The Trial Of Killer Frost On The Flash Shows This Series Still Has Something To Say
The past few seasons of The Flash have been divisive amongst the show’s fans. This is not a unique phenomenon. Starting with season 4 and through the series finale of Arrow, fans felt like the show lost a step from earlier seasons. Yet with the trial of Killer Frost on The Flash, audiences can see that even with all the strange sci-fi quackery, it still has something to say about living in a world with superpowers. Cursed by the comics history of the Flash, Danielle Panabaker’s Caitlin Snow was always set to break bad in some way. First, it happened via an alternate Earth, and then it happened via Barry Allen’s time-travel oopsies. Of course, the Earth-Prime version of Killer Frost never quite lived up to her name.
Yet, The Flash decided to address the problem of Frost’s troubled past after Flashpoint, when she briefly aligned with the villain Savitar. What resulted resembled a real trial only in that it took place in what looked like a courtroom. But in a show where the laws of physics are more suggestion than anything, what hope do the laws of humanity have?
Spoilers to follow.
Metahumans Provide Reasonable Doubt to Any Criminal
Image via Warner Bros. Television
Since the show’s inception, The Flash has had a justice problem. For the first few seasons, Team Flash ran a secret, extrajudicial prison out of S.T.A.R. Labs. Yet, in a broader sense, the addition of metahuman abilities in a legal sense is a problem. The U.S. standard of justice (of which it falls short often) is that a criminal must be proven guilty beyond a “reasonable” doubt. Only there is nothing reasonable about a world where people can possess others’ minds, shapeshift, and so on. Carmen Moore’s Sgt. Kristen Kramer has a point with respect to her vendetta against metahuman criminals.
As audience members, we know that Caitlin Snow and Killer Frost are, effectively, two identities within the same body. (At least, until recently.) We also know that there are extenuating circumstances to why Killer Frost did what she did. Even though she’s now acting as a hero, the show asks if she’s absolved of her past crimes. The addition of the metahuman cure, developed by Cisco in season 5. Both the Frost and Caitlin personae where not on-board with that idea, and they only agreed after the promise was made to never “force” the cure on anyone. So, despite the ridiculousness of life in prison without parole for Frost’s crimes, the choice to serve that sentence rather than take the cure is in character.
There is legal precedent in the real world for court-ordered medical treatments and procedures. However, I don’t think this is a commentary on that. Rather, the trial of Killer Frost is the storytellers of The Flash making a statement about nature versus nurture. It’s not the metahuman powers that make people do bad things, but rather they make those choices themselves.
What the Trial of Killer Frost Means for the Future of Team Flash
Image via Warner Bros. Television
If I am being honest, I never liked the storyline that Caitlin Snow and Killer Frost were two identities within in the same body. I always felt like it denied both characters agency and was unnecessarily comic-book weird when it didn’t need to be. Still, I did enjoy this episode and the potential for storytelling down the road. With series veterans Tom Cavanagh and Carlos Valdes both leaving The Flash in season 8, it’s Caitlin’s time to shine. Perhaps having Frost locked away until needed is a smart play. It’s possible she’ll end up with a pardon before the end of the season, but either way it poses interesting questions about how things like the law and justice work in a universe where superpowers exist.
Unlike Arrow, the problem The Flash faces is that its central hero is simply too powerful. There is no reason that every fight on this show shouldn’t be over in (I’m so sorry) a flash. Yet, that would make for a very boring teen superhero drama. If you’re parsing the logic of these match-ups you are missing the point of this show. The struggles that Team Flash faces are emotional ones, and superhero stories have always provided a great space for that kind of storytelling. The Caitlin/Frost arc was always more about how a person deals with the duality inside all of us than the sci-fi reasons of “why” or even “how.”
Who Is Killer Frost In the Arrowverse?
As mentioned above, Danielle Panbaker is who they cast as Killer Frost from the moment The Flash series began, but not exactly. The character began as Caitlin Snow, the civilian alter ego of the Killer Frost in the comics. However, we didn’t see the super-powered villain until the second season when the Caitlin of Earth-2 broke bad. Remember, when The Flash premiered, the idea of a shared universe of DC characters on the CW was still in its infancy. There was no guarantee it would work. Even the famous “Flash Vanishes in Crisis” headline was more wishful thinking than laying the foundation for the Crisis On Infinite Earths event that followed years later.
Eventually, in season 3 after the Flashpoint event in the show, Caitlin Snow and Killer Frost were two separate personalities in the same body. Despite being called Killer Frost, she never actually killed anyone in The Flash series. The charges against Killer Frost at her trial are aggravated assault, kidnapping, and—the most serious—attempted murder. While dedicated viewers of The Flash understand that she’s not actually a villain, the show veers into remarkably grounded territory by having a cop who isn’t a member of Team Flash looking to prosecute.
Again, with the dwindling roster of OG The Flash heroes, Caitlin Snow and Killer Frost (now in separate bodies, of course) are going to play big roles going forward. The show can hand-wave away any legal liability whenever they want. Still, it’s a nice detour on the show to focus on justice, human rights, and how the superhero element complicates an already complicated system. And as much as we like character growth on teenage morality plays, I personally would prefer that Killer Frost stay gruff and bitter. It makes for a fun dynamic with the rest of Team Flash who all trend towards the uplifting and hopeful.
What Does the Trial of Killer Frost Actually Say About Justice?
This show doesn’t really focus on things like reasonable doubt and mitigating circumstances with its low-level criminals. It is just easier narratively speaking to show the Flash drop off sketchy-looking crooks to the police and keep the story moving. Yet, this show has consistently made sure that many of its villains do come across as sympathetic. Even truly ridiculous baddies like King Shark or Gorilla Grodd aren’t evil, just a victim of bad circumstance. Of course, those villains are above the mere laws of mortal humans. Killer Frost, on the other hand, is a former villain turned Team Flash member, so she’s the perfect vehicle for this story.
The journey taken by Killer Frost mostly kept its focus on her and Caitlin Snow’s relationship. She’s gone from this scary thing that needed to be controlled to a sister-like figure. Similarly, Killer Frost has gone from a villain to someone who like to hurt people to an actual hero. It’s the sort of redemption arc that we don’t typically let people get in real life. Once a villain, always a villain.
There is also, possibly, a statement about prison as a means of justice. At the end of the trial, Killer Frost chooses to be incarcerated rather than undergo the procedure to remove her powers. The audience is meant to reckon that even though she did commit these crimes, extenuating circumstances or not, it makes no sense to lock her away. Even when the STAR Labs crew ran their own secret prison, they did so not to punish the baddies. They did it because there was no other way to contain their terrifying powers. In this case, they are locking away Killer Frost, a Central City hero, just to punish her. Is that justice?
Caitlin Snow Is Safe on The Flash
The reason for this storyline is almost certainly not to inspire us to analyze justice through the lens of The Flash. The reason is more likely that the storytellers need a reason to keep Caitlin and Frost separate, since they are both played by Danielle Panabaker. They may commit to keeping Killer Frost locked away after the trial or on some kind of superhero work-release. This means that Caitlin Snow is both free and able to play her support role for Team Flash, while not overworking new mom Panabaker. Also, her character is now free of any legal consequences for the actions of her sometimes-villainous alter-ego.
The Flash airs Tuesday nights at 8 PM Eastern on The CW.
What do you think? Did you enjoy the Killer Frost trial on The Flash? How do you think she gets out of life in prison? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Featured image via Warner Bros. Television
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.