The Flash – Season 7 Episode 13
The Flash has Cecile confront an uncomfortable chapter of her past as Chester adjusts to his new role on the team without Cisco to back him up.
Teething problems for Chester are to be expected. He has been shown to be insecure and uncertain about his own potential in previous episodes so it would be out of character to be immediately comfortable being the resident tech expert for Team Flash. That uncertainty forms the basis for the hill he has to climb over the course of the episode and fits naturally with the threat facing the team.
Focusing on what makes Chester unique is a nice touch as it gets away from the idea that he’s intended as Cisco 2.0. Redecorating the lab that is now his with his own personal touch is a strong start as it allows the space to be associated with him. Caitlin comments on it being strange to see it without Cisco’s stuff which causes Chester to worry about overstepping his bounds before Caitlin corrects him by stating that change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Cisco’s departure has left a hole in the team as well as the lives of the characters and it would be a mistake to ignore that. Caitlin’s acknowledgement that it will take her time to adjust doesn’t come with any resentment towards Chester because she recognises his value to the team and understands that things will be different. Everyone will need time to get used to this.
He consistently proves to be capable though is lack of confidence gets in the way of that and causes him to doubt himself. It takes him almost no time to figure out what threat is being faced and conjure up relevant information that can help them start to look into beating it. It’s relatable and realistic to see the self doubt creep in and the references to how easy Cisco made it look are appropriate as it makes sense for him to compare himself to such a strong example when he is the one taking on that role. This episode is at least partially about him starting to find his own way to fit into the team.
For now he appears to be of a certain personality type where he will obsess about any setback and think the worst of himself. This is clearly shown when he is given a hard time for mistakes he made and is really hard on himself because it’s so easy to believe that he doesn’t belong and doesn’t measure up to the high standards set by Cisco. It’s a harsh self critique but fully understandable and when supported by someone else pointing out his mistakes it adds weight to his own negative assumptions about himself. His chief struggle being a self esteem one plays out well and it’s interesting to see how that impacts his ability to function within the team as he is always worried about being judged by the more experienced members.
This resolves itself at least to some extent thanks to a pep talk from Iris. She assures him that he’s unquestionably a member of Team Flash and that he is supported by every other member of it so he shouldn’t be concerned about constantly proving himself. Everyone on the team makes mistakes and will continue to do so but the important this is that they work to make up for them and work together to solve a particular problem. Chester is worried about acceptance and this is exactly what he needs to hear in the moment though he still needs to work on finding a way to believe it. Time and experience will be the key to fully internalising what Iris said but it’s a reasonable first step especially since he’s riding the high of being instrumental in ending the threat. Playing a significant part in solving the problem that he was partly responsible for creating goes a long way towards giving him a much needed confidence boost while also allowing him to realise that perfection is unrealistic and nobody expects it from him. It’s very much a relatable story about anyone experiencing “first day jitters” in a new job particularly if it’s one they feel they are underqualified for just as Chester does.
Sue Dearbon’s return is most welcomed because of how delightful a presence she is. Making a heist part of the plot means her skillset is uniquely suited to pulling that off. Her laser dodge dance was excellent and in general her contribution to the episode was strong. She folds into the team dynamic naturally while also challenging it by being separate enough. If Chester is a new employee then Sue would be a consultant who steps in when needed. She is sticking around for a while because Ralph is busy. Hartley Sawyer’s conduct meant that the character was written out but the resistance to talking about Ralph as a character in any detail is odd though it makes sense that there would be an appetite to avoid association as much as possible which includes discussing the character affectionately. Fortunately his forced exit doesn’t mean the loss of Sue as she is an excellent addition to the show.
The villain plot centres on Cecile who has been replaced by Psycho Pirate -or an entity that came to be known as Psycho Pirate- with nobody noticing that this has happened. It’s oddly similar to the previous season where a duplicate of Iris lived and worked among them without anyone noticing though this has been a fixture for far less time and there has been little development along these lines. It isn’t setting up a long term antagonist as it serves as a distraction for Team Flash while Cecile works through a long buried issue she has refused to confront for a long time. Added into this is Barry who is taken off the board to increase Psycho Pirate’s chances of success.
Psycho Pirate is more of an idea than a villain though that’s very much the point in this case as the mask represents something much more engaging than a simple villain with a plan that will fail. The mask feeds into Cecile’s character journey in that she both literally and figuratively wears a mask. There’s also suggestion that masks cover up scars rather than heal them which is especially pertinent to Cecile who hides the truth rather than dealing with it. The mask itself is a corrupting influence but Cecile is in a position to be corrupted so the real danger lies in her inability to properly deal with it.
It’s a great showcase for Cecile as a character and Danielle Nicolet as an actor as she gets to play three distinct versions of Cecile. She plays the regular Cecile, Cecile as Psycho Pirate -while pretending to be the regular Cecile- and the insane Cecile found inside the mindscape. Her performance as Psycho Pirate Cecile is really impressive as it avoids the frustrating trope of a character behaving suspiciously once the audience knows the truth while none of the other characters notice anything. This happened to an extent with Iris last season but it doesn’t happen here until right before the truth comes out. There are moments where she is overly enthusiastic when it comes to pointing the team in a particular direction but it’s not enough to be noticeable. There is an extra layer added to those scenes because of the audience awareness
Her performance as regular Cecile is defined by fear. She is locked in a mental manifestation of an asylum and has been locked up alone for two weeks before Barry appears. She’s understandably terrified and feels the situation is hopeless. As time goes on it’s revealed that there’s a specific reason for the location and her reaction to it but until that time it’s a mystery that plays out fairly well. The asylum set scenes are appropriately creepy and Danielle Nicolet’s performance enhances those moments because she sells the terror that Cecile experiences wonderfully.
The insane Cecile persona is another excellent performance. It’s unsettling and stops just short of being too over the top. The cackling is over the top but it’s far from a comedic performance and there’s an understated quality to the way she plays this. The impact it has on the regular Cecile is really powerfully performed. The reveal that she spent some time in an asylum after her mother died and she had a very extreme reaction to it is a shocking one especially when considering that Cecile is often characterised as one of the more positive characters to be found on this show. She is often the one offering encouragement to others and trying to keep them from sinking into despair so this detail in her past is meaningful when considering that while also being meaningful by itself.
Mental health is always going to be a difficult subject to tackle with the appropriate level of sophistication. It’s such a wide reaching topic and everyone will have a different experience of managing their own mental health as well as witnessing how others manage theirs. One thing that remains consistent is the difficulty people have talking about it. There’s an unfortunate stigma attached to discussing it that it shifting but being open about it is a long way from being normalised. I am coming from a position of personal experience in this and so if you’re interested in getting an idea of how my issues have affected my life then you can read this article. The Flash as a show actually has something to say about this issue and frames it through Cecile’s specific experience. She experienced a loss that she was unable to cope with without help and ended up in an institution because she was unable to function in the outside world. Upon leaving she felt so ashamed that she never admitted the truth to anyone and years later the issues have resurfaced due to her failing to properly deal with them.
The message being delivered through this plot is that self care is an ongoing process and that working on yourself never really stops. Cecile tried to push aside that bad chapter of her live and move on which is a perfectly understandable tactic but without dealing with it properly it continues to have power over her. Her discussion with Joe at the end of the episode about support, acknowledgement and strength is excellent both as a conversation that is powerful in its own right and as a showcase of the strength of their relationship. It isn’t something that has received much coverage since it began with no better example of how undercooked it is than how infrequently their child is even mentioned let alone seen. As a moment between two people who love one another and unconditionally support one other it’s very strong and provides a natural commentary on the perception of mental health struggles and how difficult it is to reach out when help is needed. Cecile admits to fearing being perceived as weak but Joe tells her that she has nothing to apologise for and recognises that everyone need help sometimes especially when considering the extra complications Team Flash bring to their lives.
Barry is a surprisingly useful presence in the mindscape. Instead of acting as if it’s a brand new situation that he has no idea how to navigate he draws on knowledge he has gained through prior exposure and works through the process that will lead to their escape. He approaches it calmly and intelligently while offering constant support to Cecile particularly when he realises that she will be the key to their escape. He is used well as a companion to Cecile and goes about encouraging her to face her fears in a sensitive way. Long may this characterisation for Barry continue.
A strong episode that has meaningful things to say about mental health, offers an excellent showcase for Cecile and handles Chester’s first day jitters wonderfully. Focusing on what makes him unique is a good way to start his particular arc and then feeding in his particular anxieties as the episode progresses is constantly engaging. The way he interprets Caitlin’s comment about the differences in what used to be Cisco’s lab, his constant fears over not being able to measure up to the high standards set by Cisco and his extreme reaction to making a mistake all feed into his lack of confidence in his ability to be an effective member of Team Flash. It is resolved to a degree by Iris giving him a pep talk that assures him he’s a part of the team and that perfection isn’t an expectation. It remains to be seen if he can internalise that in the future. Sue’s return was very welcomed. Her dynamic with the team is always fun and her laser dodging dance routine was nothing short of delightful. It’s definitely an advantage that she will be staying around for a while considering all she brings to the show.
The Cecile centred villain plot is excellent with Danielle Nicolet getting to showcase her excellent acting skills through portraying three distinct versions of Cecile. Psycho Pirate, regular Cecile and insane Cecile are all wonderfully played. The Psycho Pirate Cecile avoids the frustrating trope of a character behaving suspiciously once the audience knows the truth. She impressively manipulates and fools the rest of Team Flash before the truth becomes known. Regular Cecile is defined by fear with another excellent portrayal and the insane Cecile is unsettling without being too over the top. This plot is used to say something profound about mental health, the stigma associated with it and how impressive it is that people find the strength to seek help. Cecile failing to work on herself over the years because of her shame is another powerful example of the impact it can have on life and her conversation with Joe about the importance of taking the time to take care of yourself works really well. Barry using the benefit of his experience to navigate the mindscape and encourage her to face her fears in a sensitive way is a great use of the character that brings in things he has learned being in similar situations. Long may the characterisation continue.
- the relatable exploration of Chester’s anxieties around his competence
- Chester’s reaction to various setbacks and comments that are made
- Iris’ assurance that Chester is part of the team and perfection isn’t expected
- bringing Sue Dearbon back
- her laser avoiding dance
- Danielle Nicolet’s excellent triple performance
- the mask being used as a metaphor for Cecile dealing with her issues
- profound and meaningful statements about mental health
- the awkward avoidance of mentioning Ralph too much
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