Caitlin Deserves Better: The Flash Needs to Embrace Her Inner Killer Frost
While The Flash is a pretty fantastic superhero show, it rarely gives its female characters stories that are worthy of them. From the start, Iris West (Candice Patton) frequently found herself lied to, left in the dark or otherwise excluded from the series’ primary plots. Iris’ story got something of an upgrade in Season 3, which delved into her relationship with hero Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), and positioned her as an important emotional anchor for several members of the team.
But despite the general improvements in Iris’ story, The Flash continues to struggle with what to do with its second female lead, Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker). Despite her status as a respected scientist, her storylines during the show’s first two seasons almost solely revolved around her tragic love life. Trapped in what felt like an endless cycle of loss and suffering, Caitlin buried the love of her life (twice), and then had her rebound guy turn out to be an evil speedster from an alternate dimension. And that’s before he held her hostage. To put it mildly, The Flash hasn’t exactly spent a lot of time on stories dedicated to Caitlin’s character in her own right.
Happily, that’s somewhat changed in recent weeks.
Thanks to Barry’s creation of alternate reality Flashpoint, Caitlin now possesses the same meta-human abilities as her Earth-2 alter ego, the villainous Killer Frost. And as a result, a whole new world of storyline possibilities opened up for her. For most of Season 3, Caitlin struggled with accepting her new metahuman status. She lived in fear that she might lose control of her emotions and allow her “Killer Frost” persona to manifest. And she tried everything–from sheer willpower to magical speed force jewelry–to keep her abilities in check … until post-surgery complications from a run in with Flash villain Abra Kadabra (David Dastmalchian) left Caitlin with a blood clot that required the use of her metahuman healing abilities to save her life. And though her freed powers ultimately healed her injuries, they also caused Killer Frost to emerge.
Her transformation into Killer Frost not only reset Caitlin’s role in relation to Team Flash, it reset her place within the show. And that has been incredibly exciting to watch. Because for once, her story feels completely unpredictable, so much so that as viewers, we’re not entirely clear going into the season finale whether she will ultimately turn out to be a villain, an antihero or something in between—let alone what her character will look like once Season 4 rolls around. It’s certainly possible that The Flash may not choose to keep Caitlin as her icy alter ego next season, at least as far as making Panabaker dress up in a wig and blue lipstick goes. But the show should absolutely make Killer Frost a regular part of the action–if not in actual fact, then at least in terms of Caitlin’s perspective, abilities and role within the larger story.
Caitlin has been a member of Team Flash from the very beginning. She is brave, selfless and a loyal friend. But the show hasn’t always done the best job of illustrating her journey and growth as a character. While previous seasons mined her tragic love life for plot twists, The Flash never really delved much into the aftereffects of all that loss or what a person might look like after going through so much of it.
The emergence of Killer Frost changed all that. The existence of her evil alter ego is basically all about emotion, particularly the negative ones. Even before she fully transformed, it was Caitlin losing control of her feelings–specifically her anger or pain–that caused her powers to manifest. And, as Killer Frost, she frequently says the bitter, cruel things that Caitlin would never give voice to; her angry laundry list of every semi-selfish act Barry ever committed, for example. This girl has been pushing down a mountain of emotion for several seasons now, so it makes complete sense that she carries around an unacknowledged well of cold fury inside herself. No wonder Killer Frost tries so hard to reject the emotional bonds that have done nothing but bring Caitlin pain. (“I never loved any of you,” she tells her teammates. An obvious lie, but one that allows her to remove herself from the mess that is caring about them.)
Unfortunately, The Flash attempted to have it both ways with the Killer Frost story. By making the character some sort of evil alter ego battling for control of its host form, the show skirts the need to address Caitlin’s own darkness. (Of which she has plenty.) The series even goes so far as to argue that one of the reasons Savitar exists is that this future time remnant version of Barry possesses so much pain inside himself. Well, the only other character on The Flash who could give Barry a run for his money in the personal suffering department is Caitlin. She certainly has more than enough reason to embrace her dark side. Whether she remains Killer Frost or not, it’s really past time for The Flash to explore that aspect of her character in a significant way.
As Killer Frost, we’ve been treated to something like a version of Caitlin let loose. She is selfish, demanding, and refuses to put others first. And she has so much more agency than ever before. She makes her own decisions for her own reasons, and not in response to someone else’s actions. Even her alliance with Savitar–as bizarre as it might seem–is still a partnership that she chose for herself. But even before Caitlin became her evil doppelganger, she was actively engaging in some fairly questionable activities. She lied to her friends. She stole a piece of the Philosopher’s Stone. She manipulated Julian. In other words, she acted completely selfishly, and in her own self-interest. These actions pale in comparison to the later machinations of Killer Frost, but they prove Caitlin is human. She’s not some sort of damsel in distress, or a perpetually sad maiden in a tower. As a character, she deserves a storyline that will let her make mistakes, grow and change—the same as anyone else on Team Flash.
It’s not clear whether The Flash will fully commit to making Caitlin a long-term villain once the Savitar arc is over. But her time as Killer Frost should still shape her ongoing story in profound ways. The series established that the two share memories (don’t ask how that works), therefore they are obviously connected in some fundamental aspect. So no matter what else happens, she will eventually have to come to terms with that. She will have to face what happened during her time with Savitar, with the emotions that experience raised, and with the darkness that has been inside her all along. And whether she calls herself Caitlin Snow or Killer Frost or something else entirely by the time Season 4 rolls around, that certainly sounds like a hero’s journey worth exploring.
(image: The CW/DC TV)
Lacy Baugher is a digital strategist and writer living in Washington, D.C., who’s still hoping that the TARDIS will show up at her door eventually. A fan of complicated comic book villains, British period dramas and whatever Jessica Lange happens to be doing today, her work has been featured on The Baltimore Sun, Bitch Flicks, Culturess, The Tracking Board and more. She livetweets way too many things on Twitter, and is always looking for new friends to yell about Game of Thrones with.
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