by Lacy Baugher
Though DC TV series The Flash is primarily about the journey of Barry Allen, it isn’t Barry’s story alone.
The show has consistently stressed the importance of the friendship between its original STAR Labs team – Barry, Cisco Ramon and Caitlin Snow – and no matter how many people have joined Team Flash over the years, they’ve served as the core around which the rest of the series revolves. Their connection has evolved over time, expanding to include new team members, significant others and multiple interdimensional iterations of Wells-es. But the longstanding friendship between Barry, Caitlin and Cisco helps give The Flash’s ground the show in something like reality, giving its more over-the-top moments legitimate emotional stakes.
This is, of course, why the persistent rumours that actor Carlos Valdes, who plays Cisco, may leave the show are so particularly distressing.
The Flash without Cisco is hard to imagine. He’s an integral part of what makes the show tick, and has been since its first episode. But that may not be the case for much longer. Though speculation about Valdes’ supposedly imminent departure has been circulating since early in season five; this time, the fear it might be true seems more warranted than it has been before.
Actor Brandon McKnight has been promoted to series regular for season seven (as first reported by Deadline), which means that we’ll be seeing a lot more of his awkward tech genius Chester P Runk next year. On the surface, this isn’t a bad thing – Chester is funny, charming, and provides a fresh and much-needed perspective on Team Flash. (His recent reflection about his own experience as a black student growing up in Central City is exactly the sort of thing The Flash needs more of.) But here’s the problem: It’s difficult to see both Cisco and Chester co-existing on the same show. The two men largely fill the same niche within the group – a fast-talking, quippy, superhero-loving geek whose gadgets solve unsolvable problems – so much so that it’s easy to assume Chester is a Cisco replacement.
The Flash – Brandon McKnight as Chester P Runk
In all honesty, The Flash hasn’t really known what to do with Cisco in recent seasons. Sure, the narrative rules surrounding Caitlin’s icy alter ego haven’t always made sense, but at least the introduction of Killer Frost gave her character multiple new storylines to explore. And Barry has Iris and the whole being The Flash thing. But Cisco, for his part, has been largely sidelined for the past few seasons, frequently stuck in the sort of romance-based sub-plots The Flash used to love to give to Caitlin.
The impact of Cisco’s decision to renounce his metahuman abilities at the end of season five was never fully explored, and the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover suddenly restored them with even less fanfare. And since he has been largely absent from The Flash’s post-Crisis canvas, it’s more difficult than ever to figure out where Cisco goes from here.
Which is why the sudden elevation of a random side character from the season premiere is mildly concerning for those who love the original Team Flash trio. With Chester sticking around for the foreseeable future, does Cisco still have a role on this show? It’s possible. (Hopefully.) After all, both the Central City Citizen and Cecile’s fledgling legal business likely need the services of a tech wizard, and Chester already has a pretty decent connection with the latter. There’s every reason to hope he might assume that role, while leaving Cisco to handle STAR Labs.
But The Flash is already bursting at the seams with characters whose stories it can’t service. Valdes isn’t the only actor who’s been largely absent this season; Hartley Sawyer has too (though the arrival of Ralph Dibny’s comics love interest Sue will likely fix that problem.) This season’s iteration of Wells (Nash) isn’t terribly interesting, involved in a story the bones of which we’ve seen before. And with the addition of other newcomers like Allegra and Kamilla, it’s harder than ever to figure out what the show plans to do with all these people. Something has to give, doesn’t it?
Will Cisco be that thing? And if so, what does The Flash look like without him? Could Valdes’ exit serve as a natural end point for one phase of story, a necessary push into its role as the Arrowverse’s new elder statesman? Or would it blow an irreparable hole in the very thing that makes this show special?
It feels like things could go either way. And that’s not exactly a comforting thought.
The Flash airs on Sky One in the UK