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'The Flash' And The Uncomfortable Sexual Violation Of Shapeshifters

Should the show deal with Caitlin and Barry's kiss in a far more serious way?

On the most recent episode of "The Flash," a moment a portion of the 'shipper population has been dying for since the show launched finally happened: Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) kissed.

Unfortunately, in a twist that only science fiction/fantasy shows can provide, it was a villainous shapeshifter named Everyman, pretending to be Barry.

This isn't the first time a genre show has played with the idea of someone hooking up with someone with a different face, or after switching bodies. In fact, it's pretty much a staple... Chances are that if there's a solid romantic relationship -- or a burgeoning one -- it'll be tested by a bad guy wearing another person's skin.

What's interesting about how "The Flash" dealt with it is the wrinkles it adds to the show, as well as the potentially troubling questions it raises.

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To briefly recap what happened: Everyman, thinking Barry and Caitlin have a romantic rapport that has actually only been played out in fanfic before, decides to make a move on Caitlin. He kisses her, and at first she reacts in wide-eyed shock. Then he kisses her again, she closes her eyes, and kisses him back... Only to be interrupted by the love of Barry's life, Iris Allen (Candace Patton).

Later when Caitlin finds out he was a shapeshifter, her first reaction is, "Oh, thank god," followed by a general uncomfortableness around Barry.

So let's run down the reactions to this from a viewer's perspective:

1. Yay, Caitlin and Barry Are Kissing!

Regardless of who your OTP on the show is, Panabaker and Gustin are cute together. I don't think it's an arguable point that part of the reason we watch television is the chance to see adorable people smooch each other.

2. Uhoh, Romantic Entanglements!

This is the life-blood of the soap, which at its heart "The Flash" -- and every CW show, really -- is, so when Caitlin is into the kiss, it instantly complicates things. Does Caitlin like Barry now? But Barry likes Iris? And what does that mean for Caitlin's former fiancée Ronnie (Robbie Amell), when he comes back to town?

Drama lives and thrives on this, so any twist on the existing pairings makes things exciting to watch. It's when a show has gone through every iteration that it starts to get boring... At this early stage, though, this is exactly what "The Flash" needs to stave off the feeling of the inevitable.

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3. Was Caitlin Just Sexually Violated By A Shapeshifter?

Look, I don't want to blow this out of proportion. Panabaker is a gifted comic actress, so a fair amount of the aftermath is played for comedy. But there are moments of how this is portrayed that make it something far more serious.

The first point is that Caitlin was kissed by a stranger, at first against her will. Whatever happened next, it began with a predator under false pretenses.

Second, when Barry is rescued from the clutches of Everyman and reunited with his team, Caitlin immediately says, "No need for a hug," and jumps away from him. This is from a character who has regularly hugged relative strangers to make them feel better.

By episode's end, the Everyman conflict has been pushed to the side, and I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't come up again for the rest of the season, particularly as there's a huge amount of overarching plot to deal with.

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But should it be swept under the rug? We can couch this in, "oh, it's just a fantasy show." We can say it was played for laughs, and it's just a soap. Except a man forced himself on a woman. That's something that shouldn't be ignored.

Back in the day, "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" played a similar plotline. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her troubled Slayer opposite Faith (Eliza Dushku) switched bodies. And while switched, Faith -- in Buffy's body -- slept with Buffy's boyfriend Riley (Marc Blucas).

And it pretty much destroyed all the characters, including Faith.

Again, I don't want to blow the B-plot in one episode of a otherwise very fun TV show out of proportion, but part of the joy of genre TV is the ability to filter real-world issues through the lens of fantasy. By doing so, the writers make these issues more understandable, more comprehensible. It's a way of starting -- and continuing -- a very serious discussion that can often feel overwhelming in its complexity.

Should "The Flash" spend the rest of the season dealing with Caitlin's violation? Probably not. But could it? Yes. And at the very least, if not on TV, we can continue the discussion here in the real world.


VMAs 2017