The Flash – Season 7 Episode 5
The Flash brings in an adversary that can force people to be confronted with their greatest fear as the team figure out how to deal with the recent Killer Frost development.
Fear is a powerful tool in fiction whether that be creating it in the audience or informing the characters through having them confront the things they fear the most. Team Flash are no stranger to scary situations and take a lot in their stride that would paralyse almost everyone else with terror but they all have things that they’re afraid of so forcing a confrontation with that is an ideal storytelling starting point.
The catalyst for bringing out those fears is a new threat dubbed by Cisco as Psyche (Ennis Esmer). He’s similar to the threat introduced at the end of the previous episode -dubbed Fuerza by Cisco- in that his motivation is unknown. He seems to be in Central City because he enjoys scaring people rather than seeking any particular goal. For example he attacks a bank but that’s only in service of breaking people out of their reliance on money. It’s difficult to fight someone without knowing what they want as they become a chaotic element that can’t be predicted. It’s an interesting problem for the show to set up though there will have to be some sort of objective as the season progresses.
For now it’s enough to have a threat roll into town and challenge Team Flash in a really unique way. Almost everyone gets a dose of what they fear and everyone is profoundly affected by it. Cecile is perhaps hit hardest because her powers mean she’s exposed to the effect whenever Psyche shows up. Her nightmare is depicted as her losing control of her powers to the point that she can no longer function and has to be locked away. This couples nicely with the continual reminders that her powers have been growing lately and having her face that by using Devoe’s chair to save the day even though the potential the chair has to corrupt her terrifies her. It’s a great empowering moment for Cecile that factors her powers into the plot in a really natural way while making her a central figure. An empath dealing with an enemy that can manipulate emotion makes sense as a connection and the episode uses it well.
Cisco is affected by Psyche’s ability but his nightmare scenario isn’t actually depicted. This is intended to get the viewer’s attention especially when he clearly lies when asked about it. What he saw will certainly be horrifying to the point of not being able to open up about it but there’s no current indication of what that was. Typically characters keeping secrets from the rest of the team would be frustrating but the context surrounding this works well as people naturally keep their innermost strong feelings to themselves so it makes sense for Cisco to be less than comfortable revealing what he experienced. It’s likely to come into play significantly later based on his reluctance and I’m curious to see what that will end up being.
Barry suffers two distinct doses of the effect and has two different experiences. The first is an expected confrontation with Thawne and Savitar at the same time. Thawne is the man who killed his mother and manipulated him in pursuit of his own goals so the impact there is obvious. Savitar represents his darkness and the potential within him to lose his sense of self before becoming very much the opposite of what he stands for. None of this really comes into play but knowing Barry’s history with both foes validates the experience. It also establishes the threat at play when he carries the injury sustained from his hallucination of Savitar into the waking world. It’s really intense and a strong setup for Barry’s overall journey throughout the episode.
The fact that he manages to shrug it off ahead of a later confrontation with Psyche lulls him into a false sense of security as well. He comes away from the first experience a little shaken but still confident that he can handle Psyche because he believes that there’s nothing more that Psyche can show him. Following the first encounter he believe he’s immune to the effect when his true fear lies far beneath that. Unsurprisingly Barry’s greatest fear is losing everyone he loves and having it be his fault. It is very well established by this point that having a team of people behind him that he loves and trusts is instrumental to his success so the thought of letting them down to the point that he loses all of them is almost unthinkable to him. Being confronted with exactly that on two separate occasions along with Iris telling him that he killed their children by letting her die. It’s incredibly intense and Barry is visibly shaken by it to the point of being unable to function. Grant Gustin’s performance in the aftermath of Barry facing his greatest fear is truly haunting. It’s rare to see him so bereft of optimism in the face of danger and it offers a strong contrast to his confident assertions that they can take on this threat just as they have every other one. It’s a strong reminder that Barry is a person with fears and insecurities rather than the unstoppable symbol of hope that the Flash is perceived to be.
Getting him back out there takes a pep talk as usual but having this one come from Cecile really fits. Her perspective on the current threat is unique so her words of encouragement in the face of overwhelming fear on her part resonate more than anything anyone else could say to him. She understands how crippling fear can be but she also understands how powerful courage is and the need to embrace it in order to deal with Psyche. There seems to be Wizard of Oz pattern emerging with Barry gaining a brain in “The Speed of Thought“, a heart in “Mother” and now courage in this episode. Maybe by mid season he’ll have to click his heels together three times at super speed and declare definitively “there’s no place like home” or it could be a coincidence that points to the larger theme of the importance of emotional connection that fuels this season. So far there has been emphasis on what inspires Barry to be the hero he is and now the courage necessary to be that hero. Thematically it fits nicely and leads to a satisfying conclusion in this episode.
Psyche’s arrival coincides with the arrival of the physical representation of the Speed Force -or Nora as the characters are calling her-. She shows up badly injured asking for help and spends a lot of the episode recovering. There’s some confusion around this as it seems that the Artificial Speed Force may have re-energised or resurrected the existing Speed Force which doesn’t track with why it was being built. To have such a major plot point simply restore the status quo as it was before is something of a missed opportunity and having the Speed Force back in play just as it was before makes the loss of it feel somewhat anticlimactic.
Things aren’t quite the same as there is a threat to the Speed Force unlike anything the show has depicted before. Nora tells Team Flash that she thinks the Fuerza and Psyche are like her meaning that they are forces. Elemental forces as antagonists is an interesting if vague prospect as there exists the problem of defining how powerful they are along with their capabilities. All three cases so far are physical manifestations which makes sense as it’s a single threat that the team can fight but what they represent is far more nebulous so it will be interesting to see what the ongoing approach is beyond these physical manifestations. Naturally it’s a problem that Team Flash has created as indicated by the different coloured lightning stretching out in different directions in “Mother” but the extent of the threat is unknown. Have they upset the elemental forces? Have they released something that was trapped within them? Is there a greater threat that they are working to contain? There are more questions as well but the point is we’re at the very beginning of a mystery. So far the content grabs attention and the threats feel significant enough with plenty of questions associated which is more than enough for this early in the season especially with character work as strong as what is on display here.
The Caitlin/Frost situation plays out in a fairly predictable way. After an extended arc of Frost wanting to life a life outside of being called in whenever her powers are needed it turns out that she enjoys living a life. Caitlin is fixated on combining them again because she misses having Frost’s voice in her head and feels empty as a result. Frost wants to live life more than half of the time so there’s a major conflict between what each of them want. Ultimately it culminates in a conversation where Frost opens up about this and Caitlin agrees that they’ll live together rather than share a body. It is mentioned that they’re sisters so now that they’re separate entities there’s an opportunity for them to forge a very different relationship. We can expect a sibling rivalry to develop as Frost’s living habits are incompatible with Caitlin’s clinical neatness. The content provided between them is far from bad but it never extends beyond the obvious. Danielle Panabaker is to be commended for effortlessly pulling double duty throughout the episode and interacting with herself in a number of scenes that would surely have been difficult for her to film. Her performance in both roles is excellent and there’s a a strong foundation to develop both characters independently without relying on the conceit of a shared body.
Frost’s fear of being brought up on the crimes she committed and being turned in by Caitlin was a compelling insight into what terrifies her. She has been working to make up for what she has done in the past -not that any of it was really that bad- and the thought of Caitlin betraying her is the worst thing she can imagine. It ties neatly in with her resistance to having them recombine as to her it will feel like being forced into a prison with Caitlin being the one to put her there. Her nightmare scenario isn’t exactly that but it does link to it in a very real way.
The arrival of Kristen Kramer (Carmen Moore) links to this as for some reason her objective is to bring Killer Frost to justice. In order to accomplish this she’s willing to lie to Joe about her reason for being there though it doesn’t get past Iris’ keen reporter instincts and a quick investigation reveals the truth. It’s unclear at this point where she’ll fit into the overall tapestry of the season and her dishonesty being the first taste of the character was underwhelming. Beyond the coincidental connection Frost’s nightmare this felt oddly disconnected from the rest of the episode. It serves as a tease of a problem for Frost to deal with which sets up at least one plot unique to her but it was far from a strong introduction.
A strong episode that makes great use of the concept of fear as experience by the characters while setting up a compelling threat for the team to deal with. Fear is a very powerful tool in fiction and it’s used really well here. Cecile being the most affected because of her empathic powers made a lot of sense and having her be instrumental in dealing with the threat worked brilliantly with her facing her fear of her growing powers by using Devoe’s chair. Leaving Cisco’s nightmare scenario a mystery was attention grabbing and far less frustrating than the usual reasoning for characters keeping secrets from the team. Barry being hit twice with his greatest fear being revealed as him being responsible for losing everyone he loves is perfectly in keeping with his character considering the focus on Team Flash as a motivating factor for him. Grant Gustin’s performance in the aftermath is haunting and the fact that Barry is unable to function serves as a reminder that there’s a person behind the Flash that can be unsettled. Naturally a pep talk gets him back out there but it’s an appropriate one that makes excellent use of Cecile’s unique perspective. The arrival of the Speed Force -or Nora- is confusing in that it hasn’t been properly explained whether the Artificial Speed Force reactivated the existing one or is a new one but Nora’s arrival sets up a compelling mystery aided by the reveal that the two recent antagonists are like her which means Team Flash are dealing with elemental forces rather than Metahumans. It’s certainly a ramp up in terms of the threat level and there are a lot of questions surrounding it but for now the setup is more than enough.
The Caitlin/Frost situation plays out more or less as expected with the conflict coming from Frost wanting to remain separated as Caitlin is fixated on putting them back together. It leads to the exact expected conversation where Frost opens up about wanting to live a full life and Caitlin lets her move in so they can be roommates as well as sisters. This has plenty of potential and allows both characters to branch out as well as forge a very different relationship. Danielle Panabaker’s performance in the two roles is nothing short of excellent throughout. Frost’s nightmare scenario connects nicely to what Caitlin wants to do as well. The arrival of Kristen Kramer feels clunky and out of place with no clear indication of how she fits into the overall tapestry of the season other than being a problem for Frost to deal with.
- Cecile’s nightmare linking to her trepidation over the growth of her powers
- Psych linking to Cecile in a natural way
- Cecile facing her fear by using Devoe’s chair to save the day
- Barry’s two doses of terror affecting him differently
- Barry’s fear of being responsible for the death of the rest of the team having a strong effect on him
- Grant Gustin’s haunting performance
- elemental forces as villains making for an interesting concept
- Cisco’s greatest fear being left a mystery
- Frost’s nightmare scenario linking to Caitlin’s desire to have them put back together
- Danielle Panabaker’s excellent dual performance
- lots of potential created by Caitlin and Frost being separate entities
- some confusion brought on by poorly explaining what the Artificial Speed Force actually does
- Caitlin and Frost’s conflict being completely as expected
- the clunky introduction of Kristen Kramer
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