Duality was the theme of this episode, and well-played all around. The “secret identity” trope, one of the foundations of the entire superhero genre, feels a little old-fashioned to millennials; in an era when we’re all being recorded and tracked constantly and when DNA is as easy to match as fingerprints once were, it gets harder and harder to believe that a pair of eyeglasses (or, conversely, a cowl) could ever be an effective disguise. Several moments in “The Nuclear Man,” however, cut the corniness away from the dual-identity cliché. The frustration Barry felt in trying to maintain his date and his career at the same time was truly funny. The Ronnie Raymond/Martin Stein two-men-in-one dilemma was genuinely moving in the way both men’s emotions hung on their respective loved ones. The scenes between Stein-as-Ronnie and Mrs. Stein were particularly poignant because the romantic resonance underscored one of the reasons, at least to me, that the “secret identity” concept has a mythological power that supersedes the reality of 21st century spy technology: Everyone, everyone, has longed at one time or another to say to someone else, “if you could only see me for who I really am inside, you’d accept me.”
There’s another universal truth about secret identities that doesn’t get spoken of much between superheroes, but Harrison Wells exemplifies it. Burden or not, knowing something that no one else knows is flat-out empowering. Personally, I think that’s an all-too-infrequently considered reason superheroes don masks: secrets have power. In fact, in the coming years, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that angle supplanting the old “I must wear a mask to protect my loved ones from retribution” excuse — especially on these TV shows, where almost no hero’s identity is a particularly well-kept secret.
Nice use of Cisco in this episode. The best character moments in any ensemble piece come from mixing and matching characters who don’t normally share scenes, and Joe and Cisco make an awesome pair. And the reconstruction of the crime scene using an old mirror made me want to give Cisco his own secret identity name: Mirror Master. But two blood samples and neither belongs to Wells? Could Eddie Thawne be the Man in the Yellow Suit after all?
Flash Facts (a.k.a. Easter Eggs):
Firestorm was created by writer Gerry Conway and artist Al Milgrom in Firestorm #1 (1978), hence the “Conway Prize” mentioned by Dr. Wells. Did Milgrom get a call-out that I missed?
Mal Duncan, the musician Barry invited Linda to go see, is a trumpet-playing hero code-named (variously, over the years) Guardian, Hornblower, Herald and/or Vox. Regardless of the name, Mal (created in 1970 by Robert Kanigher and Nick Cardy) was one of DC’s first and most prominent African-American superheroes.
And, yes, “jumper at 52nd and Waid” got my attention. I’m easy.
In addition to a landmark near-100-issue run on The Flash from 1992 to 2000, New York Times bestselling author Mark Waid has written a wider variety of well-known characters than any other American comics creator, from Superman to the Justice League to Spider-Man to Archie and hundreds of others. His award-winning graphic novel with artist Alex Ross, Kingdom Come, is one of the best-selling comics of all time. Currently, he writes Daredevil and S.H.I.E.L.D. for Marvel Comics and Empire and Insufferable for his own webcomics site, Thrillbent.