We first learned of S.T.A.R. Labs’ Ronnie Raymond way back in The Flash‘s pilot episode, when his fiancee Caitlin told us of his death the night of the particle accelerator explosion. Since then, while Ronnie was revealed to have survived the explosion and been transformed by it into a meta-human, his presence has pretty much been limited to lurking in the shadows (with the exception of his big reveal at the end of the midseason finale, when he saved Barry from the Reverse Flash). In “The Nuclear Man,” however, Ronnie’s story is, for the first time, given center stage, and we finally learn the true extent of the metamorphosis that occurred when he merged with Dr. Martin Stein and the two became Firestorm.
After impressing her with his karaoke skills in last week’s episode, “Crazy for You,” Barry begins this episode by going on his first date with Linda Park to the spiciest Mexican restaurant in Central City — no small accomplishment when a jumper and a robbery threaten to spoil the police scientist’s plans. But, thanks to his super-speed, Linda never knows he’s gone and he even manages to kiss her goodnight.
Elsewhere, Ronnie has resurfaced, and pays a deadly visit to one of Martin Stein’s old classmates. The S.T.A.R. team immediately goes on the hunt for him. Caitlin tells Wells she’s learned of his fusion with Stein, and Wells explains that evolution selects the best possible parts for a new organism — in this case Stein’s mind and Ronnie’s body.
We then learn that Barry met Stein the night of the particle accelerator explosion, while en route to meet Wells with his F.I.R.E.S.T.O.R.M. project. Conveniently, Barry also remembers some advice Stein gave him regarding the opposite sex. Stein, as we later find out from his wife, may have been an award-winning scientist, but he was also a romantic. Mrs. Stein also reveals that Ronnie has been stalking her, so Caitlin and Wells stake out her home, and pull Barry from his second date with Linda (preventing him from learning if he can control his, er, speed in the heat of passion). The two DC stalwarts tussle in midair and Ronnie is about to strike down the speedster when Caitlin intervenes.
Elsewhere, Joe has called Cisco in for a favor — a discreet, high-tech investigation of Barry’s childhood home, in which his mother was murdered. Cisco uses a device that can identify “molecular schisms,” and in so doing he constructs holographic images of the crime scene. The pair eventually discover that the blood-splattered walls have been papered over, and that the blood on them belongs to the adult Barry Allen. Joe admits to a disbelieving Cisco that he suspects Wells of the crime.
The next day, Barry goes to the Picture News office to apologize to a still pissed-off Linda, who then asks Iris for advice. Iris, in an uncharacteristically nasty move, tells Linda that Barry needs time to finish recovering from an unrequited love. Linda later calls Barry and tells him what Iris said, and he in turn confronts Iris, who plays innocent, prompting Barry to tell her he no longer has feelings for her. After another relationship pep talk — this time from Ronnie/Stein — Barry then proves his devotion to Linda by threatening to eat the world’s hottest chili pepper if she doesn’t go on another date with him. She gives in to her “spice champion of central city” (which I’ve zero doubt was the title of a Silver Age Flash adventure).
S.T.A.R., with the help of Stein’s wife, brings Ronnie/Stein back to their labs, and Wells gets the young man under control with the help of some associative-disorder-treatment drugs. Stein thinks he may be able to separate himself from Ronnie using fission. But his body temperature is rising rapidly, and Wells explains that his fight with the Flash has “exacerbated the F.I.R.E.S.T.O.R.M. matrix,” transforming him into a living thermonuclear bomb. Wells is prepared to kill him to save millions, but Caitlin demands Wells use the hours they have left to find another way. Wells creates a makeshift quantum splicer out of his tachyon prototype (because science), and Barry and Caitlin chase after Ronnie/Stein, who has run off to the badlands outside the city to sacrifice himself. They affix the splicer (similar in its look to the design of the comic book Firestorm’s chest emblem) onto his jacket. Ronnie gives Caitlin one last kiss and…goes nuclear just the same. The explosion is brought to the attention of General Eiling, who commands his men to bring him Firestorm…
“The Nuclear Man” differs from almost every episode we’ve seen so far this season in that there’s no malevolent villain at its center. Instead, Ronnie/Stein is a tragic creature seeking, for the most part, to avoid trouble. That is until he murders Quentin Quale, thus bringing him into conflict with the Flash. But his motives for the murder are never clearly defined, and so the crime stands out as an awkward plot device. While a dynamic character (we haven’t had a firestarter in the Flash/Arrow universe so far), the chief problem with bringing Firestorm to the screen is that he’s defined as much by his internal conflict as his flames. And that conflict is a very literal one — a kind of schizophrenia. But “The Nuclear Man” never really gets inside Ronnie or Stein’s head, perhaps fearing that to do so would disrupt the consistency of the show’s storytelling style. Just the same, I’m holding out hope that this is all preamble, a Firestorm Mark I. And I’m hoping the same for his non-costume, one of the less exciting outfits the DCTVU has given us. The show’s cast is so darn likable, and has earned so much goodwill, that we’re at a point where we can share their concerns — or the people they’re concerned about — for an episode or two, even if we don’t fully understand them. Eventually, however, like Plastique (whose own episode now looks like a more polished draft of this one) Firestorm will have to win our affection without the aid of his friends.
— Barry’s “flame on” reference to the Human Torch got me thinking… How great a Reed Richards would Tom Cavanagh make? Damn… Is it too late to recast Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot?
— And speaking of movies, I love Cisco’s Ghostbusters-style gadgets. I kept waiting for him to don a pair of Ecto goggles while he was scanning Barry’s old house.
— That’s Deep Space Nine recurring cast member and Star Trek convention fixture Chase Masterson as Sherry.
— The “Conway Prize” that Wells mentions Stein winning is a reference to comics writer Gerry Conway, the creator of Firestorm.
— In his secret lair, Wells wears a Flash emblem ring, similar to that in which the comics’ Barry Allen stores his compressible super-suit.
Next week: “Twilight Zone level stuff” happens when Joe considers the possible role of time travel in Nora Allen’s murder.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).