Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Flash 8x08 Review: "The Fire Next Time" (Paternal Parallels) [Contributor: Deborah M]

“The Fire Next Time”
Original Airdate: March 23, 2022

This week, The Flash delivers a metahuman of the week story with a slightly more pensive undercurrent to set it apart from the usual. “The Fire Next Time” explores father-son relationships and failures of the justice system and, while not spectacular by any means, has a certain something that makes it more compelling than the average “procedural” episode. Maybe it’s the lingering grief that surrounds Barry consistently throughout, maybe it’s just the clear-cut parallels. Either way, a decent watch.


At O'Shaughnessy's, the only bar in Central City, a man named Stan is menaced by an unseen force before being devoured by the camera, Evil Dead-style. His char-broiled corpse is later examined by Barry and Chester, who both agree it was a meta attack based on the fact that the guy was roasted without any damage to his surroundings. While Stan’s death scene in the cold open was slightly over the top and nothing special, the vibe starting from this point and running across the episode is pretty good. Not a note of what my closed captioning would call “irreverent pizzicato music” to be heard, and though I do love when The Flash gets irreverent and pizzicato, it’s good to have a change of pace. Plus, Barry Allen doing his day job is a rare and wonderful thing to see.

A waitress at the bar identifies someone Stan had been fighting with shortly before his death as Jaco Birch, a fire-based meta also known as “The Hotness” (not some of Cisco’s best work). Jaco is currently employed as part of the security for an arena and is working a L.I.P.S rock concert, trying to impress his teenage son with promises of the show to come. It’s some absolute precision “sympathize with this person!” writing and I fall for it thoroughly from the moment Birch awkwardly and self-deprecatingly agrees with his kid, Harold’s, insult toward him. Yeesh. To pile on top of that, CCPD shows up to arrest him and when Birch’s anger causes his flame powers to erupt, Barry has to throw him into a fountain.

As Birch begs the police not to take his son away from him and insists he’s innocent, Barry flashes back to watching his own father’s arrest for his mother’s murder. This is a significant through-line for the episode — not only the parallels to fathers and sons and the falsely accused, but also the grief Barry still feels over the loss of his father. The episode is happening around February 1st, which is Henry Allen’s birthday, and it seems like Barry is reminded of his father every step of the way. I’m surprised at how long it’s taken The Flash to dive into a story like this, actually. We get mentions of Barry’s mom all the time, but mentions of his dad are a lot less frequent.

It becomes Barry’s mission to clear Birch’s name, based entirely on Barry’s gut feeling that he recognizes the same elements in Birch as he did in his father. As Barry puts it later on in the episode, both Birch and Henry had the look of “an innocent man, desperate not to lose his son, begging for someone to believe him.” Well, Barry’s the believer in Birch’s case, even when everyone tells him the guy is guilty.

A consultation with Cecile doesn’t get Barry very far. He has a good argument in Birch’s favor, but nothing concrete enough to release him and circumstantial evidence against an ex-con has a lot more weight than a lack of physical evidence. Barry asks Cecile to use her powers to get a read on Birch’s innocence, but if that were to happen we wouldn’t have an episode. So instead, she claims it’s an ethical line she can’t cross. Really? Because I swear she’s used her powers to determine who to fight for in the past.

Cecile’s meeting with Birch doesn’t help matters, since he did indeed fight with Stan over money and made vague threats before leaving the previous night, and he doesn’t have anyone who can confirm he was at home instead of setting a man on fire. Thankfully for Birch, our main protagonist believes in him so he’s probably going to be fine. 

He’s certainly not helping his own case when we find out that he’s escaped police custody during transport after his interview with Cecile, though. It’s great for drama but a really dumb move for a guy who’s desperate to stay out of jail, because even if he’s innocent of the initial crime he could still be charged with resisting arrest and that could potentially lead to — you guessed it! Jail time. To add to matters, the waitress who ID'd him ends up as another extra crispy corpse for CCPD to find.

Things should be looking especially bad for Birch right now, but Barry finally has some evidence that Birch isn’t their fiery killer: the burns on both bodies are too identical to be caused by a pyro-meta like Birch. Still, everyone disagrees with Barry based on how the case appears. Shouldn’t Frost at least be a little more on Birch’s side, here? She’s also been framed for crimes and unfairly judged because of her history. Sometimes I wish the show didn’t need so much for Barry to be a lone voice of reason in episodes like this, because it makes his team look unusually closed-minded just for the sake of internal Team Flash drama. Presenting a slightly more unified front of Team Flash vs. The System (or whatever the antagonist might be) could generate just as much narrative friction as pitting literally everyone against Barry.

Barry admits he’s so wrapped up in this Birch thing because this case reminds him of his father’s case. Every scene of Barry discussing his feelings about his father, his father’s arrest, and how much not having him around hurt is effective in this episode, by the way. Like I said, the parallels here might have been unsubtle, but emotion makes up for it.

After a talk with Joe, Barry gets a text from Chester. As Barry suspected, the cause of death for both burn victims is the key to proving Birch’s innocence. An anomalous signature indicates the meta who set the victims on fire did it via cold fusion, not heat absorption like Birch. They hope that Birch doesn’t do anything stupid in the time it takes for them to clear his name with CCPD, but then we cut to Birch doing something stupid — namely, he’s trying to get Harold back from Social Services and feels like setting things on fire is the best way to go about it.

Barry and Frost interrupt Birch before he can hurt anyone in his anger, but all that heat he’s been drawing on has disturbed the Earth’s core and now there’s a lava channel under Central City that’s bubbling up through the street. Barry has a plan, though: he’ll phase through the earth to the water table and release it into the lava, then allow the resulting heat to be absorbed by Birch. It works. Birch has saved thousands of lives, which is just enough that his son thinks he’s cool again. The father and son hug, and we get a flashback to early-series Barry hugging his dad after he’s been released from prison.

Later, Birch thanks Barry and Cecile for their help and gets officially reunited with his kid. It all works out well, but they still don’t know who the nuclear meta who killed those people and framed Birch in the first place actually is. There’s a chance Central City has a metahuman serial killer on the loose.

Tying up the father-son, Henry-Birch parallels that have been the foundation of this episode, Barry and the Wests are celebrating Henry’s birthday by toasting to his memory with light beer and funny stories. It’s a sweet, sad little scene.

Other Things:

  • Of course I paused to read the events on Barry and Iris’s calendar. Iris gets acupuncture?
  • There was also a storyline with Iris, Allegra, and a Central City Citizen reporter named Taylor which barely tied into the A-plot’s themes of unfair treatment for ex-convicts but otherwise seemed too disconnected to include in the review. Allegra’s apparently making enemies at work, though.
  • Nitpick: the scene of Birch confronting the waitress shouldn’t have happened. The audience wasn’t ever going to believe Birch was guilty, so having him confront the waitress was pointless and it raises questions on the logistics of how Birch didn’t see the actual killer.
  • Barry’s really gotta hand-deliver evidence via flash drive? He can’t shoot that off in an email?
  • Shout out to Barry’s love of Hawaiian dinner rolls. A love which I share. Mmm, Hawaiian dinner rolls...


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