While I understand the need for The Flash to set up the mid-season spinoff Legends of Tomorrow, I can’t ignore how it’s affected the show. This season thus far feels like it’s lurching forward, but we haven’t really gotten to the main story. This was painfully clear when it came to Earth-2 Harrison Wells. Last time we saw him, he crossed over through the portal in the basement of STAR Labs. This week, while we watch what amounts to the origin story of Firestorm 2.0, Wells somehow slinks through STAR Labs without anyone noticing. What’s he eating? Where is he sleeping? Is security really that bad there that no one has any inkling that there’s someone inside that shouldn’t be? I’m being harsh on The Flash mostly because I know most of what we’ve seen thus far isn’t sticking around. I don’t expect this dynamic to change for a few more episodes. But at least “The Fury of Firestorm” is a delightful take on the superhero origin story.
This episode opens with a flashback during the joyous aftermath of a high-school football game where quarterback Jefferson “Jax” Jackson is feeling euphoric. His coach lets him know there were scouts in the audience who were taken by his performance. The world is seemingly at his fingertips. At least until he notices the explosion of STAR Labs’ particle accelerator approaching on the horizon. He makes time to warn everyone and help a friend in crutches. But those few seconds of heroism dramatically change his life. He’s unable to make it inside and close the door before the explosion hits, flying him against the wall and changing his genetics. It also means his hopes for a scholarship and a football career are gone.
This background of hardship lets us know pretty quickly that the Firestorm 2.0 origin story is going to hit the major beats we’ve come to expect from these kind of narratives. It works, for the most part. Much of which is thanks to Professor Stein (always a welcome presence) and Jax’s chemistry with the rest of the cast.
In the present day, Professor Stein is struggling to stay alive. Without Ronnie, he has no stabilizing force as the Firestorm matrix continues to wreck his body until he explodes — unless they’re able to find another match to become the other half of Firestorm 2.0. It’s Caitlin who figures all this out, since she’s been doing research on her own. They narrow down to two black men, including a successful scientist (Hewitt) and Jax, who is now working as a mechanic. Barry gets a blood sample from each — not by asking for it, of course. Super speed comes in handy, doesn’t it? They show signs of the genetic mutation needed to fuse with Stein as a result of the explosion.
Team Flash goes to work, meeting with Hewitt and Jax to get a feel for them before making the monumental decision about who will be the next other half of Firestorm. But Caitlin isn’t feeling Jax from the jump. To her, his lack of a college education and work as a mechanic makes him pale in comparison to Hewitt, even though Jax is a better match genetically. I appreciated that Barry calls her out on her uncomfortable reasoning. But we quickly learn how wrong Caitlin is when she jumps the gun, getting Hewitt to the labs to fuse with Stein.
Hewitt, to quote Cisco, has an “ego the size of Texas.” He also has a terrible anger problem. None of that seems to matter when he’s unable to fuse with Stein. It does have an unintended side effect, activating Hewitt’s latent abilities. Coupled with his anger issues, he becomes a literal hothead, though he doesn’t have all the same Firestorm powers. Caitlin’s overeagerness to bring another scientist aboard ends up creating another villain instead.
When they finally tell Jax the truth about why they’ve lured him to the labs, he finds the whole thing crazy. Who wouldn’t? Jax has just found solid ground after losing the future he thought he’d have. Deciding to be a superhero, especially one who fuses with a man he barely knows, isn’t a decision anyone should take lightly. Caitlin doesn’t take his reluctance that well and calls him a failure. If her anger were positioned as her being uncomfortable with anyone taking over Ronnie’s old position rather than ugly elitism, I’d take it better.
But this week’s episode is all about second chances and characters making decisions. So, of course, Jax embraces the chance to be a hero eventually. But Caitlin’s odd reaction to him left a bad taste in my mouth. When she screams, “Clearly he’s trying to make something of his life,” the show unintentionally steps into some uncomfortable respectability politics. Caitlin’s issues with Jax are rank with classism, elitism, and the kind of poisonous expectations of what it takes to be the “right” kind of black man in today’s society. Weighty issues for a show like this.
When looking at this next to the story line of Francine West being a drug addict, I think we can track the limits of the show’s narrative. The Flash’s version of Earth-1 is nearly utopian. Racism and homophobia don’t quite seem to exist in the world of the show. This dynamic isn’t trying to make a point — it’s just a simpler way for the writers to frame the zany, Silver Age–esque stories, which has worked pretty well until now. But is The Flash trying to be more nuanced? If so, it isn’t working.
Thankfully, Caitlin sees the error of her ways, and she goes to Jax to convince him that it’s worthwhile to be Firestorm. She of course brings up Ronnie. But what’s most interesting is how she sells it as a second chance for Jax. It isn’t the life he wanted, but maybe it’s the life he needs. The tender moment is cut short when Hewitt interrupts to show off his new abilities.
Jackson chucks a tool at Hewitt’s head, which knocks him out long enough for them to escape to the labs. When they arrive, what they were using to stabilize Stein tapped out 30 minutes ago, meaning if they’re going to fuse, they need to do it now.
It’s a fun moment, and I already like the dynamic we get to see between Jax and Stein. But the choice for Hewitt to attack the school stadium where Jackson got hurt during the explosion is way too on-the-nose.
The final fight between Hewitt, the Flash, and Firestorm is a bit anticlimatic, and even corny at times. But I like the joyous zeal with which Jax embraces his new role in life. And seeing Barry jokingly taunt Hewitt while speeding around him reminded me of why I love this show in the first place. The dynamic between Jax and Stein is very different than what we saw with Ronnie, which looks like a good thing. Jax’s physicality brings a different feel to the partnership.
Once they’ve fused, they’re off to new adventures (and training), also known as the contractual obligation of Legends of Tomorrow. Before Stein exits, he gives Cisco some words of wisdom: “The very thing that makes you different makes you special,” which sounds ripped from an after-school special. But Stein makes a valid point. Cisco should embrace the unknown of his new abilities and tell his friends. After all, keeping secrets tends to backfire in this group.
Meanwhile, the writers remembered Iris and gave her something to do in regards to her mother’s introduction. Although she feels like she’s on a completely different show.
The first meeting between Francine, Joe, and Iris is awkward, to say the least. How are you supposed to act when the mother you thought was dead turns out to be very much alive and a former drug addict? Iris is cordial but cold, and has no interest in Francine coming into her life. She asks the questions we’re all thinking: Why is Francine here? Why now, after 20 years? But Iris isn’t buying her answers.
Things only get interesting with this story line when Iris meets Francine sans Joe and makes use of her investigative skills. She looked into Francine’s past to find out that she had a son eight months after leaving Central City. We don’t hear his name, but this previously unknown brother is none other than Wally West. And while Francine may leave the city again, Wally is definitely going to become an important aspect going forward. Will Iris keeping this a secret from Joe backfire, though? Of course it will.
The two minor plotlines this week overlap because of Wells. When not secretly meandering through the labs, Wells decides to make a pit stop at Mercury Labs. We don’t find out what he steals until the ending, but what’s more important is who saw him: Dr. McGee. She’s known Wells for a long time, recognizing him right away, which stuns her since he’s supposed to be dead. She enlists Joe’s help (who brings along his new partner, Patty), to figure out the truth. The problem with this? Patty is a terrible liar, and knows she will struggle to keep a secret from Barry. Isn’t some subterfuge necessary for being a detective?
Patty asks for Barry’s help with a potential metahuman case. She finds what she thinks are the teeth of what an eyewitness describes as a man-shark. Which seems like an outlandish metahuman, even to Barry. The scene plays as expected. She’s cutesy and quirky. He stumbles over his words in kind. It’s forced. There’s no chemistry. You know the drill.
What’s new is that Joe actually encourages Barry to go for Patty. In an episode all about second chances, Patty represents his. Or at least the writers want us to think that. I’m not buying it. But I know Patty is going to be around for a while, with her terrible line-readings and forced quirkiness in every scene.
Barry’s science may be right, but his conclusion about the man-shark is wrong. There is a humanoid shark rampaging around Central City. Considering how big he is, I’m surprised there weren’t more witnesses. Which he learns the hard way when he spots Patty in the coffee shop and stares lovingly at her, only for King Shark to blindside him. Patty valiantly races out and fires at the metahuman. But the bullets don’t even seem to tickle. And surprise, surprise, he’s another Zoom recruit from Earth-2. But a gun blasting a blue beam of energy saves them both from being shark food. Who is the masked man handling the gun? It’s none other than Earth-2 Wells, which obviously brings up conflicting feelings for Barry when he sees him face to face.
The Flash is a fun show, but the seams are showing. I mean, where else am I going to see such a bold array of comic villains, like King Shark, Gorilla Grodd, and Zoom? But most of what has been newly introduced this season hasn’t felt well integrated. For example, where is Jay Garrick? Didn’t he decide to stay on Earth-1? No matter, I’m happy to see Wells back in the fold. But I’m curious to see how his presence affects everyone going forward.