If I told you that the Flash was the least interesting part of last night's Flash episode, you might be a bit concerned — it doesn't sound like a good thing. But it is when the DC hero Firestorm finally takes center stage, and almost all the other characters — even Cisco and Caitlin — get compelling conflicts! No, really!
"The Nuclear Man" is yet another quality episode, and I think we can safely assume that the show has taken off its training wheels, so to speak, and feels confident enough to do more than just introduce a freak-o'-the-week for Barry to fight. In last night's ep, the "freak" is actually long-time DC hero Firestorm, who has been going mad because the mind the elder scientist Dr. Martin Stein is trapped inside (and marginally in control of) the body of young Ronnie Raymond, and having two minds in the same head isn't going well. As a result, he has become The Flammable Hobo that we've seen periodically this season.
But when F.H. hurts one of Stein's former colleagues while looking for help — he kinda inadvertently explodes — the SuperSTARS recognize they can't just let a homeless person who can fly and shoot flames out of his hands run around freely in Central City (although why they ever thought this was okay is another matter). Caitlin and Wells start trying to track Ronnie, while Joe borrows Cisco for a secret investigation, namely investigating Barry's mom's murder by taking a look into Barry's former house.
Joe and Cisco is a pairing that doesn't seem like it should work, but does — Joe is respectful of his knowledge, and Cisco tones down his more stoner-y aspects — and honestly, this little mini-adventure is my favorite Cisco story to date. Especially when he realizes that the antique mirror in the living room is backed with silver nitrate, which means it could have recorded light images created by the lightning flashes emitted by the two speedsters, like old time-y photos. Cisco turns these photos into a 3D hologram (a very cheap effect; Tony Stark has nothing to be worried about) and helps Joe find some blood-spatter that the cops somehow missed 15 years ago (in the dumbest moment of the episode, but never mind). When Joe asks Cisco to test to see if the blood is Wells, Cisco gets his drama of the night, as he is appalled that anyone would suspect his great mentor of anything.
Meanwhile, Wells and Caitlin have tracked down Stein's wife Clarissa, who mentions that a flammable hobo visits her periodically, and perhaps that's of interest? It is, and when Ronnie flies by later that night, the Flash tries briefly to reason with Ronnie before getting into the fight we all want to see. It's short, but when Barry grabs Ronnie, Ronnie simply takes off into the air and flames on until Barry has to let go and drop. (I should mention that while the 3D hologram effects were cheap, Firestorm's fire and flying VFX look great.) Barry does manage to slip a tracker on him, and later the team manages to convince Ronnie/Stein to come into STAR Labs.
Once there, Caitlin puts Firestorm on a drug cocktail of anti-psychotics, so Stein, who's mainly in charge of the body, can think a bit easier. Ronnie cleans up, and it's here that Caitlin has her finest moment, being in the same room with her fiancé's body, while someone else is talking out of it. Caitlin is just the right amount of freaked out, happy to see Ronnie alive and in his sexy non-hobo mode, and trying to stay calm in front of a stranger who happens to be wearing her lover's body like a suit. This time, Danielle Panabaker's quiet, frazzled, vulnerable demeanor fits her situation perfectly, and I wonder if her character has really needed Firestorm to react to — well, insert your own science joke here.
Unfortunately, Firestorm's fight with the Flash has exacerbated his condition, and he's going to blow up — as in, go nuclear — in the next few hours. The only way to stop it is to kill the host body, i.e., Ronnie, says Wells, and he sounds genuinely regretful that this is the case. Caitlin, however, has not had her fiancé returned to her only to lose him again (especially now that he's hot again) and demands Wells figure out a solution. So Wells sneaks back to his Reverse-Flash hidey-hole, and asks his A.I. Gideon if his tachyon prototype — the harness he's been using to repower his Speed Force — can be modified into a quantum splicer. Turns out it can, although it will delay Wells' "timetable" considerably. Wells does it anyway, claiming that his timetable will also be delayed if Central City blows up.
But is that really true? Firestorm can leave the city (which he does, actually). In fact, Firestorm is already gone when Wells and Cisco finish modding the whatsit into the whozis, so if Wells were being purely driven by evil/revenge/selfishness, he could easily have claimed he couldn't finish it and let Ronnie/Stein blow up at a safe distance. So Wells appears to make a rather noble sacrifice to help someone, at the cost of his plan to… do whatever he wants to do. The mystery deepens, and I love how the show is managing to keep him on the razor's edge of good and evil, even as we (seemingly) know he killed Barry's mom. That said, Cisco finds time to make a quick call to Joe during all of this; he checked the blood anyways, and while Wells wasn't a match, Barry was. But Barry as an adult.
That would be a hell of a cliffhanger for The Flash to end on, but instead Barry and Caitlin runs to the nearby badlands to attach the harness to Ronnie/Stein. (As you might have guessed, Wells' harness has been modified into the design you see above, and which is simply placed over his jacket.)
And then Ronnie blows up.
And then the Flash has to outrun a goddamned mushroom cloud.
Holy shit, guys. If The Flash were still trying to bang out those simpler, stand-alone episodes, seeing Barry try to outrun a nuclear explosion while carrying Caitlin would have made the episode completely worthwhile by itself. Instead, we get that plus interesting conflicts for Cisco and Caitlin, the mystery of Wells deepens, and we continue to learn more insane, shocking details about the murder of Barry's mom. Oh, and just because The Flash loves its finale scenes: the army detects a nuclear explosion near Central city, and General Eiling (the return of the inestimable Clancy Brown) demands a squad get deployed there immediately. And then somebody better bring him his goddamned Firestorm.
Seriously, if Warner Bros. was truly concerned about quality of all their DC shows, they'd send the guys behind Gotham a DVD of the last three episodes of The Flash, stat. It might not be the smartest, coolest, or best-looking show on TV, but it's gone from a mild pleasure to a weekly delight. And I see absolutely no reason why that would stop any time soon.
• While all this interest stuff is going on Barry has a date with Linda. It's also super-standard stuff: Barry blows it because he has to be a superhero, Iris meddles, Barry does something dumb to win Linda back.
• Okay, there are two things of note about this: 1) Cisco is like 99% sure Barry's super-metabolism means he's going to be the fastest man alive in bed, too. 2) When Barry and Linda start kissing, Barry starts vibrating, and Linda is very, very excited.
• There's a flashback where Barry randomly meets Dr. Stein on a train, and it's weirdly flirty. Just an observation.
• Look, I haven't seen Robbie Amell in anything, so I can't vouch for his acting skills. But it seems to me he did a pretty great impression of Victor Garber's speech patterns and infliction when playing Ronnie as controlled by Stein. Very nice work!
• So the blood was under the wallpaper. This is insane for several reasons: 1) Even if the police are 99% sure Barry's dad committed the murder, they would have tested some of the blood. Just standard procedure, surely. 2) Who moves into a house, sees there's a wall covered in blood and decides, "Well, I could clean the blood of a murder victim off my wall… or I could just save some time and wallpaper over it. To the store!"
• Hey, The Flash: I know I've said some super-nice things about you, and I'm certainly enjoying you. But you gotta give Iris something to do that doesn't revolve around Barry or Thawne, okay? The reporter job was a start, but then it instantly went back to Barry crap. Give the audience a reason to understand why Barry likes her.
• Line of the night: Cisco, when Sherri, the negligee-wearing owner of Barry's old house, starts hitting on Joe: "I will not judge you." Dammit, Cisco really is growing on me.
• So Barry's big act of "please give me a second chance" is to arrive at Linda's workplace, threaten to eat a super-hot pepper if she doesn't give him a second date, eat it, and then throw up on her office floor. This works, I assume because Grant Gustin's abs. However, young lads, let me give you this advice: Demanding dates, making ultimatums and vomiting is not as winning a tactic as The Flash would have you believe.
• Next week seems like it's going to be all about the time travel, which sounds awesome. I mean, I'm still super-worried that this will take the show off the rails, just like I feel it's done with the Flash comics, but I still can't help but be excited at someone bringing this beautifully weird concept to live-action.
• Central City has badlands?