I wish I had a quantum splicer so I could separate the good stuff in ”The Nuclear Man” from the parts that don’t work at all. So far The Flash has done a solid job of balancing superheroics and comic book logic with believable human relationships, but this week the traditional CW aesthetic knocked that balance out of whack. The introduction of Linda Park should have provided a welcome break from the Barry/Iris histrionics, but instead it only amplified them.
True, Barry’s courtship of Linda did supply a few laughs at the notion that being the fastest man alive would be a liability in the sack, and when Barry starts to vibrate as his sexual excitement builds, it at first appears the show is going where no Flash comic ever went (in my childhood, at least). The situation is left unresolved when Barry is called away on superhero business, and Linda’s standoffish reaction at their next meeting suggests that her character has been introduced solely to make Iris look more appealing by comparison. That theory is quickly debunked as Iris blows up Barry’s spot by telling Linda that her new beau is still hung up on someone else and leaving little mystery as to who that someone is.
That this impasse is resolved with Barry threatening to eat a ghost pepper unless Linda agrees to go on another date with him is too cutesy-creepy for this episode, particularly coming as it does when Caitlin is literally faced with seeing the man she loves destroyed in a nuclear explosion. The tonal shift between the Iris/Barry/Linda triangle and the Firestorm storyline (as well as the investigation into Nora Allen’s murder) is so jarring it really does feel as if two different shows have been fused together.
“The Nuclear Man” works better as a Firestorm origin story, giving us flashbacks to fill in the blanks dating back to the accelerator explosion…and actually a few hours before, when Barry met Dr. Martin Stein (Victor Garber) on a train. Stein brought his FIRESTORM experiment with him to the accelerator launch, with predictably haywire results: He was fused with Ronnie Raymond, with the result comprising his brain and Ronnie’s body (although Ronnie’s consciousness is still in there somewhere). His memories scrambled, Stein visits his wife, but she is unable to recognize him in his new body. He also visits former colleague Dr. Quentin Quale, with nearly disastrous results when he erupts in flame. The STAR Labs team is able to bring him in, get his mental state under control with medication, and devise a plan to separate Stein from Ronnie.
Robbie Amell isn’t necessarily up to the task of channeling Victor Garber, but he gives the Ronnie/Stein hybrid a stiff, slightly pompous delivery that works well enough. Danielle Panabaker conveys Caitlin’s emotional confusion about Ronnie’s semi-return so convincingly as to make the Iris/Barry/Linda stuff look even worse in retrospect. The “badlands” backdrop for the climactic scene made for a refreshing change from the usual Central City environs, even if the resolution to the Firestorm splicing experiment will have to wait until next week (complicated by the return of Clancy Brown’s General Wade Eiling).
The other storyline this week found the mismatched buddy pairing of Cisco and Joe West investigating the murder of Barry’s mother. The potential humor of this team-up wasn’t quite realized, mainly because someone thought it would be so much more hilarious to have a horny cougar on the scene. (It really wasn’t so much more hilarious.) The process of investigating a 15-year-old crime scene needed some dubious comic-book science to make it work, in this case Cisco constructing a 3D holographic replica of the murder scene from an old mirror. I don’t think there’s much more than a two percent chance that Cisco is eventually revealed as a stealth villain, even though he is responsible for giving Captain Cold his gun and releasing Pied Piper from supervillain Supermax, but his mastery of that mirror? That’s food for thought, Flash fans.
The highlight of the episode is the revelation that Barry’s blood was found at the scene of his mother’s murder, and that it was definitely the adult Barry’s blood. Now that Joe knows time travel is in play, things should really get interesting…as long as Barry’s love life doesn’t continue to resemble a ‘90s Freddie Prinze Jr. movie.
- CGI fire effects are usually terrible, but they work well enough in the context of a nuclear man; another example of The Flash exceeding the expectations of a TV visual effects budget.
- No, Robbie Amell, I will not be seeing your new movie The Duff.