Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Iris Becomes Awesome As Everyone Takes A Leap With "The Fury Of Firestorm!"

The Good: Good performances, Excellent character development, Engaging plot, Special effects
The Bad: Formulaic plot/soap operatic character additions
The Basics: In a near-perfect episode, The Flash once again manages to impress with "The Fury Of Firestorm!"

The Flash has, arguably, been one of the most pleasant surprises for me on television in the last year. The series has engaging plots, interesting characters and the blend of experience and youth in the cast seems to factor out in favor of surprisingly good performances. As the second season of The Flash has picked up, it has started to feel like the show was plotted out for the season by episode for the serialized elements. It's like there's a board at an executive producer's office that has serialized elements on it and clear episode ideas for the second season: Seal wormhole, Firestorm, Dr. Wells encounters Barry, etc. As a result, the second and third episodes of the second season have annoyingly similar endings: Dr. Stein collapses and an alternate-Earth's Harrison Wells looks eerily at the camera.

Well, that hypothetical plot board has finally gotten up to the big a-plot reading "Firestorm episode" and the episode is "The Fury Of Firestorm." With Dr. Stein's part so far in the second season being mostly to survive the season premiere when Ronnie Raymond did not and then collapse to foreshadow to viewers that the F.I.R.E.S.T.O.R.M. Matrix is unstable, the writers and executive producers delayed the problem that seemed like a pretty immediate issue. "The Fury Of Firestorm" picks up after "Family Of Rogues" (reviewed here!) and only references that episode in that Dr. Stein begins the episode collapsed.

Opening two years ago, Jefferson Jackson is a promising high school athlete who is likely to get picked up by a college ball team when the particle accelerator exploded. Jackson worked to get his teammates away from the blast, but he was wounded in the wave and he became one of two remaining people in Central City whose bodies were altered by the particle accelerator to become receptive to the Firestorm Matrix. Back in the "present," Dr. Stein is temporarily stabilized by Cisco, but the search begins for another person who might be able to merge with Dr. Stein to stabilize the Firestorm matrix. While the team works to determine the compatibility of Jefferson Jackson and Henry Hewitt with Dr. Stein, Barry returns to work where Patty Spivot presents him with a shark's tooth and a potential case: a metahuman who might be a giant land shark!

Dr. Snow brings Henry Hewitt back to S.T.A.R. Labs after Barry and Dr. Stein strike out with Jefferson Jackson, who does not want to be part of the Firestorm project. But when Cisco's stopgap cane for Dr. Stein runs low on power, Hewitt and Stein attempt to merge and the attempt fails. At Mercury Labs, Dr. McGee witnesses Harrison Wells stealing something from the lab and asks Joe West to investigate the matter. Joe asks Patty not to talk with Barry about the theft, which Patty is uncomfortable with. After Jefferson comes to S.T.A.R. Labs to learn about what has been done to him from the dark matter wave, he rejects the idea of merging with Dr. Stein and Dr. Snow snaps at him. As Dr. Stein's condition gets worse, Snow makes a more personal appeal to Jackson and he comes around just as Hewitt shows his true colors and goes nuclear on Central City!

While the title tries to prioritize the Firestorm plotline, the real story of "The Fury Of Firestorm" is how awesome Iris West suddenly becomes! Iris has a subplot involving her meeting her biological mother and she resists her mother's lies. The relationship between Joe and Iris deepens and Iris approaches her mother with an adult perspective and she does not let faux-emotionalism influence her decisions in regard to her mother. Joe further proves his own awesomeness as a father by not pressuring Iris to accept her mother in any way.

Fans of the DC Comics are likely to feel a little baffled coming into "The Fury Of Firestorm." In the first season, Jason Rusch was introduced and he was one of the Firestorms in the comic books upon which the DC Television Universe is based. Jefferson Jackson is in the New Earth DC Comics, but it seems weird to add yet another Firestorm when there is one not being used.

"The Fury Of Firestorm" is packed with surprisingly awesome performances. Danielle Panabaker is delightfully passionate in the episode as Dr. Snow and Carlos Valdes gives another performance that effectively blends intelligence and humor. Grant Gustin and Shantel VanSanten continue to explore the depths of on-screen chemistry that Barry and Patty Spivot can possess. They are thoroughly charming in "The Fury Of Firestorm" and the chemistry between Gustin and VanSanten makes the paternal advice Joe West gives Barry feel entirely credible.

Interestingly, the worst performance in "The Fury Of Firestorm" comes from Demore Barnes . . . and his performance can easily be brushed off as establishing the character. Barnes plays Henry Hewitt and from the first moment he appears on screen, he has anger in his eyes. Barnes might just have been adding a subtle clue to the character's defects before it is made obvious, but he Hewitt never seems like a good guy the way Barnes plays him. Barnes plays a man with anger issues exceptionally well, though!

Amid all the character development and great performances, there is an annoying subtext that comes in from adding soap opera conceits to The Flash. Francine West claims to be dying and that leads Iris to dig up her mother's other secret. The whole dying abandoned parent thing is played out and the best thing "The Fury Of Firestorm" does is have Iris take a firm stand against Francine regardless of her potential mortality. In the episode, the viewer does not know for sure if Francine is lying about her fatal condition or not; the refreshing aspect is that Iris takes a stand that makes the truth irrelevant and that is refreshing to see. It also allows Candice Patton to give an awesome performance.

"The Fury Of Firestorm" might seem formulaic with the way Jax is offered the choice, turns away, comes around, but the episode flows incredibly well. As well, the special effects in the episode are awesome and they lend a credibility to the fantastic universe presented in the episode. The convergence of the various plotlines is remarkable and well-executed making "The Fury Of Firestorm" an episode that is exciting to watch and re-watch!

For the other episodes in which Firestorm appears, check out my reviews of:
"The Man Who Saved Central City"
"Fast Enough"
"Rogue Air"
"The Nuclear Man"
"The Man In The Yellow Suit"
"Flash Vs. Arrow"
"Things You Can't Outrun"


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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