Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Flash takes an unwelcome detour into franchise-building as a new Firestorm is born

Carlos Valdes, Franz Drameh/The CW

They saved the best for last this week, so let’s start there. It turns out there actually is a shark-man on the loose in Central City (presumably DC’s King Shark, who was featured in the comic book prequel The Flash: Season Zero), and his brief appearance here is both startling and hilarious. His first and last words are “Zoom wants you dead,” as he is gunned down by a hooded figure with a techno-weapon. That figure is indeed the Harrison Wells of Earth-2, who reveals himself to Barry just before the end credits roll. It’s a tantalizing cliffhanger, but it’s also frustrating as it only serves to amplify how much this episode ignored the groundwork laid for this season in favor of setting up an entirely different show.

Crossovers are a big part of the DC Comics universe and this mini-CW universe in the making; that’s not going to change, nor should it. But only four episodes into this season, just as the Harrison Wells doppelganger has arrived and momentum is picking up steam, this re-origin of Firestorm doesn’t make for the most compelling hour of The Flash. It doesn’t help that the set-up for Firestorm 2.o comes packed with a moral lesson straight out of an Afterschool Special.

With Professor Stein’s health failing, the only resolution is to find another dark matter-enhanced human for him to bond with lest his unstable molecules fly apart. There are two suitable candidates: one a brilliant scientist, one a garage mechanic. It’s no mystery to us which will eventually be chosen, as the episode opens with a prologue set during the accelerator explosion in which promising high-school football star Jax Jackson (Franz Drameh) is knocked for a loop by the blast. Caitlin, however, is much more inclined to go with Candidate No. 2, Henry Hewitt, a physicist with a healthy ego. It turns out Caitlin is a bit of a snob, so even though the evidence suggests Jax is a better match, she doesn’t think a mere working-class slob is worthy of the Firestorm mantle.

This is all about Caitlin coming to accept that the most suitable replacement for her dear, departed Ronnie may not be the refined brainiac but the more rough-edged kid who didn’t go to college, but the writing here is much more hammer-and-anvil than usual. Joe’s advice to Barry about opening his eyes to the possibility of love with Patty Spivot after so many years of mooning after Iris becomes a heavy-handed lesson strung throughout the episode. Open your eyes to new possibilities! The kid with the monkey wrench may actually make a better hero than the scientist in the lab coat! It’s not that this show is above this sort of moral-to-the-story, but it’s usually handled with a little more finesse. The way it’s repeatedly jammed down our throats here is straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon version of The Flash.

That’s not to say that Victor Garber and Franz Drameh don’t have amusing odd-couple potential, but the problem is that potential won’t be realized here. Once they are fused and they’ve defeated Hewitt’s Tokamak, they’re off to Pittsburgh and their new show Legends Of Tomorrow, coming this spring to the CW! It’s an ill-timed spinoff showcase that makes The Flash feel like a cog in the machine right when it should be establishing its own new normal of parallel worlds. Jay isn’t even around this week, and the arrival of Dr. Wells at the end of the last episode is barely paid off. He makes a fleeting appearance stalking Cisco at STAR Labs and another stealing a piece of equipment from Tina McGee at Mercury, but by the time he comes face-to-face with Barry, we’re out of time.

That’s not to say the episode is a total bust. Patty Spivot has evolved into a welcome presence in only a few short weeks, and Iris is finally in a position where she knows something nobody else does, namely that she has a brother (and Joe may have a son he doesn’t know about). Given the way she’s been treated as far as secrets are concerned, she’d be well within her rights to withhold that information, but since we know Wally West is on his way to this show sooner than later, that’s probably not going to happen. As for Barry, he was practically a supporting character in his own show this week. That’s fine once in a while, but here’s hoping his encounter with Wells-2 takes center stage next week.


Stray observations

  • In the plus column, the Firestorm effects are still pretty cool. Enjoy them soon on Legends Of Tomorrow, a new superhero show you may have heard about!
  • Part of me hopes that’s not all the King Shark we ever get… and yet, that would be pretty funny.