This review contains spoilers.
1.13 The Nuclear Man
Having ongoing threads in a show like The Flash, which more often than not falls back on the procedural format, is essential for keeping the audience engaged, but sooner or later those threads need to start being addressed. This episode, The Nuclear Man, finally started to do that, mostly with the Ronnie/Martin Firestorm stuff, but also with the mystery of Barry’s mother’s murder and, by association, time travel.
The time travel stuff is probably the thing most viewers are clamouring for, but it’s also the riskiest thing The Flash has threatened so far. We’ve come a long way with this universe since Arrow’s first season, now accepting metahumans and super-speed without much trouble, but time travel is a completely different beast and now also something that, judging by Cisco’s discovery this week, will come about by the end of the season.
That’s exciting, as is the unlikely partnership between Joe and Cisco this week. We had a glimpse of what those two working together might look like in the mid-season finale, but here they get to really don their odd-couple detective hats, adding to the general light heartedness of what might otherwise have been quite a heavy episode. Really, I think the hour struck the perfect balance between The Flash’s usual comic-booky tone, the CW romance and the drama.
Speaking of CW romance, Barry went on a date this week. It’s all very lovely and charming, as is Malese Jow’s Linda, while also providing the writers with plenty of opportunity to make puns about Barry going “too fast.” There’s so much potential comedy in Barry dating outside of his close circle of friends and, aside from the really awkward pepper-eating scene, The Nuclear Man capitalised on that without drawing too much attention away from the A-plot.
My big complaint, which may actually be in line with the writer’s intention, was how Iris came off this week. She’s already scrambling for viewer approval, but she was extra awful here for almost sabotaging Barry’s chances of a relationship outside of his immediate family.
There’s nothing not healthy about his approach here, with his advances towards Linda having nothing to do with the feelings he may or may not still have for Iris, but she proceeds to make it about her. The unrequited love switch-around things has been done to death already, and I would really hate for the show to use this to force a romance between the two of them further down the road. Let it die.
This was the perfect week for the silly dating storyline, though, as the A-plot was another one that left Barry kind of on the sidelines, playing catch-up along with the audience via flashback.
We now know a lot more about Firestorm, most notably that Martin Stein in Ronnie’s body now doubles as a nuclear bomb. Stein is in control, but has the memories and emotions of Ronnie, which is enough for Caitlin to reject any suggestion that they kill him, and it’s almost a sure thing that Robbie Amell with eventually resume the role of Ronnie, and we’ll see Victor Garber as a separate entity.
The scenes between Stein and Caitlin were very well done and, added to the fact that we know and love Caitlin, sold the dilemma that STAR Labs are facing. The episode also took pains to show us Stein’s previous life, which meant that we couldn’t just root for the team to save their friend and let the other guy die.
But the episode was a two-parter, and so much of the payoff for this particular storyline will come next week. Not everyone will appreciate the fact that the bigger plot was shoved to the side in this episode in favour of the hero going on a date, I’m sure, but I think that balance is important when it comes to keeping The Flash as The Flash.
Maybe not suitable for every week but, even though I could stand to see Barry more involved with the big moral discussions going on in STAR Labs, I’d say this was the perfect balance of tonal elements and something the show should stick to in the future.
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Crazy For You, here.
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