The Flash’s Caitlin Snow Problem

I’ve written before about the problematic treatment of women on DCTV. The Flarrowverse has some of my favorite shows, but I’ve written before about how more than one woman in this universe deserves better than they’ve been given. However, this week’s episode really reiterated that The Flash has a growing Caitlin Snow problem. The only question is whether they even want to fix it.

Season One: Fairytale Love, Ending in Tragedy

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Caitlin Snow has been a character of The Flash from the very first episode. She was introduced as an emotionally distant character, broken by the death of the man she loved. Her grief gave the audience investment in Ronnie Raymond’s character before he even appeared on the show. Though he had supposedly died in the particle accelerator explosion, it later was discovered that he had been impacted by the same dark matter that had made so many other metahumans that day. Ronnie was destined to return as one-half of the well-known comics character Firestorm, and thus a romance that actress Danielle Panabaker referred to as something out of a fairy-tale.

Throughout the season, the show set up the “fire and ice” relationship that Ronnie and Caitlin would one day have, once she turned into Killer Frost. However, Robbie Amell, who played Ronnie, opted to leave the show to pursue his movie career. Needing to shift direction, the writers allowed the lovebirds a moment of happiness with an impromptu wedding ceremony. Then they killed him off in the second season premiere.

While I take issue with some of the writing for Caitlin in the first season (I will never stop being bitter that she didn’t get her own moment to confront Eobard for his betrayal), it was comparatively solid. The writers had a story they wanted to move towards for her. They had a clear direction, and they were pursuing it.

Season Two: If You Can’t Be with the One You Love…

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The second season is where the writers started to really flounder with Caitlin. (To be fair, the writers floundered with much more than that, as they shifted their focus to the launch of a new series.) No longer able to pursue the story they had clearly intended to develop for her character, they needed to come up with a new plan.

Sadly, what they came up with was Snowjay – a relationship between Caitlin Snow and the man who would be Zoom. It was a sloppy story at best, one that culminated in a kidnap plot and her eventual release. She struggled with PTSD for an episode, but by the third season, any lingering repercussions were forgotten. She has certainly taken her subsequent kidnappings in stride. However, since Flashpoint remains a bit vague about what history was rewritten and what remains intact, this could perhaps be excused.

Still, the fact remains that her “story” in the second season largely seemed to involve tying Jay/Hunter/Zoom to the narrative and the team. And thus giving the audience a reason to care about his subsequent betrayal. After her devastation at the apparent death of another man she loved, the audience called for her to get a break from romantic plotlines for a while. For a brief time, there was even hope that with Flashpoint would come a solid storyline for her, outside of romance.

Season Three: So Many Questions, Yet So Few Answers

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Flashpoint brought with it the opportunity to wipe the slate clean. The writers could do almost anything with this newly created reality and its aftermath, including bringing Ronnie back from the dead. Things looked promising when her repercussions were revealed: she had the ice powers that would turn her into Killer Frost.

Obvious flaws in her story arose right away, in the form of a myriad of questions that never would be answered – at least not that season. Why did Caitlin’s powers automatically make her evil, when the entire message of the series was that people choose to be heroes or villains? Was Killer Frost an aspect of Caitlin’s persona or something else entirely? And what was Killer Frost’s purpose; why did she make the choices she made?

The writers didn’t hang a lantern on the gaping holes in their story for Caitlin as much as they waved a lantern in her general direction and hoped the audience wouldn’t notice. Near the end of the season, Cisco asked Killer Frost why she was working with Savitar (and thus trying to kill them all), and she retorted that she had her reasons. Those reasons were never explained to the audience. Then again, according to a recent interview with Danielle Panabaker, they were never explained to her, either.

Adding insult to injury, there was her romantic plot for the season. I liked Julian as a character, but they once again used Caitlin’s love life to explain the newest man’s presence on the team. By the time the show runners promised that the end of the season would have Cisco and Julian fighting for Caitlin’s soul, the audience was beyond irritated that they’d never explained why her soul was in jeopardy to begin with.

Season Four: The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

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Still, the fourth season of The Flash was not without its promise, in terms of Caitlin’s character. The show runners seemed to have heard the fandom complaints and promised that Caitlin would remain single this season. Thus far, that has remained true. (However, I still don’t entirely trust they won’t put her with Ralph Dibney at some point before the end. They. Better. Not.) They also promised more Caitlin, more Killer Frost, and – perhaps more importantly – more answers.

To an extent, they’ve lived up to their promise. They have definitively explained that Caitlin and Killer Frost are two entirely different personas, one without the knowledge or memories of the other. This explanation actually makes no sense if considered in the context of everything that happened in the third season. However, that’s to be expected when answers are only formulated after the fact. Plot holes become an inevitability. But at least that question was answered.

Of course, as with so many things, when one question is answered, another dozen arise. Caitlin’s story this season has largely involved metahuman baddie Amunet. At the end of the third season, Caitlin had left the team to try to come to terms with (or a cure for) the abilities that plagued her. She turned to Amunet for help.

What exactly Amunet did for her is somewhat of a mystery – Caitlin is not, strictly speaking, “cured” of Killer Frost. She still has no control over the change or much ability to prevent it. She has even less control of her powers than she did last year, since she was able to create snow and help Barry out of a mirror a year ago but now cannot access any of her abilities without transforming into her evil alter-ego.

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Well. I say evil. Really, she’s more “cranky” than killer. Somewhat snarky. But in an abrupt about-face from last season, she is no longer the villain who would turn against her friends and help Savitar in his efforts to murder them. Why exactly she’s made this change is as unclear as so many things. In this instance, it seems that Iris told her that she’s not evil, and so she isn’t.

Would that every villain was defeated so easily.

At any rate, the line between Caitlin and Killer Frost may leave plot holes the size of Texas in season three, but it is at least clearly defined in season four. So where is the problem?

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Take the aforementioned story with Amunet. Caitlin didn’t just turn to her for help. She – and Killer Frost – helped Amunet in return. Caitlin apparently tended her seedy bar, while Killer Frost worked as her muscle. Why is that an issue? Because Amunet doesn’t just trade black market goods under the table. She deals in kidnapping and selling people. She captures, occasionally tortures, and sells metahumans.

That Killer Frost would be willing to turn a blind eye to that is certainly in line with the bad guy she supposedly was. Questions arise when one considers that Caitlin worked for her, as well. She had in fact agreed to work for her in exchange for some mysterious tech that Amunet had. What was the tech for? Did it do anything at all regarding her problem? Was she really ignorant of Amunet’s activities? If not, why did she not take action? Why did she not tell her friends – or anyone – about Amunet’s activities before she was attacked?

Leaving those questions aside, there’s the issue of how both Caitlin and Killer Frost have been written outside of the plot with Amunet.

On at least three occasions this season – including the crossover – Caitlin has been left behind to allow for a moment for Killer Frost to swoop in and save the day. Or at least have some sort of epic battle. On each of the occasions I can think of off the top of my head, Killer Frost swept in…for about three seconds before being knocked out and removed from the action completely.

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This obvious sidelining of Caitlin in order to give Killer Frost a three-second moment has bothered me. What bothers me more is Caitlin’s treatment in this most recent episode.

“Honey, I Shrunk Team Flash” is about…exactly what one would expect an episode with such a title to be about. Cisco Ramon and Ralph Dibney are shrunk, and the team needs to find a way to return them to their normal size. This need becomes even more imperative when one of Harry’s experiments goes awry and time starts ticking away until they explode.

With a possible solution in mind, the bulk of the team goes to fight the bad guy and try to force – or trick – him into putting Cisco and Ralph back to normal. In this pivotal moment, Caitlin opts to stay at the lab to look for a solution.

This is when The Flash’s Caitlin problem was too glaring to be ignored. Why did Caitlin need to stay behind at the lab once again? This time, at least, it wasn’t to allow Killer Frost a moment. She didn’t come up with the solution. She didn’t even come up with the realization that she had to do something science-related to contribute to the solution. (“Before you shoot that gun, I have to yadda yadda forcefield yadda explode yadda science!”) She literally came up with nothing – outside of apparently being the keeper of the Countdown Timer to Imminent Explosion.

And even if she had found an answer with a minute to go, without Cisco’s ability to vibe over to her, how would she have gotten it to the team? Is the speed force sending out carrier pigeons now?

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Now, I want to reiterate here that this isn’t a problem with Caitlin as a character. I don’t think she was a terrible person for staying behind in the lab. (Though I do wonder about the moral quandary that arises with the Amunet plot.)

The problem is that every season, the writers simply don’t know what to do with Caitlin Snow. No more so than this season. They have gone from using love interests to fill the time – and her plot – to now having her sit out of the action for absolutely no reason. Or knocking her out after three seconds when she does get involved in the action.

The question becomes why. Are there really no interesting stories that could be told about either Caitlin or Killer Frost? I find that hard to believe, given that comics have existed for decades – creating a vast source of plots from which they could pull. Also, they really haven’t done much with Killer Frost to date, let alone enough to tap out potential storylines. As it is, while we’ve been told Frost is the life of the party, we certainly haven’t been allowed to see it. We haven’t had the chance to see her hang out with the team, to see how they interact with this side of Caitlin’s persona. In fact, we haven’t seen much of her at all, and what we have seen has largely been brief.

A lack of a plotline for Killer Frost might be excusable, if there was at least a solid story or arc being explored for Caitlin. But her crumbs of an arc have been few and far between. And, really, there is no good excuse for that.

It’s troubling to me that the one clear plot I can see that they have had for Caitlin was the romance with Ronnie. Without that option, they have floundered for season after season. They have been seemingly unable to come up with an arc for her character that both makes sense and doesn’t revolve around her love life.

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Making Killer Frost a darker side of Caitlin’s personality would have obviously created a compelling arc for her character. That they chose not to go in that direction is fine. But could they not think of a similarly compelling arc for her in doing so? After all, they are the ones setting the parameters for their own story.

The writers seem to want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to have the option of using Killer Frost, but – outside of arguably those episodes about the Amunet plotline – they don’t give her much to work with when she’s there. She waits on the sidelines until her moment. Then gets one or two hits in. And then she’s knocked out.

But because Caitlin has been a regular character on the show since the beginning, they also don’t want Killer Frost to be that bad. Not bad enough to have to leave, certainly. And, apparently, not bad enough that they would have to dedicate an arc to redeeming her (or Caitlin, for that matter).

The Flash’s problem with Caitlin Snow is that they have a character they want to keep on the show – two, in fact – but they don’t invest the time necessary to develop an arc for her. They clearly didn’t bother to give enough thought to her arc last season. They never bothered to explain the nature of her dichotomy or the reason for Frost’s actions. Neither do they seem to have thought about the implications of the arc they have given her on at least one-half of the character equation. They didn’t bother to really show Frost’s redemption. She is good because she is told she is good and so she has decided to believe it. She is the life of the party, but we certainly never see it.

While they have been lauded for having a woman in STEM, they don’t get points in my book for paying lip service to female characters and then failing them in their narrative. Caitlin may not be the central hero of the series, but that doesn’t mean she has no stories to tell.

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Bottom line: If you’re going to have a character on the show, then show that character respect. Think of a plot for that character that extends beyond how she can provide a gateway into the show for other characters. And if you honestly can’t think of a story for her that isn’t related to her love life? Then maybe consider how you view your characters. Why you would ever have a woman who can only exist within that sphere of your narrative?

The Flash has failed Caitlin Snow. They can fix their mistake. But after three years, I can’t help but wonder. Do they even want to try?

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