After the nuclear explosion separates Ronnie and Dr. Stein, Barry and the team believe both men are safe. Caitlin is thrilled to have her fiancé back and prepares to resume their life together while Dr. Stein returns to his wife. However, General Eiling returns and targets them both, first attempting to kidnap Ronnie. Wells drugs Stein and hands him over to Eiling, unbeknownst to the rest of the team. Ronnie uses his psychic connection with Stein to locate him and despite knowing they may merge together again if they get in close proximity, Ronnie offers to join Barry in rescuing Stein. When they’re all trapped, Ronnie and Stein decide to merge so they can use their powers to defeat Eiling and his men. They do and succeed, this time with Ronnie in full control of his body and Stein guiding him from within. They realize they have full control of their merging, able to separate and rejoin at will. They also realize that they must leave together to keep STAR Labs safe and learn more about their abilities. Meanwhile, Mason Bridge tells Iris that there is something secretive going on at S.T.A.R. Labs, and she realizes that Ronnie and the Burning Man are one and the same. Cisco and Joe tell Barry about the time travel involved with his mother’s murder, and after speaking with Dr. Stein and learning about second chances, Barry decides to use the history of a murder as a guide to teach him how to not fail when he goes back again. Dr. Wells, as Reverse-Flash, brings Eiling to the sewer, where Grodd attacks.
It’s clear from the end of “Fallout” that this Firestorm two-parter is more than just the origin story for another hero. The past two episodes have been a turning point of sorts, a shifting of gears into the final run of the season. We’ve still got a hefty chunk of episodes left, sure, especially considering how quickly things move on this show. But that chunk has way more to get through than the metahumans-of-the-week the first half of the season did.
The biggest change here is the role time travel will play, and Barry’s awareness of it. Plenty of other shows (Arrow, even) would try to milk drama out of Cisco and Joe keeping the time travel a secret from Barry. But The Flash has always been more interested in the opposite: What happens when people become aware of the fantastic? Barry’s resulting existential crisis upon learning of his predestined role in things is wonderfully played out. Barry isn’t the type to get depressed, but as “The Man in the Yellow Suit” spent a lot of time unravelling, he is the type to get obsessively hung up on anything surrounding his mother’s murder. And more importantly, he’s the type to take action. One of the greatest joys of The Flash is how Barry, even at his most mopey, is still the antithesis to the broody superhero. And that he takes the small silver lining of such cosmically depressing news as a newfound motivation is inspirational in a way superheroes often aren’t.
Because, let’s think about this — that’s an insane weight to put on a person. The discussions of time travel in layman’s terms — from comparisons to Terminator vs. Back to the Future, to highway exits — are pretty brilliant, because the show specifically doesn’t settle on one theory and keeps the ideas vague. We don’t get much of any scientific technobabble beyond “running fast could break the space-time continuum,” but that works highly in the episode’s favor. The focus isn’t how it can happen, at least not yet. It’s Barry’s reaction to the news, and where that leads him from here on out. The easy reaction, which Barry has initially, is despair; it’s destiny for The Flash to fail, essentially. But Barry snaps out of that in record time, instead focusing on the glass-half-full side: nothing about it proves that time is immutable, so he could still fix things.
There are big implications here, in that the show we’re following could already be a changed timeline (the original one being no time-travelling Flashes and no murder at all.) That Barry is smart enough to pick up on this, and plans to use knowledge of the past to prevent something in the future from happening in the past…well, that’s a time travel fan’s wet dream, frankly. We’ll see if The Flash ends up getting too convoluted for its own good, but the possibilities are literally endless for how things can progress if multiple timelines are involved. As of now, the show is focusing on all the right things — why a character would be involved in time travel, and how it would affect him emotionally — which already lends credence to whatever time paradox ends up getting thrown out by season’s end.
Barry and his time travel questions might be the most interesting stuff happening now, but it’s far from the bulk of “Fallout.” That belongs to Firestorm, and what essentially amounts to an origin story for a saner, less volatile version of what we’ve seen. It’s hard to get what the goal is here, besides giving all the comics Firestorm fans a reason to come out of the woodwork. “The Nuclear Man” was very clearly Caitlin’s side of the story, as the Firestorm arc has primarily been throughout the season. “Fallout,” conversely, is more interested in the relationship between Ronnie and Stein. Robbie Amell is far better at playing the straightlaced Ronnie in a jock-with-a-heart-of-gold kind of way than the complexity of last week, probably because there just isn’t much to Ronnie outside of him being a decent dude. But it’s his bickering and chemistry with Victor Garber as Martin Stein that makes the Firestorm stuff entertaining, and the vast differences in the two, physically and in their mannerisms, plays the expected “odd couple” vibes just fine. Their psychic link is pretty cool, and it’s funny to see Ronnie go to such horrifying lengths as cutting himself while Stein has the more sensible approach of just communicating with Morse code.
The downside to all this is the lack of emotional resonance. The Firestorm stuff worked in the past because Caitlin’s plight was always at the center of things, and it’s there for a bit of this episode, since there’s a question of whether or not Ronnie or Stein can ever split again. But by the end, things are pretty good; Caitlin’s (and Mrs. Stein’s) grief is totally resolved, Ronnie and Stein are fully-functioning partners, and the two go fly off on new adventures…or something. It’s sort of hard to grasp why Firestorm leaves outside of “Amell and Garber aren’t series regulars” — the explanation is that STAR Labs is unsafe from the military with him around (even though they aren’t really in any less danger than they were after “Plastique”) and that they want to go off and learn about their powers (which they can do in STAR Labs.) So that part’s a bit weak, and again, it’s hard to tell what Firestorm’s significance to the larger Flash story is now. It’d have been a powerful ending for Caitlin and the STAR Labs team if Firestorm died in their explosion, but instead, he’s yet another hero out and about in the DCwU. He may or may not play a larger role in the season’s endgame, or this could just be set-up in case they go ahead with another spin-off. How this episode’s ending will play out depends on what direction this season takes him from here.
Clancy Brown as General Eiling is always a treat. Brown is wickedly good at having a captivating presence no matter what he’s doing, and that helps with a character so undefined as Eiling. He’s not a totally flat villain, though, and in fact little pieces of this episode shed some light on his motivations. Eiling lists threats to the American public: “then came terrorism and Ebola. And now, it’s the age of Firestorm,” which is definitely double-take inducing. It seems like bad writing at first, stacking up something like Ebola — a real problem across the seas, but the perceived “American threat” pretty much completely sensationalized — against terrorism. But it actually spells out Eiling’s worldview right there; his devotion to his job means fully falling in line with creating an enemy for the American public, true enemy or not. Firestorm is just another scary bad thing on a long list of scary bad things that Eiling’s higher-ups can spin to the public to distract from the other bad stuff Eiling is probably involved in (like he was once involved in creating Grodd.) And if all else fails, they’ll still have Firestorm to use as a weapon, which they’ve been investigating this whole time. Hopefully Eiling isn’t dead at the end of the episode, because his pragmatic approach to villainy is really interesting. The weapons used against The Flash — the microfragments and the chemical bomb — are rather imaginative and clearly effective, making Eiling extra formidable just thanks to his resources.
Iris is finally getting some quality storylines, too, potentially. We veer away from the love triangle stuff, as Iris’ role at Picture News is now intersecting with STAR Labs. Mason Bridge’s suspicions of Dr. Wells are a bit out-of-the-blue, but it gives a reason for he and Iris to be on the same page, and especially gives Iris something she’d be reasonably interested in. Iris connects the dots rather quickly when she starts looking for things, though it helps that everyone at STAR Labs is suddenly a terrible liar. Danielle Panabaker is really funny and all, but wow, Caitlin doesn’t seem like the intelligent character she’s supposed to be whenever Iris asks about Ronnie. In any case, it’ll be interesting to see how Iris plays into the season now that she’s on the prowl; with everyone inching ever closer to Wells’ secret, it’s likely that she’ll be involved in exposing him one way or another.
The ending sure pays off the Grodd teases, too, packing in enough fanservice at once that it’s impossible to be disappointed. We get Wells in the Reverse-Flash suit, “Not God, Grodd,” and our first main glimpse at the big beast himself. Considering he’s a CGI-in-shadow creation, Grodd looks pretty darn good, much more fluid motion than expected. He might not look as good in the longterm (and they might use some animatronics or puppetry in lieu of the CGI sometimes, who knows!) but right now, Grodd is a success.
“Fallout” is generally a success, too, at least in terms of consistency and structure. It’s a very tightly-plotted episode, with a well-utilized plot catalyst in Firestorm that spawns all the other side-plots. It’s also another one that may hold up better or worse depending on where this season leads, given how intertwined it is in the ongoing plots. Where “Fallout” succeeds less is with any of the emotional resonance that “The Nuclear Man” created, but not nearly enough to sink the episode in the least.
Odds & Ends
- There’s a Geiger counter in Barry’s suit?!
- Obligatory question of where Stein and Ronnie’s clothes came from in the explosion and/or where their previous outfit went and/or why Ronnie showed up at STAR Labs in a change of clothes but Stein didn’t (and he sure complained about that a lot.)
- Love that Ronnie introduces himself as “Dead fiance.”
- How did Stein not connect the dots that Wells drugged him? It seemed pretty obvious, but maybe he didn’t remember when he came to.
- It’s a bit silly that Barry so casually shows off his powers to Mrs. Stein, but whatever, I guess.
- The solution to ridding yourself of a chemical bomb? Like everything on The Flash, it’s “run a lot really fast.”
- Really dig the smart bit of continuity with Eiling having seen Barry’s face in “Plastique,” but hope his knowledge doesn’t mean he’s definitely dead.
- “Impossible’s just another Tuesday for us.”
- “Dude, that was like week 3.”
- “It’s like that time I stepped on a sea urchin. …Except this is muuuch worse.”
“Just don’t pee on me.”
- “You guys are like ten seasons of Ross and Rachel, but just like, smashed into one year.” – Man, Cisco got so many good lines in this episode.