[WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Flash Season 2 Premiere.]
The long, long wait for the next chapter of The Flash has come to an end, but that doesn't mean that fans were left with a complete grasp of what lies ahead. It may have been enough of a stumble to see season 1's gripping finale cliffhanger paid off in a flashback, but the changes coming to the villain, heroes, and even budding superpowers of everyday Central City citizens likely left casual viewers confused.
Those well versed in DC Comics history can connect the dots to see which comic book stories, theories, and crises are being built toward, but for those who are simply crossing their fingers that it will all make sense - we're here to help. We've singled out some of the most lingering questions from The Flash's season 2 premiere, and will do our best to lay out an explanation.
What Happened to Ronnie?
You have to respect a TV series that kicks off its second season by killing off a supporting cast member... especially when said cast member is able to fly and produce fire. Just when the DC hero Firestorm - composed of Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell) and Martin Stein (Victor Garber) - had reached full potential, one half of the equation was presumably killed. Or, more accurately, lost.
To explain what happened (and why Ronnie Raymond's time in the show probably isn't over) would demand an understanding of black holes/wormholes/singularities, so we'll stick to broader terms for now. When the Speed Force rupture resulted in a black hole - in this case, a rotating (Kerr?) black hole - over Central City, Barry Allen's super speed allowed him to slow the rotation and weaken it.
In the world of The CW's DC Comics heroes, the only way to close a black hole is to, apparently, deliver enough energy in a single burst to overwhelm it. Flash fans got an idea of the nuclear blast that comes when Ronnie and Stein separated without the use of S.T.A.R. Labs's Splicer, so when the men merged, and tore off the stabilizing device in the black hole, a similar explosion resulted.
Before heading in to his sacrifice, Caitlin Snow had warned that Ronnie (and Martin) might not be able to escape the "inrush" of the black hole's collapse. In other words, he might get swallowed up along with the nuclear explosion. In the end Martin Stein was thrown out of the explosion - but Ronnie wasn't so lucky.
Obviously, those paying close attention to the sci-fi of The Flash may see some problems. For starters, Ronnie and Martin didn't just decide to become and stay Firestorm - their molecules were drawn to the other, meaning merging was going to be inevitable after a period of time. So unless that has been thrown out the window with a wave of the writers' hand, Stein may need a new partner to shoulder the energy of Firestorm (and the top candidate has already been revealed).
But what about Ronnie? If the phenomenon in the skies of Central City was a standard singularity, and collapsed his mass along with the rest of the matter it sucked in, his story is over. But we know that the black hole more accurately acted as a wormhole, allowing people to enter from a parallel universe, leading to new villains and one ally.
If the wormhole was fueled by the extradimensional Speed Force, then Ronnie may be anywhere, at any time, on any level of existence. Or in keeping with the comics, he may simply exist as part of the Firestorm Matrix (the energy bonding both halves of Firestorm) but unable to speak or escape. For now...
Where Did Atom-Smasher Come From? Who Was Al Rothstein?
The reason for naming the villain may have been plain as day - he's atomic, and... smashes - but the existence of Atom Smasher was left largely unexplained in the premiere episode. And if any viewers decide to actually search the villain's name online, they will be more than a little surprised to see that according to DC Comics, the character is a hero. So what is The CW up to?
The answer to that question likely lies with Al Rothstein, the murder victim who kicks off the episode, and not the man responsible for his death (both played by Adam Copeland). What might have gone unnoticed by some is that the deceased Rothstein was employed as a welder at a nuclear power plant before meeting his end. That fits fairly well with the DC Comics origin of Atom Smasher, but The CW is pulling for a few canonical stories and characters for this version.
Traditionally, it was Al Rothstein's godfather, Al Pratt - the original Atom, a title later held by Ray Palmer - who gained strength by exposure to radiation. That radiation came in a battle with Cyclotron, a nuclear-powered bruiser who was only a reluctant villain, and also the grandfather of Al Rothstein (from whom he acquired his powers of increasing his nuclear density, size and strength).
What TV fans got was clearly a blend of these origins, with the show's Atom Smasher only attacking The Flash at the command of the mysterious villain Zoom, promised a return home in exchange. But his first victim offers a major hint at how the show will populate its current world, and the alternate Earth accessed by the black hole above Central City.
The fact that viewers were shown a version of Al Rothstein that was generally unremarkable, but employed at a nuclear power plant offers one explanation: on Barry's Earth ("Earth One"), Al Rothstein had yet to become Atom Smasher, or would simply never be exposed to the radiation granting him his powers (and hunger for radioactive material). But on "Earth Two" - the parallel world from which Atom Smasher came - things had proceeded as the comics had.
Does this mean Earth Two contains the same people as Earth One, but living different possible lives? Does that mean there's a Barry Allen living on Earth Two? A Jay Garrick unidentified in the show's world? Only time will tell, but the clues are enough to debate for now!