‘The Flash’ Review: ‘The Fury of Firestorm’ Focuses on the Responsibilities of Heroism
Recap and review of The Flash – Season 2 Episode 4 – The Fury of Firestorm:
The Flash is frequently a show about heroism. But what happens when you don’t particularly want to be a hero? “The Fury of Firestorm” focuses on the responsibilities of heroism, since it’s no little thing to accept the role of a superhero. You’re giving up a part of yourself in service to something more, and that’s a compelling narrative to look into, even while it isn’t exactly anything new for the superhero genre to explore.
The A-story this week is fairly straightforward: Dr. Stein (Victor Garber) only has days to live, since his body is deteriorating as a result of not having anyone to bond with as Firestorm. So Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco (Carlos Valdes) research two men affected by the Particle Accelerator explosion whose altered DNA makes them candidates for the merge. There’s world-class scientist Dr. Henry Hewitt and former high school quarterback Jefferson “Jax” Jackson (Franz Drameh). It’s clear where the story is headed, particularly considering what the show is telling us about heroism. Hewitt’s over-eager attitude about joining with Stein basically tells us there’s no real chance he’s going to become the new Firestorm, because it’s obvious that he doesn’t want to join for heroism’s sake, but rather out of his own selfish, scientific curiosity. But we see the flashback in which Jax gets hit with a blast from the Particle Accelerator. In fact, he only gets hit because he’s helping an injured friend make it to safety before the blast overtakes them. From the very start, we know Jax is a hero deep down, even if the loss of his football career (due to the injury has sustained in the blast) has made him bitter and resentful. It’s a lot like Joseph Campbell’s mythical Hero’s Journey, in which any hero worth his salt is initially resistant to the call of heroism, whether it’s Luke Skywalker, Spider-Man or even Bilbo Baggins. And so it is with Jax, who insists he’s no hero and doesn’t even want to be. He just wants to forget all about the Particle Accelerator, and the accident that robbed him of his one shot at going to college.
What’s interesting here is that while it’s entirely expected that Jax is inevitably going to be the one to take over for the late Ronnie as Stein’s partner, the episode still goes through the whole character arc, illustrating why Jax has grown bitter, and giving him a crucial moment that reawakens the heroic spirit inside of him. In this case, it’s when Hewitt — angry at having been rejected for the Firestorm project, and showing latent Firestorm-like powers that he blames on the compatibility test with Stein — attacks both he and Caitlin at Jax’s garage. Seeing that kind of power so wildly abused, and recognizing the threat that this kind of bitter metahuman represents, Jax feels it’s his duty to bond with Stein. The episode never presents it to us as though Jax has no choice. He very much has agency here, and could easily have backed out. But he chooses the hero’s path, because it’s the right thing to do, even after Barry (Grant Gustin) warns him that there’s no turning back after this. And so Jax becomes Firestorm with Stein, and he and The Flash team up to take down Hewitt at the old football field where Jax suffered his career-ending injury. It’s such a succinct story to tell, but it’s a great illustration of the differences between real heroes and false ones, as Hewitt is bitter and jealous that Jax was chosen instead of him. Whereas Jax views his abilities as a gift and a responsibility, Hewitt wants them as a sort of symbol of his own self-worth. In short, Hewitt is wholly incompatible with the selflessness necessary for heroism, and seeing him get taken down by Barry and Jax is a truly satisfying climax. Drameh is terrific in the role, and really sells the hero’s journey, and the weight of responsibility. Jax is someone who’s easy to root for, and I think a lot of that has to do with Drameh’s performance here. Also of note, the visual effects are on-point tonight, showing two versions of Firestorm battling it out, and then culminating with a shocking conclusion that I honestly didn’t see coming…
Throughout the episode, Barry has been approached by Patty (Shantel VanSanten) about reports of a “man-shark” prowling around Central City. Barry doesn’t really take the findings seriously, especially once he runs a test on a tooth found at the site of one of the attacks, and determines that the sample is 100% human. However, in the final moments of the episode, The Flash drops by to look in on Patty…only to get attacked by a HUGE FREAKING SHARK MAN! The visuals on King Shark are absolutely outstanding for a show with The Flash’s budget, as he looks both supernatural and imposing, and far less ridiculous than such a creature probably should look. Barry and Patty struggle against the hopeless odds, with King Shark proving invulnerable to bullets. But then, out of nowhere, King Shark gets taken down with a blast of blue energy. The person who’s come to Barry’s rescue? It’s Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) from Earth 2! Naturally, Barry is shocked to see his old mentor/enemy staring him in the face, and he’s once again faced with another choice that would weigh heavily on any hero: give this guy a shot, on the possibility that he’s different from the Harrison Wells that manipulated them all last year? Or take him out now, and ask questions later? We don’t find out Barry’s choice, but it’s an undoubtedly interesting quandary for the STAR Labs team to face, especially after everything they’ve been through. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out.
Once again, however, the show finds its most emotional arc in the story centering on Iris (Candice Patton). She agrees to meet with her estranged mother, Francine, but only to tell her that she wants nothing to do with the woman. Of course, Francine is quick to go to Joe (Jesse L. Martin) and tell him that the reason she’s desperate to reconnect with Iris is because she’s dying as a result of her years of drug use. In the wake of this information, Iris decides to give Francine one last shot — only to discover that her mother STILL isn’t being truthful. Yes, Francine IS really dying, but she neglected to mention that she gave birth to a son eight months after leaving Joe. So we’re faced with one of two possibilities: either Francine cheated on Joe and had a baby by someone else, or she became pregnant by Joe and ran off with his son, never allowing the boy to know his father. Both possibilities are terrible, since it means Iris has a long-lost family member out there who’s been hidden from her all these years. What I love about this twist, however, is that it’s a revelation Iris finds out on her own. Through her detective work, the show reminds us of her considerable skills as an investigative journalist, and illustrates that she’s someone who won’t be emotionally manipulated anymore. I kind of love the person Iris has become, more strong-willed and less prone to being the damsel in distress. She makes her own choices, and this means shutting out her mother for good, even at the loss of a brother (although I’m sure we’ll get to meet ol’ Wally West sooner rather than later).
While The Flash still deals with some of the usual story beats, whether it’s touching on Cisco’s developing powers (and his anxiety over them, which Dr. Stein seeks to alleviate by encouraging him to view this powers as a gift) or Barry’s unresolved feelings for Iris (which Joe encourages him to get over by exploring a relationship with Patty). But it’s the foray into the duties of heroism that has the most dramatic weight. Hopefully, we get Jay Garrick back soon, now that we’re going to be going deeper into the ramifications of the portals to Earth 2, what with Wells coming back from a different dimension. Either way, this show has been killing it so far this season, and I’m stoked to see how these characters and relationships are developing.
But what did you think of The Flash, “The Fury of Firestorm”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on The Flash, check out our review of last week’s powerful episode, “Family of Rogues”!