The Flash TV Reviews

The Flash’s “The Fury of Firestorm” (S2,EP4): Candice Patton Steps Up

The comic book-y stuff on The Flash is always going to be there.  That’s kind of a given. It is a comic book show, after all.  There’s always going to be some kind of craziness and scheming big bad operating on the periphery while Barry and company solve a crime-of-the-week on a smaller basis. There will be new romantic pairings forever threatening to emerge (Barry and Patty, Caitlin and Jay), and someone will inevitably be keeping a big secret (Cisco’s superhero abilities). For the time being, there will also be plenty of heavy lifting to tie into the show’s extended cinematic universe. Last week was devoted to preparing Captain Cold for Legends of Tomorrow, and “Fury of Firestorm” did the same for Professor Stein and his new superhero life partner Jefferson “Jax” Jackson (Franz Drameh), both of whom will also join Legends of Tomorrow.

The storyline in “Fury of Firestorm” overloaded with science jargon, but it amounted to Stein needing a new other half to form The Firestorm matrix or else he’d die. Caitlin figured out there were two candidates, and the one she wanted turned out to be overly arrogant, becoming the villain-of-the-week by episode’s end. The one Barry wanted turned out to be a great guy whose football career was derailed by the particle accelerator explosion. Becoming Firestorm is the second chance for his life to amount to something amazing, and pep talks from Barry and Caitlin make him realize that. So, Firestorm and The Flash defeated the villain in a football field, somehow realizing that if they simply taunt him and piss him off enough he’ll overload and power down. Brains over brawn, I guess.

Flash Firestorm2That is the type of story The Flash can do in its sleep at this point, even how they tied it all into the characters’ current emotional arcs (Caitlin learning to move on from Ronnie while Barry decides to move on from Iris, Jefferson embracing his fate while Cisco continues to run away from his). We’ll always be surprised at how well their special effects look considering the CW budget, and somewhat frustratingly we’ll usually be left feeling as if the villain could have benefited from a little more development.  There’ll usually be something crazy in the last minute to hook us on having to see next week’s episode – in this case, it was King Shark being defeated by Earth 2’s Harrison Wells.  Plus, there will be easter eggs aplenty for the hardcore fans, although they don’t always have to be comic book-specific.  There was a quick jokey reference to Victor “Professor Stein” Garber’s past-life as a co-star in James Cameron’s Titanic.

That level of reliability and craftsmanship and ongoing resolve to embrace the nerdiest of nerdy comic book storylines can make The Flash hugely enjoyable. However, the thing that has truly hooked me is the way the writers continually trust the actors with quiet one-on-one scenes which strive for emotional honesty instead of melodramatic hamminess.

For example, relegated to the background of all the comic book parts of “Fury of Firestorm” was the quiet and assured ascension of Candice Patton. Iris has been dropped into what would seem like complete soap opera, having to essentially confront her long lost mother. However, rather than playing this for the next “Dun-Dun-Dunnnn!” plot twist the show has highlighted the emotional anguish Joe felt over lying to Iris for so long. Now, in “Fury of Firestorm” we saw Iris confront her mother not once but twice, confidently stating in the first meeting, “I’m sure that you’ve been through a great deal, and I can appreciate you feeling like suddenly this is the right time for you to want me in your life.  But that doesn’t mean that it’s the right time for me. I want you to hear this from me: I don’t hate you, Francine. I do wish you well. We have lived separate lives for over twenty years. Let’s keep it that way.”

The Flash Fury Firestorm Iris1Then later in the episode after Iris learns that her mother is only attempting to reconcile because she is dying we see her surprisingly lay down the law, “I am an investigative reporter, Francine. I uncover things that people want to keep hidden, like having a son. He was born 8 months after you left Central City. Who’s the father, Francine? Is it my dad? Do I have a brother? You know what, I don’t want to know. I wouldn’t be able to tell if you were telling the truth or if it was another one of your lies anyway. I want you to leave. Stay away from me. Stay away from my father. If he finds out that he has a son who grew up without knowing him it would crush him. Just…leave us alone.”

First of all, Iris’ mom is not dead, as she had been led to believe for most of her life. Said mom is now back to make peace because she’s dying.  Oh, btw, she also gave birth to Joe’s son and Iris’ brother many years ago without ever telling them.  This is the type of storytelling you usually see played out with some hammy acting, yet Patton made Iris’ stances in both situations completely believable and understandable.

She’s come a long way. There was a time where hearing Iris say, “I am an investigative reporter!” would make me laugh because the show so abruptly dropped her into that career. However, now when she says it I absolutely believe her.

A year ago, The Atlantic’s Shirley Li argued that Patton’s Iris West had been victimized by TV’s Lois Lane problem:

 It’s not her fault, nor is it actress Candice Patton’s. Iris is a compelling and necessary asset to Barry Allen’s origin story. She’s the girl he grew up with, making her his best friend and confidante. She’s smart, she’s cool, and she’s got a mean right cross.

But because she’s also his love interest, she’s the only character in Barry’s inner circle to not be in on his superhuman secret. That makes her, unfortunately, the one who constantly stands in Barry’s way—both emotionally as his friend who suspects something’s up, and physically as the blogger tracking The Flash’s every move. More important, any meaningful character developments meant for Iris have become tethered to Barry’s secret, abandoned in favor of having her blindly chase after him like a wannabe Lois Lane. It’s a plot that feels well-tread and, in turn, utterly stale.

I also subscribed to that line of thought, and it soured my view of Patton’s performance. I didn’t dislike her, but Iris seemed far too peppy at times, as if both the performer and writers were still figuring her out.  Or maybe I just felt like I’d just seen the same character dynamic on Arrow with Katie Cassidy’s Laurel Lance.

Devin Faraci, one of the internet’s leading authorities on all things comic book, has nothing but love for Patton’s Iris West, “ I love that she has shown that she can handle herself, taking down both Girder and Clock King. Girder was super cool – she knocked him out after Flash failed to do so with a hypersonic punch! Iris is a better fighter than Flash! Now that Iris is firmly a part of Team Flash, I’m really looking forward to what the writers have in store for the character, and it’s been great seeing Candice Patton becoming more relaxed in the role, making Iris her own.” At this point, I’m inclined to agree – Patton has made Iris her own, and as the show heads into even soapier waters with Iris likely keeping the big secret about her brother from Joe for multiple episodes I trust in Patton completely. I get the feeling that so does everyone who works on the show.


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