This review contains spoilers.
While we were all looking the other way, The Flash may have quietly dropped the villain of the week structure, replacing it with a parade of recurring heroes and villains that we’ve gotten to know or, in the case of Ronnie and Stein in Fallout, at least heard about since the beginning of the series.
This improves the show considerably, because it suddenly feels like we’re being carried through from week to week on something more than just the characters. Ronnie isn’t just a metahuman who turned up at the beginning of the episode, but someone connected to everyone at STAR Labs, and thus the episode was yet another hour where Barry was simply helping out from the sidelines.
I kind of like these episodes the best, because too much of Barry being sweet and heroic, front and centre might more quickly wear us out on the character. It sounds churlish, but it’s a problem that has sometimes plagued Arrow and the reason why the last few weeks of that show have been so refreshing. A good ensemble superhero series has enough great characters to carry the A-plot regardless of the titular hero, and so watching Caitlin attempt to reconnect with Ronnie while also periodically checking in on the time-travel plot with Joe and Barry worked well.
Having said all that, though, watching the origins of Firestorm here felt like The Flash at its most comic book-y, especially since this is pretty much the first time we’ve seen a metahuman turn into a fully freelance member of the team, rather than die, be locked up or escape to fight another day. I like where this is going, because one of the best things about the later seasons of Smallville was the slow build of a pretty functional Justice League one guy at a time, and this universe has more than one show to play that out with.
But I can’t help but think that, even after an entire two-parter to get to know Ronnie, he’s still a bit of an enigma. Stein is more interesting, so there’s that, but I don’t find myself particularly rooting for him and Caitlin any further than wanting to see Caitlin happy. This did at least lend some closure to that emotional thread, with the two agreeing to part for the greater good, and I’m predicting now that when he does come back, she’ll have moved on (drama!).
The continuation of the time-travel plot was mostly about cluing Barry in on the secret, which produced some more great Joe/Barry scenes, and I loved his probably foolish optimism at the idea of going back to save his mother. He won’t, of course, because that death is a fundamental part of the hero’s journey, and you can see his crushing disappointment from here when that plays out.
Joe’s still holding on to the idea that Wells is behind the whole thing, thankfully, and the end of this episode apparently confirmed his identity as Reverse Flash beyond any doubt. It’s a strange thing, this, simply because the audience has been trained to solve a puzzle that was never really there. Yes, there are things we still don’t know, but it appears as though Wells is definitely the guy in the yellow suit, and he’s been hiding a Grodd in the basement all this time.
The one big, easily-fixable problem with The Flash right now is Iris. She’s gone from unbelievable love interest, to spare part and, now, mild-antagonist. She’s not even a real antagonist, because we know as soon as she finds out that Barry is The Flash and working at STAR Labs, she’ll drop the investigation and change her attitude, so watching this tired old plot play out with the least likeable character on the show is going to be such a bore.
It’s a problem with how great everything else is, if anything, which is the same thing that stops Firestorm from feeling like an integral part of the team. The chemistry between the main cast is so good that any outsider feels like an intruder, and having Iris go up against them is just frustrating for a character we’re supposed to like.
There’s a huge break now before the next episode, which is going to be painful, but at least we’ve all been left on tenterhooks by that cliffhanger. It’s really going there, guys, getting the most difficult thing it could do out there in the first season which, along with the time-travel, seems to be the motto for The Flash writers room. See you on March the 17th!
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, The Nuclear Man, here.
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