Season One, Episode Five – “Plastique”

The-Flash-season-1-episode-5-Flash-carries-BetteBy Molly Jane Kremer and Jarrod Jones. It appears that even the dreaded bi-annual ritual of the American electorate can’t slow down The Flash. After an inadvertent two week break, Barry Allen is back, though the anticipation that has built in his absence is only somewhat justified with this week’s installment: while the episode is as brisk and exciting as anything that has come before, finally receiving the show’s fifth chapter only dulls the ache of some of its more painful facets. It starts with so much and ends with so little.

While “Going Rogue” took strides in traversing the road leading to the Flash’s inevitable showdown with Central City’s infamous Rogues,  The Flash‘s fifth episode – tantalizingly dubbed “Plastique” – aims for something a little more ambitious: an expanded DC Television Universe, one that promises to not only profoundly affect The Flash, but Arrow and beyond. Here we have a cast that continues to grow in a bold and exciting direction, without ever once sacrificing the effectiveness of the characters who have already made The Flash a nigh-legendary success story. That kind of in-house synergy makes the CW look like a model of studio efficiency. We can only hope Zack Snyder is paying attention.

“Plastique” begins by corralling every important person in Barry’s life into a bar for some much-needed frivolity, and acting as the show’s opening pre-title card sequence, it functions beautifully: here we not only discover that Barry’s hyper-metabolism prohibits our hero from ever getting drunk (dunking down six successive shots of clear liquor proves as much), we also learn that everyone in Barry’s life has developed a social ploy to remove themselves from any given situation if “The Streak” is heard to be about. (We’ve never seen a room clear out so fast.)

After an explosion rips through one of Central City’s high-rise buildings, Barry – with the calculations of his S.T.A.R. buddies – discovers that he can actually run up the side of it… just in the nick of time to save a dutiful window washer. That blast was catalyzed by this week’s villain du jour Plastique, and like the second episode’s Multiplex before her, Plastique (in her comic book origins) was originally a villain of the character Firestorm (but has had some dealings with the Flash’s Rogues and more than a little involvement with the Suicide Squad… but more on that later). Her origin gets a bit of retooling to fit within The Flash‘s paradigm (Québécois separatism isn’t exactly de rigueur nowadays), but it manages to maintain a cultural relevancy by having Bette Sans Souci (Kelly Frye) become a veteran of the Afghanistan war with a specialty in bomb diffusion, one who caught some shrapnel before being immersed in S.T.A.R.’s destructive blast radius. As it is with The Flash, with great misfortune must come great superpowers.

The-Flash-season-1-episode-5-General-EilingEnter General Wade Eiling. Whatever intentions exist in utilizing such a recognizable comic book character (are we going with Post-Crisis continuity here? or maybe Justice League Unlimited continuity? or perhaps an unholy hybrid of the two?), casting an actor with such a formidable presence as Clancy Brown comes with an obvious declaration of intent: the show is going to revisit this character again, and soon. (If we’re going down the route of Justice League Unlimited, Cadmus is only a far cry away.) But for now, Brown (who voiced Lex Luthor in Superman: The Animated Series and – paradoxically – in Justice League Unlimited) operates as a man with an unwritten precedent, a man who is able to manipulate the United States Army into enforcing his questionable will (a visit to Central City’s police department effectively sets Barry and Det. Joe Allen back in their investigation of Plastique). Eiling’s intervention precipitates Plastique’s – ahem – explosive course towards a reckoning with not only the general, but with Barry Allen himself.

As if that wasn’t enough intrigue for one episode, “Plastique” makes sure to implement the series’ recurring roster of prime-time players. Candice Patton’s Iris West only improves with every episode, and while she may have suffered a rocky start coming off as another typically vacuous CW pretty-face, here her potential has evolved towards a heroine fit for our hero, even if she doesn’t realize it yet. There’s still a ways to go however; we still have to watch her smooch on her dad’s slimy partner Thawne (Rick Cosnett, a real study in vacuity), or witness her make unbecoming comments like “I think he smiled at me,” when she finally gets a full (but purposefully well-blurred) look at the Flash.

While the burgeoning reporter attempts to out the superhero Central City deserves, she does meet resistance: due to the danger she could endure, Joe and Barry strive to convince Iris to kill her blog concerning “The Streak”. But when the Flash – at Joe’s behest – asks her to stop, Iris gives our hero the rationale behind her persistence: she wants to show Barry that sometimes the impossible is possible. For Barry, this is nothing new – witnessing his mother perish in lieu of impossible forces, he’s developed a keen knowledge of the fantastic – but this provides a whole new component to Iris, whose intuition lends her more (greatly needed) dimensions as a person.

As more depth grows from Iris, melodrama emanates from her typically staid father, Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin). His repeated insistence that the burden of convincing Iris to kill the blog should fall upon Barry borders on histrionics, uncharacteristic for a man who provides the show with trademark heart-to-hearts with its hero. (For a show with as much heart as The Flash undeniably has, those heart-to-hearts serve as an effective cog in the series’ deterministic machine.)

Barry tells Joe about Iris’ real reason for the blog (“… she’s doing it for me, to prove the impossible is possible…”), giving our detective the opportunity to reveal that he’s known about Barry’s unrequited love for his daughter for quite a while (“… I have watched you be in love with Iris since you were old enough to know what love is…”). It’s one of the more endearing (and effective) exchanges the two have had so far. (It also answers the question of whether or not Joe would be more accepting of Barry as a suitor for his daughter than Eddie Thawne; the answer is a resounding yes.)

What’s left for The Flash‘s fifth episode is Plastique, but with actress Kelly Frye tasked to convincingly portray her as dangerous but morally conflicted, the villain simply falls flat. Considering what’s depicted within the confines of this installment, this is beyond her talents: the part is written well, from Bette’s inability to control her massively deadly powers to her anger at Eiling for the mistreatment and abuse she’s suffered at his hands, but as far as CW-pretty-faces go, Ms. Frye is one to a tee. The episode suffers profoundly from her inability to simply perform.

Plastique should have been a sympathetic character, barely a villain in the greater sense of the word. Instead, she doesn’t elicit much of anything from anyone, other than Cisco’s (somewhat creepy) affections. It’s surprising that a character so notoriously unstable and explosive (pun intended) would leave the viewer so very cold.

Flash Facts:

The voice of the DC Animated Universe’s Lex Luthor playing General Eiling? Yes, please. Can we also just have Clancy Brown play all the villains?

Plastique, in making The Flash’s uniform explode from his body, did this country’s straight women and gay men a wonderful service tonight.

We want a supercut of all the lightbulb moments when Cisco names the supervillains.

Iris telling the Flash “you’re a terrible interview” was great. So was the Flash winking at her. Ah, superheroes and the lady-reporters who love them…

After Caitlin’s comment about Barry walking on water, the beatific look on Dr. Wells’ face was dorky as hell. (But we’re pretty sure that’s what our faces look like, each episode.)

Your two writers here are torn at the inclusion of a cover of A Flock of Seagulls’ “And I Ran” at the end of the episode. MJ = thumbs up. Mr. Jones = thumbs down.

At the end of the episode, Caitlin engineers a highly concentrated alcohol that she thinks might actually beat Barry’s metabolism and get him a little drunk. It only works for a few seconds, but work it does. Caitlin Snow: patron saint of superhero inebriation.

A certain highly intelligent ape made his first appearance in this episode, after the pilot teased a broken cage with the name GRODD upon it. Even for a show already as light hearted as The Flash, a gorilla supervillain might be too much… Silver Age for the American television audience. (Despite how much we’re aching to see him.)