Since its middling premiere, The Flash has been on an upward trajectory. Each successive week has brought a better effort, capping with last night’s “The Fury of Firestorm,” the season’s best outing and the best hour since last year’s phenomenal finale.
As expected, “The Fury of Firestorm” put focus on finding a suitable half for Dr. Stein, who has become unstable after losing Ronnie to the black hole. The search led the S.T.A.R. labs crew to two potential halves, Jefferson Jackson (Jax) and Henry Hewitt. If you’ve paid any attention to production news you know that Jax, played with a youthful vigor by Franz Drameh, is destined to become the Nuclear Man. But the hour did not do away with Hewitt once he failed to merge with Stein, instead smartly repositioning him within the fray. While this was not so much an episode of The Flash as Firestorm (a show that does not exist, but one I would watch the hell out of), Barry’s reduced role was only in the superhero department. He was still there as a friend to Stein and mentor to Jax, much in the same way Oliver mentored Barry last season. It worked because the writers did a commendable job building Jax as a likable, and well-rounded character in a short amount of time. By the episode’s second half, it was easy to root for Jax, after knowing the turmoil he’d been through.
Once Jax agreed to merge with Stein and become Firestorm, what unfolded was some of the best and most fun action of the year. Barry, who often confounds by not appropriately using his speed in battles, spent much of the main fight as a distraction. Much like The Flash does in the comics, he used his super speed to avoid his opponent, taunting them all the while. We were also, of course, treated to Firestorm in action for the first time since last season. The Flash has done impressive visual work from the beginning, but few things have ever looked as good as Firestorm jetting through the sky, a trail of flames in his wake. Drameh and Victor Garber also proved, in limited dialogue, they have decent chemistry, which bodes well for Legends of Tomorrow, the mid-season show that will see the two as featured players. The existence of that show also meant that the new Firestorm tandem could not stick around Central City, though I expect they will appear again soon. Stein’s absence from S.T.A.R. Labs will be noticeable. He has brought a great energy to the team this year, and offered useful guidance to Cisco and Barry. Still, the departure opens the door for a new, but familiar face. I am sticking with my prediction that Earth-2 Harrison Wells will be an ally to Team Flash this season, even after watching him dart through the shadows last night. My unwavering confidence is owed to the closing moments, which I dare not spoil. The added elbowroom will also allow Jay Garrick’s role to expand. Garrick was absent from “The Fury of Firestorm,” but I’d guess his inclusion was non-essential and he’ll return next week.
The episode worked thanks to a well-structured story that had two primary plotlines, and two others that wove around them, converging in the final moments for one of the series’ more satisfying and humorous surprises (seriously, I don’t want to spoil it for you!). The meat was, of course, the team convincing Jax to become a hero, but there was also the matter of Iris’ estranged mother to deal with.
I wrote last week that I was uncertain of the Francine storyline, because so much of Iris’ role in the show (a role that is virtually non-existent) has been as a punching bag. She has taken blow after blow, and learning her mother was alive after two decades of believing otherwise was no different. Though it was emotional and stressful, the situation did give Iris something worthwhile, and Candice Patton did not let the opportunity go lightly. This was the best Iris storyline of the season. While that’s not saying much, it was well-crafted and thoughtful. I expected the meeting of long-separated mother and daughter to play out differently, but the way it was handled made absolute sense for Iris as a character, and thus I have no qualms. It’s quick resolution, however, means that our intrepid investigative journalist is back to square one, and with Patty and Caitlin entrenched in the crime-fighting side of the show, the only thing keeping Iris around is the fact that Barry can’t get her out of his head. Continued flirtation between he and Patty is likely to change that soon, leaving us to wonder yet again where Iris stands.
?I am desperate for this show to rush into its multiverse storyline, because my nerd senses are tingling that great things are to come. But I must calm myself, because I know that rushing only leads to mistakes, and The Flash crew has proven they have a handle on their story enough for me to quit fretting. It is helpful that they can delay interesting story ideas with episodes like “The Fury of Firestorm,” that standalone from the season’s main arc, but dazzle all the same.
Eric Walters is the Assistant Tech Editor for Paste and a regular contributor to the TV section. For more of his thoughts on comic book television, listen to his podcast.