It feels safe to say that Caitlin Snow’s transformation into her comic book alter ego Killer Frost was one of the most highly anticipated events on The Flash. However, it also seems safe to say that the addition of her icy alter ego to the series’ cast has frequently felt like a disappointment, featuring contradicting plot points, changing characterization, and a lack of real direction. Until now.
It may have been a long time coming, but The Flash has finally decided to do right by one of its most historically underused characters, giving both Caitlin and Killer Frost a complicated past to reckon with, a new relationship to explore, and a future that feels wide open at last.
The Flash has often struggled with how to write Caitlin, giving her little to do beyond explain medical procedures or date men who died tragically or turned out to be evil. Though the addition of Killer Frost has – at last – given Caitlin some stories that have nothing to do with her romantic life, they also haven’t exactly been good or what you would call coherent. The show had difficulty consistently explaining even the most basic of character concepts concerning Killer Frost, such as where she came from, how her connection to her host worked or why her powers seemed to corrupt Caitlin every time they were used. Was she a villain? An anti-heroine? A parasite? A suppressed aspect of Caitlin’s personality? Or something in between all those things The answer often changed depending on which episode you were watching.
We saw Killer Frost partner with evil speedster Savitar, try to kill her own friends, and work as muscle for hire for a black market metahuman dealer. Yet, we also witnessed Caitlin struggle with whether to suppress her meta powers, and the darker side of herself that Killer Frost often represented. The characterization of these women was a legitimate mess, and one that The Flash seemed completely incapable – often uninterested, even – in fixing.
While it’s certainly worth debating exactly how much of a disservice The Flash has ultimately done both Caitlin and Killer Frost by ignoring, retconning and outright bungling Frost’s addition to the show’s canvas, the show does deserve praise for finally attempting to correct some of its earlier mistakes.
Though the decision to erase Killer Frost from Caitlin’s life at the end of Season 4 felt kind of random at the time, it ultimately provided something of a soft reboot for her and her story. The Flash finally committed to something almost like an arc for both women which included a story with a definable past, a clear path toward the future, and some actual answers about who Frost is and how she and Caitlin can co-exist.
Killer Frost’s existence wasn’t the result of the particle accelerator explosion or caused by Barry’s Flashpoint time travel. She had always been a part of Caitlin, due to her father’s creepy medical experiments. While this revelation was certainly a dark twist, it’s one that makes a lot more sense than some of the other options the show has floated over the years. And by finally defining Killer Frost’s back story, The Flash opened up a way for the character to fully move into the future.
Smartly, the show did not immediately bring Killer Frost back from her Thinker-induced disappearance, instead allowing for Caitlin’s search for a way to revive her to dominate the initial episodes of Season 5. For the first time in this storyline, her character has real agency, and is allowed to choose her own fate. In every previous version of the Killer Frost saga, Caitlin hasn’t had much choice in the matter of her powers. This time, external forces aren’t driving things – she herself is. Caitlin wants Killer Frost back on her own terms because she values the relationship the two have built together. She wants to find her father and face her past because she sees Frost as a valuable part of both who she is now, and the woman she’s becoming.
Furthermore, The Flash seems to have realized that we need to see some of this transformation for ourselves – and it’s making a big difference for both characters. Caitlin and Killer Frost began to build a bond with one another back in Season 4, but their relationship largely developed off-screen and there was a lot more telling than showing when it came to details. The split personality aspect of their connection has always been particularly convoluted, especially when The Flash struggled to be consistent with basic details such as whether the women shared memories, or if Caitlin needed to be afraid in order to “frost out.”
To its credit, Season 5 has made a point to show us Caitlin and Killer Frost’s growing connection over the span of multiple episodes. Instead of hearing about Frost hanging out with other members of Team Flash while Caitlin’s not around, we actually see them talking to one another. And rather than treating the character as an offscreen “mean roommate” who happens to share her body, The Flash has started showing us both Caitlin and Killer Frost working out problems – even disagreements – together. This has not only helped Frost feel more like an integral part of Team Flash – rather than merely icy muscle – but given us a more nuanced look at her connection to her other half. Killer Frost’s insistence that she just wants to protect “Caity” from danger is a surprisingly sweet motivation for her aggressive attitude, while Caitlin (who once feared her powers and the darkness that came along with them) has learned to accept them as part of herself.
Are there questions about these women from the previous two seasons we’ll likely never know the answers to? Yes, absolutely. And that’s extremely annoying. But for the first time in a long time it feels like Caitlin and Killer Frost are an integral part of a story that’s going somewhere. Frost’s dark-matter free origin puts her at the center of the battle against Season 5 villain Cicada, while Caitlin’s decision to help Cisco develop a metahuman cure has been largely driven by wanting to protect those with the same powers she once feared. Both characters have a purpose in a way neither has in some time (or honestly, ever, in Killer Frost’s case) and it’s tremendously exciting to watch, as well as a vast improvement over previous seasons. Season 5 hasn’t fixed all of The Flash’s Caitlin-related woes, to be sure. But it certainly seems as though it’s on its way.
The Flash airs Tuesday nights on The CW.