“The Flash” recap: Things get explosive in “Plastique”

Jeff Pfeiffer

I’m not sure if The CW purposely scheduled the “Plastique” episode of The Flash to air on Veterans Day or not, but either way, it was timely, in that its main story dealt with the mistreatment of a military veteran who ends up as a metahuman capable of blowing things up merely by touching them. Her backstory touches on the way she has been used in the past, and in her current story she is pursued by the military to be used again, this time as a new weapon.

Also in the episode, Barry (Grant Gustin) and Iris (Candice Patton) have a falling out after she refuses to stop writing her blog about “The Streak”; we learn that Barry, when running fast enough, can run up the sides of buildings and even across water; and, as if the episode wasn’t literally and figuratively explosive enough, we also end with another Gorilla Grodd reference!

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The episode starts out with Barry, Iris, Eddie (Rick Cosnett), Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco (Carlos Valdes) enjoying a night out at a bar, where Barry, to his dismay, discovers that he cannot get drunk or even buzzed with alcohol — demonstrating this to Cisco and Caitlin by downing a tray of shots in a split-second with no effect. His drinking days are over almost as soon as they started, thanks again to his rapid metabolism.

Barry could use a drink; at the bar he has to watch ruefully as Iris, whom he secretly loves, and Eddie, her beau, enjoy their time playing darts together. But that is short-lived, as Eddie gets a call about an explosion at a downtown building and has to go check it out. Barry realizes that he, too, as The Flash, should check it out as well.

Before this, we have seen the cause of the explosion. A woman was stealing a file when confronted by a security guard. She begs the man not to touch her, but when he continues his pursuit she slides a bag over, which promptly explodes, blasting out the side of the building. A window-washer is left in peril, his scaffolding barely hanging on, when Barry speeds up to the scene. Talking back to Caitlin and Cisco, he posits that the only way to save the window-washer is if he can run fast enough to scale the side of the building. Caitlin and Cisco warn Barry that he must maintain the same speed on the way down, as well, or … splat. Barry is able to scale the building, grab the worker, and bring him down to safety. But as Barry is about to take off, he runs into Iris, who had followed Eddie to the scene, hoping that “The Streak” would show up, giving her more info for her blog, about which she is now becoming somewhat obsessed. Barry does that cool thing where he can speed up enough to blur his face, but we can still see him give Iris a smile before speeding off.

At the scene of the explosion, they determine a file has been stolen, but that it would take days to discover which one. Joe (Jesse L. Martin) tells Eddie to let Barry “do his thing.” They leave the fileroom, and Barry “does his thing,” rapidly looking through all the drawers until coming up with a file that may hold a lead.

Back at police headquarters, Joe is suddenly informed that the military will be taking over the bombing case. The imposing Gen. Wade Eiling (guest star Clancy Brown, no stranger to the DC Universe, having voiced Lex Luthor in Justice League) insists Joe hand over all evidence to him. As the box of evidence is being taken away, Barry uses his speed to swipe the file out of the box, hoping to continue the investigation.

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At S.T.A.R. Labs, Barry informs the team of Gen. Eiling’s actions, and Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh) says that he is all too familiar with Eiling and the danger he may pose, having worked with him years ago on research, but parting ways due to Eiling’s apparent lack of ethics. We’ve seen what Wells is capable of, so if he’s questioning Eiling’s ethics, that’s not good.

The team manage to identify the bomber as Bette Sans Souci (guest star Kelly Frye), and Barry zips over to her last known address, as The Flash, just as she is walking out. Seeing him, she runs, but of course he catches up. As with the security guard, Bette warns Barry not to let her touch him, but unfortunately, her hands end up touching his chest. Suddenly, his suit begins flaring up in a purplish color, and she tells him to get out of the suit immediately. Barry zips off, and we see an explosion in the distance. Barry is next shown without his suit, which has exploded.

Back at S.T.A.R. Labs, Barry explains to an angry Cisco that his precious suit was destroyed. Barry also tells them that they are not looking for a bomber, but rather a human bomb who can make things explode upon touch — another metahuman (“just another Tuesday in Central City,” Joe quips). Cisco’s rage is tempered suddenly when, upon further research into Bette, he sees a picture of the lovely young woman and is instantly smitten. Looking further into her background, they discover she was a bomb specialist in Afghanistan. After a failed mission, she was left with bomb shrapnel in her body, and was working with a military doctor under Eiling’s command.

Barry (using one of Cisco’s two other Flash suits) races over to that doctor, where Bette is confronting the man. Meanwhile, outside the building, Eiling and his soldiers are gearing up for a raid to take Bette. Eiling clearly knows about her abilities and wants to put them to military use. Gunfire into the building grazes Bette’s shoulder, and Barry finds her on the ground. After a flash grenade is tossed, the soldiers storm the building, only to find Bette gone. Barry has taken her back to S.T.A.R. Labs.

There, Bette tells the team her story, and, after some tests, Caitlin determines that the dark matter released by Wells’ failed particle accelerator must have merged dark matter with the shrapnel inside Bette’s body, not only giving her the explosive power she has, but also making it currently untreatable, as with other metahumans.

(During one of the tests run on Bette, having her throw things to see when they explode, one item on the table given attention is a boomerang. Obviously, as Caitlin points out, it would be a bad idea to have Bette throw something that will return to them, but aside from a joke, could that also have been an Easter Egg referencing Flash foe Captain Boomerang?)

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Bette is deeply depressed with the idea of not being able to touch another human ever again. Barry, being in a similar situation, tries to console her, even though he is having trouble himself getting close to people; or, at least, one person in particular — Iris.

Iris has been continuing her blog about “The Streak,” to her father’s and Barry’s dismay. Joe tries to tell Iris there is no Streak, but she’ll have none of it. She is more disappointed in Barry’s reaction, though, as he was always the one telling her — since the night of his mother’s murder — that the “impossible” exists. Now that the impossible seems to be happening in Central City, he is ignoring her efforts to prove it and asking her to stop her blog (for obvious reasons to us, but unknown to her). Joe can’t get through to Iris, so he asks Barry to talk to her. Barry is torn about telling Iris his secret; he says to Joe that he has always told Iris everything. “Not everything,” Joe says slyly, looking coyly at Barry, who realizes Joe knows of his love for Iris. Asking if his feelings were so obvious, Joe says “Not to Iris.” Joe admits he’s known Barry has felt that way toward Iris for awhile, and had been hoping for a long time that he would say something to his daughter (perhaps this accounts for some of Joe’s resentment that Iris ended up with Eddie).

Barry agrees to talk with Iris, who again berates him for ignoring the increasingly strong evidence of “the impossible” that Barry had always been looking for. Barry somewhat diminishes Iris’ blogging efforts by telling her it’s only an anonymous blog. But later, she remedies that by putting her name to her online thoughts, which worries Barry, Caitlin and Cisco, as now any dangerous metahuman out there may think Iris knows about Barry and go after her.

With this concern in mind, Barry next visits Iris as The Flash, at Jitters while she is closing up. They agree to meet on the roof, and there is an at times playful, at times serious interaction between the two as Iris tries to interview the “Streak,” who keeps zipping around enough where she can’t get a clear look at him (and he also does another cool trick, speeding up his vocal chords to the point where his voice is unrecognizable). This scene reminded me of the terrace scene between Superman and Lois Lane in the 1978 Superman film, a combination of attempted interview, flirtation and serious conversation. The Flash tells Iris that he needs her to stop writing about him, for both their sakes, but Iris just seems more obsessed (and perhaps infatuated with the Scarlet Speedster) than ever before.

There will be plenty more Flash adventures for Iris to cover, as Bette, still at S.T.A.R. Labs, is undergoing a medical test when Caitlin notices the wound on her shoulder from the bullet graze from Eiling’s men. Unfortunately, it was no ordinary bullet, but a tracer, and soon Eiling and his men are seen via security cameras coming up in the lab elevators. Barry is able to get Bette away and hide her in the pipeline, as Wells confronts his onetime research partner Eiling, and the two still obviously are not on good terms. Wells tells Eiling he knows nothing about Bette or her whereabouts. Later, after Eiling has gone, and Wells and Bette (whom Cisco has dubbed “Plastique,” because her explosive ability mimics that of plastic explosives) are alone, Wells suddenly shows a bit of the darker side that we as viewers have known him to display. He warns Bette that Eiling will never stop looking for her and other metahumans like her. Wells plays on Bette’s military history, telling her that the other metahumans are the flock she needs to protect, and that Eiling must be eliminated. Deep down, we get the sense that, as before, Wells is truly concerned about what may happen to Barry. If Eiling manages to catch Barry during his metahuman hunt, whatever Wells’ plans are (and we know they must include Barry somehow based on puzzle pieces we’ve seen in previous episodes), they will likely fail. Bette agrees, and she makes an arrangement with Eiling to give herself up at the riverfront.

Barry gets wind of this, and races to save Bette. Eiling and Bette are facing off, with Eiling telling her that her powers could help save soldiers and fight evildoers. She agrees those are noble efforts, but she doesn’t want to do it his way. She throws some balls at the troops, which, after being in her hands, are now explosive devices. Eiling shoots her, and an explosion erupts. Barry shows up, too late to save Bette, who perishes, but not before she attempts to tell Barry something about Wells, which she is unable to finish (what she managed to get out sounded like a potential warning to Barry). Suddenly, she begins glowing, and calling back in to Cisco and Caitlin, Barry realizes she is about to explode herself. He needs to get her out of there before a large portion of the city is decimated. As with earlier at the building, he figures a way to run fast enough across the river and out into the sea, on top of the water, far enough out where he drops her in the water and zips back. Plastique sinks into the sea, and explodes, far enough from the city to not cause additional damage.

A few of the characters Barry has gone against so far in The Flash, including Plastique, have not been specific Flash enemies, per se, but actually foes of other heroes (Plastique was also part of the Suicide Squad). Of course, it’s hard to call Plastique an enemy in this incarnation; more of a tragic figure, and again, whether this was a conscious statement on the part of writers in commenting on treatment of veterans or not, it was a timely episode.

As the episode wraps up, Barry visits Iris again, as himself, and tries a last time to get her to stop her writing about the Streak. He tells her that now that she has assigned her name to her pieces, she could be in danger. Iris desperately wants Barry to tell her what is behind his desperation to get her to stop. Barry struggles a bit, almost seeming to want to tell her he is The Flash, but can’t. He suggests they both not see each other for a while, and they reluctantly part ways. With Iris’ name out there, and with Barry’s concerns for her safety made clear, it seems like Iris may come into danger at some point in the future.

Barry meets Caitlin and Cisco at the bar, where Caitlin has a gift for him — she has concocted a potent form of alcohol that amounts to about 500 proof (!) in hopes of getting him at least some sort of buzz, which he obviously needs after his falling out with Iris and his inability to save Bette, with whom he found somewhat of a kindred metahuman spirit (she was the only one besides him so far who hasn’t wanted to decimate Central City). Barry downs the liquid, and at first excitedly feels a buzz. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t last, as his metabolism burns through even that powerful dose quickly. Caitlin promises to keep trying.

Eiling has survived his encounter with Plastique (passing off the event to the press as merely a military experiment). He shows up again to visit Wells, and tells Wells he saw the “Streak.” Eiling suspects Wells knows more than he is telling about such metahumans, and thinks they should join forces again to change the world. Wells goes to his dark place again, warning Eiling to stay away or he will “end” him — and by that he doesn’t mean Eiling’s career. Eiling leaves, but warns Wells that the public will soon figure out what he knows.

After that encounter, we flash back five years to the professional parting of ways between Wells and Eiling. They are discussing the treatment of a subject, and Wells is obviously upset about Eiling’s thoughts on the matter (getting back to Wells’ reference to Eiling’s ethics earlier in the episode). Eiling leaves, and the camera pans out to show us the test subject they were discussing — a gorilla named Grodd, housed in the same cage that we saw destroyed and empty in the first episode. The cage is not empty in the flashback, and we see the gorilla in and out of the shadows, but here Grodd is not yet the superintelligent, talking, villainous creation comic book readers have come to know. Wells consoles the ape, telling him that he has bigger plans for him.

What those plans were will be interesting to see, and this made me all the more excited for the eventually appearance of Gorilla Grodd in The Flash. Did Wells plan on making Grodd into the supervillain we know, or did that happen as a side effect of the accelerator disaster? Will Grodd wreak revenge on Wells and/or Eiling? When the eventual, full Grodd reveal does arrive, it should be something, much like the appearance from Captain Cold a few weeks back. The challenge will be effectively creating a lifelike ape (likely using CGI, since I don’t think a mere costume would cut it). The CGI so far in The Flash has been spotty (running across the water in the “Plastique” episode wasn’t really convincing), but the brief glimpse we got of Grodd seemed good enough for the brief, shadowy moment he was on screen. It will be intriguing to see how producers bring him more fully to life at a later date.

In the meantime, speaking of true Flash villains, next week’s episode, “The Flash Is Born,” will feature Girder, who can turn himself into girded steel at will. Here’s a promo, a brief part of which seems to show Iris already in danger at the hands of a metahuman:

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