If there’s one thing that producers Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, and Marc Guggenheim have kept consistent in their approach to the DC TV Universe, it’s that they don’t like to hold back. Where other comic-book TV adaptations may save the good stuff for later seasons, or at the very least sweeps month, Berlanti and company are so confident in the stories they can tell (and the sheer number of characters they can play with) that they see no point in withholding a key villain, super power, or even a plot point from fans who’ve been so long denied the thrill of watching superheroes do what they do best on the small screen. One look at an average episode of The Flash, and the days of Heroes are a thankfully distant memory.
Fortunately, “Plastique” is an even better than average episode, yielding rewards greater than the first instance of Barry running up and down the side of a building, or our first sight of him running on water (a staple of the comics since he was introduced). Like “Going Rogue” — which saw Barry battle his first non-metahuman in Captain Cold — this week’s tale breaks from the super-powered-villain-of-the-week format to offer the show’s first non-villainous metahuman (besides Barry himself). In the title role, Kelly Frye plays Bette Sans Souci (created by writer Gerry Conway and artist Pat Broderick, she first appeared in Fury of Firestorm #7). Souci is a military explosives expert who finds, in the wake of the particle accelerator explosion, that the shrapnel she’s absorbed has fused to her body on a cellular level. Now with the power to cause spontaneous combustion merely through her touch, she’s hunted by her former commander, General Wade Eiling (Clancy Brown, best known to DC fans as the voice of the DC Animated Universe’s Lex Luthor), and given sanctuary by Barry and the S.T.A.R. Labs team. If only for a short while.
Brown gives Eiling the same gravitas he’s brought to antagonists in movies and TV shows from The Shawshank Redemption to Carnivale. Which is why it’s such a joy to see Dr. Wells out-menace his character here — first sending Plastique after Eiling as a means of erasing the danger her presence brings to his team (having worked with the General on a project to develop super soldiers, he knows what he’s capable of) and then threatening to expose Eiling’s past crimes. If Wells does turn out to be this season’s Big Bad (and given that Barry already has two other father figures in his life I’m kind of hoping he does), it’s good to know that Tom Cavanagh can stand toe to toe with one of the most intimidating character actors around.
“Plastique” also furthers Iris’s ongoing story. Like DC heroines from Lois Lane to Laurel Lance, she’s obsessed with her city’s new champion, though the fact her father knows Barry is the Flash (sorry, but after years of Smallville‘s characters referring to Clark Kent’s alter ego as “The Blur” I refuse to call our favorite speedster, as she does, “The Streak”), creates some new dynamics. Joe West again shows he’s no cliche when he tells Barry he’s known for years he’s in love with Iris, and implies he wouldn’t mind seeing the two of them together. Granted it’s a bit forced when the lovestruck fellow — after repeated efforts to warn her to stop blogging about his alter ego — tells her he’s going to stay away from her. We know Iris’ life will be threatened whether her name is connected to the Flash or not (and one glance at the trailer for next week’s episode confirms this). And there are, after all, only so many ways a superhero saga can break from the genre’s formulas. But Grant Gustin is so good at showing the young man’s agony over not being able to tell her his secret, and Candace Patton delivers her best work yet in their “breakup” scene, that, as with all things Flash, the scenario is made fresh, no matter how many permutations have preceded it.
Rogue Ideas/Flashes of Inspiration
— Barry’s opening narration, which begins each episode (as opposed to the voiceover introduction that precedes it), may need to go. It works in a movie like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, but on a weekly basis it can sound like a lecture.
— I love the fact that almost every running scene has appeared different. Thus far, there’s no sign of a generic speed shot or any other laziness in the show’s visuals.
— After Plastique destroys Barry’s suit — to Cisco’s horror — we learn that the S.T.A.R. engineer has two more. Fans who’d like Barry’s threads to brighten (and the show’s producers have indicated they might), may need to wait for his spare uniforms to meet similar ends.
— The running-on-water scene is surprising in part because its tone is so grim. Plastique has been killed and Barry must get her body as far from Central City as fast as possible before it explodes. There’s no trace of the joy of discovery that Dash experiences in The Incredibles when he performs the same feat, or the delight that Barry often takes in using his powers.
— “Oh my God, do I sound like Felicity?”
Next week: Colossus, er, Girder makes his debut — and “The Flash is Born”!
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).