Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for the latest episode of The Flash! Proceed with caution, speedsters. For reals, if you haven’t yet watched this week’s episode, “Killer Frost,” we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Let’s go.
It’s ironic that Kevin Smith’s best-known superhero work to date has been a pot-inspired parody, his pseudo-comic Bluntman and Chronic, considering the fact that Smith has now directed two of the weightier episodes of The Flash. But where last season’s “The Runaway Dinosaur” was a grand metaphysical exercise, “Killer Frost” is a fast-paced ride with as many moments of action/suspense as it has character beats. “Team Flash is not at its finest,” says Iris at one point. But The Flash most certainly is.
True to its name, “Killer Frost” finds Caitlin transforming into the longtime Firestorm foe of DC Comics, reworked for the purposes of this series as one of The Flash‘s deadliest enemies. Fortunately, this Killer Frost is a distinct improvement over last year’s model. The Frost of Earth-2 was a hammy punster that seemed better suited for the 1966 Batman TV series than a sleek 21st century superhero vehicle, so kudos to whomever came up with the idea that a far better Killer could be created by taking full advantage of Caitlin’s knowledge of two things: medicine and Barry.
Caitlin’s medical background eliminates much of the learning curve in using her powers effectively, leading her to temporarily cripple Barry. But when she tries crippling him emotionally, playing on his overripe sense of responsibility and guilt, well, that’s when the character’s the nastiest we’ve ever seen her. She brings up all the people whose deaths he feels accountable for, knowing full well the heartaches those deaths have caused his closest friends, particularly Eddie and Ronnie. Plus, she finally reveals to Cisco that Barry’s changes to the timeline resulted in the death of his brother Dante, creating a rift between the two friends that will last who knows how long.
Along the way, there’s some clever use of Killer Frost’s powers, the kind of thing that longtime superhero fans like myself live for. Interrogating a prisoner at police headquarters? Freeze the camera in the interrogation room. Want to slip away unnoticed? Create a heavy mist and freeze the doorknob in place on the way out. Then there are her ice daggers, which we got a taste of last season but which are now rendered infinitely more threatening when hurled at her own teammates. (Even if it’s a little unclear how Cisco is able to outrun them.)
Killer Frost is far from the only antagonist this week, however, since the episode opens exactly where “Shade” left off, with Barry in Savitar’s clutches and Wally cocooned, as the powers he held in Flashpoint slowly return to him. (For those who watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s uncanny how much this process resembles that show’s Inhuman Terrigenesis.) Wally eventually comes out of his cocoon coma, but Savitar now stands as this season’s true Big Bad, with Doctor Alchemy revealed as a mere minion of the “God of Speed.”
Most of the time The Flash has kept the identity of its villains secret (like last season’s Zoom), the reveals have been pretty predictable. But I’m surprised nonetheless that the most obvious candidate on the show—Julian, this season’s only new face, whom we’ve already grown to dislike—is the man in Doctor Alchemy’s mask. To the episode’s credit, there’s a moment where we almost think the police scientist has come over to the side of the angels once and for all: when he promises not to turn Caitlin in for kidnapping him. But that hope is immediately vaporized when he then blackmails Barry into quitting CCPD. Still, it’s hard to hate Julian too much, since at this point he’s such a sniveling servant of Savitar, and is in just as much trouble as Barry and his friends. And there’s yet time for him to see the light.
I do have mixed feelings about using a speedster as Big Bad for the third time in as many seasons. Even more so when Savitar drags Barry through Central City and beats him up exactly the same way that Zoom did last year. But at least all the cards are on the table, and we’re no longer forced to watch Team Flash work with someone for an entire season whom we know will end up betraying them. With “Killer Frost,” the show has also at last succeeded in making its villains exploit its heroes’ unstated weaknesses while not turning them into self-pitying puddles, something that bodes well for future antagonists. And next week will almost certainly show the Flash rise above his situation once more, since it’s the second chapter of the four-night “Invasion” event that will run across all of the CW’s DC shows. It’s hard to imagine this show’s storytelling won’t be its most ambitious yet.
— I’m glad HR and Joe reminded us of the latter’s contributions to the gang at STAR Labs. Because after that opening battle with Savitar, Detective West was starting to look more like a liability than an asset.
— J.J. Abrams’ buddy/good luck charm Greg Grunberg jumps universes here as Central City’s newest detective, Patterson, a recurring role for the actor this season. Grunberg’s now appeared in Star Trek, Star Wars, and a DC show. Your move, Marvel!
— Killer Frost isn’t just written better this time around, Danielle Panabaker brings a slightly more subtle form of deviltry to her that makes her a lot more intimidating, even when imprisoned at STAR Labs. She’s helped immensely by improved visual, makeup, and sound effects, and her wardrobe’s a lot less glam rocker camp.
— You can tell Barry’s been itching to deliver a super-speed punch to Julian’s jaw since the day he met him. His knockout is hilarious.
— How odd is it that Wells (or rather HR) has become the most upbeat character on this show?
— “You really think seeing medical advice from someone named Doctor Alchemy is the way to go?”
— That Caitlin-Barry kiss has surely jump-started the fantasies of a million Snowbarry shippers.
— “You scared me for a second, getting all Mother of Dragons on me with that hair.”
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).