Leading into the sixth season, new show runner for The Flash, Eric Wallace, promised some changes to the number one show on the CW network.
Thirteen episodes in, and some of those changes have started to take shape. The series has shifted formats, featuring two “graphic novels” rather than spreading one plot over the course of a season.
Iris West has started to step into the spotlight, given the prominence in screen time and plot that is deserving of the female lead. But with all these changes, there is one glaring problem that has, if anything, gotten worse this season: (Killer) Frost.
A Strange Partnership
The Flash‘s Frost hasn’t always had the most consistent of writing. Originally, she seemed to be a part of Caitlin, willing to say the things Caitlin wouldn’t. She was evil, but even the actress was never given a motivation for her actions. Then she became a separate “identity” that cohabited inside of Caitlin’s mind. Caitlin was willing to go to incredible lengths (including teaming up with a metahuman trafficker) to get rid of Frost, but when Frost was gone, she was willing to go to equally incredibly lengths to get her back. They formed a friendship of sorts, mostly off-screen and through the exchange of not-so-sweet nothings jotted down on Post-It Notes.
Then the duo started to communicate telepathically – something that reads fine in a comic but frankly tends to look ridiculous on-screen. All culminating in Caitlin’s decision this season to give control of her body over to Frost on an apparent rent-to-own basis. Killer Frost has supposedly done so much for her (When? Where? Why didn’t we see it?). She’s realized she wants to figure out how to live her own life. Giving over absolute control of her body is the very least Caitlin can do.
It seems like a lot to do for somebody, but we’ll roll with it.
Snow Falls Silent
And, thus, The Flash’s problems with the character of Frost began to become less background noise and more like a flashing neon sign reading “WTF?” Frost has retained almost exclusive control over Caitlin’s body nearly the entire season to-date. Throughout the majority of the lead-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Frost was in the driver’s seat, not Caitlin. Caitlin was allowed out briefly a couple of times – most notably to almost get choked out by Ramsey, and she was finally given a few seconds to hug Barry before he headed towards his presumed death.
As choices go, this was an absolutely baffling one. I’ll admit that Caitlin isn’t my favorite character on the show, but even I have far less interest in seeing how Killer Frost handles never having had a birthday than I have in seeing how Caitlin deals with the presumed-certain death of a friend – let alone every friend – she’s known for years. Frost tried to kill the team a few years ago. With her loose interpretation of human emotional and interpersonal connection at the start of the season, I would assume she’d handle Barry’s death in stride. And, indeed, her main source of grief was that she might die before trying all the flavors of Baskin Robbin’s ice cream. Hardly the emotional core of the show to date.
How did Caitlin deal with the revelation that her friend was going to die? How did she come to terms with the fact she would probably die, as well? As I wrote before, the audience has far less emotional investment in Frost than they do in Caitlin. It makes no sense for the show to devote all its time to showing Frost mourn the life she could have led and spending absolutely no time showing Caitlin deal with the loss of the life she’s actually lived. How did Caitlin take the news? Was there anything in particular she realized she’d miss the most? Was there something on her bucket list she wished she’d done before she died? Did it lead her to any revelations about changes she’d like to make in her life, if the world should survive? Now that everyone survived near-certain death, how’s she holding up? What does she even do all day, trapped in Frost’s mind? Nap?
The fact is, we still don’t know. The show granted Caitlin a couple brief lines and one group hug, and that was the extent to which she’s been given a voice this year.
Killer Frost or Caitlin Snow? Caitlin Snow or Killer Frost?
But post-Crisis, things have not been markedly better for Caitlin. She still largely lacks a voice (and screen time), as Killer Frost (or just Frost, as she prefers now) continues to learn how to live her life. And gives advice to others along the way. Which is questionable in its own right, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
And here’s where the show’s Killer Frost problem becomes absolutely impossible to ignore. While there was a time that Frost didn’t seem to know everything Caitlin knew – they had to exchange Post-It Notes to converse, remember – that line has been blurred so much as to become nonexistent. Sure, it might make sense that they have progressed so far in their cohabitative relationship that the Post-It Note middle man is no longer necessary. But it isn’t just that Frost is able to go to Caitlin directly for knowledge and memories only Caitlin should have. She doesn’t seem to have to ask Caitlin at all.
Earlier this season, I was baffled why they weren’t using Caitlin even in scenes that would make sense for Caitlin, and not Frost, to appear. When Frost acted like the team doctor, I shook my head. Giving Frost the spotlight is one thing; failing to utilize Caitlin at all, even when it would make sense to do so, is another. In this week’s episode, they took it even further. Not only does Frost have all of Caitlin’s basic medical knowledge, she apparently has her advanced bioengineering knowledge, as well. She has knowledge that it is unlikely Caitlin is desperately whispering to her in her mind, outside of the purview of the audience.
In trying to make Frost into her own character, they have erased Caitlin’s character almost entirely. Since her decision to give Frost control over her body, I can count the number of scenes I remember the show utilizing Caitlin on one hand. And now, everything that did make Caitlin distinct from Frost is being obliterated. Frost has all of Caitlin’s knowledge, and as they have her “grow emotionally” (I guess), they’re increasingly writing her more and more like Caitlin. With only one or two lines more of snark. The distinction between how the two characters are played is being blurred, as well. It’s less like the show wants to develop Frost and Caitlin both as characters and more like they want to make Frost into Caitlin 2.0 – still the same skillset and pep talks, but with 3% more sass.
The characters don’t even really seem to distinguish between Frost and Caitlin at this point. While there was once a question of which was more “fun,” Caitlin or Frost, nobody even mentions Caitlin, let alone seems to miss her, as Frost sticks around 24/7. The show is writing her the same, and frankly the characters are pretty much treating the two like they’re the same person at this point. If the show isn’t volunteering information about how Caitlin handled the lead-in or aftermath to Crisis, neither Cisco nor Barry nor Ralph nor anyone else is asking, either.
I’ve seen Caitlin fans say that, if Cisco is the brains of Team Flash (and, sadly, that role is too rarely filled by Barry himself), then Caitlin is the heart. I don’t know that I agree with this sentiment, particularly as it pertains to the Flash himself. However, even if one could argue that was once true, then it certainly isn’t any longer. Even when team members like Ralph and Allegra (who I guess is team adjacent?) need an emotional sounding board, therapy, or advice, Frost is given that role, as well.
So which is it? Does she still need to learn how to live a life and connect to people? In which case, she absolutely should not be giving anyone advice on anything, particularly anything that involves interpersonal relationships and, heaven help us all, romance. Or has she grown enough to be able to give such advice as necessary? In which case, give Caitlin back control of her own body on a part-time basis, at least, damn it! I was appalled when the episode description for “Love is a Battlefield” was released and it became clear that Frost, and not Caitlin, would be giving Allegra romantic advice. Caitlin’s track record in romance has been dismal, to be sure, but at least she didn’t just learn that emotions are a thing three weeks ago. She may have lost in love, but at least she’s loved someone other than herself for longer than the shelf life of a carton of milk.
In this week’s episode, “Grodd Friended Me,” I was initially pleased to see Caitlin appear, as the show remembered that she and Grodd had a pre-existing relationship. Until it became clear that “Caitlin” was only a mental construct. The character was finally granted a few minutes of screen time, and it wasn’t really her at all.
If the series is really that determined to focus on Frost at the expense of Caitlin, if they’re really determined to give her all of the knowledge and characteristics that once belonged to Caitlin and totally eliminate the lines that distinguished the two characters, then why didn’t they just “merge” the two personalities into one as a consequence of Crisis? At least then, the audience would be given cause to remember that Caitlin was still a character on the show, distinct and wholly separate from Frost. And maybe, just maybe, the writers would remember that, too.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW.