Season six of The Flash started off strong in the first two episodes. However, it faltered a little this week due in no small part to continued strange choices in the treatment of Frostlin’s character.
We didn’t get a lot of answers this week, but we did get several new questions. Like…how many gun smugglers does Frost have on speed dial? How far will Ralph go to avoid losing someone else (for real this time)? What is Nash Wells after, and why did he recognize Iris? What is Eternium? And when are Barry and Iris going to tell Joe about what’s ahead in Crisis?
Let’s get into it, shall we?
Frost v. Caitlin
Once again, the episode was weakest in its treatment of Killer Frost this week. I am increasingly baffled by the show’s decision to focus on Frost learning how to live a life. There is a fan theory that Caitlin will die in Crisis but Frost will remain. Could that be true? I have no idea how it would possibly work. And yet, with their treatment of both Frost and Caitlin, one does have to wonder.
In last week’s review, I expressed my exhaustion over adult women being written like petulant teenagers in this show. That is no less true this week. However, that was (perhaps surprisingly) not my biggest problem with her character’s treatment in this episode.
Show runner Eric Wallace refers to these episodes leading up to Crisis as the first “graphic novel.” It is very clear that Frostlin’s story – at least in this first half – will focus entirely on the Frost persona. In the premiere, Caitlin agreed to let Frost get a life of her own. But with each episode, as Crisis looms ever nearer, I just have to ask…really? Really? That’s what we’re going to focus on for her? Really?
This choice came off as particularly odd this episode, as this was the episode in which Barry and Iris told the team (minus Joe) about the revised timeline for Crisis and Barry’s inevitable death. As far as the characters know, Crisis could literally mean the end of the world. (Of course, the audience knows that the world will carry on after, but we are also asked to suspend disbelief in the interest of building suspense.) As far as everyone knows, they may have less than two months left to live. Less than two months for everyone they know and love to live. And the show is spending that two months focusing on Frost mourning the life she could have led, rather than exploring how Caitlin, the character we’ve gotten to know for five years, deals with the loss of the life she actually has (assuming she even knows at this point).
Really? That’s the choice we’re making?
It isn’t made any easier by the fact that the audience really hasn’t been given a reason to care whether or not Frost gets a life. I’m sorry, but we haven’t. I still don’t know why we’re supposed to have rooted for Caitlin to get Frost back in the first place, let alone why we should root for Frost to try all 31 flavors of Baskin Robbins ice cream before the world disintegrates.
She was introduced as a villain, and we’ve never been told why. She never apologized, atoned, or grew from being a bad guy to a good guy. A magical light switch flipped. She changed sides, and everyone was totally cool with working with her and helping Caitlin get her back. They never even asked her why she tried to kill them.
And the inconsistencies in her writing and repeated retcons make it even harder for the audience to care about her character. Those inconsistencies were certainly on display in this episode. She knows all of Caitlin’s medical knowledge (so the show conveniently wouldn’t lose out on her skill set if they do kill off Caitlin but retain Frost). But she hasn’t got a single clue how to interact with other human beings. Even though she has partied with Cisco and Ralph in the past, and they even made Caitlin think they preferred Frost’s company to hers. She has no life, but when it’s time for her to have a birthday party, she can pack S.T.A.R. Labs with a guest list of her own making. If she has never led a life and never interacted with other people to the point of learning even the most fundamental interpersonal skills, how does she have that many people on speed dial? They may be (probably are) human traffickers and gun smugglers, but they’re apparently her friends!
Oh, and I know that S.T.A.R. Labs has always had truly terrible security, but did they seriously invite a bunch of (presumably) human traffickers and gun smugglers into the party? I know bad guys have been breezing through the front doors like they own the place for years, but that doesn’t mean you guys have to invite them in!
Actually, let’s talk about that a bit more. The writers simply cannot stop trying to have it both ways with Caitlin and Frost and the shady things one/both have done in the past. Two years ago, Caitlin agreed to work with Amunet as part of a deal to do anything it took to get rid of Frost…who she would be desperate to do anything it took to get back less than a year later. Inexplicably. Caitlin worked the bar and Frost (alone? With Caitlin’s help?) assisted Amunet in tiny little crimes like…human trafficking.
So, if Frost has never had a chance to live her own life (as we are supposed to believe), Caitlin was in the driver’s seat all that time, with the occasional rare exception? So Caitlin was the one agreeing to work with a human trafficker and assist with human trafficking? But she’s never been made to own up to that. In fact, she’s repeatedly been treated like she’s never done anything wrong. And it was admittedly Frost who invited all those people to her birthday party. All right, so Caitlin is completely innocent. It must have been Frost in the driver’s seat most of that time, with the occasional break to give Caitlin a chance to learn how to pour mixed drinks. It was Frost working with a human trafficker and helping with human trafficking, and maybe Caitlin tried to do the right thing and get out every chance she could (although she didn’t seem to be trying when we saw her pouring drinks behind the bar). But Frost brought her back every time.
But…Frostlin worked with Amunet for a while. At least several months. Which is certainly enough time to start learning how to live a life. Or at least learn that feelings are a thing people have. And if Frost was the one doing that, then it certainly warrants a chat about why she used to be evil and what made her choose that path and why she’s choosing another one now. Which we’ve also never gotten.
So which is it? Did Caitlin spend most of that time in the driver’s seat, not really giving Frost a chance to live her own life? Which means Caitlin should be atoning for some serious things. Or was it Frost in the driver’s seat, meaning Caitlin wasn’t complicit in those crimes? In which case, Frost at the very least owes a couple of explanations before she should be welcomed on the team with open arms. And she has actually had a chance to find her own life. Longer than she may stand to have now, before the end of the world. So which is it?
Trying to have it both ways isn’t just bad writing, it makes for an inconsistent character. For a character that is undermined by its own writing. For a bad character. And it makes it hard for the audience to find a reason to care about the character.
I’ll make the writers a deal. I’ll start to root for Frost to try her 31 flavors of ice cream once they explain why Frost did tiny things like trying to kill the team and why she isn’t evil anymore. Once they clarify which part of Frostlin willingly worked with human traffickers for months. And once that persona does a single solitary thing to own up to those (and others, as applicable) actions and atone for them.
Until then, I frankly couldn’t begin to care less whether or not she gets her ice cream.
A Mysterious Stranger Arrives
The introduction of the newest iteration of Wells raises more questions than answers. How did he recognize Iris? Who is the Iris of his Earth? What is he looking for? What was that red stone, really? Why did he have it? Why did he detect Eternium particles on Iris? What is Eternium (for the non-comic fans)? Also, how’s he feeling after that solid tasing that Iris gave him?
As a side note, I didn’t enjoy Allegra’s attitude about the story this week. (Iris is her boss and she’s an intern, and if Iris wants to take over a story, she gets to do so, right? That’s how it works in my world, at least. If my boss says she doesn’t want me to do something, I don’t get to do it. Even if I want to and it seems like part of my job.
But I’ll admit that I don’t work in journalism, so maybe it works differently in that field.) However, I did love that she saw a version of Wells and her first response was “we should look into that guy because that is Harrison Wells and he’s bad news.” For the last several years, the show has seemingly forgotten that each version of Wells wears a dead man’s face. A dead man who the world knows to be a murderer. Yeah, Central City citizens not In The Know would see someone who looks like Harrison Wells and immediately think he’s a murderer and should be apprehended.
Of course, the police should see Killer Frost and remember when she broke into the station and tried to kill them all in order to kidnap and torture a CSI on their staff. But they’re apparently perfectly happy to have her drop in at crime scenes for no reason. So the show isn’t exactly consistent with that point.
The stand-out part of the episode this week had to be the exchange between Barry and Ramsey. We got a bit more of a glimpse into Ramsey’s character this week, and…whew. That man has some issues. I’d still probably give that man all the dark matter he wants if he asked nicely, so let’s all be glad Barry doesn’t enjoy listening to his voice as much as I do.
The Ramsey/Barry dynamic is probably the most interesting villain/hero dynamic that the show has done in several years. Both characters are facing death, although one is a required self-sacrifice and the other is due to illness. However, it’s interesting to see the different ways that they approach their death sentence.
Ramsey is willing to do whatever it takes to find a way to cheat death. Barry is resigned to his fate. Of course, this season sets up a chance to explore how all characters face their possible imminent demise (or, at the very least, Barry’s). Iris was defiant, determined to find a way to cheat death. Frost was angry that she would lose out on a chance to eat ice cream. I’m curious to know how Cisco response – an answer we will undoubtedly get next week.
Same Lies, Different Mother
First thing’s first: What is it with this show having parents lie to their children that someone is dead “for their own good?” Seriously? Is this a common occurrence somewhere else in the world? The show has used this plot device three times already – Joe lied to Iris about Francine, Caitlin’s mom lied to her about her dad, and now Ralph’s mom liked to him about her dead boyfriends. (Although I do have to wonder how many boyfriends she told this lie about. At a certain point, shouldn’t he have started to wonder if she was knocking them off? Particularly once he became a detective. That many boyfriends dropping dead can’t be normal.)
Otherwise, I’m not averse to writers fleshing out supporting characters with backstories. In fact, I think three-dimensional characters are good things to have in a show. However, with Crisis looming, I did have to wonder why the show spent so much time establishing Ralph’s relationship with his mom. Was it just to throw in the little nod to Sue at the end? Surely not.
Ultimately, I think that the writers may have chosen to explore his backstory now in order to justify his upcoming reaction to learning about Barry’s death. Although he (along with Frost and Cisco) learned that Barry would have to die in Crisis to save the world, there was no time for the characters to process this news. In a recent interview, Wallace indicated Ralph would not take the news well. His suggested reaction seemed excessive, given the interactions we’ve seen between Barry and Ralph. However, a history of losing people he cared about would go a long way to explaining any extreme reactions – or actions – Ralph takes in the future.
I only wonder what it means, that Ralph won’t take the news well. How far he will be willing to go in order to prevent Barry’s death?
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.