The Flash has always been known for its great villains, but in Season 5, the show finally broke its own mold by introducing a female big bad: the future, female version of Cicada, Grace Gibbons (Sarah Carter).
Each year, Barry (Grant Gustin) has faced off against a new major villain, and so far they've all just so happened to be men. We can mostly blame that on the fact that The Flash has tried its hardest to honor the comics and create a faithful adaptation of this superhero saga, which means there's just a lot of dudes a lot of the time. In the comics, major villains like the Reverse Flash (Tom Cavanagh), Zoom (Teddy Sears), Savitar, and the Thinker (Neil Sandilands) were all men, and the show chose to go along with that. It's the major pitfall of adapting source material that dates back almost 80 years.
Now, though, The Flash has not only introduced a female villain as the major antagonist of the season — it's done a genderbend to boot, turning an iconic comic book villain, Cicada, into a woman. Season 5 took a crazy turn when a future version of Grace, the young girl currently in coma whose uncle was the previous Cicada, traveled back in time to hunt down her parents' killer and all other metas in Central City. TV Guide spoke with Sarah Carter, who plays the adult (and very menacing) version of Grace, about taking on this role and the pressures and responsibilities that come with it.
"I just feel privileged," Carter said of bringing The Flash's first female big bad to life. "I think it's always exciting to make history on a show, especially one that's been running as long as this. And it's not just my character; there's a lot of strong women on this show already."
"It's great to step into that dark feminine energy," Carter continued. "I do feel like women have a particular kind of power, a kind of rage that they can tap into that has a different impact than the masculine rage that we're maybe more familiar with. There is a lioness part, there's a different kind of ferocity to it, a way in which [Grace] is vicious. I think it can be more interesting to watch a woman focused on killing and killing to protect."
That exact dark, feminine energy is what's made this Cicada so interesting to watch this year on The Flash, since she's a drastic change from the other Cicada we've met, Grace's uncle Orlin (Chris Klein). Orlin had a hateful spark in him that spurred him to murder dozens of meta-humans thanks to his own spiteful prejudice. Still, there was a push and pull to his character that allowed us to speculate about whether he could be saved, and whether Barry would finally manage to redeem one of his big bads instead of destroying them.
With Grace, it's hard to make that same kind of emotional connection that would allow us to root for her redemption. She killed her own uncle in cold blood, after all, destroying the one connection that allowed the audience a window into her humanity. That brutal act alone is a definite shakeup to the dichotomy of male and female traits typically scenes in comics. It too often feels like female villains are the ones plagued with consciences and a "softer side" to appeal to, while male villains take on the bats--- crazy roles that spark no hopes for redemption.
According to Carter, we'll still wonder whether Grace's better angels will ever get the best of her, but her humanizing moments won't be the center of the narrative moving forward. "I think people will always be looking for those moments and they're there," Carter said. "There's a mystery to this character that's been really fun to play with. You don't know how she's going to kill, when she's going to kill. You don't know how ruthless she's going to be, whether she really loves her uncle. Or is her mission to kill every meta-human more of a motive?"
"This character has already been set up for the audience as a wounded child. We know her younger self already, and we understand why she grew up to be this angry," Carter said. "It's just wild and unpredictable to know if she's going to be centered in that wounded heart or if she's just going to be this untouchable killer."
Watching that mystery unfold is sure to be a rewarding experience for fans of The Flash, especially ones who've been pining for a major female villain for so long. Thankfully, it looks like the wait was worth it with this irrational, complex, wounded woman who's giving Team Flash a run for its money.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.
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