Thursday, November 13, 2014

Character Is All That Saves The Dubious Science Of “Plastique!”

The Good: Good effects, Decent character development
The Bad: Erratic acting, Predictable plot, Terrible science
The Basics: Despite being an enjoyable episode, “Plastique” falls apart fast upon rewatching.

It has been a good week for guest stars on shows that I like. Over on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Joel Gretsch made an appearance for “The Writing On The Wall” (reviewed here!) and I was psyched to see that one of my favorites, Clancy Brown, was making an appearance on the new episode of The Flash, “Plastique.” Unfortunately for my hopeful expectations for Clancy Brown, his guest starring role as General Wade Eiling in “Plastique” left me underwhelmed. Brown is predictably wonderful, but he is given far less screentime and his character is given far less substance than the “metahuman of the week,” Plastique, played pretty poorly by Kelly Frye.

That said, “Plastique” has some decent moments, but almost all of them involve banter and character development. “Plastique” picks up after “Going Rogue” (reviewed here!) and keeps The Flash serialized through character moments like Joe referencing Iris and Eddie dating and an allusion by Caitlin to Felicity Smoake, who appeared in “Going Rogue.” But beyond the charm factor of “Plastique,” the episode is very much a typical “villain of the week” episode and while there is something decent about finally introducing another metahuman who is not a psychopath. Bette San Souci is Plastique and she is arguably the most mundane and disappointing aspect of “Plastique.”

Barry Allen is out with Iris, Eddie, Cisco and Caitlin, where he is bummed to realize that alcohol has no real effect on him any longer. A break-in at a Central City skyscraper leaves a window-washer imperiled. Eddie runs off in his professional capacity and Barry transforms into the Flash to rescue the window-washer. Investigating the next day, Barry is able to discover the file that the thief was after and Joe Allen and Eddie Thawne are taken off the case when General Eiling appears and demands all of the materials the Central City Police Department has collected. Eiling and Dr. Harrison Wells have a history together – Eiling wanted to weaponize some of Wells’s research – and as S.T.A.R. Labs hunts down Bette San Souci, who they’ve identified as the thief who has metahuman abilities to blow things up with her touch.

After trying to convince Iris to stop writing about “the streak” in her anonymous blog, Barry manages to bring Bette in. As S.T.A.R. Labs tries to study Bette, who Cisco has a crush on, Eiling pursues her using a tracking bullet lodged in her shoulder. Iris escalates her writing about the streak, much to Barry’s and Joe’s chagrin. When Eiling’s pursuit of Bette leads him directly to S.T.A.R. Labs, Wells tasks her to eliminate Eiling before leaving town!

There are plenty of shows that have used characters who have the ability to cause spontaneous combustion. Unfortunately, “Plastique” might be one of the very worst. First, Bette Sans Souci is characterized as a victim of the wave that passed through Central City ten months prior; she involuntarily causes anything she touches to blow up. Her explosive transformative abilities are not limited to organic matter – Barry Allen’s suit, a backpack, and a frisbee are all shown affected by her touch. So, the immediate question I had while watching “Plastique” was “how the hell does this woman get dressed?!” Cisco points out many times how attractive Bette is, but after ten months without changing her clothes (which should have been the case) or brushing her hair (another detail the writers and director of the episode completely missed out on), she should look pretty horrible.

Beyond the simple problem of a person who transforms matter into explosives with her touch, “Plastique” falls down on the science front in the most unfortunate of ways. Plastique is explained as having been transformed into a human bomb/bomb-maker by the dark matter’s interaction with “bomb particulate” in her body. The thing is, “bomb particulate” is not a thing. Shrapnel in Bette Sans Souci would be inert matter and any explosive material in her body would either explode or require a detonator. In other words, any chemical compounds in her body would not actually be the generic “explosive matter” or “bomb particulate” that the show tries to write it off as. I suppose that this shoddy science is to be expected from a show that assumes that its audience is too stupid or inexperienced to know that the Explosive Ordnance Division deals with “bombs” (Cisco defines “E.O.D.” as “bombs” in an uncharacteristically lowbrow moment for the episode).

That type of stupidity also leads to the ridiculous abrogation of science at the episode’s climax. A 500 proof fluid would be 250% alcohol, which is not chemically possible. The inclusion of Barry Allen and an alcohol subplot is actually disturbing. In “Plastique,” Allen actually consciously tries to drown his emotional frustrations in regard to Iris with alcohol. He finds himself metabolizing the alcohol too fast for it to have any effect on him; his friends enable him as opposed to attempting to help him solve his emotional problems. These are terrible people.

“Plastique” does have good banter, though. It’s cute watching Cisco develop a crush and Caitlin menace him with a lobotomy – though her easy attraction to Eddie seems uncharacteristic for someone who was recently engaged. Given that her lost finance was at least as good looking as Rick Cosnett’s Thawne, Caitlin’s attraction to Thawne is simplistic. And, for as cute as Joe’s “Tuesday in Central City” comment was, it was done by Buffy The Vampire Slayer more than a decade ago; a fact unlikely to escape much of the audience for The Flash considering the target demographics for both shows are identical.

While Clancy Brown and Tom Cavanagh share a couple of wonderfully-performed scenes as Eiling and Wells and Jesse L. Martin is given another chance to infuse Detective West with intelligence and charm when he reveals yet again how observant he is about human emotions, Danielle Panabaker and Kelly Frye illustrate that the CW is casting much more for looks than talent for The Flash. Panabaker continues to have flat deliveries, even when Dr. Snow is supposed to be quirky or fun and Kelly Frye’s Bette is one of the least well-rendered characters so far. Bette is supposed to be tortured by her inability to touch and connect, but she is surprisingly untraumatized and normal. The result is a character who is conceptually interesting, but appears on-screen as yet another good-looking young woman in the DC Universe who skates by on appearance as opposed to substance.

“Plastique” implies that it will be an essential episode of The Flash by creating a conflict between Eiling and Wells. But showing Grodd on-screen, his existence at S.T.A.R. Labs was clearly established through seeing his twisted cage in “City Of Heroes” (reviewed here!), is not even enough to justify watching “Plastique” more than once!

For other works with Patrick Sabongui, please check out my reviews of:
The Smurfs 2
Warm Bodies
The Cabin In The Woods
Sucker Punch
Tron: Legacy

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into The Flash - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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