Is it just me, or have the early episodes of both Arrow and Flash felt more like prologues for Legends of Tomorrow than independent, standalone series? Perhaps this is the one drawback of such a wide-ranging shared universe. It’s difficult to serve your own story when you must also plant seeds that will bloom in a completely separate show that will happen several months from now. Like I said in last week’s Arrow recap, “The Fury of Firestorm” felt more like a prequel to Legends of Tomorrow than a self-contained Flash story. Still, there were a lot of things to like from the episode that launches Firestorm 2.0.
After the requisite “previously on,” the show picks up two years in the past and is suddenly an episode of Friday Night Lights. A Central City high school football game has just ended, and the school’s star quarterback — Jefferson Jackson — is basking in post-win glory. Since there were college scouts in the crowd, Jackson (or “Jax”) is going to be all set for life after high school. The problem is that the particle accelerator is about to explode and change everyone’s lives, including Jefferson’s. I have to admit that I had my reservations when I found out Franz Drameh1 was going to take over the role as Martin Stein’s other half.
It’s not that I had any real emotional attachment to Robbie Amell’s take on Ronnie Raymond — though I kind of wish Ronnie could’ve stuck around long enough to have a proper superhero costume. I was more concerned that by introducing Jefferson Jackson, a minor side character in the Firestorm comics, the writers were completely ignoring the fact that the real Firestorm 2.0 — Jason Rusch — already exists in the Berlanti-verse.
After watching the episode, though, I think I understand the decision. But more on that later.
Flashforward to the present, the S.T.A.R. Labs crew is doing their best to stabilize Professor Stein, who’s still suffering the effects of last week’s hot flash. Cisco is able to reconfigure the Firestorm matrix to keep Stein’s symptoms at bay, but that won’t be a sustainable solution. Stein needs someone to merge with, and with Ronnie dead, the team has to find another metahuman who might be able to share a body with him.
After some technobabble about dark matter and Barry’s highly suspect violation, Caitlin reveals there are two people in Central City who could potentially bond with Stein: the aforementioned Jefferson Jackson and a fellow physicist named Henry Hewitt. Since Hewitt is the alias of Firestorm supervillain Tokamak, it’s pretty clear who’s going to be chosen.
Despite his future villain status and the fact that Jax is the better match, Caitlin prefers Hewitt to Jackson because he’s a scientist — and also because of her latent prejudice about young black athletes-turned-mechanics. To be fair, I think Caitlin is also trying to find someone who is more like the Ronnie she remembers.
And this is the point of the recap where we fall into a bit of a Firestorm rabbit hole. You see, The Flash’s take on Ronnie Raymond is unlike his classic comic book origin. On the show, Ronnie is a fellow scientist whose knowledge of physics is on par with Doc Stein’s. But in the comics, Ronnie was basically a teenager and a dumb jock, and much of the appeal of the comic was in their Odd Couple-like relationship.
This is one of the main reasons I’m okay with them passing over Jason Rusch on the show since Jason is also a fellow scientist. By bringing in Jax as Stein’s other half, the writers are actually hewing a little closer to the spirit of the comics’ Firestorm. And that relationship plays out in this episode.
While Caitlin goes to fetch Dr. Hewitt to tell him about the Firestorm Matrix, Barry and Dr. Stein go to a car shop to look for Jackson. When they arrive, Stein makes a snide comment about hip hop, which is playing on the shop’s speakers, and Jax retorts that he has the Titanic soundtrack in the back if he prefers that instead.
On the one hand, it’s a great line to combat Stein’s stereotyping. But it’s also a great call back to the fact that Victor Garber played Thomas Andrews in Titanic.
So apparently Victor Garber the actor exists on their Earth, too. Anyway, after hearing their pitch, Jax rejects their offer. We learn that in his attempt to save people from the explosion, Jackson tore his ACL and with it all hopes of going to college. Even though he had a 4.0 G.P.A., his family couldn’t afford college without a scholarship, so he became a car mechanic instead.
On the one hand, this take on Firestorm might be a little closer to the original comic take — athlete vs. scientist — but falling back to the black athlete whose life is ruined because he can’t play ball anymore is a tired trope.
It’s helpful that Drameh infuses Jax with a lot of heart and charisma, and I look forward to his increased role on Legends of Tomorrow. But I get the criticism.
In the meantime, Caitlin and Hewitt are already back at S.T.A.R. Labs prepping for the Firestorm merge. Hewitt has an ego bigger than the building — how very super villainous of you — and though he bonds right away with Doc Stein, their superhuman bond is less than successful. Of course, Hewitt doesn’t take disappointment well and scolds Caitlin for getting his hopes up. Unfortunately, the failed merge has awoken a latent metahuman ability inside him and voila we have this week’s meta-bad guy to stop.
The newly christened Tokamak starts wreaking havoc after gaining the ability to absorb energy and redirect it at his victims. When Caitlin visits Jax at the car shop to apologize after the two argue about his life decisions, Tokamak/Hewitt tries to murder them with his energy powers.
The two head back to S.T.A.R., and a quickly fading Dr. Stein, and Jax finally accepts his superhero destiny and dons the Firestorm device and successfully merges with Stein.
In his first outing as a superhero, Firestorm teams up with Flash to take out Tokamak who is — coincidentally — recharging at the football stadium that opened the episode. With Stein’s voice in his ear, Jax as Firestorm starts to get a handle on his abilities and he and Flash successfully take out the bad guy. And for the first time this season, they didn’t have to kill him either!
In the episode’s B-plot, Joe and Iris are coming to terms with Francine’s resurfacing. Iris is looking through old photographs with her mother, and I was hoping there would be a flashback scene in which Francine were holding her newborn and singing “Rock a Bye Baby.”
To be honest, I wasn’t sure where they were going with the West family drama, but I have to admit that Jesse L. Martin and Candice Patton are consistently given all kinds of juicy material to play with. The emotions that play out on Joe and Iris’ faces is the kind of stuff actors dream about. The fact that we’re getting this on a CW superhero show is proof of the level of talent on display.
When Francine meets Joe and Iris at Jitters, the reunion is less than happy. Iris basically says she wants nothing to do with her biological mother and turns her back on her. Francine later informs Joe that the whole reason she came back to Central City was to tell him she has MacGregor’s Syndrome — telegraphing a future Victor Fries appearance maybe? — and she wanted to make amends with Iris before she died.
Iris doesn’t buy it, and she investigates her mother’s past. Later, she meets her at Jitters once again, but this time, she has her own bombshell. She confronts Francine about a heretofore unknown pregnancy and son she had eight months after she left them.
What are the odds that this kid’s name is Wally? It would make sense because it’s highly unlikely that this version of Iris would have a nephew given the fact that she’s an only child. Well, was an only child. So long as they don’t go the New 52 route and make Wally a criminal, I’m good with this development.
For a Flash show, we sure haven’t talked about Barry much so far. That’s because the titular star of the series took a bit of a back seat for the sake of developing the other characters. Still, he was a vital element of the A- and C-stories. In the episode’s other thread, Barry and Patty flirtatiously banter at CCPD. It seems Patty has come across reports of a humanoid shark(!) stalking the streets of Central City and brings Barry some “teeth” to analyze.
My first inclination was that there’s no way they’d be bringing King Shark into the show already. I mean, they were able to pull off the Grodd episode because they kept him in the shadows. How could they possibly bring a 10-foot-tall walking shark on without being ridiculous?
The mysterious Shark Man isn’t the only case Patty is chasing. She and Joe are called to Mercury Labs to investigate a break-in. It seems that Amanda Palmer witnessed none other than (Earth-2) Harrison Wells stealing some fancy Chekhov’s gun. Joe goes into typical Joe-mode and forbids Patty from telling Barry about the return of Wells. Because Joe’s inclination is always to keep secrets from the people he loves. It’s pathological.
Of course, because Patty is adorable, she is terrible at keeping secrets — which I’m thinking isn’t a great quality for a police detective. Barry asks Joe about the secret, but Joe deflects by matchmaking Barry and Patty — even though he’s clearly a WestAllen shipper.
After the bad guys are defeated, Barry takes Joe’s advice and speeds over to Jitters, presumably to ask Patty out on a date. Before he is able to, though, a giant fin(!) comes out of nowhere to snatch the Flash in its massive grip! And HOLY SHIT THEY DID IT.
KING SHARK IS ON MY TELEVISION! Seriously, that is some impressive CG-work, especially on a TV budget. And millions of CW viewers are like “WTF?” Cue Sharknado jokes.
Of all the DC supervillains, who would expect King Shark, right? Just as Barry is about to become fish food, a force blast takes out the giant shark. And speaking of chum, a mysterious hooded figure just saved the Flash’s life with the weapon Harrison Wells stole from Mercury Labs. Who could it be? I ask sarcastically.
In each of Tom Cavanaugh’s scenes this season, the producers have played up the evil. From the sinister music to the shadowy lighting, they want us to think Evil Wells is back. Here’s the thing, though. Harrison Wells (on Earth-One, at least) was never evil. He was an idealistic scientist who loved his wife and wanted to make the world a better place. He was also murdered a dozen years ago by
Billy Chambers Eobard Thawne. So why would his doppelganger be evil?
But that’s why I don’t think he is. Of course Barry is going to be pissed to see the face of the man who murdered his mother, but Wells was never that man. Everyone remembers that Eobard looks like this:
Of course, Earth-2 Wells could be evil, but we’ve done that storyline to death already. Even the fact that Wells was the stinger of every episode so far was starting to feel a little familiar.
But I guess we’ll find out for sure next week.
- By the way with Drameh now a part of the DC Universe — and John Boyega in that galaxy far, far away — it’s nice to see the cast of Attack the Block finally blowing up. ↩