The Flash: The Human Story Behind Terrifying New Villain Deathstorm

Actress Danielle Nicolet weighs in on the human connection that helps make Deathstorm such a compelling The Flash Big Bad.

Photo: The CW

The following contains spoilers for The Flash

The Flash Season 8 Episode 12

The Flash returns from a week off to pick up the pieces in the wake of one of its biggest cliffhangers in recent memory: the revelation that the mysterious Black Flame isn’t, in fact, Ronnie Raymond resurrected and returned, but Deathstorm, a monstrous being that feeds on grief and seems more than a little obsessed with his widow Caitlin. 

Though Deathstorm clearly comes from the same long line of colorful, outlandish comic book villains Team Flash has often been tasked with facing, this story is, at its heart, one about very real and recognizable emotions: Love, grief, loss, the idea that some part of us will always miss those who aren’t with us anymore, no matter long they may have been gone. And, in many ways, those are the kinds of everyday stories The Flash has always tried to tell.

“I think the reason why a show like The Flash works and why we’ve been on for eight seasons, is because it’s telling a human story,” Danielle Nicolet, who plays Team Flash empath Cecile Horton, tells Den of Geek. “You can’t just tell meta-human superhero, good guy, bad guy, beat each other up stuff. That’s not relatable. It’s the family—that’s what everyone can relate to. What makes the meta-humans on a show like The Flash different is their powers, but their motivations are the same.”

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“Death Rises” sees Caitlin struggling with a variety of emotions: pain at essentially losing Ronnie all over again, horror at the fact that she’s released a monster that seems ready to emotionally char grill half the city, and guilt over willing she was to believe that the lies Deathstorm told her were true. Yet, The Flash doesn’t judge her for those mistakes—and neither do her teammates.

“I think we make a good show where we tell a story that a regular person can watch and say, if I had that experience, if I got my heart broken, if I fell in love, if I suffered grief or loss in my family, I would feel exactly like this character,” Nicolet says. “[That is] the thing that makes a show like ours addictive and relatable and stuck around for so long. I think it’s a mistake to keep hyper-focused on the special effects of it all and not stay hyper-focused on the humanity of it all.”

Sure, the technobabble about how and why Deathstorm somehow crossed the stars to return to Caitlin because he remembers Ronnie’s love for her and now wants to make her his eternal cosmic death bride does all sound a bit ridiculous on paper. But because it’s emotionally grounded in the memory of one of the best romantic relationships the show has ever done, it works.

“[As a viewer], you understand how Caitlin misses Ronnie,” Nicolet says. “If they hadn’t explored that relationship, if we hadn’t gotten to fall in love with them, then coming all this time later, now here we are? This wouldn’t matter. Deathstorm wouldn’t matter. No one would be invested in it. We’re invested in it because we’ve invested in their love story.”

As for Cecile, in Nicolet’s view, her character serves a similar function—keeping Team Flash and The Flash itself “balanced”. Cecile’s more “passive powers” might not be as impactful in battle, but—as this Deathstorm story illustrates—can be just as useful in fighting the forces of evil. 

“Passive powers, so to speak, are vastly underrated. Of course, shooting icicles or running faster is, on its face, an effective power. But that’s nothing like real life. There’s very little in life that’s more powerful to a human than their emotional space. We’re all driven by our emotions. We’re all attracted to or repelled from things because of our emotions.”

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And Cecile is often the person whose job it is not just to help Team Flash process their own feelings, but to help them understand the deeper motivations behind others’ behavior.

“Part of our experience on the show is that not all bad guys are all bad. But it’s very different to discover the good guy underneath if you cannot connect with them emotionally. And I think that’s why it’s really helpful for Cecile to have these powers specifically on the team—she creates that kind of balance so that everything within the context of the [group] isn’t all run, shoot, fire, run. She has to be there to balance everybody.” 

Sometimes, however, her lack of a more physical metahuman ability means Cecile is, one might say, a bit more susceptible to falling victim to the bad guys who roam Central City.

“It’s kind of her thing,” Nicolet laughs when asked about Cecile’s penchant for getting possessed by evil beings.  “But [she’s] down for whatever the team needs. I feel like Cecile has had her powers for the shortest period of time and the level of enthusiasm that she felt [about it] has not waned yet.” 

To Cecile, being able to feel and understand others’ emotions is just another way to help people, much the same way becoming District Attorney or a meta defense lawyer was. 

“I think she’s still enthusiastically into [the idea that] I was a person who wanted to make a difference and wanted to help people,” Nicolet explains. “And then she got powers and this is a whole new way she can help people. It’s her nature.”

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With the news that The Flash star Jesse L. Martin will no longer be a series regular in the recently announced Season 9, what Joe’s downgraded status might mean for Cecile is still up in the air. But Nicolet has some thoughts. 

“I have no idea what the plan for Jesse is in terms of how much he’ll be with us in the future or what the plan in terms of explaining Joe’s shift is going to be,” she says. “Whatever it is, I hope it involves Cecile ending up with a ring on her finger at some point. I think it’s about time.”