Her storyline leaves us cold.
One of the bright spots in The Flash Season 3 was the emergence of Caitlin Snow’s alter ego Killer Frost. Although much of the season’s arc – which involved a villainous speedster from the future named Savitar – often felt overly dark and repetitive, Caitlin’s struggle with her metahuman abilities was both interesting and necessary. Her transformation into Killer Frost not only forced her to wrestle with her inner darkness head on, but it reshuffled many of the longstanding relationships amongst the show’s core team. Over the course of the season Caitlin kept secrets, lied, and underwent a transformation that caused her to abandon her friends and join forces with Savitar.
Killer Frost ultimately couldn’t bring herself to harm her former friends, leading to an interesting and open-ended finale in which it seemed as though the woman who was once Caitlin Snow had evolved into someone new. Her decision to reject Julian’s proposed metahuman cure was not only a deliberate choice, but one which felt completely organic for her character. After everything that happened, this person wasn’t Caitlin Snow anymore, but she wasn’t Killer Frost either. The prospect of discovering that character – and of finally giving original Flash team member Caitlin a story that focused on her own agency and development – felt like a welcome progression.
However, The Flash has stumbled badly in Season 4 when it comes to fulfilling the promise of this original Caitlin/Killer Frost story arc. Rather than spending a season discovering herself or openly dealing with the inner darkness she obviously possesses, the show has swept much of the Season 3 Killer Frost arc under the rug. Instead, we learned that Caitlin spent the summer hiding in a dirty bar, looking for meta technology to help her control her icy abilities. She also – for some reason – got involved with some pretty bad people in the metahuman black market, and her subsequent attempt to get out from under her former boss, Amunet Black, has comprised much of her Season 4 narrative.
To be completely frank: This is pretty far from the story that the end of Season 3 promised us.
The problem, however, is that The Flash just doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do with Caitlin or Killer Frost, and the show’s indecisiveness on this issue is wasting a great opportunity for both characters. Not only has this storyline stripped one of the show’s female leads of the bulk of her personal agency, it’s lazy writing to boot.
The Flash doesn’t exactly have the greatest track record when it comes to writing women. Iris is an awesome character in her own right, yet she’s frequently been stuck in stories that play down her intelligence or ability in order to keep Barry’s secret or allow him to rescue her. The entire back half of Season 3 was predicated on the possibility of Iris’ own death and yet somehow it never bothered to interrogate how she really felt about it. (But it had plenty of time for us to hear about Barry felt about it.)
Caitlin, for her part, hasn’t fared much better. Despite the fact that she’s an intelligent doctor and scientist, The Flash positioned Caitlin almost solely as a tragic love interest in its first two seasons. Whether her romantic interests died or turned out to be evil, her character arc generally revolved around her connection to them. Yet, despite all the pain she’s been through, exploring the personal fallout from these events has never been much of a priority for the show.
Unfortunately, it seems like that’s still the case for Killer Frost. The fact that The Flash can’t even seem to decide on its own internal logic for the character is endlessly frustrating. The show never really bothers to answer why Caitlin appears to be the only character whose metahuman abilities cause her to morph into a completely different person. It hasn’t explained how her secondary personality works, referring to Frost as Caitlin’s “mean roommate” for laughs and waffling back and forth about whether either of them can even remember what happens when they aren’t in control of their shared body. Though the show hints at various points that Caitlin can somehow control her abilities, or summon Killer Frost at will, it also insists that she must be angry or scared in order to “Frost out.”
Trying to keep up with all this is exhausting, and Caitlin Snow deserves better.
Other than her messy backstory with the villainous Amunet Black, neither Caitlin nor Killer Frost has much in the way of a story right now. Newcomer Ralph Dibny has taken over the “person with a dark past who learns to be a hero” arc that probably should have gone to Killer Frost, and Caitlin seems once again restricted to providing science or medical exposition when necessary. Team Flash suddenly seems remarkably chill about Caitlin’s split personalities and no one – not even Iris – seems to hold much of a grudge about her murderous tendencies from last season.
As for Killer Frost, she’s apparently decided to play nice with the good guys, but thus far The Flash hasn’t explored many of her reasons for doing so. Sure, she got a pep talk from Iris about the possibilities of goodness back in “Girls Night Out,” but other than that we’ve seen very little of her perspective on any of this. By the time midseason episode “True Colors” rolls around, we see Killer Frost herself giving team screw-up Ralph a pep talk about the powers of friendship. How in the world has she gotten to this point? Why didn’t we see any of that journey? If The Flash is willing to show us Caitlin self-harming in order to get Killer Frost to tell Ralph to stick it out with their friends, it should also be willing to tell us the story of how both of these women found themselves in this place.
Has Caitlin made peace with carrying her dark twin around inside her every day? What does Killer Frost get out of their arrangement? Have the two women managed to form any sort of real bond with one another? These are the stories The Flash should be exploring, but for some reason has chosen to ignore.
At the moment, the show can’t seem to commit to a direction for Caitlin or Killer Frost’s characters, leaving them both stranded in a strange void between good guy, anti-hero and villain. Until The Flash’s writers decide what the ultimate goal of this story is – whether it’s to rid Caitlin of her alter ego entirely, split them apart, find some way for her to keep her ice powers, or something else altogether – it will continue to flounder.
Like any other character on The Flash, Caitlin (and Killer Frost for that matter, if they keep insisting these women are two separate people) deserves a story that offers her the chance to grow, change and make her own mistakes on her own terms. Unfortunately, this one seems determined to leave both women frozen in place.