielded few fireworks.
Since most storylines were pretty self-contained, let’s break them down from least interesting to most interesting.
Iris Does Everything But Publish An Article Saying Barry Has An STD
It’s one thing for the writers to write Iris as a self-starting go-getter that Barry pines after. I didn’t buy any of those actual qualities, but that had to do more with execution than intent. But at least then she was a fundamentally decent, if boring, character. Now? The writers have chosen to make her a truly ugly person, willing to sabotage Barry’s chances for any type of relationship with Linda Park for no other reason than the show has absolutely nothing for Iris to do at this point. ‘The Flash’ should have the newspaper send her on assignment to ‘Fortitude’ for a few months and see if anyone misses her. The show has so many things working right now that constantly adding Iris to the mix seems like stubbornness at this point. There’s no reason Iris can’t be complex and occasionally off-putting. But there’s actually no in-show reason for her to be that way right now, and that’s the issue.
As for the Barry/Linda material: They are pretty cute together, even if a) the old “Barry gets a phone call mid-makeout sessions” got super old, and super fast, and b) I’m pretty sure there was a part where Barry turned into a vibrating, human-sized adult toy. Not that Linda minded! And I’m not a prude! But let’s leave that stuff to Tumblr, shall we, show?
Firestorm Talks It Out Before Blowing It Up
The character of Firestorm is built for the comics, where visual elements unique to the page can illuminate the type of struggle Raymond/Stein is going through succinctly and with great alpomb. But because we’ve seen so little of Victor Garber at this point, all we can really witness now is Robbie Amell doing a bad Garber impersonation, which doesn’t really help anyone. Indeed, only near the end, when Amell talks with Grant Gustin about Einstein, does the hybrid creation truly work. It doesn’t help that Amell has spent nearly every on-screen moment having an asthma attack while on fire. Without exposed time to either Stein or Raymond as individuals, and little sense of their struggle inhabiting the same body, nothing involving Firestorm truly landed tonight.
Curiously, the show didn’t lean on Danielle Panabaker to do the heavy lifting tonight in this arena. Last week’s episode showed Caitlin finally ready to move on without Ronnie, and yet we saw very little of her struggle tonight when confronted with the hybrid until just before the episode-ending explosion. All the time invested in the Barry/Linda/Iris storyline could have been transferred here, and given a lot more weight to the (literal) ticking time bomb at the heart of this episode.
Oh Yeah There’s Totally Time Travel In This Show
File under “we pretty much knew this already,” but still! We now know present-day Barry was there when his mother died in the past, which doesn’t necessarily open up new theories so much as make discussing them now open season. That was the logical conclusion to draw from “The Man In The Yellow Suit,” in which most of us deduced that was our version of Barry somehow in the past trying to prevent the very thing he saw which might in fact cause the space-time continuum to explode and oh man my head hurts.
We also learned tonight that it wasn’t Wells in the yellow suit on the night of the murder, which we could also deduce from “Yellow Suit,” even though the text of that episode said the direct opposite. That’s pretty much TV logic: Show something that confirms a theory only to have the program disprove it in surprising fashion down the line. In other words, it was SO OBVIOUS that Wells was Reverse-Flash in that episode that he actually couldn’t have been. That either means his secret suit gets stolen in the show’s future (and then used in the show’s past) or he’s trying to recreate that villain in the present in order to detect weaknesses. How the show deals with the comics’ concept of The Speed Force will dictate what options are available for ‘The Flash’ to explore.
The best part of all this, however, was actually the pairing of Joe and Cisco, two of the most likeable characters on television right now. I’d watch an entire show in which those two just visit cougars in suburbia. That would be an entertaning hour. But this was mostly interesting for Joe’s ability to read Cisco’s doubt about Wells. Until now, Cisco has seemed to be oblivious to his boss’ less-than-savory qualities. But tonight, Joe recognized a seed of doubt that wasn’t entirely displaced in Cisco’s mind upon discovering it wasn’t Wells’ blood in Barry’s childhood home. That seed should serve the show well as it moves into the back half of its first season.
Unless, of course, Cisco was lying about the test results and that WAS Wells’ blood, in which case forget the last three paragraphs. Cool? Cool.
An episode about any of those three storylines might have produced a pretty good episode of television. Even that horrid Iris storyline might have been better with room to breathe, in which her jealousy might have had time to at least gestate and be grounded in recognizable impulses. Shows like ‘Modern Family’ suffer this problem all the time: By trying to serve all characters equally, ‘The Flash’ sometimes suffers under the weight of uneven individual arcs.
The middle of a television season is the time to expand individual threads in order to draw them all back together by the finale. By focusing on certain aspects on a week-to-week basis, a show can lay the proper groundwork for things to have an impact when they smash together later on. Last week’s Barry/Caitlin-centric ep was a great example of this. A Joe/Cisco episode would have been an awesome follow-up. Instead, we got too many cooks in the kitchen this week, and the resulting soup wasn’t hot so much as tepid.