After a bomb goes off downtown, the army, led by General Eiling, rolls in and takes over the case, much to Joe’s surprise. Suspicious, Joe tells Barry that he and his friends at S.T.A.R. Labs should look into the army’s involvement. Wells informs the team that Eiling was experimenting on his men to turn them into super soldiers. Cisco confirms one of Eiling’s soldiers, Bette Sans Souci, aka Plastique was at the bomb site. The Flash tracks her down and realizes that she’s not setting off the bombs, she is a meta-human who can blow things up just by touching them. Meanwhile, when Joe learns Iris is writing about “the streak,” he tells Barry to make her stop. Barry realizes Iris won’t listen to him so he decides to have The Flash pay her a visit. Barry learns that Iris was only doing it because she thought it had to be connected to what happened to Barry’s father, but Barry shuts her down, causing a big schism in their friendship. Iris decides to continue writing about him…not anonymously, and even without Barry’s approval. Eiling comes for Plastique, having tracked her to Dr. Wells. While the STAR Labs crew plans to protect her, Wells tells Plastique to go and kill Eiling. He shoots her before she can, causing her body to explode, and Barry saves the city by running on water and disposing of it away from the population. In a flashback, Wells and Eiling fight over a project, which is revealed to be a caged gorilla named Grodd.
The first season of The Flash has been quite dedicated to exploring the psychology and philosophy of the metahuman concept. Sure, we’re familiar with superheroes and their powers. But suggesting that the particle accelerator explosion is the initial and (at least now) sole reason for the existence of any superpowers makes the clean slate of this world very clear. Every metahuman is a new opportunity to showcase something very specific about the consequences of randomly developing powers. We admittedly haven’t seen that much variety in our villains so far, but the arrival of Bette Sans Souci, aka Plastique, shows off the possibilities for where the show can go.
Mainly, this is a major expansion of the show’s scope. We’ve seen the involvement of the government in oblique ways on Arrow through ARGUS, but this is the first time we’re truly seeing a government official play this kind of role. Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor from Superman: The Animated Series, among many other things) is never not a bad casting choice, and casting him as General Wade Eiling is inspired. Brown plays Eiling pretty much exactly how you’d expect, an uncompromising man with questionable ethics who’s devoted to his mission and in love with his power. What’s bigger for this show is the idea that these investigations and experiments have been going on for a while; Wells was in bed with Eiling in the past involving a certain Grodd gorilla, and currently the military is fully aware of the existence of metahumans. While ARGUS only has a place on Arrow when things get extra rough, there’s potential for Eiling and the military to be a mainstay in the show. Every metahuman is a potential crisis, after all.
Kelly Frye is solid as Plastique, not quite given enough time to make a true impact, but handling her material just fine. Deviating a bit from her comics iteration, this Plastique is a clear foil to Barry, someone who only has the best intentions for her powers but without the positive circumstances. Plastique is akin to an X-Men archetype like Cyclops or Rogue, good people who are cursed with incredible, but mostly uncontrollable and violent powers. Plastique is especially like Rogue in that her power is rooted in touch, immediately severing her connection with people. This episode doesn’t delve into anyone in her personal life and instead focuses on the military’s involvement in the metahuman crisis, which of course opens up more potential for wider storylines.
That said, the choice to make Plastique a character squarely involved with the military story, and not exploring any detachment from friends or family, is a bit of a missed opportunity to better parallel Barry’s troubles with Iris. Those troubles seem too trite by comparison, and pumping them up to function thematically would work significantly better. This isn’t a bad progression for the Iris/Barry material, though; that it happens just as the world is expanding into darker government territory just makes it seems less consequential by comparison. But on its own, this is a fairly classic Lois Lane-esque story, letting the love interest be proactive enough that she intersects with the story without necessarily being shoehorned in. It’s always a problem to find ways to define the love interest roles so they don’t feel superfluous, and Iris’s incessant investigation and curiosity is a reasonable step for the show to take. Unlike how Arrow plugged Laurel into the story in the similar “An Innocent Man,” which also had rooftop hero confession scenes, “Plastique” manages to amp up Iris’s storyline significantly without awkwardly plugging her into the plot.
More importantly, it makes her “protectors” be the ones responsible for pushing her closer to danger. That Joe and Barry emotionally manipulate Iris to keep her away from the Streak (ugh), only to have her out herself to the public and definitely plunge further into the investigation, is a clever highlight of the problems of the trope. Arrow has done similar work with this on Laurel, often having her negative attributes expose the problems with the superhero’s girlfriend trope. But with Iris, the problems are that both Joe and Barry treat her far too delicately; Joe’s fear of her getting to involved with the metahuman business is justified, but the two are going about it in the worst of ways. The more Barry saves people, the more there will be people writing about him on the internet. All Iris was doing was anonymously documenting those exploits, probably pulling from other people’s Twitter accounts and articles. Frankly, she’s not doing anything more dangerous than any journalist anywhere, and that makes their decision to come down hard on her so bad for them. The show seems to be siding against them, luckily, making it clear that Iris is going to keep pushing through, and that they’re at fault for being unnecessarily hurtful about it. As good as Grant Gustin is in their “break-up” scene, you can’t help but sympathize with both of them, regardless.
Revealing Iris’s interest to be completely rooted in Barry is actually ingenious; yeah, it would be nice to have a female character whose interests aren’t squarely about man, but it makes her a more likeable character in this case. Her feelings about Barry losing his unique interest in the supernatural are purely rooted in friendship, the things we all try to do for our friends when we see them changing for the worse. Barry is in a tough situation, pulled between Joe and Iris, but his attempts to break her spirit and break their friendship work far better as drama than most of the love triangle material thus far. In general, there seems to be a conscious effort to keep her from being unlikeable (unless you don’t like the “spunky inquisitive girl” archetype), and coupled with Candice Patton’s performance keeping her funny and just-quirky-enough, it’s working.
This friendship stuff is highlighted well in Barry’s voiceovers, which are also meant to apply to Plastique as his sort of “new” friend. That theme doesn’t really carry with her much, but it does showcase Barry’s penchant for trusting people and welcoming them with open arms. He’s elated at the possibility of bringing a new member into his superhero family, and that optimism is what’s made Barry such a fun character to follow. It also makes the ending all-the-more devastating; even though we’ve only known Plastique for a short time, the tragedy is how quickly Barry lost a potential comrade.
And then, there’s Barry’s other comrades. Cisco is a bit of a creep this time around, unfortunately. The character is in desperate need of material, and this is absolutely not the direction to go in. It would be one thing for Cisco to be awkwardly crushing on Plastique–he would fall for a metahuman, after all. But all his remarks are pretty much on the same level as catcalling, and as thick skinned as Plastique is, it doesn’t make the remarks any less gross. This wouldn’t be so bad if any of the other characters noticed or if Plastique bit back, but everyone just kind of goes along with it. The implication is that Cisco is intended to come off as adorkable in the same way Felicity did when she got flustered around Oliver in Arrow, but it’s too condensed and off-the-cuff to work.
Dr. Wells, on the other hand, is pretty much definitely a bad guy, even if a bad guy with presumed good intentions. It’s unclear how the truth could come out about Plastique’s death, but if it does, that will definitely be the moment Barry will have to turn against Dr. Wells. As grating as those Wells tags have already become, the show is smartly building up a reveal that will clearly make an impact on the characters, even if his actual identity is a letdown.
Essentially, “Plastique” establishes things that should come into play later on. This is far from the best episode of the show thus far, if only because there just isn’t much going on, often feeling like there’s just not enough plot to fill out the episode. That’s not a huge detriment, though, because Plastique’s brief storyline is solid ground for the show to tread on. Even as something so plot-light, it packs a punch at the points it needs to.
Odds & Ends
- Barry’s metabolism works so quickly that he can’t get drunk, which…actually, I totally agree with his devastation. That’s a terrible thing to find out.
- A cover of “I Ran” as the dramatic episode ending song? Good job, whoever decided to do that.
- So Barry uses his own organic voice modulation with the face-blur, both clever ways to handle his secret identity. Even better? Joe’s jubilation and bought of laughter after hearing about it.
- Really like that Barry has to use his STAR Labs scientists to literally do the math on how fast he needs to run to do certain things. Granted, I’m not sure how Barry is so in tune with his body that he can tell how fast he’s going right down to the mph, but it’s still interesting considering most superheroes just…do it.
- Latest “Dr. Wells is probably from the future” anvil: He specifically says the technology “hasn’t been invented yet.”
- “Oh my god, do I sound like Felicity?”
- “I have a problem.”
“We all do with guys like him around.”
- “You can walk on water, puts you in pretty interesting company.”
- “She blew up my suit.”
“You have like 3 more!”