Cliffhangers have been part of serial storytelling since Dickens developed the idea. They act to keep the viewer hooked, to make them come back. It’s a shame they don’t add anything to the story. The only thing you learn from a cliffhanger is the writer’s ability to solve a problem. The same thing happens in ‘Killer Frost’. Last week’s cliffhanger doesn’t add anything to the story, but it does kickstart the inevitable as Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) goes to the dark side in this season’s best episode.
Panabaker has a knack for playing characters who don’t want to use their powers. Where as moral reasons kept her Sky High character’s powers in check, fear stops Caitlin from going full on Ice Queen. Seeing characters struggle between the good and bad is nothing new for superhero media, but it is new for The Flash, a show whose characters only come in white or black. Panabaker gets Caitlin’s agony across well with her scientific knowledge showing her inner tension. She may be able to make icicle daggers, but Caitlin is still in there, severing nerves like its no big deal. This is a tortured characterisation of Killer Frost.
The episode ditches camp, even if HR (Tom Cavanagh) still gets to goof up the place. The episode is subdued as Barry (Grant Gustin) feels the full repercussions of meddling with the timeline. Caitlin may get the obvious character work but the episode is all about Barry. He is responsible for Caitlin’s agony, Wally’s situation and Cisco’s mourning. They turn on him, fracturing Team Flash.
It’s how the team starts to stitch themselves together that gives the episode the extra oomph. Barry is always hopeful. He always believes everything will get better. It is the reason he tries to talk the villains down, why he doesn’t want to throw a punch. It is this characteristic that makes the Flash stand out from all the other superheroes and what makes the show so special. ‘Killer Frost’ takes an interesting perspective towards Barry’s hope by trying to cripple it.Gustin does a good job at showcasing Barry’s despair, knowing when to make his voice quiver. There are scenes in ‘Killer Frost’ that have some of the show’s best ever acting. Whether it’s Barry confronting Caitlin or Joe (Jesse L Martin) bonding with HR or Iris (Candice Patton) giving Barry his weekly pep-talk, the cast all deliver this week.
There is a running cliché in The Flash that never gets mentioned. When characters mope, they’re always in cavernous rooms. For the first time ever, the symbolism of this isn’t laughable. Barry is as isolated as he has ever been. His friends blame him and one of his best friends is on the verge of becoming evil. The framing, the performances, the large empty rooms all reinforce Team Flash’s situation without the characters having to utter a word.
There are episodes in a season where everything changes. ‘Killer Frost’ is one of those episodes. Relationships are entering new stages, the villains are recruiting and it looks like there is no coming back. It is a seismic episode for The Flash. Things may never be the same.