Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Flash Comes Into Focus Around “The Nuclear Man!”

The Good: Character development, Plot progression, Performances
The Bad: Still a bit crowded on the plot front
The Basics: The story of Ronnie Raymond comes to a head as Joe lets Cisco in on his suspicions in “The Nuclear Man!”

The last few episodes of The Flash have been unfortunately scattered, developing several plotlines at once (with a bunch of them being either inconsequential or unfortunately soap operatic in the tradition of many shows on The CW). Between the build-up of finally having a genuine guest star appearance for Victor Garber and having two major plotlines that have been slowly developing coming to a head, “The Nuclear Man” offers a solid change for The Flash and a marked improvement over the prior few episodes. That is not to say that “The Nuclear Man” is devoid of soap opera-like elements of the story, but they play well and become a part of some genuine character development for Barry Allen, Iris West, and Cisco Ramone.

Picking up shortly after “Crazy For You” (reviewed here), “The Nuclear Man” fills in backstory and brings the Ronnie Raymond plotline to a head. The episode has some problematic minutiae associated with it, mostly in fleshing out backstory, but it still manages to be a very satisfying hour of television.

While Barry Allen is out on a date with Linda Park, making quick sidetrips to save people, Ronnie Raymond/Martin Stein (they are sharing Ronnie’s body following the accident with the S.T.A.R. Labs reactor) attacks one of his former colleagues. The next day, while Barry, Cisco and Dr. Snow discuss the potential dangers of Barry having sex, the gang is recalled to S.T.A.R. Labs. There, Barry realizes he has met Dr. Stein before and Snow confirms for Wells that she is on his side with trying to capture Ronnie. Cisco, meanwhile, goes with Joe to the house Barry’s mother was murdered in. There, Joe – who is being flirted with by the new owner of the house, Sherry – and Cisco use new technology to scan for clues that might exonerate Henry Allen.

While the S.T.A.R. Labs team tracks down Stein, who is quite aggressive, Joe and Cisco find blood clues at Nora Allen’s house. With the help of Dr. Stein’s wife, the S.T.A.R. Labs team is able to bring in Ronnie Raymond/Stein. After cleaning up, Dr. Snow runs tests on him while Barry confronts Iris because Linda has gone cold on him. Dr. Wells realizes that the exothermic reaction going on inside Ronnie’s body is going to lead to a nuclear explosion. While the team tries to figure out how to save Stein, Cisco begins to notice the character traits that Joe warned him about as he tries to match the blood samples they found at the Allen house.

The details really bring down “The Nuclear Man.” First, Barry Allen is an expert in physics who idolizes Dr. Wells at the outset of the series. If Dr. Stein is one of the big competitors with Wells in the field, it seems strange that Allen would not know his work or recognize him. In other words, just because one can recognize Stephen Hawking, there’s no reason they would not recognize Albert Einstein. Similarly, when Barry and Harrison Wells go to visit Martin Stein’s wife, Clarissa, they learn that she has seen Martin in Ronnie’s body. The thing is, that either seems like something someone would mention at the outset or information Barry would have been privy to in his job at the police station. It seems shortsighted that if there was an open police investigation for a missing person (Martin Stein) that the police would have recorded the incident where a “stranger” broke into Clarissa’s house, claiming to be Martin. Finally, throughout “The Nuclear Man,” there is a discussion of where Dr. Stein’s body is. The clue that led Cisco on a search for Dr. Stein, was a blast shadow, the shadow of a vaporized individual. The search for Dr. Stein’s body is like looking for a victim of the Hiroshima blast after they found the blast shadow of the person they were looking for.

The only other real issues with the episode are the lack of directness in Harrison Wells’ approach and the performance by Robbie Amell. Amell might be a fine actor, but in “The Nuclear Man” Amell should be playing Victor Garber. The weakness of “The Nuclear Man” is that Victor Garber appears as Dr. Stein and we hear his voice, his cadence. Amell does not satisfactorily replicate Garber’s patter (but he takes his shirt off, so director Greg Winter hopes you won’t notice). With the threat that the F.I.R.E.S.T.O.R.M. matrix will go nuclear, Harrison Wells faces a difficult choice . . . which he wants to keep from a man who is his intellectual equal. In other words, lines like “if you were to ask Dr. Stein, he would agree,” really do not work when the guy is in the next room and they could actually ask him!

That said, much of “The Nuclear Man” works exceptionally well. The plotline involving Iris West sabotaging the relationship Barry and Linda are developing is an interesting one. It had the chance to really backfire and come across as melodramatic or childish. Instead, it is executed in a way that makes it seem like Iris West is emotionally confused and legitimately jealous. Barry’s determination to make the new relationship work at all costs is a bit more nebulously presented, but it can easily be justified as his sincere desire to move on following Iris more or less rejecting him.

The real magic in “The Nuclear Man” comes not from the Barry Allen and Martin Stein plotlines, but rather from the burgeoning relationship between Cisco and Joe West. For a few episodes, Joe and Cisco have been making aside comments and in “The Nuclear Man,” they actually team up. Joe confides in Cisco and that is a trust and bond that leaps their relationship forward. It also sets up an interesting dynamic where, in the near future, the viewer can expect a break between Cisco and Wells. Cisco is not dumb and in the last scenes of the episode, he notices the traits Joe has him looking for. In addition to good banter and a confidant for Joe, Cisco gets a new father figure for the inevitable loss of respect he will have for Wells when the truth comes out (assuming the truth is not revealed at the same time Joe West is – as it is inevitable in these shows – killed off). Cisco and Joe are on the cusp of explicitly stating that time travel is a factor in the speedster’s lives and “The Nuclear Man” and if the execution of that revelation is as good as the build-up, viewers of The Flash have a lot to be excited for.

As it stands, “The Nuclear Man” solidly moves forward the serialized plots of The Flash without diminishing the show. The break in the formula works and is easy to recommend!

For other works with Isabella Hofmann, please visit my reviews of:
The Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement
Homicide: The Movie
Homiicide: Life On The Street

[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 and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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