The following contains The Flash spoilers
The Flash Season 8 Episode 9
After three standalone “interlude” episodes, the larger story of The Flash Season 8 finally begins to unfold with “Phantoms,” an hour that finally circles back to the ongoing story of Iris’ time sickness even as it ramps up the mystery of the strange black fire that is mysteriously burning Central City residents to a crisp.
The revelation that the supposed “Fire Meta” is actually some kind of bizarre new entity that feeds on human emotions—specifically grief and despair—and may not actually be a meta at all leads the show into surprising new narrative territory. Is it some sort of sentient emotional monster with a deep-set survival instinct? A science experiment gone wrong? Something else entirely? Whatever it is, its presence means that all the members of Team Flash will likely have to go to some very dark emotional places this year.
“This entity that we’re dealing with is one of my favorite arcs so far since [becoming] a part of the show,” Brandon McKnight, who plays Chester P. Runk, tells Den of Geek. “We really get to see everyone deal with parts of themselves that we haven’t had to [explore] before. There’s a lot of newness with this villain—it’s [something] I don’t think we’ve ever faced and Team Flash has faced a lot of crazy villains and crazy powers. But there’s nothing that’s hit [them] all this way. There’s a lot coming and there’s going to be tons of growth for Chester specifically.”
But, according to McKnight, Chester—along with each member of the team—has a significant emotional journey to go on this season, as a result of this mysterious new enemy that’s “like nothing they’ve seen before”.
In “Phantoms,” Chester finds himself literally haunted by his own grief, becoming increasingly convinced that the mysterious fire meta that has been killing people all around town is the ghost of his dead father.
“It’s rare that you actually get to see Chester be shaken. We’ve seen him sad, we get to see him be regretful of his actions and stuff like that,” McKnight explains. “But we’ve never really seen Chester shaken to his core where he can’t even bring a smile out. It’s a very different side of him.”
Since his arrival at STAR Labs, Chester has largely served as The Flash’s tech support and comic relief, quick with both a snappy one-liner and a speedy solution to a potential meta problem. He’s one of the team’s newest and most normal members, with no superpowers or special abilities to speak of, and much less experience in the world of heroes.
“I used to always say that Chester is a fan of the show that just so happens to be on the show,” McKnight laughs. “I always try to keep that in mind, in terms of me prepping things and playing him. He’s just a regular person. And even though he’s seen so much in his time on the team, everything is still a surprise. Everything is still a ‘wow’.”
But “Phantoms” reminds us that Chester’s lived experiences are much different than the rest of the team and that, as a result, he deals with ghosts that the rest of the team does not.
“I remember when I got the episode and read it and I was like, ‘Oh, okay, we’re really getting into the mud here.’ And it was really exciting for me,” McKnight says. “Because usually, we see Chester as the guy in the chair, but there are so many other angles to [him] that I think we get to see in this episode. There’s so much more depth to him.”
The scene in which Chester confronts what something he believes could be the ghost of his father was something that McKnight was keen to get right, because of the complex and unique layers that existed within that relationship.
“Eric [Wallace, The Flash showrunner] and I had talked quite extensively last year about everything [this relationship] meant and how we’re trying to portray this relationship between a Black man and his father and all the connotations that come with those relationships historically. So, moving into this one, it was just doubling down on all of the despair Chester would be feeling.”
Back in Season 7, we saw Chester get the chance to connect with the father his younger self never understood. (Thanks, time travel!) Now, in Season 8, it seems as though he’s finally ready to wrestle with the emotional void the loss of him has left behind.
“[That scene], yeah, when I read that in the script it kept me up for a couple of nights,” McKay says. “How am I going to play this in the way that has layers of everything [he’s] going through? How do you portray that? Having to peel himself away from the situation that’s happening, his own grief and despair, and then actually stand up for himself and realize that [his feelings] are being used against him.”
That Chester ultimately saves the day by standing up for the memory of his father and the value that his love had in his life is a moving emotional moment, but one which McKnight says helps illustrate that grief is a process most of us will spend our lives figuring out how to navigate in one form or another.
“We often get through grief very slowly, you know what I mean? It’s something that’s really stretched over years. And [loss] always leaves a void. And I feel that throughout life you just learn how to—and Chester is learning this too—deal with the void rather than trying to fill it up or ignore it or pretend it’s not there.”
And “Phantoms” stresses that one of the ways we process and move forward from loss is with the help of those that care about us (a welcome twist on the “power of love” pep talk that Barry so frequently deployed on villains last season).
“There’s a big family and friendship aspect in this episode because the biggest part of overcoming that grief is having a support system around you,” McKnight says. “We really focused on those things more than anything else, partly because we had already built the layers of what [his dad] means to Chester and how deeply this would affect him.”
Chester’s most important relationship on The Flash is probably his friendship—and maybe something more—with fellow newcomer Allegra Garcia. Though McKnight was careful not to give too much (read: anything) away about how their relationship status may or may not evolve over the course of Season 8, he praises the depth of the pair’s connection and says the two “are only going to get closer” this year. (But, yes, he knows we all ship it, and says that “Allester” is his current favorite portmanteau for the pair.)
“Both [Chester and Allegra] are on their own separate journies [this season], but their journies align,” he says. “They’re such empathetic human beings, especially when it comes to each other. They know what each other are going through and how to help each other through those things. And I really think they just complement each other. His nerd is balanced out by her badassery and vice versa. They’re best friends and their relationship is only going to grow.”