The Flash: 204 “The Fury of Firestorm” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Ronnie Raymond’s death in the season two opener wasn’t exactly the most upsetting one for this reviewer. Robbie Amell did a fine job most of the time, but the bland, generic character never gained a truly distinct and unique personality and frankly paled next to the charismatic, funny Martin Stein. Therefore, the chance to introduce a brand new Firestorm is a real opportunity for The Flash to bring in a new half that’s as interesting as the other. Did it succeed in that regard?
The Fury of Firestorm was an odd episode of The Flash, dispensing with the typical villain-of-the-week structure for a slightly messy pile-up of plotlines. Each plotline was pretty strong, but there’s a sense that the show was perhaps trying to accomplish a little too much here. Amidst the pile, it was the Firestorm plot that occupied the lion’s share of the episode, and it was a generally decent affair, if not a particularly stunning one. There was a little more depth than usual to the villain of the week, Henry Hewitt aka Tokamak thanks to his unusual introduction at the start of the episode, but his story was unfortunately a bit trite, and the character felt a little too similar to last season’s Pied Piper (arrogant scientist ‘betrayed’ by a member of Team Flash). Thankfully, The Fury of Firestorm nailed the element that it needed to get right – the new half of Firestorm, Jefferson ‘Jax’ Jackson.
Instantly, Jax is a more engaging and nuanced character than Ronnie was, and benefits from the generous amount of backstory that the episode offers the character. His arc this episode is a brisk one, but it’s still a satisfying journey that at least spends time on the genuinely risky, life-changing implications of becoming Firestorm. Jax isn’t the most original character ever, but he’s a breath of fresh air compared to Ronnie, and his dynamic with Stein is far more pronounced thanks to Jax’s more distinct and complex personality. With Ronnie, there was never quite the mismatch of personalities that Firestorm requires, yet Jax instantly emerges as the last person you’d expect to be merged with Stein, leading to a fun odd couple dynamic that gets some good mileage out of the disparate personalities of Jax and Stein. Franz Drameh’s likeable, pained performance and rapport with Victor Garber means it’s a pity that this is the last we’ll see of the character for some time on The Flash (unless he pops up again during the crossover). It does bode well however for Legends of Tomorrow, with Jax’s strong introduction here giving that spin-off an even keel to launch a version of Firestorm whose personality is as engaging as the visual effects.
Plotline number two here was the continuing West family drama. This plotline continues to puzzle, as it combines tedious soap opera nonsense with a far more mature attitude to proceedings, as Iris and Joe continue their refreshing trend of consistently sharing information and treating each other like actual adults, which in a way actually circumvents further, even more tedious drama. It’s all about the revelations this week, however, and one is distinctly more interesting than the other. The revelation that Francine is dying is hardly a gut-wrencher, but in fairness it provides a far more solid reason for her showing up than the vague, garbled reasoning the character spouted last week. It also provides a little more impetus to the story by providing something of a ticking time bomb – but this is at the expense of a development that’s incredibly clichéd; The Flash is currently doing very little to alleviate concerns that this plotline is a slip into the CW-mandated drama that’s frequently plagued Arrow.
It can almost all be forgiven, however, by the doozy of a final revelation. The reveal that Iris has a brother not only opens up potential for a genuine, permanent shake-up of the West family dynamics – it’s also a huge twist for the show as a whole when you take into account that the brother (as confirmed by the producers) is Wally West. Quite simply, it’s an awful lot easier to swallow this drama when it’s in service of introducing the Kid Flash (who’s already been cast), so it’s something of a genius move from the writers, making the tedious drama seem entirely worth it in retrospect. The best thing this plot can do at this point is to firmly follow through on the Wally revelation – introduce the character as soon as possible and integrate him into Barry’s world, while exploring the implications of this major revelation for Joe and Iris. The Flash has given itself a decent way out of this fairly insipid plot – let’s hope it takes it.
Plotline number three is Harrison Wells, who was considerably more on the periphery than I expected. Still, The Flash makes the brief glimpses of Wells really count, continuing to imbue this new Wells with ambiguous malevolence. The writers are cleverly playing off viewer expectations here, working with assumptions that this new Wells is evil and fuelling them by showing Wells stalking Cisco and stealing a powerful weapon – then pulling the rug under the viewers’ feet by skewering expectations in his final appearance this episode. The thus-far ‘evil’ presentation of Earth-2 Wells is what gives his heroic moment at the end of the episode a real kick, adding even more uncertainty to the character now that we know that he’s not purely evil. Or is he? It’s all tantalisingly vague, as we’re given Wells’ actions without any context – what’s his motivation for doing everything that he does? Is his rescue of Barry and Patty even an altruistic act?
As for plotline number four… this one might just be The Fury of Firestorm’s trump card. Going into this episode, we knew that there would be a new Firestorm, that the West family drama was ongoing and that Harrison Wells was now on Earth-1. In short, viewers knew what to expect, making the appearance of King Shark here a gob-smacker in more ways than one. It’s actually built up rather well, with King Shark established as an urban legend even Barry and Patty, avowed metahuman fighters, barely believe exists, and the distinct impression given that the King Shark stuff was simply a fan-pleasing way to bring about further development for Barry and Patty. Indeed, that appears to all it is as Barry prepared to finally talk to Patty at the end of the episode, backed by a voiceover about seizing the day…
King Shark’s actual reveal is an absolute masterstroke. It’s composed brilliantly, interrupting an inspiring ‘episode closing’ voiceover from Barry, and is fuelled by the sheer, utterly bonkers audacity of it all. Grodd was one thing, but a human-sized shark? It’s insane, but gleefully so, and the brilliance of it all is augmented by the extremely impressive CGI that outstrips any of the impressive effects work this show has done thus far. The fact that it then ties in with the Wells plot for a great cliffhanger is the icing on the cake, but it’s worth congratulating The Flash’s team for once again for going above and beyond anyone’s expectations of what can be pulled off on a CW budget. 30 seconds of King Shark is probably all we’ll get, but it manages to elevate the episode in much the same way that Grodd’s first reveal did, and provides the bonkers ambition and sheer gumption that this episode generally lacked. Next week, it’s time for some answers on Harrison Wells and Zoom, as Barry confronts another Earth-2 foe in The Darkness and the Light…
The Fury of Firestorm is a disjointed instalment that awkwardly welds serialised elements with a standalone piece of Legends of Tomorrow set-up, and includes a fairly turgid helping of soap opera drama. Still, with a corker of a final scene and a solid introduction to the new Firestorm, it’s a decent enough instalment, though slightly weaker than usual. Also, King Shark. (!)