This The Flash article contains spoilers for Season 7, Episode 5, “Fear Me”.
The Flash’s “Fear Me” is an entertaining enough Season 7 installment that gets to play with a long-standing genre trope, that of an outside entity – think demon, alien, magical dust, or, in this case, a metahuman known as Psych who’s able to project nightmare hallucinations onto others – who somehow allows us to explore the deepest fears of our favorite characters (plus, Cecile in The Thinker’s chair was pretty darn cool).
But it’s also an hour of The Flash that does something so necessary, that it needs to be applauded in its own right: It’s the first episode in which Caitlin and her icy alter ego Frost get to exist as two entirely separate people. It’s a twist that’s long overdue, and one that finally gives both women the chance to have real, meaningful arcs of their own.
As most of us are (painfully) aware, The Flash has struggled for years when it comes to Caitlin and Frost, and their story has had more than its fair share of ups and downs. From contradicting plot points, constantly changing characterization, a lack of overall direction and a bizarre refusal to face what Frost’s existence meant for Caitlin’s own psyche, it was pretty much always two steps forward, one step back with these characters. Heck, for the longest time The Flash couldn’t even really decide on basics like how Frost’s powers worked or where they came from.
Sometimes, they made Caitlin evil, or could only manifest when she was afraid. At other points, Frost seemed to be able to swap places with her alter ego pretty much at will. And though the show tried to explain why their experience was so different from every other meta in Central City – Frost somehow exists in Caitlin’s very DNA and is not a product of the particle accelerator explosion that created Barry and others like him – it all basically seemed like an elaborate excuse to not deal with Caitlin’s dark side and the fallout from her choices back in Season 3.
While Season 6 did its best to establish Frost as a character in her own right and dedicated significant screen time to developing her relationships with the rest of Team Flash, it still never made a ton of sense that she and Caitlin were forced to share a body. (I mean – honestly, why? It isn’t an affliction that any other even vaguely metahuman character shares, and poor Danielle Panabaker often looked ridiculous essentially talking to the voice in her head.) And as a result – no matter how welcome Frost’s long-deserved chance to step into the spotlight on her own might have been, the fact that she had to timeshare a body meant that Caitlin was simply absent for the bulk of the season.
Now the two women are finally free to live separate lives – the way they probably should have been all along if The Flash wasn’t going to go the obvious route of giving Caitlin multiple personalities – and the future of both characters suddenly feels wide open in a way that it hasn’t in a very long time. Both Caitlin and Frost got things to do in “Fear Me”, as well as a subplot solely dedicated to talking out their new relationship to one another now that they’ve split apart (they even hug!). And it all feels like a huge step forward for both characters.
Suddenly, both women have their own wants and desires, and neither is being subsumed by the other’s or blatantly forgotten in some way. The idea that Caitlin wants to immediately rejoin her and Frost’s personalities is fascinating – if only because it hints that she might no longer feel as useful or as important to Team Flash if she’s just back to being a regular scientist that patches the rest of the group up when they’re hurt instead of a butt-kicking ice queen in a cool costume. She’s obviously also concerned that, by existing separately, she and her other half will lose the intricate and almost indescribable closeness they currently share.
Frost, for her part, has really come into her own over the course of the last season, and it makes a ton of sense that she would want a way to have a life of her own without having to essentially ask Caitlin’s permission to do so all the time (she wants this so much that she even sabotages the Firestorm matrix device to prevent them from merging again). But what “Fear Me” really does in a way that The Flash hasn’t explored before is show us that Frost is as human as any other member of Team Flash.
That her greatest fear is not just having to finally pay for the things she did back when she was a villain – that she is actually still affected by the things she did back when she was a villain – is fascinating. But it’s her fear of losing somehow Caitlin’s trust in the process that hints at a real depth to her character that the show has not always embraced in the past.
Plus, the episode’s ending – which sees Kristen Kramer, a liaison from the governor’s office, arrive on a mission to apprehend Frost for her extensive and varied array of metahuman crimes – kicks off a story that will obviously impact both Frost and Caitlin in new ways as the two women fight to stay together and keep the former out of prison. Does this mean that The Flash will also have to finally reckon with the many loose ends that exist in Frost’s arc? Maybe. Hopefully. Frost did try to kill most of Team Flash just a few short years ago, and clearly has a lot of emotional baggage from her time as a supervillain.
As we look toward the rest of Season 7, one thing seems clear: Both Caitlin and Frost will be part of whatever story The Flash is telling on their own terms for once. By forcing both characters to coexist in a single body, the story often treated the pair as generally interchangeable – Caitlin might not have had access to her alter-ego’s ice powers, but Frost was often capable of performing advanced bioengineering whenever the story required (something that often unnecessarily blurred the lines between the two). By separating them and giving Frost a chance to address and potentially atone for her own past, both women have been set free – literally and figuratively speaking. Where The Flash will choose to take their stories from here is anyone’s guess – but for once, I honestly can’t wait to find out.