The Flash – Recap: That’s Not the Person I Know
Recap and review of The Flash – Episode 12 – The Nuclear Man:
As The Flash deepens its mythology, it should become a more difficult job for the show to develop all these different characters, even when their storylines intersect as they do here. But “The Nuclear Man” does a tremendous job of balancing character development with worldbuilding.
The show develops its scientific/supernatural world by reintroducing Ronnie (Robbie Amell). Except…well, he’s not really Ronnie. He’s Firestorm. More specifically, he’s half-Ronnie, as the other entity — the one who’s actually in control of Ronnie’s body — is Dr. Martin Stein (Victor Garber). The two were fused together on the night of the Particle Accelerator explosion, resulting in the two men sharing a body and mind, and some crazy powers that are quickly getting out of control. Unless the team comes up with a way to separate the two men, Ronnie will go nuclear, and that’ll be the end of all life in Central City. Yet, while this is about as urgent a story as any episode could possibly have, the episode is less about the immediate danger than it is about attempting to reconnect Ronnie — and Dr. Stein — with their respective roots, as neither man is able to reclaim the life he once led. Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) is naturally beside herself, uncertain whether to feel hope at Ronnie’s return, or despair at his condition. Meanwhile, Stein’s wife, Clarissa, is confused by what’s happened to her husband, initially calling the cops on him, since Ronnie doesn’t exactly look like her husband, no matter how much he insists that he is. Firestorm (both Ronnie and Stein) wants to be accepted, while simultaneously acknowledging that he won’t be, due to his condition.
Similarly, Barry (Grant Gustin) is searching for acceptance from Linda Park (Malese Jow), who is having trouble reconciling Barry’s interest in her with his seeming desire never to be around her. Granted, it’s not as if Barry would prefer not to be around Linda, but rather that he has little choice. As The Flash, and as a CSI, work has to come first. It’s a well-worn story for superheroes, the attempt to balance of love life with the demands of vigilantism. And while it should be a bit of an eye-rolling cliche, Gustin is such an earnest actor that he makes it work. We believe that Barry wants to make it work with Linda, and he’s even sincere enough to make me believe he means it when he tells Iris (Candice Patton) that he no longer has feelings for her. Of course, that could simply be because he’s trying to convince himself as much as he’s trying to convince Iris and Linda. Regardless, Barry goes out of his way to prove to Linda that he really likes her, and wants to make things work. Yes, Barry is The Flash, but he has a very human need — to be loved. And so he fights to get Linda back, even going as far as to make a fool out of himself in front of her entire office by threatening to eat a ghost pepper unless she gives him another chance. Naturally, he eats the pepper and ends up vomiting from the heat. But he at least wins Linda back, sealing it with a passionate speech about how neither work nor inhibitions will come between them again. Maybe it’ll work with Linda, and maybe it won’t. But for Barry, his life has to be more than just being The Flash, in much the same way Ronnie’s life (and Stein’s) has to be more than being Firestorm.
As for Joe (Jesse L. Martin), his mission of redemption continues. He doubted Barry as a child, and doubted Henry as well. So he remains committed to discovering the truth about the death of Nora Allen. And this time, he’s continuing the investigation without Barry’s knowledge. Instead, he gets Cisco (Carlos Valdes) in on the proceedings, and it results in some interesting findings. Procuring images from the night of Nora’s death from a mirror (because science, I guess), Cisco is able to reveal a glimpse at the speedster who was there that night. The evidence leads them to a mark on the wall underneath the wallpaper that the new owner of the old Allen house has used. That mark? Blood from the speedster. Joe wants the blood tested, believing there’s a good chance it belongs to Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh), but Cisco insists that he would never have committed this crime, arguing that Wells is “a great man” who brought him up from nothing. Joe pointedly responds that, as a cop, he’s encountered a lot of people who thought their loved ones were incapable of a crime they were later proved to have committed. Those witnesses would always stick up for their loved ones with the same phrase: “That’s not the person I know.” Ronnie/Stein isn’t the same person Caitlin/Clarissa knew, as the Particle Accelerator has changed them. Similarly, Wells isn’t the person Cisco and the others know, even though they don’t realize it yet. And even Barry might not be the person everyone expects. When Cisco has the blood tested, it’s not the blood of Dr. Wells…it’s Barry’s blood. And it’s not his blood from childhood, it’s his blood from adulthood. Somehow, Barry must have traveled through time, because he was definitely there that night. It’s a theory that’s long been bandied about, that Barry may have somehow indirectly caused his mother’s death through time travel. At the very least, fans have theorized Barry was there that night. And now, it looks like they were right, although I wonder if Barry was alone, or if he was locked in battle with someone. Perhaps with the Reverse Flash? If nothing else, Wells’s alternate history newspaper suggests that time travel — or at least multiple alternate universes — is possible.
However, even if multiple universes are possible, that doesn’t make this one any less important. So Wells and Cisco do their best to create a quantum device that will allow Ronnie and Dr. Stein to be separated. Barry and Caitlin rush out to the tundra, where Dr. Stein has gone to commit suicide, hoping to save lives by preventing himself from going nuclear. He and Caitlin share one last kiss (“That one was from [Ronnie],” he says), and she then places the device on his chest. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to work, as Firestorm goes nuclear anyway, detonating just as Barry and Caitlin escape. It’s a heartwrenching moment, although I’d be absolutely stunned if this were really the end of the Firestorm arc, since there’s so much left to explore. And really, you don’t hire a guy like Victor Garber for just one episode. You also don’t hire Robbie Amell for an ongoing story arc just to have only one episode where he gets to actually do something. I fully expect Ronnie and Dr. Stein to be back, but that expectation doesn’t cheapen the dramatic developments here by any stretch, in my opinion. The show manages to make Ronnie’s connection with Caitlin poignant, even though they never really get to reunite properly. Hopefully, they get to in the future. If nothing else, there’s a likelihood Ronnie’s body might be discovered, since General Wade Eisling has been notified of the detonation, and has sent a team to investigate. Of all people, he should know pretty well about metahumans that go BOOM, considering his past with Plastique. I’m pretty stoked to see where this goes.
“The Nuclear Man” was yet another great episode in what’s been one of my favorite first seasons for a show in recent memory. The Flash has a clear, confident understanding of its genre, and is among the better representations of action-adventure storytelling on television right now. Have there been better episodes? Sure. But The Flash is building a stronger foundation for the future with each week. It’s sort of like a novel that gets better the deeper into it you get. Here’s hoping it proves as rewarding by the end of the season.
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