It’s rare to actually like or genuinely care about all of the characters in an ensemble TV show. More often than not, there’s always at least that one character, be it a fault of performance or writing or both, whose every appearance you grow to at best tolerate, at worst dread. For example, Sleepy Hollow fans are really disenchanted with Ichabod’s vaguely bland wife Katarina (Katia Winter). Personally, I know that Vampire Diaries is one of my favorite shows right now, but every time constantly brooding Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) pops up I have to fight the urge to fast-forward. Of course, if Vulture’s episode re-caps are any indication there are those who positively adore him (or just refuse to hide their unabashed lust for Steven R. McQueen). Let’s not even get into all of the Thea-bashing and Laurel-bashing from Arrow fans in the first and second seasons respectively.
Iris West (Candicate Patton) is that character on The Flash. It’s not even really a fault of Patton’s chipper performance. Relationship drama involving a cop dating his partner’s daughter (What is this? Lethal Weapon 4?) simply isn’t as compelling as a newly super powered, adorable nerd chasing down super powered baddies with the help of his own Geek Squad. However, one of the admirable things with the way The Flash’s first season has been constructed to this point is the way it seems to be systematically building up its characters. The pilot’s all about Barry Allen, and the second episode establishes Barry’s father-son bond with Joe West. The third episode show us the Geek Squad pre-Barry and showcases Caitlin Snow, and the fourth episode reveals a deeper emotional layer for Cisco, and pulls the team apart, briefly, before putting them back together. Plus, it further explores Barry’s crush on Iris. It was clearly time for the fifth episode to give a little more time to Iris, whether you wanted it or not.
Iris, Doing It for a Friend |I have to admit that I actually had not given much thought to why exactly Iris was so obsessed with “The Streak.” She was being Chloe Sullivan/Lois Lane to his “The Blur,” ala Smallville. Clearly, she cares because she can’t help herself and probably has a bit of a crush on the guy. What’s there to ponder? On the opposite end, Barry and Joe were nervous about her “Streak” blog because, well, because it’s just comic book 101 for the hero to try to keep his loved ones from discovering his secret identity. Maybe it’s a vaguely sexist comic book story convention (guys telling the woman what to do), but it’s a convention I’ve kind of just accepted at this point.
So, “Plastique” had Iris meet “The Streak” for the first time, in a scene we’ve seen done many times before (super hero meets love interest for first real conversation, e.g., Batman Forever, Spider-Man, Superman, Daredevil) but never quite like this (he’s zooming around the roof the whole time to keep her off balance, vibrating his vocal chords to disguise his voice). This was where they tried to make a very comic book storyline completely personal by revealing Iris’ obsession with “The Streak” is actually all about her love for pseudo-brother Barry because if someone like “The Streak” exists then maybe Barry was right this whole time about the mysterious force that killed his mother. I actually liked that idea, and the way Candice Patton and Grant Gustin played that scene on the rooftop. It revealed a bit more depth to Iris and also pointed to a potential out-clause for Barry. His arguments against her “Streak” obsession truly made no sense, but now that he knew why she was doing it he could manipulate her into stopping.
That leads to the part that felt a tad forced. Everyone (Cisco turns deadly serious about it) is so positive that Iris is putting herself at risk with this blog, but it’s actually Barry who truly puts her at risk by inadvertently inspiring her to finally put her name on it, no longer posting anonymously. From the looks of next week’s trailer, this is going to just about instantly lead to her capture by one of Flash’s enemies. Their final conversation in this episode sees Iris rebuke Barry’s plea to give up on it because it’s making it hard for him to move on emotionally from his mother’s death. She seemingly contradicts what she told Barry as The Flash earlier and claims that this may have started out as being about helping Barry but now it’s so much bigger and more important than that. So, Barry pulls an Oliver Queen and pushes her away even though the wiser move would be to stick close to her to make sure she stays safe. At this point, I feel as if I’ve somewhat lost hold of why exactly Iris is so obsessed with “The Streak,” unless she was lying to Barry about it not being all about him anymore. Plus, Barry pushing her away feels like manufactured drama. However, long term I have a feeling Iris is going to find out about Barry’s secret sooner than we’d expect. Heck, I actually really thought Barry was going to tell her at that dinner table in their final scene together.
Plastique Go Boom | They can’t all be bad, can they? Surely, one of the meta-humans has to share Barry’s ambition to help people. Well, Plastique wasn’t exactly out to help people, but she was our first completely sympathetic freak-of-the-week. It’s interesting that it only took them 5 episodes to reach this point, and through her we got a little bit of a re-evaluation of Barry’s situation. When she asks him if the STAR Labs team had actually been able to help him, as in cure him, it’s seems abundantly clear in Barry’s response that such a thought seemed completely foreign. Sure, his powers mean he can’t get drunk and has to carbo-load like crazy, but he clearly loves everything else about it. However, Plastique is basically Rogue from X-Men in that she can’t actually touch anyone. Should she have actually survived the episode whatever relationship she might have eventually had with Cisco would have been quite complicated. Their first, rather explosive kiss would have been their last.
Of course, Plastique was also used to tease more of Dr. Wells’ back story as we discover that he has a history with Mean Military Man played with appropriate menace by Clancy Brown. It seemed a bit strange that Plastique would have been with the gang at STAR for so long before anyone noticed that, hey, her sleeve is bright red in that one spot because that’s where she was shot. It also felt like we were somehow missing a scene in-between mean Clancy showing up at STAR to look around and the gang out at the air strip to test Plastique’s powers. However, the point was to tease more about Dr. Wells and establish a new external threat in the form of mean Clancy’s likely recurring character. That Wells would insist that Plastique kill mean Clancy was not hard to believe since we’ve seen him stab a man to death at this point. That Plastique would actually listen mostly depended on how much you buy the “soldiers are sheep who will protect their herd when threatened” logic behind it. It did seem a bit strange that as soon as Barry showed up to stop her immediate response was basically, “Thank God you’re here. I totally don’t want to do this, but your mean Professor X made me.” Ultimately, I was surprised and actually sad to see her die. We’ve seen Barry stress out about not being able to save people before, but never with such a full-fledged character like Plastique.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Flash is systematically turning weaknesses into strengths, establishing the show’s center in the pilot and building outward from that point forward. The “kind of just there” Cisco and Caitlin have quickly turned into entertaining and, more so in Caitlin’s case, compelling characters, and the generic freaks of the week have given way to Captain Cold last episode and the actual potential ally Plastique this episode. Plus, in the form of mean Clancy Brown they’ve given us a new recurring external threat. “Plastique” sought to turn the weakness of the Barry/Iris relationship into a strength, revealing a hidden depth to Iris and furthering along the will-they-won’t-they of it all by revealing that Det. West has known about Barry’s crush on his daughter this whole time. Invariably, these things will come down to your personal read of chemistry, i.e., whether or not you think Grant Gustin works better on screen with Emily Bett Rickards or Danielle Panabaker than he does Candice Patton. Personally, there is an element of the Barry/Iris dynamic that feels like it’s there simply because it has to be (because, you know, comic book canon and all that), and their efforts to advance that drama in “Plastique” may not have completely held together. However, it gave us the moment when a lovelorn Barry moped with his surrogate-dad Joe and then delighted him to no end by revealing his ability to basically auto-tune his own voice. Seeing Jesse L. Martin laugh at that made it all worth it because while this is progressing along standard comic book “guard the secret identity” terms it still stops to have fun.
1. I adored that opening scene with everyone in the bar, even Iris’ hokey line about Cisco and Caitlin being so important because they helped save Barry. Last episode had Barry questioning whether or not he was really friends with Cisco, and this week started with Barry simply hanging out with Cisco and Caitlin like good friends. There will be conflict between them down the road, I’m sure, and they won’t always be so chummy together. For now, they are a gosh darn delight, though. Plus, that ending with everyone other than Det. Thawne rushing off with their made-up excuses reminded me of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle ending their date early in Batman Returns because they have to run off to be Batman and Catwoman.
2. Were you charmed or annoyed by Caitlin’s Felicity moment? I liked it. Plus, her accidentally admitting she thinks Rick Cosnett is hot is the first sign that she’s starting to move on from her fiancé.
3. So, when Barry arrives back at STAR Labs only to find everyone looking all somber as they’re about to deliver the bad news to Plastique exactly how long do you think they’d been standing there? I imagined Plastique begging them to tell her the results only for Caitlin to meekly reply, “We can’t. We have to wait until Barry gets here so we can watch how sad it makes him.”
4. Am I the only one who flashed back to the Extremis-powered super soldiers of Iron Man 3 during “Plastique”’s whole notion of an explosive super soldier attempting to be controlled by the military?
5. Cisco Season Love Interest Counter: 1; She blew up by episode’s end.
6. It’s a testament to Tom Cavanagh’s steely gaze that even from a wheelchair he did not look physically intimidated by giant, mean Clancy Brown.
7. I remain forever nervous that The Flash will ultimately be derailed by incorporating too many of the insanely goofy and comic book-y elements of the actual Flash comics, which work fine on the page, less so in live action. Their idea is clearly to firmly establish the characters before things start getting too crazy. The one character I truly thought they’d never do unless they suddenly had Andy Serkis in town for some mo-cap is Gorilla Grodd. Well, clearly, I was wrong.
8. Was it just me or were there a couple of held reaction shots on Caitlin, Cisco and Dr. Wells’ individual faces at various points in this episode that just felt kind of off? Most made sense (Caitlin looking over at Cisco after hearing that Plastique has died), but at other times it felt like, “Why are we looking at her/him right now?”
AVClub – They gave it a B+, concluding, “It’s a relief when Barry later meets with Iris to suggest they not see each other for a while. A break between these two characters might give the writers a chance to figure out how to make this relationship work, whether by having Barry reveal his secret or by doing something interesting with Eddie, who is barely a character at all to this point. Still, the creative team has given me more than enough reason to believe they can fix this flaw in the show, one way or another.”
TV.com – “I know and understand that the secret identity and the attempts to uncover the secret identity are part and parcel of many a superhero narrative, but in this case, there feels like there’s no reason for doing it the way The Flash is going about it.
I’m done with my ramble. Your turn.