When I was a kid, my bedroom was at one end of the hall. The bathroom was at the opposite end. The distance between the two couldn’t have been more than a few dozen feet, but when the lights were out in the middle of the night or early in the morning in the middle of winter, something magical happened. Not the good magic, where people with high moral fiber gain the ability to run really fast. The kind of magic that –to paraphrase Plucky Patty– gives murderers the power to do anything.
I knew there weren’t any meta-humans waiting for me in dark hallway. No snakes or spiders, neither. But fear isn’t an intellectual experience. It’s an emotional response. A stupid, irrational, emotional response. I have hated transitions, both literal and from a storytelling perspective, ever since. I understand that transitions serve a purpose. I understand they connect point A (or contrived plot device A) to point B. I still don’t have to like them.
This episode of The Flash is a hallway. It serves as nothing more than a bridge from the crises of last episode(s) to the crises of the next episode(s). Oh, and a plug for Legends of Tomorrow. Since this episode has to serve the function of being a transitional episode, it’s probably not going to be submitted for an Emmy nomination. Still, it could have been tolerable had the episode contained a strong, self-contained narrative that distracted us from the fact that this is a filler episode.
Sadly, this episode did not. What we got was a heavy-handed moral with all the subtlety of a nuclear-powered haymaker. No wonder the smooth-cheeked and handsomely coifed Jay Garrick gave that lame excuse last week of needing to get a shower, a shave, and some sunlight. He must have read the script for this week’s episode and wisely decided to sit this one out.
When we left our heroes, Dr. Stein was having a nuclear meltdown. The Firestorm matrix is unstable without an opposite to balance it. Dr. Stein can’t be Firestorm alone. The team needs to find someone else who was similarly affected by the STAR Labs reactor explosion. Someone like Ronnie.
But Ronnie was vaporized by the explosion. So was Dr. Stein. It would make sense then that the team must be looking for someone else who was vaporized, right? How do you find someone like that?
You don’t. You find a pair of individuals who survived the blast. People who were treated for other injuries suffered during the explosion. People like that football player from a poor family who finally got his shot at glory in the big game and can use his athletic ability to write his way into the school of his choice. The guy who risked his life to get others to safety during the blast. Or, you know, a young scientist with a rap sheet.
Caitlin feels protective of Dr. Stein. I get that. He’s not just a part of the team, he’s the kindly old man filling the Obi-Wan role of mentor to these fledgling heroes. More than that, he is one half –the surviving half– of Firestorm. Of Cait’s dead husband. Of course she wants to protect him. Of course she wants to find someone like Ronnie to plug in and be the one to stabilize the Firestorm matrix and save Dr. Stein.
So, why is it that when presented with two possible candidates, Cait chooses the complete opposite of Ronnie? Ronnie worked at STAR Labs, but he was an engineer. A designer. A builder. So, do you go with the mechanic or the scientist? Let’s not even get into the whole race discussion. For a show that embraces diversity, we have the white girl choosing between the white-washed black scientist and the colloquialism-speaking black mechanic.
Cait is so sure that the former, Henry Hewitt, is the right match for Dr. Stein that she brings him to STAR Labs and gives him the full tour, even showing him where they hang the Flash suit, filling Hewitt’s head with promises of great power and glory. So sure that Hewitt is the ideal match for Dr. Stein, Cait only does a cursory “I’ll check but don’t expect to find anything so I’m not going to really dig” check and (shockingly!) misses Hewitt’s sealed criminal record. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, the merge between Dr. Stein and Hewitt doesn’t work. Who would have seen that coming? Sorry, pal… guess there’s no super powers in your future after all. Stop by the front desk on your way out and the receptionist will validate your parking. But that’s not the case, is it? Something about being exposed to the Firestorm matrix in Dr. Stein during the failed merge attempt has awakened the dormant powers in Hewitt.
Did I mention that Cait forgot to check Hewitt’s criminal record?
The other possible candidate is that hero from the gridiron from two years ago when the reactor blew. The reactor wasn’t the only thing to blow out that night. Jefferson Jackson, “Jax” for short, blew out his knee that night saving his teammates. That injury blew his chances at college. Instead of moping about what was taken from him, Jax got a job, dealt with his frustrations and moved on, putting the events of two years ago behind him.
So, when Dr. Stein and Barry show up and invite Jax back to STAR Labs, Jax turns them down. The two leave Jax their card and welcome him to stop by STAR Labs anytime. They can do that now. Just invite any old stranger to pop in unannounced. They’re totally comfortable with their upgraded security system. The system that allowed Jay to show up without triggering any alarms. The system that lets Earth-2 Harrison Wells wander the halls without raising any red flags.
Jax does decide to pop in and see what the group at STAR Labs can do for him. Maybe fix his knee so he can walk onto some college football team and earn his way into a scholarship. No such luck. They want him to fly around on fire. When Jax sensibly says “no thank you”, Caitlin loses it. She goes off on Jax for no clear reason. Not cool with the lady he just met berating him, Jax heads back to the garage. (Aside: Why do they assume that Jax’s body is going to be the Firestorm body? They try to sell it that his athletic body would be perfect for Firestorm, but what if Dr. Stein’s body had been the one to host Jax’s mind? What then?)
Hewitt gets angry at his supervisor for telling Hewitt to start acting like a good employee, and the now-awakened Firestorm powers blow up the lab. Hewitt tracks down Caitlin at Jax’s garage, where she is doing a botched job of apologizing to Jax and selling him on being a hero. “You can be like my husband! You can die saving the city!” I wonder why Jax is still not sold…
Hewitt confronts Cait, saying that she did this to him. Hewitt sounds like he thinks his powers are a curse, but sure seems to get a thrill out of using them. Like Plucky Patty told the Sand Demon, getting powers didn’t change the person, it just amplified who they already were, deep down. Jax shows off his quarterback skills, saving the day. Jax and Cait escape back to STAR Labs, where Jax is finally ready to become the hero.
Hewitt goes to the most likely spot in Central City where he can charge his powers. The high school football stadium! Wait, what? I get it. I really do. I know this is a symbolic thing. Jax is brought back to the spot where he lost one dream in order to actualize the new dream of being a superhero. The problem is that symbolism works when it enhances the story, not when it’s forced down our throats. Predictably, Flash and Firestorm defeat Hewitt. Hooray!
That’s it. That’s the thrust of the episode. We go from Dr. Stein needing a new partner to Dr. Stein and the new partner leaving to go film Legends of Tomorrow. The vehicle that gets us there is a “don’t judge a book by its cover” morality play that forces Cait to deal with her issues. Not her survivor’s guilt and the need to replace her dead husband. No, we get to see her deal with her socio-economic and educated elitism prejudices. Only, not really. We just brush past them and move on.
Speaking of moving on… in other plot threads that needed to move from plot point A to plot point B:
Iris sees her mother and makes it clear that she wants nothing to do with Francine. A few scenes later, Francine comes clean with Joe. She is dying. So, Joe facilitates another meeting between Iris and Francine (because Iris’ “stay out of my life” message wasn’t clear enough the first time.) Iris agrees to the second meeting, but not before doing a little digging. Seriously, they should have had Iris look into Hewitt’s past. Iris listens to Francine, then confronts her dying mother about the secret she’s still keeping. Cue the introduction of the brother that Iris never knew she had. We have so many well-realized and fully fleshed out characters that we need to throw another into the mix in the form of that other Flash, Wally West.
Plucky Patty is making googly eyes at Barry. So, naturally, Joe asks Barry what’s up between Barry and Patty. Why is Barry always flirting with Patty? What’s a guy gotta do to keep his kids from hooking up with his partners? (Maybe get a partner that doesn’t look like an actor or actress on The CW?) Barry doesn’t understand the question. Neither do I. Up to this point, Barry has been totally oblivious to Patty’s flirtations. But, we have to move that plot point, so by the end of the episode, Barry is ready to allow Patty to flirt with him.
Until the shark man shows up. King Shark, who is a shark. How is it that the self-proclaimed “fastest man alive” keeps getting jumped? Patty tries to come to Flash’s rescue, but it is Earth-2 Harrison Wells, using a sciencey weapon he stole, who saves the day. Oh, that Harrison… he’s a bad man. Except, he’s not. It wasn’t Harrison Wells that murdered Barry’s mother. It wasn’t Harrison Wells who was the Reverse Flash. It wasn’t Harrison Wells who betrayed Barry’s trust. That was Eobard Thawne from the future, wearing a good man and beloved scientist Harrison Wells costume. We all know that. Barry and the rest of the team knows that. Still, expect them to not trust Earth-2 Harrison Wells, because… I don’t know. Because dramatic tension that makes no logical sense.
Kind of like how fear of dark hallways makes no logical sense.